A Guide to Better Writing (in 5 Steps)

guide Sep 29, 2017

Writing is hard.

Been there. Done that. [source: http://bit.ly/1JaqHLR]
Been there. Done that. [source: http://bit.ly/1JaqHLR%5D

Many of us write for work or for pleasure. A few simple tricks can take your writing from so-so to oh-wow!

Why Write?

Here are some benefits I get from writing:

  • Writing helps me think
  • Writing improves my skill of writing
  • Writing communicates ideas to different audiences
  • Writing increases the reach of my communication (1:n)
  • Writing communicates ideas synchronously and asynchronously
  • Writing codifies values and culture
  • Writing creates artefacts (posts; references; resources; assets; etc.)

Regardless of your specific context, writing is a great catalyst for ideas.

A Practical Guide to Better Writing

These 5 points have improved my writing:

  1. Mindset: Use writing as a thinking tool.
  2. Structure: Outline an intro-main-conclusion structure before writing.
  3. Story: Use storytelling frameworks to entice your readers.
  4. Humor: Make them laugh.
  5. Style: Follow a few simple rules.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” – Bruce Lee

Writing as a Thinking Tool

#1: Mindset: Use writing as a thinking tool.

Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language and emotion with signs and symbols. … Writing is not a language, but a tool used to make languages be read (wiki).

Many professionals write to go through both stages of the creative process:

  • Divergent Phase: Brainstorm; Sketch out ideas; etc.
  • Convergent Phase: Solidify core idea; Edit script/story; etc.

Below you see two examples of ideation and editing on paper:

Writing as Thinking Tool (left: Joseph Heller's outline for 'Catch-22' // right: Gay Talese's ideas for 'Frank Sinatra Has a Cold') [source: http://dailym.ai/1rNUCNG]
Writing as Thinking Tool (left: Joseph Heller’s outline for ‘Catch-22’ // right: Gay Talese’s ideas for ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’) [source: http://dailym.ai/1rNUCNG%5D
“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” – David McCullough

Structuring as a Foundational Skill

#2: Structure: Outline an intro-main-conclusion structure before writing.
#2: Structure: Outline an intro-main-conclusion structure before writing.

Writer’s block is scary. Sitting in front of a blank page, palms sweaty, mind on hold and not knowing where to begin.

Often the problem is not a lack of ideas but a lack of constraints. It helps to create a ‘solution frame’.

My friend Fred taught me the following:

  1. Write the headline and outro
  2. Outline the chapter headers
  3. Write body
  4. Redo outro
  5. Write intro
  6. Rewrite everything from start to finish
  7. Take five
  8. Edit final version

The first two steps make sure that the piece is in line with the key insight.

More importantly, it delays the difficult task of writing the first sentence – you actually write it at the end, when you know what’s following 🙂


Techniques of Master Storytellers

#3: Story: Use storytelling frameworks to entice your readers.

Why are some stories more memorable than others? Because they check certain boxes.

The brothers Heath developed a straightforward framework to improve your story with the help of 6 simple principles.

SUCCESSs Model for Sticky Ideas [source: http://bit.ly/1g8x8Pr]
SUCCESSs Model for Sticky Ideas [source: http://bit.ly/1g8x8Pr%5D

The goal of the model is to achieve the following:

  • Simple – Distill the core of your message.
  • Unexpected – Get their attention.
  • Concrete – Make them understand.
  • Credible – Make them believe.
  • Emotional – Make them care.
  • Stories – Give the audience something to act upon.

A Laugh a Day Keeps the Blues Away

#4: Emotion: Make them laugh.
“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” – Oscar Wilde

Humor can be a great way to make your idea stand out. Dilbert’s creator wrote down his 6-point plan to a funnier script:

  1. Naughty
  2. Clever
  3. Cute
  4. Bizarre
  5. Mean
  6. Recognizable

Use at least two of these dimensions and the reader will notice.

6 Dimensions of Humor Applied [source: http://bit.ly/2yecPk4]
6 Dimensions of Humor Applied [source: http://bit.ly/2yecPk4%5D

Style: Words, Flow, and Much Mo’

#5: Style: Follow a few simple rules. They make a difference.

The Day You Became a Better Writer

Want to learn 80% of the rules of good writing? Take 2 minutes to read this article.

Good, isn’t it?

The Guidelines to Follow

If you want to go into more detail look at the following:

The Power of Visual Helpers

The main goal of writing is to communicate ideas with your audience. Where words are not enough an image/illustration can do wonders.

Fantastic example of using complementary visualizations to increase understanding [source: http://bit.ly/2gctI6U]
Fantastic example of using complementary visualizations to increase understanding [source: http://bit.ly/2gctI6U%5D

Bottomline: Become a Better Writer in 5 Steps

Overview: Improve Your Writing in 5 Simple Steps

Keep a few things in mind, and you improve your writing immediately:

  1. Mindset: Use writing as a thinking tool.
  2. Structure: Outline an intro-main-conclusion structure before writing.
  3. Story: Use storytelling frameworks to entice your readers.
  4. Humor: Make them laugh.
  5. Style: Follow a few simple rules. They make a difference.

Most importantly, write and develop your own style. When you find things that help, please share them 🙂


Thank you for reading this post.

If you liked it please share this with a colleague or friend. It would make my day 🙂

Please get in touch.


Examples of Clear Thinking and Fantastic Writing:

  • WaitButWhy – My favorite all-around writer on the web. Taking complex topics and makes them easily understandable.
  • Stratechery – Clearest business thinker I have come across.
  • FarnamStreet – Writer focused on distilling the wisdom of the world’s best thinkers.
  • David Perell - David teaches online writing. His essays are proof that he knows what he's talking about.

Amazing Writers Sharing Their Knowledge:

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