writing tips

5 Simple Ways to Instantly Improve Your Writing

College essays have done more damage to our collective writing style than we realize.

Think about it: in college, professors required us to write a paper a certain length. We also felt compelled to use big, fancy words from a thesaurus to sound as smart as possible.

So what did we routinely turn in for a grade? Bloated 8-10 pagers full of words we barely knew and sentences that never once came out of our mouths.

Basically, we stopped being ourselves.

Fortunately, there are five things we can do right now to make us stronger, more competent and more natural writers.

1.     Write Like You Are Talking to a Friend

When we sit down to write, we forget we are attempting to communicate with other people. Proper grammar and punctuation still matter, but it’s OK to be conversational. That way, your words flow effortlessly down the page, and your reader doesn’t get hung up on complicated sentences.

When you write like you talk, the reader can also ‘hear’ you speaking. Your personality shines through and that breathes life into your work.

Just ask yourself: how would I describe this story to my best friend?

Conversational is key.  Know what I mean?

2.     Short Paragraphs Matter

Especially online, quick paragraphs are crucial. Try not to write blocky paragraphs because the reader will lose focus.

Short sections (even those with only 1-2 sentences) make your work read faster, which ensures a person makes it all the way to end.

3.     The Secret to a Great Piece of Writing: the Headline

You could have just written the best article/blog post/academic paper of your life. But with a boring headline, you’ve essentially made sure no one will read it. Here’s the trick: you need to tease the reader.

Give them a little hint about your topic but leave something to be desired. Make them feel like they need to click on your link, or it’s going to bug them all day not knowing the full story.

Two of my recent blog post headlines:

‘Best College’ Lists Leave Out the Most Important Ranking of All

Starbucks is Forever Changing the Way We Buy Coffee. Are You Ready?

If I piqued your interest, then I did my job.

4.     The Power of a Strong Opening Line

Once you get a person interested with your enticing headline, the next make-or-break moment is the opening line. Again, the key is to hook the reader.

This is especially important for cover letters. If you open with, ‘Hi my name is ____, and I am interested in the position of….’ then your cover letter is going to the bottom of the stack.

Why? The opener is too predictable. Start with a line that grabs the reader’s attention. Tell a personal story and drop the reader into the middle of the action. In short: be bold with the beginning.

That doesn’t mean revert to college writing mode. Be yourself – and talk like yourself – and remember that a typical opening line will yield a typical response.

5.     Respect the Reader’s Time

The final tip may be the most important. When writing – or giving a speech – it’s so easy to forget about the audience.

Someone has graciously given his/her time to listen to what you have to say. Their time is precious and must be valued. That’s why good writers use as few words as possible to make their point. They value the audience and in turn, the audience appreciates them.

You can almost always say more with less. Your points will be clearer, and the reader comes way more satisfied.

It’s a true win-win.


Danny Rubin is a media consultant based in Washington, DC. He writes ‘News To Live Bya blog that uses the day’s headlines to explore how we can improve personally and professionally. He tweets at @NewsToLiveBy.

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18 Responses to 5 Simple Ways to Instantly Improve Your Writing

  1. Nikki says:

    Loved it.

  2. Danny Rubin says:

    Thanks, Nikki! Happy to help.

  3. Giuliano says:

    I like this post. It is true that we have been programmed through schooling to write a specific way and this tends to stay with us into adulthood and beyond.

    Your tips are really helpful and I am going to look into incorporating some of them, especially tip number 5. Appreciating your reader’s time is critical!

  4. Jo says:

    Great article, especially for Blog writers! Helps focus in on what readers appreciate. I knew about the Headline piece, but love the part about being conversational and keeping it short. How easy to forget!

    Fresh Start Blog
    Have a Fresh Start in your life!

  5. Danny Rubin says:

    Giuliano — it’s such a silly thing. We are basically taught to not write like ourselves…to not BE ourselves. But the more I write, the more I realize that personality is key. Be yourself — in person and on paper!

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. Danny Rubin says:

    Thanks, Jo! Yes…not only does the reader appreciate when you keep things short…but then your message is clearer. Less words..stronger argument. Holds true every time.

  7. L JamesMcFarland says:

    Great points!

    How about using power words with an emotional ‘punch’ in the headline? A headline’s function is to ARREST the readers attention, and demand they read further…So for example, in the college list title above…

    Warning: The One Thing College Lists Will Never Tell You That Puts Your Child At Risk


    Can We Really Trust “Best College” Lists? The Shocking Lies that Newsweek Tells

    So words like “warning” “risk” “trust” “shocking” and “lies” all pack emotional power and hook readers.

    That’s a trick Blogger Jon Morrow taught me…

    -Jim McFarland


  8. Danny Rubin says:

    Great stuff here. You’re so right. The headline makes or breaks the blog post, and ‘arresting’ words really help. You want to almost give the reader an ultimatum: read this post or you’ll lose out. 

    Thanks for the comment!

  9. Glynis Jolly says:

    Yes, writing for an audience is a lot different than writing for a class. I do, however, like essay-type writing although forget all the fancy words. My articles were about 1000 words long. The last 6 weeks I’ve been trying to cut them back. I’ve gotten to about 700 but I would like to get down to 500.

  10. Wendy says:

    Excellent points…  we do these but it’s always a great reminder!!!

  11. Danny Rubin says:

    Great stuff, Glynis. The less you right, the crisper your message. Works every time!

  12. Manisha says:

    Great tips – very helpful for budding writers like myself. Thank you.

  13. BronsonOquinn says:

    What I really loved about this article was how the writer actually employed his tips within the article itself. Great job!

  14. Danny Rubin says:

    Thanks, Bronson! I always try to practice what I preach :)

  15. Great post.

    I have to admin I have a tendency to just type then when Iread it back it’s just like a mass of words rather than an actual conversation style piece.

  16. Windz_quintanilla says:

    very good!

  17. John B. Johnson says:

    Interesting ways! Thanks!

  18. Pingback: A few links for the end of the week | Words on a page

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