I haven’t written a blog for a while, largely because I seem to have spent quite a lot of time writing for other people lately.  That’s not a complaint, I thoroughly enjoy it, but it made me think that perhaps a blog about writing might be useful.  I don’t claim to have a monopoly on good writing but the following are tips and tactics that work for me so I hope they might be helpful for anyone reading this.

What’s the point?

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), be clear on why you are writing. Do you have a particular message to get across?  Are you sharing exciting news? Is it an informative piece? In a nutshell, if you couldn’t use a phrase to introduce it like ‘we are pleased to announce’ or ‘how to…’ or ‘new…’ then, I’m sorry, but you probably don’t have a story worth reading (or even writing). That’s not to say that you can’t create one, but you may just need to work a bit harder to find the purpose first.


Have a clear structure in mind before you start.  You’ve no doubt heard the oft-quoted phrase “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell it to them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” My English teacher always told me that writing should have a beginning, a middle and an end so, actually, the ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them’ model isn’t a bad one. 

Your introduction doesn’t have to be long but it needs to be engaging; hook your reader enough that they want to keep reading.  You don’t actually have to tell them exactly what you’re going to tell them, you can give them a ‘teaser’ of what’s coming up.  I will often write the introduction last as, by then, I’ve worked out what the key points of the piece are.

Your middle is probably going to be the longest section as it’s where the key points are, and probably any quotes and references. If I’m writing for a client and haven’t quite worked out what the important points of a piece really are, I will often start writing in the middle; the key messages will often make themselves apparent as you write – allowing you to go back and revise your structure around them if you need to. Within your middle section, it also helps to organise the aspects of your article into separate paragraphs so that you are laying out the piece or progressing the story logically for your reader to follow. Search engines as well as readers love structure and sub-headings, so it pays to be ordered in your writing.

Your ending is, again, probably going to be fairly short but acts as a useful conclusion to reiterate your key points and – most importantly – state any call to action that you want your reader to take.  I find the best endings – a bit like the best stand-up comedians – will often refer back to something you mentioned ‘at the top’ to give the piece a comfortably rounded-off feel.

Mind your language

There are two aspects to the language you use: quality and quantity.

By the quality of your language, I suppose I do mean spellings, grammar and good punctuation but it’s also more than that.  Use language that your audience will understand but don’t patronise them. If you’re writing a technical article to be read by (say) engineers, then it’s perfectly OK to use technical language – it shows you’re fluent in it, too. That said, I’m also a fan of plain English and your sentence structure and level of detail should be such that, should a non-engineer pick up your article, they could still catch your drift without having to understand the technical words.  I use the ‘Mum’ test: my Mum is a smart lady (she was a dentist before she retired) so I imagine her reading something I’ve written and thinking “would she still understand what I mean even if she doesn’t necessarily know the technical terms?” If it’s a yes, I know I’m on the right track.

The quantity of language is perhaps more obvious: say what you mean (and enough for search engines to register) but don’t waffle.  I once commented to a friend after a day at the office that I seemed to have spent more time ‘red pen-ing’ what colleagues had written than I had spent writing words myself.  “Ah,” he said, nodding wisely’ “perhaps that’s because the skill is knowing which words are important?” I couldn’t argue with that!  I pet peeve of mine is people who waffle, people who end up repeating themselves because they have no structure or aren’t sure what their point is, or people who use more words than are necessary.  I’ll give you an example:  I was flicking through a magazine yesterday and came across a recipe for “Mandarin and stem ginger Easter hot cross bun pudding”.  Gosh!  I thought to myself, what a ridiculously long title for a recipe!  (Followed by the thought that it might actually be quite tasty!).  I think there are two words in that title which are entirely redundant to the purpose – ‘stem’ and ‘Easter’.  “Mandarin and ginger hot cross bun pudding” is entirely the same message only far more succinct. Unless you are writing an eighteenth-century novel, less is very usually more when it comes to getting your message across clearly so be ruthless with your red pen.

Proof, proof and proof again!

When you think you’ve finished writing, leave it for a while before going back to read it again.  If you can, get someone else to read it, too.  Fresh eyes often spot things we missed.  If you can, read it out loud to yourself.  The act of reading aloud makes us think about where we place stresses and pauses, influencing our punctuation, and will flush out when sentences have got too long. If it’s really, really important, read it backwards, word by word (as you’re more likely to spot spelling mistakes then!).  Sometimes, I can still be making changes on the fourth or fifth reading before I’m completely happy with a piece. I’m not necessarily searching for perfection, but I am looking to make sure that my writing is good enough to represent my clients and myself!

A final thought: try to write about things that you enjoy, that excite you or that you find useful.  It will show through in your writing and your readers will be more engaged because of it.  If you can’t find something enjoyable, exciting or useful in what you’re writing, I refer you back to my first question: what’s the point?