Whether you’re the CEO of a venture-backed startup writing a letter to investors about the current state of business or crafting the perfect job description to hire your first employee, your ability to communicate through the written word matters. Unfortunately, literary geniuses are few and far between. But for the rest of us, there’s still hope.
Here are six ways to make your writing more coherent.
1. Focus on grammar. Grammar is the backbone of effective communication. If you put a comma in the wrong place, it doesn’t matter how great the entire statement is, as readers could misinterpret your point. Add Grammar Girl to your daily reading or listening list (there’s also a great podcast) and use it as a reference for your pressing grammar questions.
Related: 5 Tips for Writing Faster and Better
If you’re looking for easily digestible, straightforward grammar tips, check out GrammarBook.com.
2. Write Less. Once you’ve mastered your grammar, read through what you’ve written and shorten it. Most poor writers use more words than they need. If you understand a topic, you should be able to communicate it concisely. Here’s a great presentation on removing fluff from your writing.
If you want to learn from one of the greats, check out the Hemingway App to help you remove useless words within your writing.
The book On Writing Well by William Zinsser is also a great resource for mastering the art of clear, concise communication.
If you need a quick trick to weed out the unnecessary words, perform a document search for the letters “ly” to see how many useless adverbs you can erase.
3. Remove distractions. Focusing can be difficult (especially for entrepreneurs), but this is paramount when writing. Try a program such as Chrome Nanny to minimize disruptions and concentrate on writing for extended periods of time.
Microsoft Word has a “Focus View” that takes up the entire screen with a no-distractions background and blocks out any desktop notifications you may have set up. If you have serious self-control issues, I’d recommend turning off your Wi-Fi.
4. Test your writing. Ultimately, you’re writing for readers, so analyzing readability is a key step. If you’ve read your writing over and over again and you’re convinced it’s good to go, submit it to Readability-Score.com to determine your writing grade level. If your audience is the general public, you’ll want to write at a seventh-grade level, according to the Plain Language Ad Hoc Committee.
Clichés, overused words and redundancies can kill the vibe of an article, so using a tool such as ProWritingAid can help you avoid faux pas that could push readers away.
Even the writers with the best intentions are at risk for unintentionally plagiarizing. Guarantee you’re not breaking the law by putting your writing through a plagiarism checker.
Your writing can also take on gender. Depending on your audience and the intended tone, you might want to remain gender neutral. Use the Gender Guesser tool to discover where your article stands.
5. Organize your writing. Mind mapping with a tool such as MindMeister can help you extract your thoughts and start organizing the ideas you’re trying to communicate.
Another trick is to write the questions you want answered in your writing first. Then answer them in a stream-of-consciousness manner and organize those answers into an article. We guide our clients through this process at Influence & Co., and we’ve seen struggling communicators express beautiful prose when organizing their thoughts this way.
Lastly, schedule time to write, and create a firm time limit. For instance, you could write for an hour in the morning twice a week. During that time, sit down, set a timer, and get as many words out as you can. Don’t worry about word choice or grammar; you can always polish it later.
6. Hire an editor. If you’ve consulted these resources and still doubt your abilities, it might be time to enlist the help of professional editors. Depending on your needs, you can hire full-service content companies to help with the creation and editing or a freelance editor through oDesk, Elance or Guru.
Consulting your editorial-savvy peers is also a great way to improve your work. And if you have a unique skillset to offer, swap favors so both people benefit.
Related: 9 Steps to Becoming a Great Writer