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Practicing what I preach: Improving my writing

Practicing what I preach: Improving my writing

I offer a lot of writing advice, but all that is also part of my learning. Here are ways I think my writing has improved over the last five years.

Writing is not a skill that you can improve overnight—it takes time and conscious practice.

And just because my job is to help others with their writing doesn’t mean I consider myself a writing expert. So I can give better, credible suggestions to my clients, I’m continually exploring what makes writing clear and practicing my own skills.

This post is both me celebrating how far I’ve come in my writing and (I hope) also encouragement to you to keep going.

How might you start practicing?

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed about all things you are supposed to do to write more clearly, I understand. No one can immediately put into practice all clear writing tips, all at once.

I always say this in my clear-writing/plain-language webinars, but my suggestion is to work on things step by step.

Just pick one or two tips that you think you could work on. Keep those in mind whenever you write for the next few weeks.

Four blank colored post-it notes
Write a reminder on a sticky note and post it somewhere visible.

When you feel you’ve gotten better at that particular tip, pick another and work on that. Repeat.

And remember to give yourself time and grace. Celebrate how far you’ve come!

What I’ve gotten better at over five years

Here are some things that I think I do better compared to five years ago (yikes!) when I started this blog.

  • Adjust my writing for international audiences. I’m more careful to avoid slang, choose the simpler word, and avoid phrasal verbs (verbs made up of two or three words, such as “start up”=”begin” “take advantage of”=”exploit”). Edmond Weiss’s The Elements of International English Style was particularly useful.
  • Add a list of contents at the top of posts. This is to help people using screenreaders navigate the page and also to serve as a summary to help everyone. It’s part of plain language: a design element that helps readers quickly find what they need.
  • Write informative subheadings. I try to add informative headings to break up the text and make it easier for a visitor to quickly find what they need.
  • Make this website more accessible. I’ve tweaked the contrast and increased the font size (for my own eyes too!). I also now add alt text to images that are not purely decorative. And I’m careful to use tables to organize information, not to make content appear a certain way. (I still have lots to learn about accessibility, though…)

Moral of the story: be conscious of what you want to change and then practice. It’ll get better 🙂

Get in touch to discuss whether we might be a good fit for your scholarly or international development writing project!

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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