This is a guest post by Ollin Morales.
Have you ever read something and then said to yourself afterwards:
“That was beautiful–but I have no idea what it means!”
Or maybe what you read wasn’t beautiful at all. It was just a huge, jumbled mess.
Either way, you might agree with me that one of the biggest problems writers face today is a rather simple one: they have trouble making sense to their readers.
The ability to write something that makes sense to a whole lot of people you don’t know is a very underrated skill to have. But the more your work makes sense to your readers, the more you can be sure that you are NOT creating sloppy work. So, if you want to make absolutely sure your writing doesn’t suck, you should follow these eight basic principles:
Have A Thesis: I know what you’re thinking: but I’m not in my High School English class anymore! Don’t worry: your thesis doesn’t have to be very elaborate. Think of your thesis as your overarching argument. (If you’re writing a novel, consider that your “thesis” is tied to your theme and should express what you want your story to say about that theme.) A thesis is a tool that you can use to ensure that your whole blog post, article, or book is driving at one, overall point. A thesis helps keep your writing clear, focused and disciplined. Writers who don’t use a thesis are writers who create the kind of huge, jumbled mess I described at the beginning of this post.
Organize Your Ideas: Does your article, or novel, have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion? This might seem elementary to you, but you’d be surprised how few writers actually implement simple organization techniques when they write. Please, don’t be so silly. Always write an outline and make sure to organize your thoughts before you write. You’d be surprised just how quickly and effective you can write when you’ve organized your ideas beforehand.
Define Your Terms: Not everyone agrees on the definition of a particular word, especially the definition of a word whose meaning has changed over the years. That’s why it’s ALWAYS important to define your terms. Defining your terms at the beginning of your piece is just another way to make sure your reader can follow the logic of your writing. Which leads me to:
Make Sure Your Ideas Follow A Logical Progression: Can your reader see how you went from point A to point B to point C–without having to wonder why? Or are you going from point A to point B to point D–while skipping point C completely? The vast majority of bad writing is the result of not making sure that ideas and storylines are unfolding in a logical progression. So, always ask yourself: which topic should logically go first? Which topic should logically go second, and which should logically go third? Clear transitions can also help make your logic clearer to your reader.
Which leads me to my next point:
Utilize Introductory and Concluding Sentences: One of the biggest mistakes I see writers make is that they don’t have any introductory or concluding sentences in their writing. An introductory sentence is a sentence that introduces the topic of a new paragraph; and a concluding sentence is a sentence that concludes the topic of this paragraph and then transitions to the topic of the next paragraph. These types of sentences serve a vital purpose: they act as markers, or signposts, that help the reader follow the logical progression of your argument (or story). Remember how we talked about going from point A to point B to point C in the last paragraph? Well, think of introductory and concluding sentences as representing the “to”’s in this sentence: “I would like to take you from point A to point B to point C!” Pretty clear, right? Now, let’s try the same sentence without the “to”’s (or the transitions): “I would like to take you from point A, point B, point C!” Do you see how sloppy and disconnected that sentence was? That’s exactly how your writing expresses itself when you don’t use introductory and concluding sentences. So, make sure to always provide a smooth transition from one idea to the next, and from one example to the next.
Provide Examples: Speaking of examples: never automatically assume that your writers know what you’re talking about. Always use analogies, metaphors, similes, and symbols to help drive your point home. Make sure to utilize this simple formula for using examples: introduce the example, and then, show how your example connects to your overall point. I know this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers simply introduce an example and then expect the reader to just “figure out” how the example connects to the author’s overall point. You need to explain to them what your example has to do with your overall point.
Format For Greater Clarity: Use bullet points, numbered lists, and indented paragraphs to help guide the reader through your writing. Bolding, italicizing, and underlining words or phrases can help drive important ideas home. However, make sure to only use these formatting choices sporadically. When writers overuse bolding, italicizing, and underlining it tends to weaken the overall effectiveness of these formatting choices.
In conclusion, if you want to make absolutely sure your writing doesn’t suck, just follow the eight basic principles outlined here: have a thesis, organize your ideas beforehand, define your terms, make sure your thoughts unfold in a logical progression, make sure you use plenty of transitions, provide plenty of examples, and make sure you have formatted your piece so that it’s easy for your readers to follow.
If you can master these eight basic principles, you will have mastered about 90% of what makes great writers great. If you simply focus on mastering these eight simple principles, then I assure you that you’ll become a solid writer in no time.
Ollin Morales is a writer. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first novel. His blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s tough challenges. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by WriteToDone two years in a row (2011, 2012).