How to Stop Sounding Stupid and Write Like a Pro

I have a passion for words, for meaningful and remarkable communication. It’s a cause near and dear to my heart. So it drives me bonkers when people waste what they have to say on poor delivery.

How to write like a pro
Photo credit: Creative Commons

In this increasingly connected world of email and social media, it’s more important than ever to write well. To communicate in a way that is both professional and intelligent.

To help get you started, here are some quick tips on how to write like the pro that you are:

1. Avoid commonly misspelled words

There is a very difficult (and painful!) way to avoid this pitfall: learn how to actually spell. If you don’t know where to start, begin with this list of commonly misspelled words.

2. Do some real proofreading

Never substitute an automatic spell checker for real editing and proofreading.

To see what happens when you do this, watch this video on the importance of proofreading. It’s hilarious. And true. Proofreading is impotent — er, I mean, important. Don’t neglect it.

3. Write to your audience

Knowing your audience is essential. How else can you know if your writing is relevant?

If you don’t know to whom you’re writing, do some research. Even an informal survey can give you a lot of great information. Take some time to get to know your readers. They’ll thank you for it by not ignoring you.

If this sounds like selling out, do what I do: write for an audience of one (yourself), believing that there are other people out there just like you (there are).

4. Never settle for the first draft

FACT: All first drafts suck. If you’re calling your first draft your “final draft,” then you’re settling for less than your best work.

Often, when I write a preliminary draft, I end up cutting it down a lot in editing. Learning to slice and dice your content is essential to getting a great final draft.

Nothing’s as good as you think it is the first time around. Do the hard work and make it better.

5. Get an editor

Have someone besides yourself review your writing to check for errors and readability. There are plenty of online proofreading services that can do this for you. Just ask Google.

6. Write with authority

Regardless of how confident (or insecure) you may be, write with conviction, as if you know what you’re talking about. You know more than you think — I promise.

Avoid using phrases such as “I think” or “I believe” in excess. Of course you believe what you’re writing. That’s why you’re writing it. Just say it, already. If you write with authority, you will win people’s trust and loyalty.

7. Never use words you don’t know

What you must absolutely avoid is phoniness.

The best way to do that is to stop using words and phrases you read in a novel once and still don’t understand what they mean. It will sound contrived, and you will probably misuse them. (Excessive use of the phrase “When in Rome…” from Anchorman comes to mind.)

Introduce new words into your vocabulary in moderation, and make sure you know how to use them properly. Your audience will thank you.

8. Don’t try sounding smarter than you are

If you want to sound smart, get smarter — and then write from the heart. But please don’t be pretentious. If you are smart, people will pick up on it. No need to try and prove it to them. You can write with both conviction and humility, after all.

They’re eight simple tips, but following them will make your writing much tighter and hopefully will make you sound a little smarter in the process. (Help your friends on Twitter get smart, too.)

What tips for not sounding stupid when writing do you have? Share in the comments.

163 thoughts on “How to Stop Sounding Stupid and Write Like a Pro

  1. Wow you finally wrote to me! Just kidding but the word resonated and were useful for building people up. I love this. I would like to add one thought to your article. It has been brought to my attention that search engines actually penalize rank for blogs and sites that have words that are incorrectly spelled. In addition they penalize incorrect grammar. For us it is a bit of an issue because we receive many reports from the field that come from native missionaries. Most of these reports have incorrectly spelled words and grammatical errors yet we find that when we correct them a certain ethnic flavor is lost. Thank you for a great article Jeff.

  2. I needed this. I’m not the greatest writer & most likely have committed every one of the fouls listed. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!


    1. Thanks, HL. This was hard for me to write, because I fall into doing each one of these things, as well. We’re all works in progress.

  3. I completely agree with your comment about the first draft. My impatience leads me to send notes that could be improved if I would take a second or third look. Thanks for the reminders!

    1. You’re welcome, Kristin. I’m with you on the impatience, but the final product certainly pays off when we take the time to develop what we’ve written.

  4. Here is another important tip for not sounding stupid: Write about what you know about, and can assert confidently. Avoid writing on things that you have an opinion on but can’t back it up. There is no better formula for discrediting ALL of your writing then to confidently assert something that you don’t know much about and then come off as completely off base and uninformed.

    There are several issues that I have thought about blogging on but don’t yet know enough concrete facts to put together a post that will stand up to critical scrutiny. I have some strong political opinions but don’t know enough to write about them. I also have some thoughts on faith and science but hesitate to put them in writing because I might get nailed by science people who know more than I do. So, some things are best left to personal conversations and not written about… yet.

    1. You’re right; however, I believe that those emotional drafts need to be developed into the content that they’re supposed to be. It’s not that first drafts are bad, necessarily, but they’re the beginning, not the end.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kyle. The trick, I think, is to write anyway and to grow as you go. I hope that I can be a resource to you in this area in some way. You’ve been a tremendous help to me in so many other ways.

  5. Good stuff. I was worried that you had been checking out my blog and that it inspired this! My wife likes to point out my grammatical errors. 🙂

  6. I don’t have anything to add. I just want to echo point #1. When I read something that has misspellings or bad grammar, I can’t help but judge someone’s intelligence. I read, re-read and then read my writing one more time before I send or publish. It’s critical if you don’t want to sound stupid.

  7. Do you have any examples or thoughts on doing a survey of your readers? I have considered it, but don’t want to do anything until I have a clue.

    1. Yes! That is the same thing I do. Sometimes I notice a word I have written way too many times or a phrase that just sounds awkward. I highly recommend reading it out loud as a form of proofreading.

  8. Second sentence, item# 3reads “How else can you know if your writing relevant?” Shouldn’t that be “if your writing IS relevant? Looks like a missing word…

  9. Good suggestion, Ben (about reading things out loud).  These are helpful tips, Jeff. I just found your blog today so am interested in reading more… (I pause as I think of something interesting to say as the pressure mounts to be one of the “interesting ones”… alas (oh no, that is a big word that is really not big but that is not from my century… should I capitalize Century?)… anyways, good stuff. What was the alas leading to? I can’t remember, honestly. Clearly, I have a ways to go!

  10. “Write to your audience” really stands out to me as important. This is one of the greatest lessons a communicator or teacher can learn. Write or speak one step beyond where people are at and you’ll challenge them. Go 10 steps, even if that’s where you want to take them, and you’ve lost them.

    1. That’s great Ryan, I find this with my practical topic all the time. I explain how to do something and the questions I get in response are about some minor point right at the beginning. I realised I wasn’t looking at the job as a novice would and lost them because of my assumptions about their capabilities.

  11. Great post! Love the breakdown. As a writer myself, I often had to keep
    in mind the ‘who’ I was writing to. I would add also to really relax.
    Trust yourself that if you know what you are writing about, you can put
    it on paper no problem.

  12. I think one of the writing pitfalls that I encounter often is having a tendency to repeat my point in slightly different wording throughout my writing.  This may be a benefit when done in the right way, though, because of the familiarity effect. 🙂

    Josh Lipovetsky

  13. Great post Jeff! I think I struggle most with #6. It’s a matter of habit and bashfulness. I need to “just say it” rather than wrap the statement in weakness. Thanks!

  14. One tip I was given to help catch errors is to read backwards. You can catch misspelled words or improper usage this way because your mind cannot insert the correct word automatically. Thanks for this post. I needed it!

  15. These are great and I totally agree with you Jeff. One that came to mind later. Deal with a subject that you know. Don’t try to tackle an issue on which you’re not properly versed.
    Another one would be to avoid clichés. There’s a difference in using a worn out phrase and turning a good one. That’s one I’m still working on. Thanks for the good post!
    Oh yeah, I love the new look. When might it be available?

  16. This is a great list for improving your writing! One tip I like to use is to read my writing out loud. If I don’t read it out loud then the stupid mistakes and phrases seem to slip easier through the editing process.

  17. Great list. I’d add don’t over use a word not often heard. I love when a writer introduces me to a new word but find that I get irked when I see that “new” word used one hundred more times.

  18. Tip: If you’re ticked off while writing, let it rest 24 hours before posting. Anger can inspire, but it usually doesn’t communicate.

    1. This is great advice. I could have used it about ten years ago but it serves me well none the less. I often have a critical first response to posts. 🙂

  19. Do you really believe that “pros” all of a sudden don this cloak of intelligence once they have been accepted in the Kingdom? Come on. Every writer I know, no matter their level, says something you would term “stupid.” They miss errors and their books are published that way. They write a sentence is discombobulated in some way and makes no sense, and no editor calls him or her on it. And bloggers are the worst offenders – almost none of them employ editors on a regular basis and they ALL have errors in every single one of their blogs. All. I’m an editor and these things leap off the page at me. I can’t not see them. I see every one of your mistakes, Jeff. Do I call you stupid? No. Do I call you lazy and impatient? Yes. Please please please, walk the walk. Get an editor. You need one when you write as much as you do, Jeff. I’ve been reading you for a lot of years and I love what you have to say, your content. But if you’re going to tell the rest of us not to look “stupid,” then don’t do it yourself.

    1. Hey Dana. I think you missed the point. It’s not to be perfect. A pro deals with her imperfections by educating herself, avoiding errors (though not being immune to them), surrounding herself with people who will hold her accountable to excellence, and continuing to persevere. I’ve tried to do the same.

      Am I perfect? By no means. I do have an editor and have used many in the past, even for some blog posts (to get feedback) and articles, but always for books. I don’t think you HAVE to get an editor for blogging, because of the iterative nature of it (the community will correct you and you can still change it).

      Regarding “walking the walk,” I wouldn’t make any of these eight recommendations without doing them myself everyday. I encourage you to read the article again, if you’re willing. Perfection is not the point; perseverance is.

      Thanks for the feedback (for not calling me stupid).

  20. You are correct that a writer should know what she is writing about before she writes. However, if a writer is serious about a subject that she finds fascinating, there is a way to get ready to write about it: research. When I felt strongly about some cultural issues, I started to write about them, but when I did the preparation you discuss in this post, I realized I lacked substance. I had a strong view to express, but I did not have the sort of factual foundation that would give my view some weight and value. I started reading everything I could find on my subject. I discovered new subjects and new ideas and new views that were totally unfamiliar. If I had tried to talk about my subject when I first felt convicted to speak, I would have looked ridiculous. I did the research, and I even found a free online class for journalists that helped me do more research. Now I write with confidence, and the increase in my readers testifies that it was completely worthwhile to take the time to learn my subject. There is no reason to give up on a great subject because of ignorance. The cure for ignorance is research and study.
    It does mean that you can’t roll out of bed at 7AM and post by 7:30AM.

  21. Mr. Goins,
    You were even brilliant three years ago. Nice post. I will give this post to Pooh to read as well. He needs help with his writing. I am, after all, only the typist.

  22. Hi Jeff, thanks. I’m new to your ideas. I read my blog on video, and watch myself. It works for me! I also let bloggers know if I see a typo in their work, I certainly would appreciate that type of suggestion. Sometimes the typo remains. Really? Thanks, I’ll keep reading ….

  23. Thank You! I write and write and write and think I’ve written something so profound. Then I read it later and wonder who in the heck I was talking to. I’m giving this post to Pooh too. 🙂
    PS: You were writing brilliantly three years ago.

  24. Thanks, Jeff! Also: maybe I’m just noticing this, but love the new website design. Clean and fresh, but also fun! Sort of like a cute puppy, fresh out of the bathtub and rolling all over the carpet. Nice choice!

  25. There is a problem with your newsletter that you’re probably not aware of. Every time you type an apostrophe, there is a “€” character inserted immediately after it, so, for example, “don’t” becomes “don’€t.” I just wanted to bring it to your attention so you can look into it. I don’t know if it matters, but I am reading the newsletter in Gmail.

  26. hi jeff, i feel comfortable with what you say about drafts. I learned to allow myself developping my own drafts in life and writing.

    Developping ones draft in a word means dreaming real to me.
    I wanted to let you know I appreciate your work, thanks for sharing

  27. Lol. That video was hilarious but so true! Although I think I over proof read sometimes that by my last re-read, my entire piece sounds totally different.

  28. So in the email of this article everytime you used an apostrophe or a quotation mark this symbol appeared €. just thought you’d like to know.

      1. When I read this yesterday and saw all those funny characters, I thought it was intentional reinforcement to prove your points. So, don’t beat yourself up too bad, Jeff. It served a purpose and left a valuable impression!

  29. Nice post, Jeff! It pains me when people have poor grammar skills in the blogging world.

    I don’t know what my problem in writing is, to be honest. My sister tells me I “write like a teenager”. (I am a teenager!)

    She’s never read anything of mine besides the first draft, though. I have too many first drafts lying around… must get around to editing them soon! 🙂

    1. I speak english goodly…think I have a chance as a writer? ..

      That word “defiantly” reminds me that years ago in college they offered a free typing service and when I got my term paper back “deify” had been changed to “defy” and the typist also did a lot of creative editing as well. I was in tears but fortunately my teacher let me turn it in late. I learned the hard way…never trust anyone to do my typing!

  30. Great suggestions here! I would add one more, expanding on your number 6 — avoid stall-tactic cliches. It’s ok to pause as you move forward. Cliche-phrases will diminish your message, whereas a pause may strengthen it. Examples: “At the end of the day, what we’re looking at is…” or “To be honest…” “”Conversely, we might look at it another way and see that on the other hand, we’ve really had it all backwards…” (Not yet saying anything substantial… just stalling).
    Keep the great advice coming!

  31. Good stuff, Jeff. I will earmark this…. Or maybe I’ll bookmark it and send it to all of my public speaking students…. Language and sincerity are important there, too!

      1. Regardless of whether a film is a spoiled tomato or a splendid show-stopper, if individuals are watching it, it merits scrutinizing.

  32. Don’t start sentences with phrases like “It’s interesting to point out” or “to be honest,” as such prefacing implies that the foregoing and the following is not.

  33. I have learned to read my post ALOUD before publishing. It is amazing the blunders that come to light when you do that. It is worth the extra effort.

  34. Great post, Jeff! Making many of those mistakes not only because of ignorance or hurry but also because I cannot see the small print, even with 4 eyes. Thank you for the reminder!

  35. Since I don’t aspire to write a book, I tend to think of myself as just a blogger. Then when I read this article and realize I can’t post any words without editing and using google to make sure my spelling is correct. Then I know I am a writer. Thanks Jeff, you are a master teacher.

  36. I had a boss once who, in fundraising messages to potential donors, had a habit of using the phrase “as you know,” before getting to her point (“our educational program is fabulous” or “our facility is overcrowded”). One day a donor crustily told her, “No, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

  37. Great advice, Jeff. #6 was something I learned when writing letters to the local paper. I just had to cut all the ‘I think’ and ‘it seems’ etc or the letters would have been too long and I’d be at the mercy of the sub-editors. As it was, most of my letters got printed as sent.

  38. Just yesterday, I was basically trying to encourage someone to care about their work like this in a FB group. I did not say it as bluntly as you did in your title, though I could have as I could not agree with you more.

    The writer that I was speaking to was one of those disappointed that his writer, had done a terrible job writing his ebook for him. He was asking what he should do/did he lose his money etc?

    My main point in my response was that writing should be treated like an art, even though there are “gurus” out there teaching that ebook writing can be a cheap, fast way to earn income online and passively at that. I advised he should put himself into the work as best he could then hire an editor, not a cheap writer.

    The response was that I was accused of being disrespectful to new writers, and that he did not expect his couple of ebooks to be anything grand let alone “art”. I replied that I meant no disrespect and that even beginners can hold their work to a decent standard. No reply to that part.

    After reading your email, I feel better 🙂 And no worries about the format stuff, it happens and we know it is not the norm.

  39. Yesterday’s update came to me looking beautiful as ever – no wonky characters. Just thought you’d like to know. I really appreciate your updates!

  40. Jeff, I agree with all of these…BUT I am much more tolerant of small errors over the past few years. The immediacy of the internet means sometimes things don’t warrant much editing time (like this comment) and hiring an editor for every blog post certainly isn’t in the cards (at least not for me). For me, violating 3,4 and 6-8 will cause me to stop reading; but, unless it’s egregious, I try to give people a break on 1,2 and 5. Maybe that’s because I’ve read, written, studied, worked, toiled, etc. for 15 years to improve my grammar and it still isn’t great. I prefer Stephen Fry’s words, “I think what offends examiners…when confronted with informal,unpunctuated and haywire language is the implication of not caring.” Avoid that implication and, unless it’s a research paper, you’re probably going to do just fine.

  41. Thank you for this post. Confession time…I have not been reading your posts lately. However when I received the apology e-mail I got curious about what you were apologizing for. That drew me to this post so it is all good!
    One person below apparently thought your post title and content were offensive because of the reference to being “stupid.” I know that you were not calling people stupid. However I know that one trick to get people to read a blog is to come up with a compelling (and sometimes controversial) title. Somehow “Tips for Writing Well” does not seem to have the same impact. I do not know if that is what you were trying to do but it works!

  42. Jeff, great post. The best tip for better writing that I have ever received is to use fewer words. A seminary professor wrote that on a paper I submitted for a class. As I go through drafts, I ruthlessly chop words. Chopping words can be difficult as I like to believe that all of the words I wrote are worth reading. The truth is that I like to use a lot of words when I speak. This will often carry over to my writing. When I shorten sentences and eliminate unnecessary words, the end result is always better.

  43. That video was funny in pointing out the type of mistakes we type, or allow auto-correct to get away with when we’re not paying attention! I follow you on twitter and get your blog to my email. I enjoy your writing tips, Jeff, thanks! Sylvia Valevicius @Jtosnest

  44. I like two things: writing from the heart, and to an audience of one (yourself).

    BTW, I can read your email just fine.

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  45. Thank you Jeff! This is a great help for me– a newbie in writing 🙂 I still need to do a lot of practice. Keep on inspiring other writers!

  46. Love your articles and your books. Yes, technology had become the bane of my existence. It’s wonderful and terrible at the same time. Life is a learning process. Thanks for sharing your talents with the cyber community.

    1. The selection of the Prom dress is a difficult task to do for the girls and they are really very conscious about their dress and their appearance on that special event. The “short prom dresses” are being worn by the girls nowadays fashion museum week

  47. Auto correct is a blessing and a curse- I wish people wouldn’t depend on it. As an occasional grammar Nazi (and self proclaimed word nerd), I love all the points in your post. I can see why the crazy characters bothered you, but as you can tell by the comments, the rest of us were so wowed with your content, we didn’t care! Thanks for all you do!.

  48. More advice: Verify. Don’t guess and don’t trust your memory too much. When you’re not certain, either look it up and cut it from your piece.

  49. #1 is so simple yet a lot of people misuse “you’re” with “your” and “their” with “there”. I’m really waiting for someone to write “cat ass trophy” instead of “catastrophe”.

    Just kidding

    I am new to your blog and I’m enjoying your content. Thanks, Jeff!

  50. Jeff,
    I was one of the unfortunates who got a blank email. I scratched my head, then shrugged it off, since I know how these things can occasionally happen. I just wanted to say thank you for including the link to this post in your follow up email. Awesome tips for making your writing not only easier for others to read, but more powerful as well. You, my friend, have got some great stuff in that noggin, and I feel fortunate that you have decided to share it with us,

  51. I always take a moment to assess grammar goofs to make sure I am using the correct word in the right context.

    P.S. What plugin do you use for your pop-up for your email sign-ups that appears as you scroll down the page?

  52. I¡¦ll right away
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  53. I have a story to write for school. I really needed help, so I looked at different pages from google to help me, but nothing worked, but this one did.

  54. I beleave that ,when I do write me story it will be so unbeleavable to others ,that will thank its not a real and true story ,its about God ,the people ,what he said ,the facts in the past ,that will prove that whats going on now ,then will the future survivors beleave ,and again it will be to late .I have everything I have to say ,im just afraid to say it .they didn’t beleave jesus ,and they wont beleave me .I know for a fact ,is what GOD AND JESUS WAS TELLING US OF THE POWER OF SATAN AND THE TIMES TO LOOK FOR HIM IS NOW UPON US . IM TO SMALL OF A PERSON TO LISTEN TO WHAT I AM HERE TO DO . I GET SO DEPREESSED I GIVE UP .

    1. Write under a different name or in fiction. Have a look at Star Wars, people love that and it talks about Psychics, Telepathic, Levitation and many other things that people are skeptical and outraged about. Nevertheless they love Star Wars. There is always a way.

  55. It’s interesting what you say about spelling, and proof reading! But over the years I have lost my diction, and the ability to put words together due to trauma… I have re-started writing my book today actually, after I had procrastinated for 1 year.

    I have decided to be totally free and rore. And even though I know there will be spelling mistakes and I will go over it, I have decided to leave them in there…. It’s only a few words straight from a young girl in the book…

    And I do believe to take chances. thank-you for sharing and creating this area for all of us to be inspired. And most importantly thank-you to You For Following Your Dreams Jeff.. i am sure you will be reading my book at the end of January or before. But this is my goal.

    Lovely to make aquaintance with you!

    Suzan Ozturk from Australia

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