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.