6 Surefire Ways to Improve Your Writing in Under an Hour
We’ve all been there. That article/essay/proposal deadline is looming, and it’s crunch time. There’s no time for another draft, and that piece of writing Must. Be. Sent.
Time to panic, right?
Enter these quick fix tips to give your draft a 15-minute face lift before you click that Submit button.
Now, I will be the first in line to tell you that becoming a good writer takes time, effort, and above all, practice. But, there are some situations in which you just simply can’t wait for the return on those investments in your long-term goals.
So, what do you do when the clock is ticking and you need to send off the least cringy version of your project?
I’m glad you asked!
Tip #1: Check for consistency in voice.
The first way to make sure you have a cohesive piece of writing is to verify that you’re consistently addressing the reader in the same way.
Are you reflecting on your own experience or sharing a personal story or opinion? Use first person pronouns like “I,” “we,” and “me.”
Our goal is to educate and entertain the audience, and I find my blog to be quite funny at times.
Are you offering tips to your reader? Talking about ways you can benefit them? When you’re addressing the reader directly, use second person voice with “you” and “your.”
You likely clicked on this post because you want to improve your writing quickly.
Are you presenting data or evaluating information? For formal academic essays and research documents, consistent third person is usually best.
The author believes that her blog can be humorous at times, but readers may disagree.
Sometimes, writing combines a few different perspectives, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to be on the lookout for changes in voice mid-sentence.
Tip #2: Read your draft out loud, focusing on the rhythm and flow of your sentences.
Sometimes sentence fragments are left behind as collateral damage from the rapid-fire brain dump process. So it’s always a good idea to read over your full draft to make sure no abandoned partial thoughts were left to trail off into the sunset on their own.
Now, I recommend reading off a printed copy, but clearly, I am a dinosaur who hates trees. For those of you who can get on board with using actual paper, keep a pen or highlighter handy and mark any places where you verbally trip over your words or find an awkward break in a sentence (hello, unnecessary punctuation!) so you can quickly find those places to focus your revising efforts when you return to your computer.
And, for your next “smooth” move…
Tip #3: Bridge the gaps.
Have you ever read something that just didn’t work? Maybe the movement between paragraphs and sections was choppy, the topics switched abruptly, or you simply couldn’t find the link between the author’s main point and the anecdote or supporting evidence they were trying to convey.
Transitions are key in moving a reader smoothly through a piece of writing. So, invite the reader with you along the journey on your train of thought, and don’t forget to stop at each station to pick up the passengers.
To quickly evaluate the logical organization of your draft, pay attention to the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Do they provide the basic information about what was covered and what is coming next?
People often confuse headings for transitions. However, titles and section headings help only to organize and announce the content, not to provide substantive links between ideas. For this reason, I recommend reviewing the conceptual transitions to make sure your piece can be easily navigated by the reader.
Transition words (e.g. however, therefore, moreover, next, for example, similarly, etc.) can help to show the relationship between two ideas in adjacent sentences or paragraphs. But, be careful that you are not simply slapping these onto existing sentences that do not truly fit together in the relationship implied by the transitional phrase.
Now that you’ve looked at some higher order concerns at the global level of your draft, you can move on to the nitty gritty sentence-level improvements to polish off the finishing touches.
Tip #4: Check for dreaded comma splices.
You probably won’t have time to assess every single punctuation mark if you find yourself in need of a 15-minute sprint to the finish line, so I suggest focusing on the major mechanical mishaps that commonly plague writers.
Second only to missing Oxford Commas on my list of punctuation pet peeves are comma splices. These are sneaky run-on sentences that combine two independent clauses (complete thoughts with a subject and predicate—remember that from elementary school?) using a comma when stronger punctuation is needed.
Let’s capitalize on this bee in my bonnet for an example:
Elle cannot stand comma splices, they really irritate her.
That’s a comma splice. When you write these, kittens die.
To correct this sentence, and save our furry friends, we have two options. First, you can replace the comma with a period and then begin a new sentence. This way to fix a run-on is ALWAYS correct.
Elle cannot stand comma splices. They really irritate her.
The second option, which makes some people feel more sophisticated, uses a semi-colon. This is appropriate when the two clauses are closely related. In our sample sentence, the second clause builds on the idea of the first, so we could also connect them like so:
Elle cannot stand comma splices; they really irritate her.
Make sense? Good.
I’m so glad we had that little chat. Now we can all sleep better tonight.
Tip # 5: Use the “Find” feature on your word processing program to check your writing for commonly misused words.
If you’re on a tight deadline, chances are you may have rushed through the writing or had brain cells racing faster than your fingers could type as you finished up your draft.
When doing a last minute edit, make sure you haven’t made any egregious word usage errors that often squeak by spell check. If you need a quick way to scan for such mistakes, use the Ctrl+F command (or equivalent for non-PC users) to search for commonly misused words like these:
Just type the suspected offender into the search bar, and the results will show you every place it occurs in the document so you can assess whether it needs to be adjusted for the sentence it’s in.
Voilà! Snafus managed.
But, don’t click send just yet. You might have thought you’d squeak by without having to proofread, being in such a rush and all. Sorry, friends. Not on my watch.
Tip #6: Proofread your writing backwards.
Never, ever, ever skip your proofread! Because our brains tend to fill in what we expect to see when we read our own work, it is incredibly easy to fabricate missing words or overlook extra words, typos, and punctuation errors when going over familiar text for the four hundredth time.
Some people recommend changing the document font to trick your brain into thinking it’s reading something new, thus allowing you to see possible errors in a new light. However, I encourage you to take this brain challenge one step further.
Read your writing from end to beginning. This makes the context less clear, which then makes skimming harder. Remember those transitions we touched up in Tip #4? They don’t work so well in reverse.
Stripping the narrative melody from your content makes it harder to gloss over flaws in sentence-level grammar and syntax, and they will stick out like a sore thumb. So, if you’re pressed for time, jump to the end of the document and work your way up, one sentence at a time.
So there you have it–the quick fix “in case of emergency” Editor 911.
A word of warning
Keep in mind that these are not best practices for thorough revisions. But, they can be helpful band-aid level fixes if you need to touch up your work in a pinch, sort of like doing a ten-minute tidy before an unexpected guest arrives.
But, if you need comprehensive editing or find yourself low on time to keep up with your content creation schedule, The Pocket-Sized Professor can help! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us here!
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Until the next draft,