National Day on Writing is observed on Oct. 21. Strong writing is part and parcel of the Coast Guard’s history. The service has been home to great writers in its ranks like former Chief Journalist Alex Haley, who authored the acclaimed book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
We can always find ways to improve our writing. Better writing helps us all do our jobs more efficiently. Writing clearly in plain language is even the law. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires simple writing in various government documents.
In honor of this observation day, MyCG has compiled a list of tips and tricks.
BLUF (bottom line up front) model should guide you whenever you write. BLUF helps keep our focus on the main point, avoid wasting our readers’ time and attention, and keeps our writing on track.
Say What You Mean
Step back and ask yourself, “what am I really trying to say here?” Think of the most direct way to say it, write it down, and build the article, essay, or memo back up from there.
Know Your Audience
Good writing hinges on knowing your audience and meeting them where they are. Think about what your audience knows. Will they understand this acronym or that expression?
Keep it Simple
Making things simpler and more direct is a goal of every good writer during their editorial process. Use active voice to make writing easier to read. Passive phrases increase word counts and give the reader more information to dig through. It may be tempting to use more complicated language, but simplicity makes for a better reader experience and helps communicate ideas more effectively.
Keep it Short
Whenever you are writing, ask yourself, “can I convey the same idea with fewer words?” Always look for ways to clean up your writing and remove unnecessary filler. Shorter written products are easier on the readers’ eyes, more likely to hold their attention, and take less time to read.
Start by targeting adverbs; go through your draft and remove every adverb you see. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” as novelist Stephen King once joked.
Edit Early and Often
Editing ourselves and our shipmates is how we improve as writers. Reading drafts aloud will help you detect awkward phrases and unnecessary sentences. Exchanging drafts with colleagues helps bring new and fresh ideas to everyone’s writing.
Avoid Jargon and Cliches
1984 author George Orwell said, “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” Jargon only makes writing harder to understand, and cliches are so meaningless that they add little to the substance of an article. Good writing doesn’t confuse; it clarifies.
Find Your Voice and Stick to it
Everyone has their own writing voice, whether they know it or not. Take time to experiment with different styles and approaches. Draw inspiration from writing you admire. “Find your own voice,” author and intellectual Christopher Hitchens wrote.
It may seem awkward at first, but it will make your writing sound more natural. And your readers will respond better to it. Writing in a way that comes naturally to us comes across more approachable and more interesting to readers.