Improve your writing in one easy step

Ahn Do - The Happiest Refugee

After Melbourne author Anh Do won a few prizes recently for his book The Happiest Refugee, there was a bit of media eyebrow-raising when it came to light that Do had had the assistance of a ghostwriter in putting together his book. The unspoken implication seemed to be that perhaps Do’s award-winning credentials should be questioned for his having had this assistance. There is something odd about writing. Perhaps because we all learnt to write at school, and because there is no special equipment required, it is common for people to feel guilty about seeking help – or even a second opinion – on their writing. It’s a guilt few would feel about getting help with a computer problem or a presentation.

But writing is not easy. The English language being what it is, it is very easy for intended meaning to be completely lost due to a misplaced word or a wayward comma, colon or apostrophe. (See the joke from Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves for a funny example). So it makes sense to get help.

You can reach out for help at any stage of the writing process.

  • Have something complicated you want to say? Try talking it over with a colleague or friend in order to find a combination of words that will get your meaning across. If you can’t say it, you won’t be able to write it.
  • Similarly, if you’re concerned that an email or letter risks being misconstrued, get a neutral party to read it before you send it and discuss your concerns with them.
  • Have a tendency to fall into overly formal writing, or the use of too much ‘management speak’? Ask someone to read over your work specifically looking for overused words and clichés. Better still, get them to read it back to you and anything clunky will become obvious straight away.
  • Not confident with your grammar or spelling? While spelling can be left to the computer to some extent (being wary of Americanised spellings and correctly spelt but wrongly used words – ‘there’ instead of ‘their’), I wouldn’t recommend using your word processor’s grammar function. Better to get someone with trusted grammatical aptitude to check it over.

One thing you should do when seeking help or advice with your writing is be specific about the type of feedback you want and how you use it. Writing, especially when it comes to issues of style and tone, can be very subjective. Being overly generous in accepting advice could lead you to overwork your words and lose the ‘you’ in them.

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