How to sound like a good writer. Even if you aren’t.

They may eject me from the from the underground writer’s union for revealing this. We like to keep this stuff secret, hoping that more people will hire us for the heavy lifting.

But here goes, anyway.

1. Delete your first paragraph.  Get to the good stuff faster. Forget the preamble, the context-setting, the background, the throat-clearing. Good movies and books start with something happening. Begin at the interesting part.

Also, delete your first slide. Maybe delete the first two. Also delete any sentence that begins with “Today’s. . .”

2. Use shorter sentences.  This forces you to limit each sentence to one idea. If you try to juggle three ideas at once, you will always drop one and break it. Or, you will get lost in the sentence and never get out again. Sometimes, readers forget the beginning of your sentence before you get to the end. They hate that.

Shorter sentences also make you sound forceful and decisive. Even if you’re waffling. And short sentences create the illusion of clarity. That is almost as good as clarity itself. We writers use this trick all the time.

Don’t worry about sounding ‘choppy’. Your English teacher was wrong. No one cares.

3. Use smaller words.  The simpler your language, the smarter you sound. Mimic plain-speaking communicators like Jack Welch or Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos. MBA jargon makes you sound like a bullshitter. Even if you’re not.

Think of all the pretentious PowerPoints that made you want to scream. Don’t do that.

4. Shorter paragraphs.  No more than three sentences each. Two is better. It makes your stuff read faster and easier. If it’s boring, at least it will move along quickly. Ergo, you look like a better writer. I’ve been using this ruse for years.

Also, in emails, hit ‘return’ after each sentence. People can scan it more easily.

5.  Use specifics, not generalities. People, not markets.  Your writing will seem more interesting when it’s about things people can talk to, or touch or picture in their heads. Abstractions like synergy and convergence are a snooze. If you must write about such things, bring it down to something I can kick, carry, sit on, point to, or shoot with my iPhone camera.

Instead of talking about “the mid-market IT environment” talk about an IT manager at a struggling biotech company. What is he wrestling with?

Even if your story is lame, it will still better read than a matrix of  the attributes of a faceless industry vertical.


Oh, and keep these tricks to yourself. Otherwise, everyone will be using them.