Today’s tip of the day comes from Grammatically Correct and describes some techniques for improving your writing style and for assessing how well your efforts are succeeding. Not all these strategies will be right for everyone, but it can’t hurt to at least consider them.
Focus on the whole as well as the parts
Any time you add or revise some words, reread what surrounds them to ensure that everything else still fits. Often, a change in one place will necessitate a change in another. Naturally you must focus on each line as you create it, but as soon as you have the first draft in place, back up a few lines and read through the earlier text again. You will sometimes find that the latest addition doesn’t fit in quite as it should—perhaps it restates a point already made, or doesn’t make a smooth enough transition from what came before.
As you form each new sentence, keep going back and rereading it from the start to ensure that all its elements mesh together. (Don’t worry about the technical stuff, like whether or not you should underline book titles in your writing or how many spaces to leave after a period). As you form each new paragraph, keep rereading it from its first line to see how its sentences fit together: perhaps the topic shifts enough that the paragraph should be broken up, or perhaps a particular word now is repeated too many times within a short space.
Put your work aside for a while and then come back to it
You may be confident that you have polished your words into their final form, only to find that when you look at them a little later, problems jump out: illogical connections, clumsy sentence structures, a strained-sounding tone, subtle grammatical errors. A lapse of time enables you to come back to your work with a more objective eye. A day or more away is ideal, but even a few hours can make a difference.
Have someone else look your work over
Any writer, no matter how skilled, can benefit from getting a second opinion, because by definition one is always too close to one’s own work. Given that any writing is ultimately intended for other people’s consumption, it only makes sense to find out how other people perceive it. The individual whose opinion you seek need not be a better writer than you, since the goal is not necessarily to have this person correct or revise what you have done. Rather, it is to provide you with feedback on how your points and your tone are coming across. If your critic doesn’t get your jokes, or finds a character you meant to be funny and sympathetic merely irritating, or can’t follow some instruction because you left out a step you thought would be perfectly obvious to anybody—at least consider the possibility of making changes (and do your best to remain on speaking terms afterward). A professional editor is ideal, but if this is not practical or affordable, select someone whose opinion you respect and who represents your intended readership as nearly as possible.
This strategy is likeliest to be helpful if your writing is intended for oral presentation, but can be useful for other genres as well. Hearing your own words, as opposed to looking at them, may change your impression of them and expose weaknesses such as pretentious-sounding terms, wooden dialogue, or rambling sentences.