Most of us think effective writing is about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. That’s not true.
Writing is about hitting your mark, whatever that may be. That is the single most important thing when you put your words to use. Writing that hits its mark is effective.
But what is effective writing exactly? When it has the following characteristics:
- Clear: Write in a way that people always understand what you’re saying. Clear writing only has one interpretation. That’s what makes it effective.
- Credible: You can’t make the reader believe you. Your reader only believes you if you write credibly. Know what you’re talking about. If you ramble or are dishonest, a reader will sense it immediately.
- Persuasive: An effective writer inspires people with words. When you write persuasively, it sparks a reaction within your reader. Again, you can’t make people do anything. People are moved by effective writing themselves.
As you can see, these characteristics have little to do with grammar. An effective writer might make grammar mistakes and get away with it. We all make mistakes in daily life. And when we talk, few of us are perfect in speech.
That’s why 99% of the people I know hate the grammar police. That includes me. I’m allergic to people who talk about silly details like “You should write five and a half with a point, not a comma.” No one cares.
Writing is a tool
Effective writing prioritizes clear, credible, and persuasive language over everything else. I couldn’t care less about a “beautiful” sentence or trying to impress others by using fancy words or grammar. To me, writing is a way of communicating. In today’s world, we communicate more than ever in the written format.
In the past, ineffective writing has caused the following issues in my life:
- Waste of time: I can recount numerous situations I ended up in email exchanges with co-workers, clients, partners, students, and teachers. People often don’t know what you’re trying to say. That’s because it’s difficult to translate your thoughts into words. When that goes wrong, you end up clarifying your message, and that costs a lot of time. My aim is to get it right on the first contact. In other words: When I send an email, I don’t want to end up clarifying anything. It should be clear.
- Arguments: We’ve all experienced this. You write the wrong thing to your partner, spouse, friend, boss, etc. And all of a sudden, you’re in an argument. “I didn’t mean it that way!” Well, then don’t write it that way! Write what you mean.
- Lost opportunities: I’ve pitched so many people in the past about all kinds of things. You want to work with/for others. You want to hire someone. You want to attract investors. And so forth. But you reach out to people and no one responds back. That’s ineffective.
The moment you look at writing as a tool, you can see yourself as an archer. The goal of an archer is to hit the yellow mark in the middle of the target with an arrow.
If you want to make your writing effective, this awareness is critical. I used to be afraid of writing because I worried about things that didn’t matter. In everyday life, no one cares about grammar. You don’t have to win any prizes for how pretty your writing is. No one’s going to judge you on those things.
There’s only one thing that matters: Did your writing achieve its goal? Maybe your target is to inform someone. In that case, you need to share every detail clearly. Other times, you’re trying to close a deal. You need to be persuasive about the way you present your deal.
Whether you like it or not, every piece of writing has a target. Effective writing is when you hit the yellow mark with your words.