How to fix bad writing

So you’ve got a draft sitting on your desk.   Your job is to proof it and send it along the chain. Perhaps higher up, or to a client. Or to publish.

But what you’ve got is not great.  It’s just… okay… passable.

How do you make it great?

1)     Turf the lot and start again

As agonising as it may be, it’s often easier than taking the original apart.  This always makes it a bit awkward for telling the poor sod who wrote the first draft (even if that’s you).  But it’s more time saving in the long run.

2)     Cut, cut and cut

Grab your highlighter and choose three or four parts that work and cut the rest.   Keep it short, concise. Don’t use too much jargon or words ending in “ion” “iest” “ness” or “ite” (Note: those contraptions are the easiest way to expedite a reduction in communication  effectiveness. Translation: those words lose readers.)

Not sure what to cut?  Lose the adverbs.


3)     Add pizzaz

Include quotes.  You can make grander claims with quotes.

Refer to statistics.  Research adds weight to your argument.

Quote topical references (Gangnam Style, Christmas, misogyny, whatever)

Lists! Who doesn’t love lists?

Make your numbers real:  10 megalitres is enough to fill four Olympic swimming pools.  Fifty thousand people is enough to fill Docklands Stadium.

Subtitles: use them to break up text, especially longer pieces.

If you can, add visuals. Charts.  Videos.  Graphics.  Draw it yourself in paint if you have to.


4)     Go outside.

I’m talking about the C word – creativity!   If you want a new creative angle you need to leave your desk.  Ask anyone where they get their best ideas.  No one says:  “Well. I was just sitting at my desk working conscientiously and this idea just popped into my mind.” Chances are the best ideas arrive when you are out in the garden, playing cricket or enjoying a beer.   Run a lap of the local oval and mull it over.


5)     Be bold.

This is hard for corporate writing.  Companies get a bit nervous about a bit of personality or having a laugh.  But your writing doesn’t have to read like an annual report.