insight

English Matters – Small Tips For Better Writing


It’s time to leave better impressions with your writing. As the digital age advances, messaging apps and social media have been contracting our expression of thought into quick, bite-sized texts. Cutting the long story short, people are giving even less of a shit about what they put on a page then ever before. This is worrying for a society that’s supposed to be advancing into an age of sophistication but still have problems differentiating their “their”s from “they’re”s. Here’s a few tips on how you could write more cohesively and with a deeper impact, regardless of your working background.

Let your sentences speak.

Writing looks more natural, and thus more appealing, when it imitates the spoken word. Bearing this in mind, no one (that’s vaguely normal) speaks in short, staccato-like sentences. Practice varying the length of your sentences to make them pop and sparkle, not grind. Gary Provost explains and demonstrates this succintly:

The variation in sentence lengths creates an emotional tone in the text that helps build a connection with the reader. It also helps him not fall asleep. This could be utilised flexibly in various modes of writing. If you’re writing a copy meant to build excitement in the reader, for example, you could start out short on a three topic list to capture interest, build it up, and finish it off long to highlight the fireworks.

  1. Be welcomed right off your flight by the warm hospitality of the Vietnamese.
  2. Take the time to get to know and share industry secrets with some of the best in the business (that’s you!).
  3. Finally, spend the late hours of the day following the bright smiles of the Vietnamese to the most delectable and authentic of local delights.

Here’s another example - place a short sentence between or after longer ones, and you’ve created a space to inject humour or impose gravity. Play and experiment with your sentence lengths and find the flow that fits your messaging style best.

Read.

Trash the idea that you’re reading enough through social media; the majority of articles found on platforms like Facebook contain mediocre writing at their best, and downright horseshit at their worst. Articles with headers like “10 Ways Aries Are The Most Fun People To Date” - I’d rather sit through Easter morning mass


I’d prefer to form unrealistic expectations of life by myself, thanks.

Pick up a book, it doesn’t have to be a piece of great literature (unless you’re trying to impress a girl, but you forgot that no one reads). Anything you love would be more than enough: Harry Potters a solid choice, and non-fiction books are too. If you don’t have the time to read through an entire book, try short stories or online/offline newspaper articles that pique your interest. Tabloids DON’T count. Finally, I’m stating the obvious here, but writing is to reading as speaking is to listening – you won’t be able to excecute the former well if you don’t practice the latter.

The Thesaurus is a double-edged sword.

The Thesaurus is your greatest ally in finding a word you’ve encountered before but just can’t seem to remember – but it stabs you right in the back when it comes to pinpointing a word to define my expression. Instead of finding a direct synonym to the expression you’re trying to tie down, try to expand and deepen your message by looking elsewhere in the language. If I’m looking for a different word for “begin”, I could pluck “start”, “launch” or “initiate” straight out of the thesaurus. This works if I’m writing something of a high register, or if I’m a boring arse. I’d like to think that I’m not


The established sound one should make when hit by a dictionary.

How about choosing an idiomatic expression instead? You could go with:


Take the first step

Get the ball rolling

Lay the first stone

All three expressions lend a deeper meaning to the text: “take the first step” carries a sense of adventure, “get the ball rolling” could imply a feeling of excitement or pre-existing urgency and “lay the first stone” emphasises on the beginning as an important foundation for future development. So, don’t just go ransacking the thesaurus for alternatives to single words; expand your horizons to include metaphors and english colloquialisms too. The language would be delighted to provide.

When your flow doesn’t sound right.

There’s tons of factors that could lead to your sentence sounding out-of-place, and a common solution for a good number of them – when in doubt, reorder it. Don’t get it? Here’s an example:

“1. Space them out, put yourself in the shoes of the listener (even if it’s a visual text) and listen to the words form on your tongue and lips. 2. We’ve been using our ears since they grew out of the side of our heads – 3. hearing’s a very instinctive sense.”

Compare this edited version of a passage below under Vocalise the Textual (yes, I just quoted myself - you can hang me later) to it’s original and notice that the flow goes from 1. listen to yourself to 2. we’ve got ears in wombs to 3. hearing’s an innate instinct instead of the original 1, 3, 2.

Sound strange? It’s because the topical flow of the sentences isn’t streamlined according to it’s focus. The main topic focus is to listen to yourself because hearing’s an innate instinct, but then I got the womb all tangled up in the middle and the the focus is lost. It’s almost always best to mention examples or related subject matter after your main topic focus has been written down. If your sentence doesn’t sound completely sound, it’s probably because you got the clauses mixed up.

Here’s another tip, if your lists of adjectives preceeding your noun sounds wrong, it’s usually because it is. There’s actually somewhat of an order to this. It generally goes…

I say generally here because, as with a lot of other language points, everyone has got their own opinion on how this should be done (when do they ever not). Some say size should come before age and shape after, others that they should be put together. To make it simple, just follow this…


…and you should be fine. Just actively avoid the grammar nazis.

Vocalise the textual.

But don’t rush the words out like the in-laws you’re happy to be rid of. Space them out, put yourself in the shoes of the listener (even if it’s a text that's meant to be read) and listen to the words form on your lips and tongue. Hearing’s a very instinctive sense - we’ve been using our ears since they grew out the sides of our heads. Communication in all languages started out spoken. We talk to ourselves in our heads all the time. You get the point. Make proper use of your pair of time-tested, sophisticated listening devices to easier pick out the language mistakes your silly, primitive eyes might have overlooked.

And that’s it, I hope that you’ve learnt something useful thing from, or at least enjoyed reading this. Let’s end this off with something equally motivational and exasperating:

You already listen on a daily basis, when’s the reading going to start?

oh reuben luke (amcasia!)
creative executive

sweet talker. avid noise maker.

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