As with any “rule” of writing, break them when it feels appropriate. Still, these will serve you well.
#1. Big words bad
Don’t reach for five-dollar words unless you absolutely have to. According to a study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, undergraduates admit to throwing in complex words to sound smart — and the strategy is a loser. The thesaurus don’t impress us much and people who rely on it are actually seen as less intelligent.
And unless you’re writing a Victorian character in a play, the same goes excessive formality. Formal and outdated language is a frequent side effect of learning English as a second language in school, so watch out if that applies to you.
In fact, avoid anything that might call attention to the writing itself. Effective writing is simple writing.
#2. Use active voice
Using the active voice is one of the easiest ways to add a big load of impact to your writing. Train yourself to avoid the passive voice and immediately make your writing more engaging, less confusing, and of a higher quality.
But as with any “rule” of writing, you should break it when it feels appropriate. Sometimes it’s what you need to add flavor and rhythm (next tip). Passive voice is also expected in certain fields, like technical writing.
#3. Change up the rhythm
Keeping sentence and paragraph lengths varied is another hack that will instantly improve your writing to a decent base level — even if you don’t understand why. Writing of any kind is art, just like poetry and music, and you want to avoid a monotonous drone of similar looking (or feeling) substance.
#4. Know what you are really trying to communicate
In other words, research. If you don’t know what you have to say, you’re going to spend time and energy trying to make nothing sound like something, and that’s the last thing needed in a world saturated by article spinners and content farms.
#5. Separate writer you and editor you
A good programmer knows that early optimization is a trap, and the same goes for writers. Don’t get caught up in getting every word and sentence tweaked just right while in your writing mode. Focus on communicating your ideas, and only start the editing process when you have completed your draft.
And with that said:
#6. Take a hacksaw to your work
If you’re allied with the reader, redundancy is the enemy. Mercilessly purge repetitive ideas and ways of expressing them. Make every sentence count for as much as possible, as effectively as possible.
Also eliminate fluff words that don’t really add anything. Common suspects are words like very, and rather, and needless adverbs.
#7. Give yourself a fresh pair of eyes
If you have the luxury of time, set aside your draft for a few hours — or even days. Your fresh pair of eyes will clearly see the literary atrocities and embarrassing errors you were blind to while in the thick of your mission.
Not everyone’s interested in or supposed to be a master of the craft of writing, especially if their time is worth more than a good contractor. You could always just delegate and use a paper writing service.