There are a lot of different ways to take an idea and get it down on paper – and probably just as many to take a draft and help make it shine. Just search the Internet, and you will find articles on everything from tightening your writing to expanding it, from the use of repetition to ways to remove it. In other words, there is no right way to “fix” your piece.

But I’ve come across a few ideas that can help you take your writing to a higher (or at least more polished) level. No promises they will work for you – but they help me.

But first – just so you know, these are not meant to be implemented when you are starting to write your piece. Don’t worry about things like flow and sentence structure when you’re first getting your words down on paper. But once you have something, and you want to clean it up and make it better, try one of these tips. Who knows – it could take your writing from great to fantastic.

READ YOUR WORK ALOUD

It’s amazing what kinds of things you catch in your writing when you are actually reciting the words. Missing words scream at you. Choppy sentences become so much more noticeable. Inconsistencies you missed when reading to yourself can be heard loud and clear. Even better – have someone else read it to you – and take notes. You can catch places where they stumble or seem confused, and go back and improve the flow (this is especially important when you are writing for children, by the way – as often these books ARE read aloud. But flow is a key component of all writing besides technical manuals). Text to speech programs work too, though you won’t get quite as good an indication of flow.

WATCH THE REPETITION

You probably don’t realize it, but you have several favorite words – comfortable ones – that you use frequently in your writing. Some of them, most likely TOO frequently. For instance, when I write fiction, my characters sigh a lot. And I mean A LOT. Every page or two a lot. Other people might overuse the word “that,” or repeatedly use “very” when a stronger word might be more effective. You get the idea.

The problem is: how do we figure out what these words are? You could use search in your word processor if you have a good idea what you might be overusing (or check this list of commonly overused words, and search for them) – or you could use one of my two favorite tools for discovering how often you use certain words:  TagCrowd and Wordle. Just take your text, paste it in the box, and it will show you a picture of the most commonly used words. Once you know, you can decide what to do with that information.

Another type of repetition to look for is sentence structure. Do most of your sentences sound pretty much the same? Try rearranging some of them, or combining shorter, related ones into compound sentences. Vary sentence length. The possibilities are endless.

Give these ideas a try – you never know what technique might take your writing from good to great!

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