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How to write better? 17 tips that work

Trong Nguyen
May 24th, 2020

Writing is designing. Without words, apps would be an unusable jumble of shapes and icons.

Many designers may not consider yourself a “writer,” but to strengthen your writing, you don’t have to be. It’s a part of our job. Good writing shouldn’t be reserved for English majors or professional authors.

You would think it’s even harder for you when most of us, English is our second language. Then how can we write better?

Over the years, I’ve been bookmarking a collection of practical tricks to sharpen it.

1. Turn prepositional phrases into adjectives

Turning it into a one-word adjective.

No: CEOs in the tech sector

Yes: Tech CEOs

2. Replace adverbs with strong verbs

Adverbs can often be replaced with a single, stronger verb.

No: The child cried loudly.

Yes: The child screamed.

3. Avoid the passive voice

While the passive voice adds words to sentences, it also distances readers from what’s happening.

No: I was given a raise by my boss. Yes: My boss gave me a raise.

4. Get rid of “that”

Unnecessary “thats” are like fat in a sentence.

No: I hope that my colleagues enjoy my presentation.

Yes: I hope my colleagues enjoy my presentation.

5. Think twice about intensifiers

Using “very,” “really,” “truly,” or “extremely” is often a sign you just need to choose a better adjective.

No: It’s extremely cold outside.

Yes: It’s freezing outside.

6. Don’t start sentences with “there”

It buries the real meat of the sentence

Too long: “There is an issue with the server.”

Better: “The server is down.”

7. Swap nouns for verbs

Don’t water down sentences by using phrases that could be single words.

No: I made a decision to exercise daily.

Yes: I decided to exercise daily.

8. Cut wordy phrases

  • In order to -> to
  • Due to the fact that / because
  • On account of / because
  • In the event that / if
  • A large number of / many
  • The vast majority of / most

Too long: “In order to add this item to your cart, you must select a size.”

Better: “To add this item to your cart, select a size.”

Even better: “Select a size.”

9. Don’t use noun strings

More than three nouns in a row breeds confusion for readers

No: Company vacation rollover policy

Yes: Company policy on vacation rollover

10. Use positive description, not negative

Don’t describe something isn’t, describe what it is.

No: The living room lacks sunlight.

Yes: The living room is dark.

11. Replace “to be” verbs

“To be” verbs sound lifeless and flat, and they don’t show any action.

No: The parent and teenager are in a state of disagreement about the curfew.

Yes: The parent and teenager disagree on the curfew.

12. Opt for common words

Simplify your language. Choose simple, easy-to-understand.

No: My core competency relates to getting buy-in from all stakeholders.

Yes: I like to ensure that everyone agrees.

13. Avoid definitions

If you have to add an additional sentence to clarify an idea, cut the first sentence altogether.

No: My emotions got the best of me. In other words, I was angry.

Yes: I was angry.

14. Nix “currently”

No: I’m currently in a great mood.

Yes: I’m in a great mood.

15. Reconsider “make”

Verbs should always convey action.

No: Calcium makes the bones stronger.

Yes: Calcium strengthens the bones.

16. Omit needless words

Write instructions and messages in a precised way.

No: Message has been sent

Yes: Message sent

17. Begin with the objective

When a sentence describes an objective and the action needed to achieve it.

Don’t: Tap on item to see it’s properties

Do: To see item’s properties, tap on it

If you feel it’s too boring with an ocean of text, read a more visual version on my Instagram

Hi, I'm Trong, product designer living in Singapore. I write to practice, and write to find ideas. Nice to meet you!
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