4 bad writing habits—and how to break them

Good writing is a discipline. Here are some bad practices that all writers should weed from their daily routines.

Neuroscientists and psychologists tell us the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new, better habit. For example, if you drink too much diet soda, a good way to cut down is to establish a new habit of drinking 8 ounces of water before you reach for a diet soda.

The same can apply to writing habits.

Here are four bad writing habits, along with ways to replace them with better tendencies:

1. Bad habit: You ignore your audience.

In the world of corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to the whims and demands of executives or colleagues. Your boss might want to include 500 words of background information in a blog post, but that doesn’t mean readers want to read it.

New habit: Remember, your audience is not your boss, but the “end user” of what you’ve written. Think about that audience before you start writing.

2. Bad habit: You Bury the lede.

“Burying the lede” is the failure to mention the most important, interesting or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first few paragraphs. It means your copy fails to highlight the most important or actionable items at the beginning of the message.

Of course, corporate communicators know not to bury the lede. However, that’s not always the case with clients and executives, many of whom insist on putting background or irrelevant information front and center.

New habit: When working with these insistent clients, tell them that readers have little time to digest their message. Too much information can cause readers to ignore the message completely. Ask clients or leaders if their message would be understood by someone reading it on their phone while in line at the grocery store.

Explain that background information and statistics can still be included in the message, but instead push for links or listing them under the headings “Background” or “Quick Facts” in later paragraphs.

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3. Bad habit: You lean on ‘crutch’ phrases.

Many writers use “crutch phrases” when they’re not sure how to start a sentence or how to connect two sentences. They’re often seen in corporate emails and copy:

“As many of you are already aware, performance reviews will start next week.”

The phrase “as many of you are already aware” is meaningless and doesn’t add anything to the sentence. The phrase can be removed, allowing you to jump straight into the sentence:

“Performance reviews will start next week.”

New habit: Avoid crutch phrases all together. If you need them to help with transitions, use them, but take them out when you revise and edit.

Here are some of the most common crutch phrases:

  • “It is worth noting…”
  • “In an effort to…”
  • “It is important to point out…”
  • “For those who didn’t know…”
  • “Please be advised that…
  • “Given the fact that…”
  • “At the present time…”
  • “In order to…”

4. Bad habit: You overuse complex words.

No one is impressed when you use unfamiliar or complex terms in your copy. It can make you seem out of touch.

Using complex terms interferes with comprehension and slows down your readers. They might even skip terms they don’t understand, hoping to find their meaning in the rest of the copy.

Would you read this sentence?

“As the new year commences, we are leveraging our core competencies as we endeavor to meet our customers’ needs.”

New habit : Here are some simpler alternatives to confusing, complex terms:

  • ameliorate: improve
  • endeavor: try
  • implement: carry out, apply
  • utilize: use
  • promulgate: publish
  • regarding: about

What bad habits would you add to the list, PR Daily readers?

Laura Hale Brockway is a writer from Austin, Texas. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life on PR Daily and at Impertinent Remarks.

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