Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 12, 2022

5 Tips to Boost Your Professional Writing Cred

by Lori Freeland  

Whether you’ve just joined the writing world or you’ve been around awhile, you’ve probably figured out that good writing takes time and practice. Thankfully, it’s a skill like any other and can be honed. While some parts may come naturally, others will need to be learned. And that won’t happen overnight. But you can kick-start your knowledge and make it look like you know exactly what you’re doing.

Here are 5 ways to instantly up your writing game:  

1. Identify Your Audience

You can’t write for everyone. Throw out the temptation to be a bibliophile-pleaser. Unlike a stretchy pair of leggings, your final product will not and cannot be a one-size-fits-all. Know your genre and your readers’ expectations.

Writing for academics? Go ahead and throw in the big, fancy scientific words and dry, winding sentences. Penning a book for kids? Leave those words out, and research what’s appropriate for the reading level you’re trying to hit. Creating commercial fiction? Ditch a literary style in favor of something more fast-paced. Putting together a how-to guide? Make sure every step is clear and concise.  

Sidenote: Word will give you a general idea of where you fit in grade-level wise in the editor feature.

2. Strive for Clarity

The goal of most writers is to get their message out of their own heads and into someone else’s. This applies to novels, picture books, memoirs, articles, blogs, manuals . . . you get the idea. If the reader can’t understand the idea or the words, they have no take-away. If the story is too hard to follow, you’ll lose your audience.

  • avoid clutter on the page

Paragraph often and make sure there’s enough “white space.” Which would you rather read?

  • stay away from winding, snake-like sentences, multiple clauses, repetition, and  redundancy

Don’t do this (and yes, I’ve read similar sentences far too often):

At the beginning of the day, he first went to the meadow and took out his picnic basket and set it on the blanket, poured himself a glass of wine, cut the cheese into tiny cubes, thought about how blue the sky seemed to be despite the ongoing bad-air alert and, wishing he wasn’t alone, he closed his eyes and dreamed of his former love, and that’s how he began his day at first.

  • avoid using words you wouldn’t use in an ordinary conversation

He frolicked through the meadow versus He walked through the meadow

  • in fiction, paint a visual with words and “show” us the movie running in your mind
  • in nonfiction, be conversational and invite your reader in

3. Use Proper Punctuation

Even though our casual, text-based culture says otherwise, capitalization, commas, and periods are still a thing, And an emoji isn’t actually considered punctuation. You can find the first post in my Comma Series here.

  • lean into contractions

While this may feel like the opposite of “proper” punctuation, it’s not.

Read that sentence again this way: While this may feel like the opposite of “proper” punctuation, it is not.

I just got a lot less conversational in my tone, and most writing is not—and shouldn’t be—formal.

Why? Because we think and speak in contractions. Unless you’re writing a formal paper or academic article, ignore what you learned in school. This applies to fiction—not only with  dialogue but narrative as well—nonfiction, and even emails.

No contractions: I will not go with you. You are not very nice. I am not happy with you.

Contractions: I won’t go with you. You’re not very nice. I’m not happy with you.

Ellipses have had a makeover

  • instead of:

She fell asleep…and missed everything.

  • try:

She fell asleep … and missed everything


She fell asleep . . . and missed everything. 

  • periods and commas go inside quotation marks, even if it looks weird
  • She wanted his “job.”
    • Because he wanted “out,” she let him go.
  • semicolons and colons are fading out while em dashes are gaining popularity and can be used in place of a semicolon

Her career as a pastry chef was on the line—no ordinary bakeware would do.

  • in place of a colon and words like “including,” “like,” and “such as.”

She chose the party events—the favors, the games, the cocktails.  

  • as an interrupter

She didn’t just want dinner—although it smelled terrific—she also wanted company.

  • to break up dialogue and action (make sure the em dashes go outside the quotes)

“I don’t want that dog”—she pointed to the Irish setter—“I want the Lhasa apso.”

4. Keep Up With Trends

Trends in spelling, grammar, and punctuation change in the writing world just as they do everywhere else. Want to keep up? Subscribe to a resource like The Chicago Manual of Style online. CMOS recently updated to the 17th edition, and they offer a free thirty-day trial.

Bookmark the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and pop in what you’re unsure of, especially hyphenated words. Some of them are now spelled as one word. Make sure your titles are properly capitalized based on your style (CMOS, MLA, AP, etc.).

Check out Capitalize My Title.

Here are some current trends (at least for now):

  • there is no “s” in toward
  • ’til is now spelled till
  • there’s no longer a comma before words like “too” and “either” at the end of a sentence
    • I like cookies too.
    • I didn’t want to go either.
  • some common hyphenated words have merged
    • e-mail is email
    • make-up is makeup
  • “his/her” and “his or her” are changing to them or they

5. Take a Second Look

Even editors need editors. It doesn’t matter if you’re sending an email, writing copy, or polishing a manuscript, read what you’ve written. At least once. Ideally, out loud. Your ear catches what your eye misses.

Run spellcheck too. But always check to make sure the suggested changes are accurate. Automated spellcheckers can’t replace human discernment when it comes to context. *See screenshot below.

I still use the editor in Word, but I also like PerfectIt 5 as it pairs with The Chicago Manual of Style. Some other writers use Grammarly, but it can throw you off if you’re not careful.

*Word wants me to change “read” to “or reading,” but that doesn’t work in the context of this sentence. 

Don’t leave your writing to chance. Definitely don’t rely on the old adage “fake it till you make it.” Instead, decide to learn one thing well, then add another and another. I’ll bet you’ll be amazed at what comes naturally to your brain and shows up effortlessly on the page.

Let’s Talk . . .

What are some ways you appear professional in your writing? Are there tips a seasoned writer shared with you when you first started out? Talk to us in the comments. We’re all looking to become strong, solid writers, and helping each other will get us there sooner.

* * * * * *

About Lori

Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. An author, editor, and writing coach, she holds a BA in psychology from The University of Wisconsin and lives in the Dallas area. A regular contributor to Writers in the Storm and Crosswalk and former editor for The Christian Pulse and Armonia Publishing, she’s presented multiple workshops at conferences across the country and has experience in developmental and copy edits in various genres of fiction and nonfiction. She writes articles, novels, and everything in between. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her adult kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head. You can visit her at lorifreeland.com and find her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com.  

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

16 comments on “5 Tips to Boost Your Professional Writing Cred”

  1. Great tips, Lori. Keeping up with the trends was one that I learned was necessary a few years ago (thanks to my wonderful editor). I knew our English language usage morphed over time. I guess I assumed punctuation remained the same. Thanks for keeping us all on our toes.

  2. I've noticed some of the changes you mentioned. The comma after "too" is kinda ingrained, but so was the double space between sentences and I managed to get past that. 😄

    These are helpful tips, thank you Lori!

  3. I still like the comma before "either" and "too". And "till"? Yuck!

    I don't put all my stock in Spellcheck and Grammarlt because sometimes they're incorrect. I use them in addition to my own knowledge.

    Thanks for the tips.

    1. Sometimes it's hard to go with those new trends when we have the old ones stuck in our heads. The more I use the new ones though, the more I get used to them.

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