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Tip XI: Write the Way You Speak

When Don Murray showed up for his first day as the Boston Globe's writing coach more than 25 years ago, he claimed he could tell straight away who the top three writers at the Globe were.

He looked around the room and pointed out a man and two women who indeed turned out to the best writers in the newsroom.

How did he do it? Did he have some magical insight? No, actually it was something more down to earth. According to Murray, he could tell who the best writers were because “their lips move when they write.”

More often than not, good writers actually read out their stories, to themselves, to hear whether what they wrote sounds right. I've long used that technique even before I had heard about Murray's anecdote. And I can vouch that it really works to improve your writing.

If a sentence doesn't sound right when you read it – for example, it doesn't flow so smoothly or is awkward in some way – then you know you'd better rewrite that sentence.

“Effective writing has the illusion of speech without its bad habits,” Murray says. “The reader hears a writer speaking to a reader. The writing should flow with grace, pace, and clarity – not the way we speak but, better than that, the way we should speak.”

When you compose your article, write as if you were speaking to someone. That's the best way to get your message across because it makes your articles simple to understand.

So, the next time you want to know if your article reads well, read the damn thing – aloud! If it doesn't sound good to you, you can be certain it won't sound good to others.

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