Sometimes a haircut, change of clothes, or even some makeup can
drastically improve a person's appearance. In the same way, a few quick
fixes can improve your writing.
If you don't have a lot of time to revise a piece of writing (maybe
you're finishing an essay at the last minute or writing a business
letter under a tight deadline), you will need to make the best of what
you have, even if it's not perfect. After all, no piece of writing is
Here are five things you can do to quickly improve a piece of writing:
1. Read your writing out loud. Make sure you read the writing
naturally—read it as if you are speaking. Too often, people read text in
a monotone, one word after the other without inflection. If you read
your writing as speech, you'll be able to detect incorrect use of
punctuation, especially if you have trouble with comma placement.
Reading your writing out loud can help you recognize where you pause
naturally; each pause point probably deserves a comma.
2. Look at the beginning of each sentence. Do you start every
sentence with a pronoun (words like "he," "she," or "it") or subordinate
conjunction (words like "although," "because," or "before")? If you
notice that you're using the same pattern again and again, restructure a
few of your sentences. Strive for variety: Throw in a few short, punchy
sentences and some long, luxurious sentences.
3. Look for and eliminate passive voice. In passive voice, the
verb is being done by someone or something. In active voice, someone or
something does the verb. More often than not, the active voice sounds
more direct and authoritative. Passive voice is not incorrect, but
writers should use it sparingly and with good stylistic reason. The
easiest way to hunt down passive voice is to look for auxiliary verb
forms: is, are, were, have been, and so on, and the word by. When you find them, ask yourself: Can I rewrite this sentence in a more direct way?
4. Break up paragraphs. By doing so, you will immediately increase the readability of your text. Readers are more receptive to writing with plenty of white space.
Look for places where you start a new thought. Transition words and
phrases like "in addition," "however," "finally," and "therefore" are
5. Add one memorable image. If you want to make an impression
on your reader, add one memorable image to your writing. Push yourself
to think of a new way to describe or explain something. Avoid clichés.
Think similes, metaphors, and figurative language. By adding a unique
image, you will have a better chance of capturing the reader's attention
and demonstrating that you put forth a great deal of effort.
Laryssa Wirstiuk teaches writing and blogging at Rutgers University, and her first book, The Prescribed Burn, is available for purchase at theprescribedburn.com/shop. A version of this article first appeared on CraftYourDrafts.com.