Write Better, A Little Every Day

Johanna Rothman's picture

I've been reviewing session proposals for Agile 2014. I'm a reviewer for two tracks: Culture, Collaboration and Teams, and the Project, Program and Portfolio tracks. I knew the work would be challenging, especially as we got to the end of the submission deadline. But sometimes, the reading is the challenging part.

The submission authors know their material cold. They forget that sometimes their readers don't. I bet that happens to you, on your projects. The difference is that on an agile project, a user story is a promise for a conversation. In the submission system, we can review, and have a conversation with our authors, but they have to write the submission so that the submission stands alone. After all, they can't have a conversation with every potential participant who might want to attend their session, can they?

Writing is a skill that you can learn, just like development, testing, or facilitation. As with those skills, it takes practice.

Here are the ways I practice my writing:

  1. I write a little bit every day. That way, I keep my writing muscles in shape.
  2. Excise adverbs. You might be tempted to use these words: basically, really, truly, anything that ends in an "ly." Sure, use them in a first draft. Now, remove them from a second draft. See how much stronger your second draft is? You don't need those words. Adverbs weaken your writing. If you need a stronger word, seek a stronger verb.
  3. Note your sentence length. I try to write short sentences. I don't always succeed. But, I try. That makes my writing more readable. If you use a text processor, look at the readability statistics for your writing. I aim for 6th grade level. When I achieve it, people tell me they enjoy my writing.
  4. Be specific. I know what I'm trying to say. But sometimes, I go off the deep end of ideas. I try to provide examples and stories in my writing so you can follow me. If you've ever had anyone say, "Huh?" or anyone return your writing to you with a "I didn't follow this," you might have gone off into idea-land and not been specific. Try a story. Be concrete. Use data if you can. Here, I've given you three specific tips and one trap for writing. This last one is a trap. I'm even struggling with how to explain it to you. And I practice!

Try these tips to exercise your writing muscles. Your team will thank you.

User Comments

1 comment
Srinivas Kadiyala's picture

For Writing, I am trying to write a post once a week on my blog, but how can i say its really useful to others -  I dont get any feedback or such, whether i have written correct or not.

January 21, 2014 - 1:39am