· Be a student of good writing. An abundance of good books about writing is available today. Read them, take notes, and periodically review your notes. There are books about feature writing, business writing, and writing for the Web, and there are books about principles of pure writing that should apply to everything we write: organization, clarity, efficiency, coherence. Always look for ways to improve; no one is beyond improvement.
· Read good writing. Part of being a student of good writing is reading good writers and good writing and noticing the techniques the author uses. The more you learn about writing, the more things you will notice. We tend to spend too much of our lives reading office communication that does not reflect good writing. Take at least 15 minutes a day to read something other than newspapers or weekly news magazines (monthlies, such as Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The New Yorker are great). Read fiction or nonfiction, and if you have a hard time delving into a book, read a collection of short stories by good authors.
· Read with a writer’s eye. Too often, we read as readers. We absorb the content, but we do not read with a critical eye at what the writer is doing to draw us in and keep us reading. Whether it is a story, news release, or memo, some of the questions will be the same: What makes it a strong or weak opening paragraph? Are the details specific enough to give you a clear picture? Is it well organized? Are sentences carefully constructed and seamlessly connected?
· Expand your vocabulary. Start a vocabulary notebook, in a Word file or in a real notebook. Write down words whose meanings you do not know and look them up and write in the definitions. When you hear or see words used skillfully, even if you already know the meanings, you might write those down as well. Include the sentence or the context in which it was used. Periodically, at lunch or at another convenient time, periodically review your list. Also, keep a hardcover dictionary and a thesaurus on your desk, and use them, again and again. Good writing is built on precision, which comes from careful word choice. Words are the primary tools we have to work with. Treat them with care.