Everyone writes at least a little bit every day. They send a text. Comment on social media. Process their feelings in a journal.
But taking pen to paper (or fingers to keys) doesn’t make a person a writer, and not all writing is great writing. It takes a deliberate effort to present ideas in a clear, logical, and engaging way.
As a freelance writer by trade, you’re tasked with creating content that resonates with an audience. While there’s no secret formula to writing well, you can elevate your work by understanding technical writing best practices—from sentence syntax to cutting fluff.
So, how do you become a better writer? Use these freelance writing tips to make your words pack a punch, improve your writing flow, and develop a strong voice.
- Create an outline first
- Delete the first line
- Forget about word count
- Cut the fluff
- Remove ambiguity
- Leave space to brain dump
- Use the towards or away framework
- Mind your pronouns
- Break the rules
- Don’t overload conjunctions
- Bring your writing down a reading level
- Use images in place of content
- Change your editing view
- Don’t skip fact checking
- Think logically about structure
- Switch up your writing space
1. Create an outline first
Starting a new piece of writing is intimidating.
An outline gets the ball rolling since you can start with something as simple as bullet points. After that, it’s just a matter of fleshing them out to create meaningful, coherent paragraphs.
Besides solving blank page phobia, outlines keep you on track. If you dive into writing while learning and researching your topic, you’ll end up changing your direction and approach along the way.
With an outline, you can structure your ideas logically and identify any gaps, which you can later fill in during the writing phase.
“By figuring out what you want to say before getting into the weeds on how you want to say it, not only do you save yourself a lot of time, you also make sure you don’t miss any key arguments.”Eric Doty, freelance B2B content marketer
If you’re a freelance write, an outline allows you to serve your clients better, too. Clients will advise where to give more depth, offer perspectives, and even add meatier sections to your outline.
The result? A draft that won’t require extensive editing (on your part) and extra fees (on the client’s part.)
2. Delete the first line
Sometimes you get stuck because of a lack of familiarity with the topic. Other times, you just don’t feel like writing. It happens to the best of us.
Synthesize the most important ideas of your research and get them into a Google Doc without overthinking. You’ll feel momentum once you see something on your page.
(Pro tip: If it’s the idea of typing that gets you, Google Docs has a voice-to-text function you can take advantage of.)
“Try deleting first lines. This is useful for the intro to the entire piece, or the first sentence of a chapter or section. Second lines tend to be stronger, more impactful, and get right to the point.”Katherine Boyarsky, co-founder of CXD Studio
You don’t have to worry about your piece winning any literary awards. What you’re essentially doing is digging through your brain for ideas and waiting to strike gold. As soon as you’ve unearthed a winner, look back at your piece and sweep the dirt away.
3. Forget about word count
Word count shouldn’t be looming over you while you write. If it is, you’ll head straight for Fluff City.
Clarity and conciseness are essential in writing. When your sights are set on a particular word count, you’ll meander and drag your points to reach it.
“Word count is something to minimize, not maximize. In school, you had to write a 2,000-word essay. If you wrote 4,000 words, you got bonus points. If you wrote 500 words, you failed. In the real world, it’s the opposite—the market rewards concise, considerate writing.”Dickie Bush, Ship 30 for 30 founder
If you don’t want to feel as if you’re losing money as you refine your piece for more conciseness and better quality, consider switching to per-project pricing. It’s the preferred freelance pricing model for a reason.
4. Cut the fluff
Look for words or sentences that either weaken your argument or add no value. This fluff softens your overall message.
There are many ways to trim fluff in your content, such as:
- Write short paragraphs. Keep them no longer than four sentences each.
- Get rid of adverbs and adjectives. Writers use these modifiers to enhance their verb and noun choices, but they could do a better job by using more powerful words.
- Avoid jargon. Unless the brief tells you the readers are absolute pros in their field, steer clear of technical terms.
- Delete wordy phrases. CTRL + F then delete long phrases, such as:
- “You should”
- “In order to”
- “Make sure that”
- “It’s important to”
- “Always remember”
- “… is a great way to”
- “You might not have thought about this but …”
“Write declaratively, without hedging. Remove ‘just,’ ‘I wonder,’ ‘a bit,’ and ‘kind of’ from your writing. Your writing will be bolder and more confident, and you’ll internalize it, too.”Katie Lewis, freelance copywriter and editor
5. Remove ambiguity
A sneakier way fluff hides in your blog post is through ambiguity. You think you’re adding sentences with value because they connect to your main point. But in reality, dropping these words cuts fluff without changing the meaning of your sentence.
When I interviewed Orbit Media’s CMO Andy Crestodina, he said he almost never writes the words “it depends” because he thinks they leave the readers unsatisfied: “Just skip those words and just tell them what it depends on. If you are X, do Y. If you are A, do B.”
Other ways you can clear up ambiguity include adding stats to replace quantifiers—some, most, few—and avoiding unnecessary preludes.
“Most of my editorial comments boil down to, ‘so what?’ or ‘be more specific.’ If you can get to the root of an idea or concept, the language you use almost doesn’t matter.”Alex Birkett, founder of Omniscient Digital
6. Leave space to brain dump
Keep space for a brain dump at the bottom of your document (or create a separate one for it). Mine is home to things I want to use but don’t fit anywhere yet, such as:
- Relevant tweets
- Internal links to add
- Images, GIFs, and screenshots
- Statistics and research studies
This brain dump space provides room for inspiration and ideas that didn’t make it to your outline, which you can refer to as you complete your draft.
Additionally, it makes it easier to refine the piece if feedback suggests digging deeper into the topic. You already have ideas waiting for you, so you don’t have to conduct too much new research.
And if you end up not using them anyway, all isn’t lost. You can put them aside until you find a use for them.
7. Use the toward or away framework
Sticking to one angle helps your readers process information faster—but more importantly, it helps you stay in one lane.
When writing a piece, think about how people behave to gain pleasure (toward) or to avoid pain (away from). Whichever approach you choose, let that determine the direction of your writing.
- Toward: In this guide, you will learn how to improve your writing skills.
- Away: In this guide, you learn how to avoid common writing mistakes.
Jake Sheridan, freelance writer and SEO strategist, adds “If you combine this with understanding the intent behind a topic you are writing about, you can hook readers in your introduction by speaking directly to what they want to achieve (by reading your content, hopefully).”
8. Mind your pronouns
Some of the shortest words in the English language can lead to a writer’s undoing.
I’m not talking about basic mistakes that result from mixing up nominative, objective, possessive, and other types of pronouns. I’m referring to mistakes, such as:
Referring to brands as they/their
A brand is a thing, not a person. When referring to a brand, merchant, or retailer, use “it” instead of “their.”
⛔️ Bob’s Diner stops their customers from buying burgers outside.
✅ Bob’s Diner stops its customers from buying burgers outside.
Using male pronouns for singular subjects
Gone are the days when writers use male pronouns to refer to gender-neutral subjects. Some 71% of customers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusivity. A brand’s content should reflect that.
⛔️ The manager talked to his employees.
✅ The manager talked to their employees.
As a general rule, a singular subject requires a singular pronoun. However, using “they/their” comes in handy when you don’t know what gender the subject is, or when the subject doesn’t identify as male or female.
Overlooking ambiguous pronouns
Ambiguous pronouns usually happen when there are two subjects (antecedents) in a sentence, leaving the reader unsure of which one the pronoun refers to.
⛔️ Andrea and Melissa went back to work together after she finished her lunch. (Who finished her lunch: Andrea or Melissa?)
✅ Andrea and Melissa went back to work together after Melissa finished her lunch.
9. Break the rules (sometimes)
Forget what you learned in English class; writing for the web is different from school papers.
You can start sentences with “and,” “but,” and other conjunctions. Even phrases and one-word sentences work—especially when giving emphasis. And contrary to what Grammarly says, you can use prepositions at the end of your sentences.
(See what I did there?)
Don’t be afraid to unleash your inner rebel and show your former English teacher that writing can be flexible as long as the outcome is meaningful.
10. Don’t overload conjunctions
While you can use conjunctions to start your sentences, keep them in moderation. It’s hard for readers to follow your argument if you use a lot of buts and howevers.
Conjunctions can also indicate that your ideas aren’t in the right order. If your sentences flow naturally, you won’t need them. For example:
“The company’s recent post on TikTok took advantage of the platform’s algorithms because its social media manager added a trending song in the video and it went viral.”
The outcome (going viral) is combined with the action (adding a trending song) and the reasoning behind the action (to leverage TikTok’s algorithms) in one sentence. This example also provides another reason to keep your conjunctions to a minimum: They lead to run-on sentences.
Here’s how to rephrase it without the conjunctions. It’s much clearer, more structured, and not a run-on sentence:
“The social media manager leveraged TikTok’s algorithms by picking a trending song to feature in the company’s new video. As a result, the recent post went viral on the platform.”
Of course, don’t go overboard and delete all your conjunctions. A blog post lacking in conjunctions will read as fragmented and linear. Just be mindful of how often you use them.
11. Bring your writing down a reading level
Want to make your writing easier to read? Bring down the language by a few reading levels.
First, modify the words. Writing the way you speak is a simple way to accomplish this. I don’t mean “umm,” “eehhh,” and “like.” I mean, swapping out words, such as:
- Utilize → Use
- Assist/facilitate → Help
- Commence → Start
- Due to the fact that → Since
- Henceforth → From now on
You wouldn’t use words like these in casual conversation, and they’re also quite wordy. As you already know: wordy means fluff, and fluff equals weak writing.
Second, modify the sentences. Use platforms like the Hemingway App and Web Fx to detect complex sentences. When you find one, either simplify the idea and the words you use, or split the sentence into more digestible chunks.
According to Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, our brains use shortcuts to deal with all the complicated tasks we face on a daily basis. By making your piece easier to understand, you’re providing readers a shortcut to enjoying your writing.
12. Use images in place of complex explanations
When writing complicated topics, “show, don’t tell” is always the best approach. In most cases, this means highlighting concepts more than technical ideas when you write.
But what if adding context and stories only clutters the piece? Including an image is key.
“If you don’t think the main point of a section can be grasped by a fifth grader, supplement it with a graph, chart, image, or illustration.” —Brooks ManleyBrooks Manley, freelance SEO consultant
As a writer, you don’t have to provide visuals. But your clients will love you for being proactive and pitching image ideas, like charts or infographics.
13. Change your editing view
You’ve gotten over the hump and finished writing your piece. Congrats! Yet the work isn’t done: you still need to go over that piece with a fine-toothed comb.
Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, likes to separate herself from her work by letting it marinate for a day or two. This gives her a fresh set of eyes to dissect her piece without objection.
If you don’t have time to wait for an entire day, give it at least an hour. Walk your dog or grab a bite to eat. This gives your brain a rest to detach from what you’ve written.
“For me, first drafts happen on my laptop and subsequent edits happen on my mobile (Google Sheets). I catch so many typos and sometimes even settle the brevity score.”Trina Moitra, head of marketing at Convert.com
Another way to see your piece in a different light is to read it on a different device or change the font and page size. It eliminates familiarity, giving you a fresh perspective.
Self-editing is a different beast from writing. You need to mercilessly throw out anything that doesn’t relate to the premise of your piece. It also includes proofreading your work for basic grammar mistakes.
If you don’t feel confident editing your own work, you can hire a professional editor to serve as a second set of eyes. (Note: It’s more than OK to factor this into your rate, since you’re delivering a higher-quality piece.)
Read more: Writers, Here’s How to Build Solid Relationships with Your Editors
14. Think logically about your structure
Aside from grammar, look at how you present ideas together. In an ideal world, your outline should already cover all the bases.
But that’s not how it works. Outlines aren’t definitive; they’re only meant as a guide. While writing, you find new ideas and fresh angles that add more context to your work.
Rigidly sticking to your outline can make your paragraphs seem disjointed. So feel free to adjust your sentences and paragraphs to embrace these changes and make the reading experience more worthwhile.
“A copyeditor can easily fix passive voice, long sentences, and other copy issues. Structure, on the other hand, is the reason most drafts need revisions. Always answer the questions “What? Why? How? Where? Who?” logically. You’re taking the reader on a journey. Give the full picture.”Lily Ugbaja, freelance writer
With structuring, you’re not just concerned with the flow of the piece. You’re also thinking about how well you connect sentences and paragraphs to one another.
15. Don’t skip fact checking
There’s no beating around the bush: Everything you write—be that for a client or passion project—needs to be accurate. The words you write have the potential to impact someone’s life.
No matter how severe the life-inducing situation can be, just one incorrect fact discredits your writing and the publication it was shared on. Plus, if your clients consistently spot inaccuracies in your content, opportunities for repeat work dry up.
“At the end of day, being correct is the job you’ve chosen and the job you’re being paid to do. Why be wrong when, with just a little extra work, you can be right?”Conan Tobias, freelance editor
Prevent that from happening, and make your writing stronger, with this fact checking checklist. Make sure every fact in your content is truthful and accurate. Your readers (and clients) will thank you for it.
16. Switch up your writing space
If you’re a freelance writer working at home, location freedom is an advantage. Use it! You don’t have to write at your desk all day. When creativity runs low, try the following:
- Find dedicated spaces for each part of your writing process. Designate spaces to brainstorm ideas, write, and edit in your own home. By setting up separate stations, you will feel less distracted and be able to concentrate more effectively.
- Organize your office. It doesn’t have to be a full makeover. Try simple ways to brighten up the place (and your mood), like rearranging furniture, adding artwork, and decorating with plants.
- Try co-working spaces and writing retreats. Sometimes the urge to switch things up is way too strong. Find a new space to work on Coworker.com, or take a solo freelance writing retreat, like writing pro Kaleigh Moore, if you have a lot of deadlines coming up and want to recharge your creativity.
Improve your writing skills in no time
Nobody is born a natural writer. It’s a skill that’s learned, practiced, and refined.
Use these writing tips to improve your own skill. From double-checking pronouns to cutting fluff, you’ll soon see the impact strong writing can have on your freelance writing business.