How to Improve Your Writing's Pacing

Tara Sophia Mohr’s “3 Communication Mistakes with Big Impact” addresses three problems in spoken communication: rushing, “shrinkers,” and asking “Does that make sense?” I recommend you go read the blog post because it’s valuable for written communication as well.

While it probably won’t be hard to identify two of the mistakes in your own writing, you may be wondering if “rushing” applies to written words. Here’s how Mohr describes the concept:

Pauses! Pauses are so important. Breathing for a little micro-pause between your sentences conveys a sense of confidence and authority. Speaking at a slightly slower pace does the same.

Does this really apply to writing? Absolutely! Here are some ways to improve our style by avoiding a rushed tone:

Use fewer words. Compare He ran very fast with He raced or even He ran. English has lots of filler words and empty, overused words. As we cut down on our words, we are motivated to build a stronger, more expressive vocabulary that communicates our ideas more effectively.

Use shorter words. Long words aren’t bad. Sometimes they’re just right. As an example, there are probably times when obfuscate is the perfect word to use. However, confuse and obscure are not only shorter, they are easier to say and understand. If we try to choose mostly short words, the longer ones will add value rather than distract from our meaning.

Use shorter, simpler sentences. The longer or more complex a sentence is, the harder it is to follow. I’ve noticed that as my sentences get longer, I rely more on the overwhelming tide of language and feeling to get my ideas across than on my vocabulary and construction. Instead of piling on words, end the sentence.

Use periods and commas. I love unusual punctuation! You saw the exclamation mark, right? Well, guess what . . . there are ellipses, dashes—which are (somewhat) similar to parentheses—and wonderful things like the colon and semicolon. That’s right: I use colons; I use semicolons. The problem is that sometimes I rely on these punctuation marks to do the work for lazy sentences. Vanity punctuation has the most impact when it is not overused—as in this sentence.

These four principles create the same effect in written communication that pausing and slowing down do in speaking.