The 5 Cs of Effective Writing

Writing is a part of life; it is something we do every day. From drafting a proposal to writing a research project, outlining a business plan, sending a memo, composing an email, presenting a letter, filing a report or simply sending a text message, we all engage in one form of writing or the other. Writing can be a fun and enjoyable task but it can also be intimidating and daunting. We struggle to write, not because we lack ideas. The struggle comes from challenges surrounding the construction of well-formed sentences and arrangement of these sentences in a logical manner.

There are times you read an article and think to yourself “wow, I would love to write like this.” In other cases, you struggle to decipher the message and probably shake your head in disappointment. What distinguishes a good writer from a bad one? Why do some articles stand out solely based on the style of writing? Are there some rules to adhere to when writing?  To be a successful writer, it is first and foremost important that you practice at any given opportunity. To master the craft, you must be willing to practice. Writing effectively does not happen overnight.  Below are 5 C’s to writing better (clarity, concise, correct, complete and coherence).



“It is not enough to write so that you can be understood. You must write so that you cannot be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Your writing must be clear. Irrespective of your niche or targeted audience, ensure that you write legibly. Clarity adds value to your writing; readers can comprehend what is required of them much quicker and with less effort. Ask yourself if your readers can easily understand your message. To write clearly, you must think clearly. You must think clearly about the topic to communicate it effectively.  Failure to know and fully understand what you are writing about makes your writing weak, unintelligent and insubstantial. However, when you fully comprehend your topic, the clarity of your writing is automatically reflected in your well-thought-out ideas. When writing, avoid ambiguous words; cut meaningless words; use simple words; do away with filler words (such as ‘um’ ‘uh,’ ‘like,’ and ‘you know’) and avoid unnecessary jargon.



To improve your chances of being a better writer, your writing must be “correct”. That simply implies that your write-up must be free of grammatical errors. You should ensure that punctuations are used correctly and your ideas are put across in a well-structured manner. Words must be spelt correctly. The use of wrong or ambiguous words might confuse your readers and this must be avoided. Your audience may lose interest in your write-up if words are used improperly. Moreover, many grammatical mistakes and improper use of words make it rather difficult and uncomfortable to read. If you must, use a dictionary to be sure all words are spelt correctly. Do some research on your topic and ensure that all information provided is accurate.



Many people get lost in their own piece of write-up; a common cause here is overwriting. Use concise language when transforming your ideas into words. Replace long phrases with few words if possible. To be a good writer, you must find a way to express yourself concisely, and doing so in an “economical” way is very important. There is the need to keep your writing as brief as possible and straight to the point. There is no need to beat around the bush. Obviously, it is easier to read a 2-page article than a 10-page one, especially when both articles convey the same idea or insight on a particular subject. Many readers skim and scan through pages and you must find a way to keep the write-up simple. To write concisely, do not make use of more words than is needed. In addition, avoid redundant words and desist from the use of same words in different expressions.



“No information is better than half information.”

Have you provided your reader with the necessary information to fully grasp your points? If you are sending a memo, are all the recipients provided with the information they need? Do your reports have all the facts and figures? Is your essay well written (from introduction down to conclusion)? Are the necessary links or evidence attached to your write-up? You do not want your readers struggling to figure out missing content. Providing your readers with half the information they need can be very frustrating and intimidating. To make your writing concise, you might be tempted to limit the amount of information you offer your readers. Your writing can be both concise and complete.



Are your ideas well-structured and organized in unique paragraphs? Are ideas logically arranged? Can your readers experience the links between the sentences in a paragraph? Your writing can comprise of well-formed sentences and may equally be extremely difficult to understand. Effective writing is one which has a logical flow of ideas and is cohesive. It holds together well because there are links between sentences in every paragraph. Lack of coherence makes a text difficult to read. The text also becomes incomprehensible and intelligible. Readers would not understand the links between sentences within the paragraphs and there is absolute lack of continuity. Ensuring coherence is critical to effective writing.

“Write Every Day” Good or Bad Advice?

I read a number of writers’ blogs and they usually read…

“One of the most instrumental changes in my life has been writing every single day.

For many years I was a writer who didn’t write that regularly. It was always on the back of my mind to write, but I didn’t find the time.

Then I started this blog in January 2007, and have written pretty much every day since then.

It was life-changing…”

If you’ve ever considered professional writing, you’ve heard this advice. Stephen King recommends it in his instructional memoir, On Writing (he follows a strict diet of 1,000 words a day, six days a week). Others including Anne Lamott propose something similar in her guide, Bird by Bird (she recommends sitting down to write at roughly the same time every day).

Having published a number of books, reports and helping students write for over close to 10 years, I totally agree with Cal that if you’re not a full time writer (like King and Lamott), this is terrible advice. This strategy will, in fact, reduce the probability that you finish your writing project.

In this post from Cal Newport, He explain why this is true — as this explanation provides insight into the psychology of accomplishing big projects in any field.


The Planning Brain

Here’s what happens when you resolve to write every day: you soon slip up.

If you’re not a full-time writer, this is essentially unavoidable. An early meeting at work, a back-up on the subway, an afternoon meeting that runs long — any number of common events will render writing impractical on some days.

This slip-up, however, has big consequences.

It provides evidence to your brain that your plan to write every day will not succeed. As I’ve argued before, the human brain is driven, in large part, by its need to assess plans: providing motivation to act on good plans, and reducing motivation (which we experience as procrastination) to act on flawed plans.

The problem for the would-be writer is that the brain does not necessarily distinguish between your vague and abstract goal, to write a novel, and the accompanying specific plan, to write every day, which you’re using to accomplish this goal.

When the specific plan fails, the resulting lack of motivation infects the general goal as well, and your writing project flounders.

Freestyle Writing

In my experience as a writer with a day job, I’ve found it’s crucial to avoid rigid writing schedules. I don’t want to provide my brain any examples of a strategy related to my writing that’s failing.

When I’m working on a book, I instead approach each week as its own scheduling challenge. I work with the reality of my life that week to squeeze in as much writing as I can get away with, in the most practical manner. Sometimes, this might lead to stretches where I write every morning. But there are other periods where I might balance a busy start to the work week with half days of writing at the end, and so on.

The point is that I commit to plans that I know can succeed, and by doing so, I keep my brain’s motivation centers on board with the project.

Misunderstanding Motivation: Knowledge Trumps Productivity

This approach, of course, brings up the question of motivation. Most people who embrace the daily writing strategy do so because they worry their will to do the work will diminish without a fixed system to force progress.

This understanding is flawed.

You can’t force your brain to generate motivation. It will do so only when it believes in both your goal and your plan for accomplishing the goal.

If you find that you’re still failing to get work done, even when you’re more flexible with your scheduling, the problem is not your productivity, it’s instead that your mind is not yet sold that you know how to succeed with your general goal of becoming a writer.

In this case, abandon National Novel Writing Month (which I think trivializes the long process of developing writing craft) and go research how people in your desired genreactually develop successful careers. Your mind requires a reality-based understanding of your goal in addition to achievable short-term plans.

Generalizing to Non-Writing Projects

I recalled this lesson recently in an unrelated part of my life. One of my interests over the past few months has been trying to increase the amount of time I spend engaged in deep work related to my academic research.

In December, I tested a rigid strategy that was, in hindsight, just as doomed to failure as attempting to write every day. I had a particular paper that I wanted to complete in time for a winter deadline. I told myself that the key is to start every weekday with deep work. If I commuted on the subway, I would work in a notebook while traveling. If I drove, I would knock off a batch at home while waiting for rush hour to end.

I believed this rigid schedule would help make deep work an ingrained habit, and the paper would get done with time to spare.

It’s reality, I crashed and burned.

The first week, I successfully followed my plan two days out of five — failing the other days for the types of unavoidable scheduling reasons I mentioned above, as well as the fact that writing in my notebook on the subway turns out to make me nauseous!

After that week, my brain revoked any vestige of motivation for this effort and my total amount of deep work plummeted.

My solution to this free-fall was to take a page from my writing life. I went from rigid to flexible planning. I now approach each week with the flexible goal of squeezing in as much deep work toward my goal as is practically possible.

Some weeks I squeeze in more than others. Every week looks different. But what’s consistent is that I’m racking up deep hours and watching my paper starting to come together.

Because I am confident that I know how to accomplish my goal, and my efforts to do so are succeeding each week, my brain remains a supporter.


Hard scheduling rules — write every day! work on research for one hour each morning! exercise 10 hours a week! — deployed in isolation will lead to procrastination as soon as you start to violate them, which you almost certainly will do. At this point, the bigger goal the rules support will suffer from this same motivation drop.

To leverage the psychology of your brain, you need to instead choose clear goals that you clearly know how to accomplish, and then approach scheduling with flexibility. Be aggressive, but remain grounded in the reality of your schedule. If your mind thinks you have a good goal and sees your short terms plans are working, it will keep you motivated toward completion.