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There’s always room for improvement in writing. As a professional writer, I’m always looking for ways to streamline my writing process and improve the reader experience.
The way you learnt to write in your early life is also totally different from how you should write online.
Learning how to write well (and convincingly) can seem overwhelming, but there are some easy and free ways to improve your blog writing.
Make it Skimmable
When was the last time you read every word of a post, from start to finish? I can’t say for sure either.
That’s why one of the most important writing tips for bloggers is making text skimmable.
Keep Sentences and Paragraphs Short
The attention span of internet users has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. That means you’ve got to grab your readers and convince them to stay. Or, at the very least, quickly give them something they can take away.
This short attention span leads online readers to skim content rather than really reading it.
So forget what your English teacher taught you; paragraphs can be less than three sentences. Big blocks of text are a no-no.
Short paragraphs and sentences surrounded by white space are easier to read. With reader attention drifting from page to page and tab to tab, breaking the text up into easily identifiable chunks helps readers stay focused.
Most people scan down the left side of the page. By using left-aligned headings, you can let readers know exactly where they can find the information they want.
Informative subheadings can act as signposts, ensuring that distracted readers stay engaged with your content.
But it’s not just readers who find headings helpful—Google does too. The search engine uses heading tags to understand the structure of a webpage and assess how relevant the content is to the search request.
You can see how this works, and how you can use headings to structure your page, in the following graphic.
Write for the Web
Depending on where something is published, the style of writing can vary wildly. Think about how different a passage from a scientific journal might be to the brochure for a holiday home.
Layout out text with headings and lots of white space is helpful, but it’s just as important that your sentences are constructed in a way that entices readers.
Active writing is more powerful.
A sentence using the active voice focuses on the subject performing an action, while a passive sentence’s focus is on the receiver of the action. Some quick examples are:
- “I made a mistake” vs “mistakes were made”
- “Greg ate the sandwich” vs “The sandwich was eaten by Greg”
- “The student wrote the essay” vs “The essay was written by the student”
Active voice also makes it easier to accomplish our first goal – making sentences shorter.
In two of those three examples, the active version is the shorter sentence, making it easier to read and understand.
One of the most popular ways to identify passive voice is by adding “by zombies” after the action. If the sentence still makes sense, it’s passive. I’ll use those examples above again:
- “Mistakes were made [by zombies]” vs “I made a mistake [by zombies]”
- “The sandwich was eaten [by zombies]” vs “Greg ate the sandwich [by zombies]”
- “The essay was written [by zombies]” vs “The student wrote he essay [by zombies]”
Cut any irrelevant text.
Reducing fluff helps convince readers that they’re going to get useful info from your blog post.
Some quick ways to improve clarity are to:
- Ditch uncertain phrases like “I think” and “In my opinion”
- Reduce qualifiers and adverbs like “very”, “little”, and “quite”, think: “blinding” instead of “very bright”
- Get straight to the point by getting rid of opening phrases like “needless to say”, “in my opinion” and “in order to”
- Skimp on the details; your readers are intelligent and imaginative, so you don’t have to describe the small stuff
Use Writing Tools
Although nothing can replace a real-life editor, writing and editing tools can still be useful. They’re an excellent way to keep you on track when writing your content.
Just remember that, while helpful, grammar tools aren’t perfect and can even introduce errors.
Optimise for Social
Ever shared something interesting without reading it all? Most people have.
If you aren’t confident in optimising your blogs for search keywords, it may be easier to get eyes on your writing through social media.
There are a lot of ways you can encourage sharing of your content, including:
- Adding images — posts with relevant images get 94% more views than those without images and have 352% more engagement than links
- Using easy social share buttons, like the bar on the bottom of this page
- Implementing click to tweet functionality
Ready to write?
I hope these tips help you write quicker and more effectively. You can pin the image below to revisit later or use the buttons at the bottom of the page to share.
I was looking at marketing job advertisements, and I noticed the apparent interchangeability of “copy” and “content”. Were these companies looking for a copywriter or a content writer? Both?
Then came the big question – are copy and content the same?
After some research, I’m here to tell you that no, they aren’t. While some companies use “copywriter” and “content writer” interchangeably, there is one huge difference.
Copy is traditional marketing. It’s designed to get the reader to act.
That action might be buying a specific bottle of wine, ringing you for a service, or signing up for an email list. It can even be something as simple as reading a blog post.
An example of copy is the title (or headline) of a blog post. Copy gets you to click.
Many people fall into the trap of crafting a catchy and smart headline. It sounds good, but it doesn’t convince the reader to read the post.
Headlines that increase clicks should inform the reader of what they will get out of the blog post. If your blog post features a list of tips, add how many into the headline. Are they simple, easy or quick tips? Add that too.
How likely would you be to click on this:
10 Tips to Write a Blog
10 Quick & Easy Tips to Write a Successful Blog Post
If you’re stuck coming up with strong headlines, try CoSchedule’s headline analyser.
This great tool rated the first headline at just 59; it relied on common language and lacked emotion and power. The second example scores 71 thanks to some more emotional and powerful language.
Persuasive headline copy influences people to read your content.
Many blogs also include copy. Blog copy can be a prompt to share on social media, join an emailing list, or comment.
If your content leaves the reader feeling more knowledgeable, better about themselves, or affects their worldview, they will want to take your proposed action – no hard sell needed. Your content should speak for itself.
I’m sure most people can agree that nobody likes pushy marketers. Not every sentence needs to be a sales pitch!
Smart content marketers create content to build rapport with their target audience.
A reader should come to your blog to enjoy what you have to offer, to grow a connection with you and begin to see you as an authority in your industry.
Rather than tell your readers to do something, arm them with information about the topics you both care about. They will want to share their new knowledge, come to you for more, and follow through on your CTAs.
So, Copy vs Content, which do you need?
Although they may be separate entities and fine on their own, copy and content work better together.
Blog posts are excellent examples of content and copy working in harmony.
A headline featuring excellent copy draws in the targeted persona. The bulk of a blog post should be content, providing the reader with new information, tips, hints, news, or answering a question. It should contain what the headline offered. Some more copy may make an appearance, perhaps in the form of a Twitter CTA.
It shouldn’t be a hard sell – you provided the reader with some excellent content, and now they want to share their newfound knowledge.
Found this Helpful? Share it below.
Did you know that 70% of people prefer learning about products through content?
With the benefit of content marketing being so clear, businesses must maintain a consistent and targeted presence online.
An easy way to ensure that your business or brand is represented consistently is by creating and adhering to a style guide.
Style guides aren’t just for big businesses or publishers. All businesses, from sole trader to corporations, need a style guide.
What Is a Writing Style Guide?
A writing style guide, sometimes called an editorial or content style guide, is a set of standards for the writing of brand-related content including (but not limited to):
- Web copy
- Social media
- Internal documents
A style guide defines the way you use words when writing about or for your business.
Guides usually include the way you write your business name (will it be Error Free Me or Error-Free Me?), common abbreviations, grammar, punctuation, numerals, referencing, terminology, voice, and any common mistakes.
Using an editorial style guide with clear rules ensures consistency across all marketing channels and helps your customers recognise you online.
A style guide is essential when it comes to defining and maintaining brand voice.
Following a style guide also helps you form a personal connection between readers and your brand.
How Do I Make a Writing Style Guide?
An easy way to start creating your editorial style guide is by finding a similar sample.
Here are some style guides to get you started. They’re divided by location, as it gives a good start for location-based spelling differences.
- Style Manual: for authors, editors and printers by DCITA
- The Greenslade Free Australian Style Guide by Amanda Greenslade
- The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing by Dundurn Press and Public Works and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau
For the United Kingdom:
- The Oxford Style Manual by R. M. Ritter
- Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors & Publishers
For the United States:
Once you’ve picked a suitable base for your guide, it’s time to add in brand-relevant specifications. These specifications should include:
- How to present the brand name
- The brand’s voice (overall personality)
- The brand’s tone (happy, confident, friendly, etc)
- The spelling of industry-specific terms, jargon, and acronyms (and their alternatives)
- Tricky words (e.g. ecommerce vs e-commerce)
These are just some examples of elements to add to your editorial style guide. Make it personal!
If you repeatedly check the spelling or grammar of a phrase, add it to your guide – your future self will thank you.
Are there style guide templates?
I’ve searched around the web to find some great templates you can use to create your editorial style guide.
Here are some of my favourites:
Many of us rely on the spellcheck tools integrated into our favourite word processors. The helpful tool has become so popular and widely used that it’s now being blamed for poor literacy, particularly among students.
One of the main problems with spellcheckers is in the very name.
With a focus on spelling, spellcheckers can ignore mistaken homophones and ignore (or even create) errors in grammar and syntax.
There’s nothing worse than writing an important document, sending it off and then spotting an embarrassing mistake.
Maybe instead of “definitely having metrics” you “defiantly have metrics”. Spellcheck knows that both defiantly and definitely are words so did not flag the issue.
New programs attempt to combat some of these problems. Grammarly, for instance, addresses grammar and syntax in addition to spelling.
That means grammar checkers are better, right?
Grammarly is an immensely popular plug-in that can be used alongside other applications (yes, even Word!). This compatibility is one reason for Grammarly’s success.
To give you an insight into just how popular Grammarly is, I’ll tell you this:
As of 2017, Grammarly has 6.9 million daily users.
Yes, you read that right. 6.9 million!
I won’t lie to you; Grammarly is a great tool. It also makes mistakes.
Recently, I wrote a book review. Grammarly flagged “self-centred” as incorrect, and instead suggested that I use “self-centered”.
A simple disagreement but an important one.
For my website, I follow the Oxford Style Guide, which favours British spelling. Using the American spelling”self-center” resulted in an avoidable inconsistency.
What was even more interesting was what happened when I did follow Grammarly’s advice.
When I accepted Grammarly’s suggestion to change the word, the extension flagged it again. This time it suggested that it should be “self-centred”.
Apparently, grammar checkers can be just as unsure as the rest of us!
Remember—rules are made to be broken.
Another interesting problem with spelling and grammar checkers is their inability to stray from preprogrammed rules.
There are some cases where it is better for a text to ignore certain rules. A good example of this is passive voice.
Passive voice refers to a subject being acted upon rather than the subject doing the acting. Passive voice is an issue that checkers like Grammarly often flag as errors. This is because the active voice is usually stronger and more clear than passive voice, which can be seen as weak and unsure.
The majority of the time active voice is preferable, but there are many instances where passive should be considered.
When writing news headlines, passive voice can provide more impact and focus.
For instance, “Mother of two attacked by man” places importance on the victim, while the active form, “Man attacks mother of two” places focus on the perpetrator. This is particularly relevant when the person doing the acting is unidentified.
Another example is a matter of style.
Faster pacing often relies on fragmented sentences; it conveys an extra punch and sense of urgency.
Long sentences tend to flow, are more rhythmic, and often considered to be more literary.
If you’re a long-sentence-writer and clicked that link, you’ll see that you’re in very good company. Esteemed writers like Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner were all fond of long prose.
Many grammar tools may flag these stylistic choices as wrong (they have the potential to be problematic, but aren’t necessarily wrong). A real human editor, however, is able to consider the context of the passage within the larger piece and the author’s writing style and desired tone.
What should you use instead of spellcheck and grammar checkers?
Don’t let this post scare you.
Spellcheckers and grammar checkers can be useful tools, but be wary of relying on them.
If you think that you have a dependence on spellcheck and grammar tools, try going without them for a few days!
Alternatively, check your work with multiple tools. Many tools will throw unnecessary errors, while some will miss them altogether. By checking with different tools you can make a more informed decision on what is good spelling or grammar and what isn’t.
Even better than trying new, or extra tools, is enlisting the help of another person.
An extra set of eyes are often able to spot errors the original writer or editor may have missed.
Friends or family may be willing to proofread your text and offer valuable corrections. For even more comprehensive suggestions consider speaking to a professionally trained editor. Your work will thank you!
Learn the difference between proofreading, copy editing, and developmental editing.Continue reading