This is a guest post by Ali Luke. She is a writer and writing coach, and blogs about writing on her site Aliventures. You can find her on Twitter as @aliventures, where she’s always happy to answer questions about writing.
Although podcasts and videos are becoming more and more popular online, we still live in a text-heavy world. Whenever you put a page on your website, publish a post on your blog or even send an email, you’re communicating through words alone. If you’re a good writer, you’ll stand out; if your writing skills need some work, you could be failing to achieve the success you deserve.
I’ve met plenty of people who are incredibly smart – but unfortunately, in emails, they come across as careless or uneducated. I’ve met others who are great fun to be around – but their website copy sounds stilted and jargon-heavy.
Here are five quick tips for improving your writing style today:
#1: Write in a Conversational Tone
Most of us learned certain “rules” about writing in school. Do any of these sound familiar?
· Don’t write in the first person (“I”)
· Don’t use contractions (write “do not” not “don’t”)
· Don’t end a sentence with a preposition (Write “To where did the ball fall?” not “Where did the ball fall to?”)
· Don’t start a sentence with “and” or “but”
· Don’t ever use sentence fragments (sentences without verbs)
You can break all of these rules when you’re writing for your website or blog. If you write in the first person, using contractions, your web copy will sound much more friendly and immediate.
#2: Look Out for Jargon
Whether you’re writing a corporate website or a hobby-based blog, there’s a fair chance that some jargon’s going to sneak in. This can be alienating to potential clients or new readers. Watch out for:
· Technical terms that could be expressed more simply (or explained briefly in parentheses)
· Acronyms that your reader might not understand
Slang and in-jokes are also a form of jargon. Online, you’re often writing to a worldwide audience – so don’t assume that everyone will understand a regional expression.
If you need to have a lot of jargon on your website, you might want to create a glossary page that explains the different terms to new readers.
#3: Edit Your Writing
One of the most common causes of poor writing is hitting “publish” or “send” too fast. Make sure that you take a few minutes to re-read what you’ve written. This is especially crucial if you’re using a smartphone or another device with predictive text – sometimes, what you thought you wrote is very different from what’s appeared on the screen.
Careless typos make you look unprofessional, especially if they’re on prominent pages of your website. People will be more forgiving with casual blog posts and emails – but typos still have the potential to cause embarrassment or even offense. (I’ve heard plenty of tales from people who’ve accidentally typed “retards” instead of “regards” at the end of an email, for instance…)
#4: Ask Someone Else to Help Edit and Proof-Read
It’s hard to spot your own typos, and it’s also hard to spot areas of your writing where you’ve expressed something clumsily. Get a friend or colleague to help by reading through your work before you send it out into the world. Often, they’ll spot something that you can easily fix.
If you’re returning the favor, look out for:
· Missing words – a common form of typo that spell-checkers won’t necessarily pick up
· Awkward or confusing sentences – if you had to read it twice to understand the meaning, it probably needs rewriting
· A lack of flow or coherence in the piece – if it deals with several different points or subjects, you’ll want to suggest adding in some subheadings
#5: Borrow from Other People
When you come across a piece of writing that works well, borrow from it. If a headline on a magazine cover catches your eye, for instance, you could try using a version of it for your next blog post title. If you read a blog post that’s engaging and valuable, see whether you can use a similar structure for your next post.
Be alert to the sort of writing that grabs your attention – and the sort that turns you off within a couple of lines. You’ll almost certainly find a clever trick you can use in your own writing – or something to avoid!
If you’ve got a great tip for better writing, leave it in the comments below…
Ali’s Blogging Guides can help you with your writing, blogging, or creating an e-book. Check them out for straightforward, action-focused support for your business goals.
Question: How will you change your writing style?