Writing Tips at a Glance
Fledgling writers would do well to invest in a good, straightforward book on grammar and punctuation, put dictionary.com on speed dial, and improve their skills through daily practice with close attention to the mechanics of good writing. By “daily practice,” I don’t mean continuing to write with the same bad habits as always – that only cements them further.
If you are thinking, “But I am not a writer and don’t really want to be one,” consider this: Writing is communicating. Communicating is “a meeting of the minds.” Communicating clearly, globally, is key to understanding. Understanding leads to caring, and caring is key to world peace. So there you have it, folks: Good writing is key to world peace. You owe it to yourself, and indeed, the whole world, to brush up on your skills.
At a Glance?
I can’t fix world peace problems in a single post. But let me point out a few things that can act as an “instant facelift” or “weird wrinkle trick” to smooth out the rough spots in your writing. Be sure to click the links here for more detailed help on each point.
- Use title case. Or don’t. But at least be consistent. Do not sprinkle capital letters around randomly; there’s a time and a place for capitalization.
- If your title is a question, then make it a proper question. Remember, in writing there is no verbal inflection – no audible clue that a sentence is a question. A question mark slapped on the end of an ordinary declarative sentence just makes it look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Incorrect: How I Got 1500 Backlinks in a Month?
- Correct: How Did I Get 1500 Backlinks in a Month?
- Do not use hyperbole unless your post can truly deliver the goods, or unless you intend an ironic effect. “How to Make a Million Bucks with Your Blog While You Sleep” is (unfortunately) grossly misleading hyperbole. You’ll just end up annoying readers. They won’t come back to your blog, unless it’s to point and laugh and link to you as an example of “How Not to Blog.”
Keep your post’s structure simple. Try the basic Three Point Five Paragraph Essay. Without structure for your writing, it’s easy to get lost – to ramble incoherently from point to point, and back again at random. Structure helps the reader to follow your ideas, as well. Use headings and lists and plenty of “white space” to give your readers’ eyes a rest and provide them visual cues to structure.
Sentence structure, likewise, is important. You should know the basic rules of grammar before you choose to break them; breaking them should always be a choice, not an accident. One way to avoid amateurish writing is to strip each sentence down to its most basic parts: subject, verb, and predicate.
- Make sure each sentence has subject/verb agreement:
- Incorrect: They has great tips to help you blog better.
- Correct: They have great tips to help you blog better.
- Pay attention to verb tense – think about it logically, and use the tense that best describes whenthe action takes place (simple past, present, or future will usually do the job just fine):
- Incorrect: In this post, I would be telling you these things…
- Correct: In this post, I will tell you…
- Simple Past: They walked
- Past Perfect: They had walked
- Simple Present: They walk
- Present Perfect: They have walked
- Future: They will walk
- Future Perfect: They will have walked
- Use pronouns clearly. They (the pronouns) should clearly relate to the nouns for which they (again, the pronouns – not the nouns) stand in proxy.
- Incorrect: When Susie and Sally talked, she said that she liked him.
Does “she” refer to Susie or to Sally? Who does “him” refer to??
- Correct: When Susie talked to Sally, she said that she liked Robert.
Susie is the subject of the sentence – “Susie talked” – and therefore, “she” clearly relates back to Susie. Unless Robert has been introduced in the previous sentence, it’s better to use his name here.
- Incorrect: When Susie and Sally talked, she said that she liked him.
- If anyone’s ever taught you to “put a comma everywhere you take a breath,” they’re an idiot. I know people who joyfully sprinkle commas through their writing like confetti; those of us who attempt to read it aloud end up hyperventilating and passing out. There are rules for comma usage. Learn them. You could live your entire life without semicolons; even here, I could have used a period instead. But commas are important.
- Use articles. NOT article marketing – the type of article I’m talking about is a type of adjective: a, an, or the.
There’s a saying among writers: “Murder your darlings.” Of all those precious words we struggle to write, about 60-75% are worth keeping. Go back through your work and see if you can’t cut about 30-40% of it without losing essential meaning – and see if the writing’s not tighter, clearer, and better for it. You use Twitter, right? Try crafting the perfect statement – a grammatically correct statement – in 140 characters. Here are a few things to seek out and destroy: Unnecessary modifiers and vague examples.
Adjectives and adverbs are wonderful things, but they can also turn a good piece of writing into an unreadable mess, if improperly used or overused. First, use them only if they add meaning. Weak adjectives, like “nice” or “pretty,” and weak adverbs “very,” or “actually,” don’t add much.
Don’t throw vague non-facts at readers. “A lot of people say” doesn’t mean much. Is that three of your closest friends? 50% of all doctors? A third of elementary school teachers in London? Specificity gives context.
Avoid writing, “and so on,” or “and much, much more,” or “etc.” If you want to give a few examples, fine; make examples specific, and introduce them properly, but don’t trail off at the ends of sentences with vague hints of unsaid things. If the “much more” is important, mention it. Otherwise, it sounds like a tired Marketing cliché.
Grab Your Reader’s Attention From the Start
You have three sentences, at most. One or two seconds of a reader’s attention span. What are you going to tell the reader? Why should they care?
Be careful in the overall “tone” of your writing that you don’t sound too preachy or too arrogant. If you are giving advice, try not to accuse your readers of doing everything all wrong. Perhaps they are already following your good advice, and your tone will cause them to rebel and do the opposite! Better to use examples from your own personal experience than to assume others do this or that. World peace is not won by triggering unnecessary rebellion, but by establishing common ground and enabling people to relate to you and to each other.
An excellent resource, if you’re interested in learning more about the mechanics of good writing, is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
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About HollyJahangiri (1 post)
Holly Jahangiri writes everything from poetry to horror to tech manuals to children's books. On a good writing day, she claims (tongue-in-cheek) to be channeling the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, Erma Bombeck, and O. Henry. On a bad writing day, she claims to have poured every last ounce of her creative ability and energy into childbirth, and has two wonderful children to prove it.