Five Ways to Immediately Improve Your Writing
It doesn’t always snow in Portland, but when it does… I high-tail it to a cafe and watch the winter confetti float down from the sky while I work! Today, I was cozied up in our favorite pub down the road from our house batching blog content for the month when it dawned on me: I use the same five techniques to tighten up my writing every time I finish an article. And since batching means I’ve got all day, I thought I’d share them with you!
What, words aren’t your jam? Don’t worry, girl… I gotchu. I’ll break it down cake-walk style, and by the end of this post, you’ll be ready to step up your word game.
1. Tighten up your sentences.
Once you’ve finished writing your web copy, blog post, proposal, whatever -- go back through it with fresh eyes and a fine-toothed comb. Have you repeated yourself? Have you used unnecessary words? Have you over-clarified with redundant descriptive words that mean essentially the same thing? Clear out the word clutter -- it’ll make you feel like a million bucks!
2. Take out the trash.
It’s round two of your read-through, and time to zone in on (and eliminate) the fluff. In other words, it’s time to take out the trash and get rid of the “garbage” words in your vocabulary. If your voice is more formal, professional and traditional, this means getting rid of -- or replacing -- words like ‘things,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘swoon,’ and so on.
Now, if your voice is more personal to you and colloquial in nature, there’s a little flexibility here. If you really do use the word ‘literally’ frequently in your everyday vocabulary, by all means, keep it! But I challenge you to replace any weak verbiage that isn’t a hallmark characteristic of your personality.
3. Check for cohesion.
Remember the days of high school English, when your teacher marked you down for writing an essay that felt ‘disconnected’ because the paragraphs didn’t exactly tie together? Yeeeep… That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Do a quick paragraph cohesion scan to make sure that the last sentence of each paragraph aligns in some way with the one that follows.
Don’t forget, though, that the beauty of writing in your own voice means that you get to fudge the rules here a bit! You don’t need perfect transition sentences, but you do need to make sure that each paragraph at least leads seamlessly into the other without seeming completely disconnected.
4. Tweak the title.
Now that you’ve cleaned up the majority of the piece you’re working on, I want you to focus on the money shot: your title. Because you could write the most glorious blog post you’ve ever written, but if the title’s a snore, nobody’s going to read it… and that’d be a crying shame, wouldn’t it?
Your title is your one shot at grabbing someone’s attention, so let’s make it count: Don’t do yourself the disservice of a weak title. Choose powerful words. Keep it short and sweet. Don’t overgeneralize -- be specific! Have some fun with alliteration. Communicate your content’s value!
5. Hook ‘em and sink ‘em.
Did you know that it only takes about three seconds for a reader to decide if they want to pick up what you’re putting down? In other words, they’ll decide in about three seconds whether or not your content is worth reading. That’s why a solid hook is so important: In as much time as it takes them to read your hook, they’ll have decided whether or not they’ll stick around for the rest. So here we are again, throwing it back to high school English days: In order to capture your reader’s attention, a solid hook is essential.
But equally as essential as your hook? The close! I really can’t stress this enough. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read a blog post by another creative that ends abruptly without even so much as a single closing sentence after “Tip #5,” well… Let’s just say my monthly wine subscription would be paying for itself! It’s easy to get to the end of a long blog post or article and throw in the towel, thinking, “There’s some great stuff here. I’ve really provided a lot of value. It’s fine to just wrap it up with a quick sentence or two, right?” Wrong. You’ve come this far, so let’s not be lazy!
This is your opportunity to recap what you’ve shared with the reader, and even more importantly, to invite them to stick around and hang out with you a bit longer. Is there another post on your blog they can read to enrich what you’ve just taught them? Can you offer other resources relevant to to what they’ve just read? Use your closing paragraph as an opportunity to not just summarize the content, but also provide additional value to your reader.
My rule of thumb these days is to use each of the five strategies above to improve my writing every single time I finish a new piece of content. I’ve always had a “stream of consciousness” writing style, and for the longest time I never edited my content. I’d just blurt out whatever came to mind and throw it online without even so much as a second glance. Can you believe that?! But after working for years as an advertising copywriter, I’ve learned that the best way to grow as a writer is to have the patience, discipline and humility to revise your work. By employing these five techniques each time you write, you’ll not only elevate the overall quality of each piece, but also learn to identify and focus on weak spots in your writing style that can be improved. It’s worth it, I promise!
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Peace, love & puppy hugs,