10 style tips for improving the quality of your writing
If there’s one message I heard repeatedly at INBOUND 2015, it’s that quality continues to be of chief importance in content marketing. The many awesome presenters emphasized the importance of hiring real writers to create content that people will pay attention to and remember. If you want others to share and link to your content, it needs to provide something of value. Gone are the days of throwing up hastily written blogs and waiting for traffic to come rolling in.
While proper grammar is important in creating memorable content, style plays an important role as well. Certain stylistic choices can make your content come across as less professional and less polished. If you don’t have one already, consider creating a content style guide to help you ensure that all of your written content meets your branding guidelines and quality standards.
Following are some of the elements I look for whenever I am reviewing content:
1. Using “there are,” “here are,” or other similar subject/verb combinations.
Your verb is often the most powerful word in your sentence. Why use “is” or “are” when you have countless other words to choose from?
Poor writing: While there are a number of more conservative treatments for bunions, surgery is sometimes necessary.
Better: While a number of conservative treatments exist for bunions, surgery is sometimes necessary.
2. Referring to your article within itself.
You don’t need to say, this article will show you … blah blah blah. Just get to the point.
Poor writing: In this article, we will discuss three ways to rid your home of unwanted pests.
Better: Write a strong introduction that clearly explains what the article is about in order to set the expectation for your reader.
3. Using a lot of short words in a row.
This tends to make text hard to read. Vary your word length, and read your content out loud to make sure it doesn’t sound awkward.
Poor writing: Take the time to check and make sure that your flue is closed.
Better: After extinguishing your fire, close the flue securely to keep unwanted pests out of your chimney.
4. Using unnecessary filler content that doesn’t add to the meaning of your article.
Phrases such as “as we have previously mentioned,” “needless to say,” and “make sure you remember to” can always be eliminated to make your writing cleaner.
Poor writing: It’s important to remember to check your lawn for weeds.
Better: Check your lawn for weeds.
5. Using cliches like “there’s nothing worse than” or “rest assured.”
It’s doubtful that people are actually losing sleep over whatever your blog is about.
Poor writing: Rest assured that our lawn care pros will have your lawn looking great.
Better: Our lawn care pros have the knowledge and expertise to make your lawn the talk of the block.
6. Putting “only” in the wrong place.
The word “only” modifies whatever it is closest to in the sentence.
Unclear: Some people may only weigh themselves once a week. (This could mean that they weigh themselves, but do not take their body measurements.)
Better: Some people may weigh themselves only once a week. (Not everyday.)
7. Using “it” without a clear antecedent.
If you use a pronoun, make it clear what it’s referring to.
Poor writing: If you notice you’re gaining weight, you can do something about it before it gets too difficult.
It is used twice here, in two different ways: once to refer to the weight gain, and once to the process of losing weight.
Better: If you notice you’re gaining weight, you can change your habits before your clothes all become too tight.
8. Using “that” when referring to people.
People should be referred to as “who.”
Poor writing: Attending an exercise class is easier when you have a friend that attends as well.
Better: Attending an exercise class is easier when you have a friend who attends as well.
9. Using “from … to” without a logical progression from one item to the other.
You can say “We sell everything from Apple watches to zombie costumes,” because there is a logical progression from A to Z. You can’t just throw “from” and “to” into a random list of items and expect it to make sense.
Poor writing: From choosing the right footwear and using shoe inserts, to stretching, splints, steroids, and pain medications, these options can alleviate discomfort.
Better: Treatment options such as choosing the right footwear, using shoe inserts, stretching, and pain medications can help alleviate discomfort.
10. Using unnecessary words like reasons why, whether or not or help to.
Reason, whether, and help are sufficient.
Poor writing: 10 reasons why this is a great time of year to consider cosmetic surgery
Better: 10 reasons to consider cosmetic surgery this winter.
Have questions about content marketing? Leave me a comment!