I’m no grammar expert. I taught English as a Second Language for a year back in the 1990s and my mind was blown. If you asked me to explain the past perfect continuous without reference to my trusty copy of ‘Practical English Usage’ I’d be lost.
Neither am I a grammar pedant. I’m far more interested in the point of what people are communicating to worry about the rights or wrongs of a split infinitive. Language changes all the time.
But clear writing is important. It exists as a map to the message. Sentence structure helps us separate one concept from the next, and build up our understanding in bite-size chunks. It’s makes it easier for your reader. Which brings them closer to you. Last time we talked about why that’s important.
This is about how to do it.
Improve readability and get out of your own way
I was talking with a client last week (who asked me to write this blog!) who’d been lovingly told that while his ideas and expertise were great, his writing just wasn’t doing them justice. And that’s the problem with ‘bad grammar’ – it’s a barrier between our message and the people we want to help. It’s not about following pointless rules. It’s about getting your ideas across clearly.
So here are five simple tips to make your message more powerful. With no apology that they’re basic points – the basics matter.
And no shame if you don’t do any of these at the moment. It’s not about definite right and wrongs. But in my time writing and editing, I’ve noticed these simple tweaks make all the difference.
Have an outline
Save the stream of consciousness for your journalling. If you’re writing for your business blog have a structure. Think about:
- The main message you want your reader to take away
- 2-4 sub points to break that message down – create subheadings for each one
- The order they need to appear to take your reader on a logical journey
- Examples or stories to illustrate your points
- What you want your reader to do once they’ve read your blog (Comment? Join your mailing list? Buy something?)
Keep it short
Going to be honest, I have to watch myself with this one. I get carried away and before I know it the post is 1200 words long. When 400 – 600 words is more on the money.
It’s not just about the length of the post, it’s about your sentences and paragraphs too. Three or four sentence paragraphs are fine. Much longer and the text becomes too dense (especially as many people will be using their phone to read).
Shorter sentences are generally easier to understand. Though to make your post hum, vary the sentence length a bit:
Make a bold point. Use a short sentence. Then draw your reader in with something longer. Show them what you mean and bring it to life. Then finish strong.
See what I did there? Changing up your sentence length brings rhythm. Read your words out loud to hear how they flow. If you don’t like writing, speak your posts into a voice recorder, transcribe and edit them.
Follow basic grammar and punctuation rules
Start sentences with a capital letter and end them with a full stop. Use a capital ‘I’ when writing about yourself, e.g. ‘I love chocolate’ not ‘i love chocolate’.
Don’t have a space between the end of the word and your full stop/exclamation mark/question mark. E.g. write:
‘Writing clearly means people are more likely to buy from you!’
‘Writing clearly means people are more likely to buy from you !’
We could lose ourselves in grammar rules, and that’s really not the point of this post. But if you want to double check your grammar and spelling, put it through word processing software like Word, Pages or Google Docs before you publish.
The easiest way I’ve found to describe the passive voice is the zombie rule. Which goes like this: if you can add ‘by zombies’ to your sentence and it still makes sense, you’re in passive mode. And that’s generally a bad thing.
So: ‘the blog was written [by zombies]’ is passive. ‘She wrote the blog’ is active.
The active voice gets to the point more clearly, with fewer words. It’s generally easier to understand who’s doing what. There are situations that call for the passive voice (so use your judgement), but, for the most part, stay active.
If you blog in WordPress the Yoast plugin will help with identifying passive sentences, as well as giving other readability pointers. Install it, it’s free!
All killer no filler
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very,’” said Mark Twain. “Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Here are some other filler words to watch out for:
That: compare ‘The blog that she wrote was so boring that her reader fell asleep’ with ‘The blog she wrote was so boring her reader fell asleep’. Strike the unnecessary thats!
Really: if you’re using the word for emphasis, try finding a more powerful adjective instead. E.g. ‘You gave a really interesting speech’ could become ‘You gave a compelling speech.’
Aaand, true to form, I’ve gone on again – another longish post. I’d love your thoughts! As I say, I’m no grammar expert, and this isn’t about right or wrong ways to write. It’s about using words to help your reader rather than make life harder for them.
If you lack the time, ideas, interest (you know you should but you don’t love it enough to make it happen) or confidence to blog regularly – get in touch so we can chat! I love to help people develop trust with their audience with beautiful blogs!