“Good writing is not a natural gift,” once said David Ogilvy, the creative force behind the advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. “You have to learn to write well.”
Ogilvy understood the power of writing and saw the potential of good writing.
“The better you write, the higher you will go,” he said. “People who think well, write well.”
Writing has the become the foundation for everything a digital marketing professional does today: whether it is writing blog posts, ad copy, social media posts, news releases, emails, and many other parts of marketing that require writing.
Writing and communicating a marketing strategy and plan has become just as important as developing and implementing it.
The Rise of Longer Format Content
With the rise of blogging and content marketing as a critical part of today’s digital marketing mix, there is an enormous amount of pressure on marketers to increase the output of written words.
Longer format content performs better online.
Longer form content, or content with more than 2,000 words, ranks higher rankings in search results since the average content length of the top 10 search results is typically over 2,000 words.
And longer form content has a higher chance of getting more social media shares since there is a correlation between longer content and more shares on social media.
How Well Do You Write?
Writing is easy because most people like you can probably write. But can you write well?
Does your writing really connect with your audience?
Does your writing engage you audience?
Does your writing compel them to keep reading?
Most importantly, does your writing inspire your audience to take action?
7 Questions to Ask Yourself
When you are writing your next blog article or piece of content, you should ask yourself:
- Does this blog article tell people something new?
- Is it insightful and helpful?
- Is it entertaining?
- Are you addressing a topic that is often overlooked?
- Does your writing make people think differently?
- Do you make your audience feel smart?
- Will your writing stand above others who have written about the topic before?
To help you answer these questions, let’s discuss what good writing looks like and how you can improve it.
10 Tips to Help You Improve Your Writing
Here are 10 tips to help you upgrade your writing, a critical skills for today’s modern marketer.
1. A good writer is a good reader
Stephen King, an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy, once said:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”
It is important to read a lot. It is good for your brain.
The best writers are avid readers.
They have extensive vocabularies. They have an awareness of what makes a story interesting. They have a solid understanding of cadence and flow.
It is important to read as much and as often as you can.
Every writer is a reader first.
It is important to read books from different genres and in different formats. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry, magazine, blog articles, and marketing books.
The bottom line is that you should read everything you can and read every day.
Because you will see great examples of how people write, how they communicate, and how they express their thoughts.
When you read, your vocabulary will naturally expand and this will improve your writing.
Key takeaway: Good writing is the product of good reading.
2. Read aloud what you wrote
“Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write,” once said William Zinsser, an influential writing coach.
Do you read your writing out loud?
It may feel a little awkward but it will improve your writing.
You most likely will hear errors in your sentences that you don’t pick up when you read it normally.
Sometimes you may leave out a word without realizing it. You may copy and paste text wrong. Or you may make a grammatical mistake.
You are more likely to hear your mistakes when you hear it rather than reading it normally such as run-on sentences, duplicate words, and missing words.
Reading aloud can help you determine whether your writing flows smoothly.
Does it sound choppy? Then, you should add some longer sentences to break it up a little bit.
If you find yourself stumbling over your writing, you probably wrote a complex sentence that needs a rewrite.
Key takeaway: Your writing needs your ears.
3. Trim sentences
Take a look at each one of your sentences and see how many words you really need.
Can you say something the same way but with less words?
A sentence of 10 words can be probably written in 5 words. A sentence in 15 words can probably be written in 7 words. A sentence in 20 words can be written in 12 words.
You get the point. Less is more.
Less is better so be thankful for words that you can get rid of.
Does every word serve a purpose? Are your thoughts clear? Can you say it shorter?
The point of your writing should have one goal: save the reader time.
Remove weak or redundant copy. Cut. Cut again. Cut more.
Take out words like “little,” and “very” and “that” which add nothing to the meaning but still make sense.
You will probably have multiple revisions of your writing to get it as short and compelling as possible.
Key takeaway: Get rid of clutter in your writing.
4. Avoid passive construction
Use the active voice as much as possible.
Passive voice uses more words. Passive voice can be vague. Passive voice can lead to prepositional phrases.
Using an active voice results in shorter, sharper and easier sentences for your readers to read. Active voice helps your reader:
Be in the moment, gain a stronger connection to the action, turns the call to action into a command and makes it easier for people who don’t know English to understand.
The bottom line: active voice sentences are easier to read and hear when read aloud.
If your sentence sounds awkward, you are probably using passive voice.
Here are some passive voice and active voice examples, provided by Lynda.com, so you can see the difference.
Sentences written in an active voice flow better and increase readability, and have energy to keep your readers wanting to read more.
Using active voice puts an emphasis on the subject of the sentence and makes the sentence more concise.
Sentences using a passive voice are often harder to understand and the sentence structure seem unwieldy because it’s not obvious who is performing the action in the sentence.
At the fundamental level, the active voice emphasizes the person or agent who performs the action while the passive voice emphasizes the recipient of the action.
In a sentence written in active voice, the subject performs the action while a sentence written in passive voice, the subject receives the action.
Active: The dog bit the man.
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
The active voice is the stronger and always preferable choice.
It is cleaner, clearer, and more concise. It clearly states what the authors have contributed in their article. The passive option is unnecessarily wordy and clunky.
Monitor your writing for use verbs such as “has” and “do” and “go.”
Replace them with active verbs.
Readers prefer the active voice:
Subject, Verb, Object.
When you reverse the active sequence, you have a passive voice:
Object, Verb, Subject.
You can’t always use the active voice, but you should use it as often as you can.
Think: strong nouns and verbs.
Your readers will thank you and read more of your blog post or piece of content.
Key takeaway: be active, don’t be passive.
5. Give it a rest and then self edit
When you write, write everything you can down.
Then, leave it alone for a way.
You can let it sit for an hour, a day, a week or even a month.
Revisit it again when your brain is ready to go and tackle it with vigor and freshness.
Pay attention to what jumps out at you as awkward.
Trust your feelings. They are usually right.
Good writing has more to do with good self-editing than anything else.
When you are self editing, remove or replace any words that are more than a 8th grade reading level.
Most U.S. adults read at an 8th grade reading level.
This grade level can bring complex ideas to audiences who read at a lower reading level.
Also, an 8th grade reading level ensures readability.
Google will rate your website higher in search results if it is more readable.
Figure out how well your content reads by using the readability score tool.
Key takeaway: It’s “ok” to take a break from writing.
6. Write a lot
Make writing a daily practice. Make time for it. This is one of today’s most valuable skills.
You may not be able to write 2,000 words a day.
The only way to get better at writing to practice.
Make time for it somehow.
I love this graphic from Brian Clark at copyblogger:
Write. Write more. Write even more .. and keep writing.
Writing is a process not a product.
They key is to really understand your audience and out what’s works.
It is an art and a science.
Take a look at other are writing about and see what catches your eye.
What makes you want to read the blog article? Write about that topic.
Key takeaway: Write, write and write more!
7. Use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs
Look at any news media source such as a newspaper and notice the short paragraphs.
Why are they short?
To make reading easier. The traditional five-sentence paragraph form is fatiguing.
Our brains take in information better when it is broken in small pieces.
Reading is hard because it takes energy and concentration so break your sentences down into little ideas and delete what you don’t need.
Each sentence should have one simple thought. Don’t use words like “therefore” or “as a result” or “having said that.”
Hemingway was famous for a minimalist style of writing that eliminated flowery adjectives and got straight to the point.
One of his greatest and shortest sentences when he wrote an entire story in 6 words:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Don’t write more than is necessary on a subject.
Also, your readers may be using their mobile devices so your sentences and paragraphs should be short and simple.
Key takeaway: Good writing gets to the point quickly and simplifies the complex.
8. Avoid jargon
Don’t use jargon words such as leverage, synergies, and bandwidth.
Jargon increases the chances of confusing your readers.
Jargon makes your reader feel stupid and hides the fact that you don’t understand what you are saying.
As Albert Einstein once said:
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Avoid jargon that your mom won’t understand. Imagine talking to her and how you explain what you mean in plain English.
Jargon disconnects your readers from your message.
As a writer, you have a small window to capture your audience’s attention.
Don’t messed up that small chance with jargon your audience doesn’t know and understand.
Key takeaway: Good writing is easily and quickly understood.
9. Get an editor
Most likely you don’t write well on the first draft.
It takes time and effort to get your words out of your head and put them on to the page.
Write everything down. Your writing will be messy to start. That’s ok.
That’s why you will need to get an editor to help you clean it up.
If your name is on it, it is important.
Every word counts towards your reputation, your legacy.
With so much on the line, you should have an insurance policy.
That insurance policy is an editor.
Key takeaway: Good writing needs good editing.
10. Have a purpose and be positive
When you write with a purpose, it makes writing easier and faster.
When you have nothing to say, you are force to write sentences that fall flat and don’t sound meaningful.
How do you make sure you have a purpose?
Start with your call-to-action first. Then, your writing can fill in to what you want your readers to accomplish.
Also, make sure you write with a positive sentiment.
Emotional content that is positive and happy drive more social media shares. The anticipation of positive benefits and emotions cause us to share.
Key takeaway: Good writing requires a good, positive direction.
Bringing Everything Together
Writing is hard work but it is a process that you can enjoy when you get good at it.
Words will start coming naturally to you and you’ll look forward to writing every day. When you keep things simple, short and to the point, you will become a better writer.
Reading more will help too. Writing at an 8th grade reading level will help you make sure your content is understood.
Also, when you read out loud what you write for rhythm and sound you will become a better writer.
When you speak plain English using active words and avoid jargon, your readers will understand what you are saying and will want to read what you have to say.
What tips would you add to this list? How did you become a better writer? Please comment below.