I’m going to begin this post by saying rather emphatically, “I’m no expert.” So, take anything I say here with a grain of salt. Now having said that I do want to share a few things I’ve learned about writing along the way.
What I Learned in School
Hmmm, don’t remember too much about that. It was a long time ago and English was my worst subject. I read because they made me and wrote because I had to.
Learning through Feedback
I became interested in writing when on occasion, out of boredom, I would write a story. The stories were not earth-shattering or brilliant. However, I found that whatever I wrote would make people smile. I mean, folks other than my parents actually liked what I wrote so I wrote a little more often.
Write the Way You Want to be Spoken to
Often folks would read my work and say, you write just like you talk. Hmmm, didn’t quite know if that was a good thing or bad thing. I’m not the most articulate speaker in the world so I didn’t know how to take it. It was only later on in my business career that I found it to be a good thing.
I found that my business clients liked the straight from the hip writing that gets to the point immediately. Business people don’t have time for a lengthy story buildup. You know the type of building I’m talking about. Sort of like listening to a pre-teen girl tell a story. If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to a pre-teen tell a “he said, she said story,” be prepared for a very long introduction.
Remove Information Not Germaine to the Story
Going back to the pre-teen example, there are way too many unnecessary details. If all of the extraneous details were omitted, the 45-minute story would take 5 minutes to tell. My brother’s solution to wordy he said/she said stories is to hang an imaginary noose around the neck, pull tight. That’s the ‘wrap it up’ signal.
If you use Word as your word processor, enable the “Show readability statistics” when performing a spell check (On word 2003 you can find it by selecting Tools – Options – Spelling & Grammar). It will help you to see just how active or passive your writing is.
As I said before, I’m no expert, but I find active writing is more direct and easier to read.
Don’t Impress Yourself, Think of the Reader
I worked with a writer who, in one of our initial conversations, told me that people often accused her of being pedantic. I looked at her quizzically because I honestly didn’t know what pedantic meant. After I looked up the meaning, I realized she was right. For folks like me who didn’t know what it means, pedantic, as defined by dictionary.reference.com is
“Characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules.”
In other words, she had an impressive vocabulary and was extremely proud to display it.
Her personality came across in her writing. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the job (taking complicated concepts and regurgitating them into user-friendly documents), her style of writing was not a match. Her tenure at the job was short lived. She was no doubt a learned woman, but her manner of writing didn’t impress anyone but her.
Perform the Basics
When I say the basics I’m talking about things like spell check and word usage. Know when to use waste vs. waist or their vs. they’re. I know there are a few tricky words like effect and affect or lay and lie, but a quick search on Google (or a quick visit to Cassie’s blog ) will point you in the right direction.
Why This Post?
I spent some time doing a lot of internet reading. I read blogs and websites of freelance writers who were upset because they spent untold amount of hours writing for various content sites or building their own blogs with poor results.
Most often the writers were impatient and hadn’t given their articles and blogs enough time to earn (I find it takes about 6 to 9 months before an article begins to hit its stride). I also found poorly written articles peppered with grammatical and spelling errors. Most commonly the articles were loosely focused and somewhat difficult to read.
It’s my belief that a writer can improve an article tremendously if she would only read it aloud before publishing it.
The purpose of this post isn’t to change anyone’s writing style. Writing style is a reflection of one’s personality. The reason for the post is to help those writers who are not getting the results they had hoped for. Selecting the right keywords may not be the problem; it might be the way in which the keywords are written.