Last time I wrote about the rules of writing that online writers should break.
That was a good exercise, but as I was writing it I realized that there are still plenty of good writing rules that you learned in school that apply when you’re writing content for online consumption (blog posts, ebooks, etc.).
So in this post we’re going to thank those high school English teachers for all the hard work they did. Some of the items may have been boring and not worth much, but there was some real gold in those lessons.
I still remember a few things from writing classes that I had back in school. And I didn’t really start writing until my adult years with GBW, but once I did some of those things came back to me.
So let’s get into the great things we learned back in those school days.
Note: I’m still working on many of these things. I don’t want this post to come off like I know and follow all the rules of writing. I still have much to improve on, but have found these to be good guidelines.
1. Turn Long Sentences Into Multiple Sentences
Go short whenever you can. Cut out excess words and even words you think might be needed. It usually leads to better material for the reader. I’m always working on this one.
2. Intro – Body – Conclusion
This is a good formula to use no matter what you’re writing. It works.
3. Follow The Story Arc
The story arc starts with an introduction, builds into the body and ends with a resolution. In some stories you’ll have a climax and a few other things. It’s generally good to follow this same arc with writing. It’s proven to work and there’s no reason to change something that’s working well unless you find something that works better.
4. Cite Your Sources
This is always good when you’re writing. In online writing you cite with links. Also include names of authors when appropriate.
5. Be Careful With Commas
Some love to add commas when they really aren’t necessary. I would say that in general it’s better to be too short on the commas than to go overboard. A comma is meant to be a pause. You want your readers to keep moving through the writing.
6. Watch For Absolutes
It’s easy for some reason to say that, “All people” or “Everyone always”. I’m not sure why, but it’s easy to do. Try to avoid those absolutes. Use exact stats if you can or use more general terms when describing things like that.
7. Eliminate Passive Voice
This is a good one. It seems that people respond better to action words and actionable writing. Passive can work for storytelling, which is great, but otherwise make it about the here and now.
8. Specific Is Usually Better Than Vague
The title pretty much says it all on this one. If you’re explaining a point, be as specific as you can instead of leaving it open for interpretation. People come to you for understanding so give them something clear to leave with.
9. The Title Should Summarize The Post
This is easy to say and difficult to do. You want to make a great promise with the title so you get readers, but you have to deliver on the promise and you don’t wan to mislead your audience in anyway.
10. Watch For Homonyms
This one can drive people nuts. It can totally throw them off from reading your content let alone get them to take action.
Know you’re there, their and they’re.
Know your its and it’s.
There are a handful of these and they’ll drive your audience nuts.
11. Avoid Redundancy
I’m guilty of this one. I know I repeat things to make a point. I’m not sure why I do it, but I know it’s one the areas where I need to improve. Maybe it’s partly because I really want to make sure the reader understands. I’m working on it.
12. Don’t Overuse Exclamation Points
This one drives me nuts and I remember teachers saying it back in school. Use exclamation points only when you really want to show excitement. The more you use it the worse it looks and the less effect each point will have.
13. Just Write It (Don’t Say You Will Or That One Could)
Guilty. I do this one too like many on this list. I’ve been working on this one. Instead of saying, “You could do this…” just say it. Do this…
14. Clear Argument
There are many things that going into making a clear argument. A big part of it is sticking with one clear point for all articles. If you add more than one you’re adding confusion and muddling the main point you want to make.
15. Use Transitions Between Sections And Paragraphs
I love this one with any writing including online writing. Long novels and books tend to get difficult because there can be long blocks of paragraphs. I like adding headings and transitions. I think it’s one reason why people like reading lists in online writing.
16. Do Tell Your Reader Something New About The Subject
There is a lot of information in the online world that is repeated. Some call it the Echo Chamber. It’s likely impossible to talk about something new or to bring something new to a topic with everything you do, but striving for it is good practice. It’ll make you more appealing than your competition.
17. For Long Works, Use An Outline
Outlines helped back in school and they can help with online writing. I still often start with a title, then segments and from there fill things in. It helps with blog posts of all sizes and it really helps with longer works like ebooks or guides.
18. Do Not Overuse The Same Words Or Phrases
This one drives me nuts. I catchy myself getting into funks where I use the same word or phrase over and over. I do it all the time in regular conversation and in writing. I try to watch it and keep it fresh to avoid this one.
19. Consider All Evidence
This is one that can be really difficult. We all have our views of the world and when we’re making a point about something we tend to look for evidence that supports our own view. However, It’s usually better when you find evidence from all angles and sides. From there you can make better arguments and do a better job of connecting with your audience.
20. Read Questionable Sentences Aloud
I don’t want these or any other rules of writing to scare you from writing. It’s a very rewarding practice and in my case it’s turned into a business that I love. But nobody is perfect. If you start writing you’ll write some bad sentences. I do it all the time. And when I write something I think is questionable I’ll read it to myself aloud. If it sounds weird or off I’ll fix it or scrap it entirely. You can usually tell with this trick if something will read awkwardly.
There are plenty of things you want to watch out for whether you’re writing an email, blog post or whatever it might be. The rules above are some really good guidelines to follow. The ultimate goal of writing in the content marketing context is to educate and entertain an audience so you can earn their trust and business. Following these rules and avoid the ones we previously examined and you’ll give yourself a good advantage over the competition.