10 Secrets of Professional Writers Every Blogger Should Know

We all know good writing when we see it and we cringe when we see terrible writing.  The worst thing is that the harder people try to write well, the worse their writing usually becomes.10 Secrets of Professional Writers Every Blogger Should Know

Here are 10 secrets of professional writers are guaranteed to improve your writing.

1. Avoid clichés

But you know that, don’t you? And yet clichés are more systemic and invasive then people imagine. A cliché is any idea or expression that has lost its force through overuse, to the point where it becomes meaningless and drab.

Here are some examples that I have found in recent blogs:

  • In this day and age
  • Never a dull moment
  • Given the green light
  • Rose to great heights
  • Calm before the storm

The problem, and the attraction, with clichés is that they seem to say exactly what we want to say, so it is tempting to hang on to these tried and true expressions.

And yet, they will deaden your prose, make readers mentally sign off and expose you as an amateur.  Everytime.

So avoid overused sayings (yes, I know, like the plague).

2. Write like you speak

Use a conversational tone.  Really. And you don’t have to use complete sentences either.

Think of it this way; if you wouldn’t say it a casual conversation, think twice before you write it.  A blog is a friendly chat that will inform and entertain your audience. It is not a lecture, an academic thesis or the opportunity to harangue your readers from your soapbox.

3. Talk to your reader like a friend

In real life you would use words like “you” and “I” so use them in your blog too, just like you would if you were chatting at a barbeque. This lesson comes hard to those who have spent a lot of time in academic writing (in fact most good writing lessons come hard to this group), but good writers love using you and I these days because it speaks directly to the reader.

4. Use anecdotes and case studies

These are little stories are the spice of blog. Facts only go so far and no one wants to read too many of them. People like stories about people and anecdotes humanize your information and make the reader care about the issue.

5. Parallelism

 This sounds technical but it just means a balance within sentences that have the same grammatical structure. Before you skip to the next point consider that according to Wikipedia using parallelism improves writing style and readability and makes sentences easier to process.

This is a typical example that I found in a blog.

James likes to play soccer and hockey. He also likes to play a bit of tennis too.”

It reads better to say:

James enjoys soccer, hockey and tennis.

6. Getting down and dirty

Use adjectives sparingly.

When I ask my gen y students how they recognise good writing they often look perplexed (but then again, they tend to look perplexed most of the time). Finally a tentative hand will go up and a brave student will suggest that good writing is “descriptive”.  And by descriptive they mean lots of describing words – or adjectives.

And a lot of people believe this.

But in a harsh kink of fate this leads to exactly the worst kind of writing –the dreaded flowery prose.

Mark Twain said it best.

“When you see an adjective, kill it.”

This is what he actually said in a letter to D.W Bowser, 3/20/1880

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. …. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

7. But there’s more

There is another part of speech that will make your readers want to put their head in a vice. The dreaded adverb. In his acclaimed book, On Writing author Stephen King describes “the road to hell as being paved with adverbs”.

Adverbs clutter your sentences and are considered a pitiable substitute for good writing.

To put it simply adverbs prop up poor verbs. Considering that verbs are the V8 engine of your sentence, using weak non-specific ones means you need an adverb to help it along, a bit like a Zimmer frame, and not a good look.

The famous example from every writing text is:

The man walked wearily and laboriously up the hill

The better way to write it is:

The man trudged up the hill

So, for example use the better verb skulked, instead of a phrase like “moved suspiciously”.  Think about using phrases such as “teased mercilessly” when you could use taunted, or “ran quickly” when you could use dashed or sprinted.

You get the point. Use specific verbs and nouns and use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. It sounds technical but with a small amount of thought you will supercharge you sentences and make your writing a pleasure to read.

8. Exclamation marks!

OMG! I know I don’t need to tell you this but exclamation marks can give your writing a gushing, effusive quality!  They are mostly used ironically these days so unless you are an enthusiastic teenager, use with care.

9. Tighten up

Make your writing “tighter” and more powerful by removing the extra words or phrases that don’t contribute to the meaning of your sentence.  Look at your sentence; can you remove some words to make it more succinct? Less is better. Always.

10. Rant or reason?

If you want people to take you seriously develop evidence-based opinions. Why do you think as you do? Try to be able to back up your opinions with facts, research or statistics. Otherwise you may as well just get on a soapbox at the local park and rant.

Take home writing tip:

Think like a wise man, but express yourself like the common people. (W.B.Yeats)

Want more information about writing well for blogs?

Check out these experts:

Guest Author: Margaret Pincus works in digital communications and also teaches writing/journalism at Griffith University. She blogs at bloghappy.com.au

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/ExtremelyAvg Brian D. Meeks

    This is a great post.

    For the longest time, I found the Stephen King quote on adverbs to be pretentious. Of course, I’m a bit of a hypocrite, because I don’t like them in my writing. That being said, I’ve come around to understanding it better and realized he was right.

    You do a great job of giving examples why the rules are what they are, and that is why I liked the post so much.

    I would add, if you don’t mind, to number three. Writing like one speaks is good advice, but it must not be taken too far, like you know, or uhm, people will overdue it and you know, put in all the junk that uhm they add when you know they are totally chatting on uhm the cell phone.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Uhm, yeah, so, I think …. [hold on, I’m on another call] … where was I. Oh yeah, good point!

      • margaret pincus

        Agreed. I’ll have to add that to the article as an example.

    • margaret pincus

      Hi Brian, I couldn’t agree more. And of course writing like you talk depends on how you talk!

      • Behnam

        Wow! What a reply (by margaret:)) Great!

  • Kim Bultman

    My Southern heart was drawn to Tip #3: Write like you’re chatting at a BBQ. (More conversational, less contrived.) I also liked your Yeats quote! Yes, I’m guilty of excessive exclamation points, but folks who know me understand. Great advice!

    • margaret pincus

      Ha Ha – far be it for me to change your personal writing style. If it works for you than don’t change anything! (I put that exclamation mark in specially for you). These are really just guidelines. If we didn’t all have our own personal style things would be pretty boring. Thanks for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/SandyAppleyard Sandy Appleyard

    All of these tips are great and I do try to abide by them all. One thing I would add is to make sure your work is proofread (it may be implied, but thought it was worth mentioning) at least twice and if you can manage, have someone else read it over as well.

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks Sandy, that is an excellent point. I am sure there is some sort of syndrome where I don’t see typos until after a post is published and they suddenly jump out at me. Having someone else proof read your posts with fresh eyes is very helpful, especially when you write a lot.

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks Helene, and good luck with your writing.

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks for your comment Sherise. I agree. Academic writing can be a hard habit to break. It works both ways though. Now I find it hard to write in an academic style. All those cirmlocutions and long paragraphs….

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks for your comment. Good luck with your writing.

  • margaret pincus

    That’s a pleasure! Good luck with your blogging.

  • margaret pincus

    Hi Sarah, Over using adjectives is a common misunderstanding about good writing. Still, an interesting adjective does has its place in good writing, it is really just using too many that can lesson the impact.

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks Marya, that’s a pleasure. I really enjoyed your blog: http://www.writinghappiness.com

  • http://www.cbil360.com/ Web Design Company

    A nice advice to all professional writers which every blogger should know. Sometimes it’s difficult to write like how we talk?

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks for the comment. I know what you mean. I think there are dangers in “writing like how we talk”. Still, it’s all part of developing your own personal style and connecting with your readers.

  • Ellie

    Find it a bit odd that you’re telling us how to write when you don’t know the difference between “than” and “then”.

    • margaret pincus

      ha ha good call Ellie – see comment to Sandy about proof reading…

  • http://www.howtosolutions.net/ HowToSolution

    Great article.

    Do you have any tips to those with English being their second language?

    One of the main reason I started my blog was to improve my English skills, but I am always wondering how terrible my writing is to those who speak English language fluently.

  • http://www.howtosolutions.net/ HowToSolution

    Great article.

    Do you have any tips to those with English being their second language?

    One of the main reason I started my blog was to improve my English skills, but I am always wondering how terrible my writing is to those who speak English language fluently.

    • margaret pincus

      Try reading your writing out loud to see how it sounds in English and of course keep writing, reading, talking and listening. One advantage you have is that people who speak English as their second language often develop a more original writing style, which can really work to your advantage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mariane.nicosia Mariane Josephine Nicosia

    Nice tips

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks Mariane :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mariane.nicosia Mariane Josephine Nicosia

    Nice tips

  • http://www.judiholler.com/ Judi

    Great stuff … thanks for the info … As a new blogger / writer this is the stuff I crave!

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks Judi, I’m glad to have been of help. Enjoy your writing!

  • http://twitter.com/GunjanSen Gunjan Sen

    Very helpful tips, thanks!

    • margaret pincus

      Thats a pleasure, thanks Gunjan

  • http://twitter.com/HOBureau HomeOfficeBureau

    Thank you for the tips Judi:)

    • margaret pincus

      It’s a pleasure. Thank you for the comment.

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks Anusha. All the best for your writing!

  • margaret pincus

    Thanks Pete. Good luck with your blog.

  • http://twitter.com/MHReviews MH Language Reviews

    Going to put your advice in practice right now :-) Thanks for the share and waw on the writing. I’m serious!

  • Julia Al Arab

    Great tips thanks for sharing! :)

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks Julia, glad you enjoyed them. Happy writing!

  • Elizabeth

    Love these tips :) Regarding #3, once of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve heard was to think of yourself as “an intelligent person writing for intelligent readers.” It doesn’t matter what audience I’ve crafted content for, that advice has never steered me wrong.

    • margaret pincus

      Thanks Elizabeth, that is good advice and a great way to think of your writing.

    • Katherine Tattersfield

      I disagree. Writing for the web is nothing like academic prose.

  • Evelyn Stice

    Great post. I try to do most of these already, but “tighten up” is my biggest challenge. Ah well. What I love about writing is that it can always be better than it is.

  • http://twitter.com/cyberglasses cyberglasses

    Avoid Adverbs? That’s dynamite. Thanks Jeff! :)

  • Warda Jebet

    Thank you for this post, really needed it. Got some homework to do for my new blog. Bless you.

  • amotherworld

    Great tips. I’m guilty of overusing adverbs.

  • http://www.avowzone.com MD Golam Rabbani

    Hope my next blog post will be more informative cause I have learn something new here. Thank you.

  • http://www.thebttmline.com/ Angie

    Wonderful writting lesson, now to apply it… Thank you.

  • http://logophilius.blogspot.com Andy Hollandbeck

    I’m trying really hard not to be a troll here, because this is some great advice for bloggers.

    But.

    Jeff, please read through this post again (doing it aloud might help) and do a bit of editing. Your ideas about becoming a better writer are undermined by some bad editing here. Add some commas after sentence-modifying adverbial phrases (e.g., “Before you skip to the next point” in #5), separate your independent clauses with commas (e.g., “People like stories about people and anecdotes…” in #4), and just hunt out some extra verbs that have popped in somehow (paragraph 2, 1st sentence of #4).

    Again, this is some great advice for bloggers, but if you’re writing about writing well, it really needs to be written well. I can deal with a certain amount of Muphry’s Law (not misspelled), but this is a little too much to take.

  • http://www.erpconsultantsindia.com Ajay Joshi

    My sense is, Sarah, that clients like it because they are not the experts. They hired you to not just write the contents but also to advise them on what makes good contents.

    In my experience, most people hire because they can not write.

    So a bit more patient. Be a bit more persuasive and I am sure your clients will start appreciating you more if you use consultative approach.

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