80/20 Tips For Writing Better Copy To Maximize Distribution
Programmer, sysadmin, syften.com founder.
Few non-native English speakers seem to become bestselling authors. Writing is tough. Writing in a foreign language is even tougher. Professional writers spend years perfecting their art. But most of us can’t put in the effort required to become one.
When I first started writing I was unsatisfied. My sentences felt clunky and didn’t flow very well. Luckily, I noticed that by sticking to a few patterns my style improved significantly.
The book that helped me the most was On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. It’s mandatory reading for all journalists and book writers. I’m neither, but the perspective it gave me was invaluable. You should still read the book, but here are a few rules that will help you boost the quality of your writing immediately.
Pick a Good Topic
I found these to be the best sources of high quality, information dense articles:
- A question on social media. Write a response in the form of a blog post. Now you have well thought out content to reply with.
- A lengthy email reply. If one person needed that long reply, chances are others will want to read it too.
My friend asked me to review his article. I sent him my review, copied the email to a text editor, replaced advice specific to his article with general thoughts and got the first draft of this post. Next I slept on it, rewrote portions of it in the morning and published it.
Stick To Your Topic
- Determine what you want to say, then say it. Each paragraph must have a purpose.
- Write a rough draft, then rewrite it removing and simplifying everything you can.
- Leave your reader with just one new thought. If there are multiple topics you wish to discuss, write multiple articles.
Make your blog stand out, but not your writing style. Otherwise you’ll appear barbaric and foreign. Here are some rules of thumb worth sticking to:
- Capitalize your titles correctly, use Capitalize My Title.
- Avoid abusing commas. If you can remove it then you probably should. This one is the most difficult for me and I’m still struggling with comma splices.
- Make sure your content is actionable. If it’s not then it’s just your diary, or worse, a lame attempt at SEO.
- Don’t answer your own rhetorical questions. It’s like laughing at your own jokes.
- Use an automatic editor. Book writers have editors and they do a great job. I’m reminded of that every time I read a self-published book. Luckily for us the job is getting automated. Many people recommend Grammarly. A popular number two choice is Hemingway Editor.
- Add examples and anecdotes and back up your claims - otherwise they’re just opinions.
- Treat your audience as you would like to be treated yourself. Be humble. Your readers are just as intelligent as you are, just slightly less knowledgable in that one particular field.
- Use a thesaurus to avoid repeating words. I like The Free Dictionary.
- Use a thesaurus to find more accurate words. Those reading your content are “individuals”, but it’s better to refer to them as “your audience” or “readers”.
- Remove clutter words. It’s cleaner than “At all times make sure to remember to try and look for words that might be considered as clutter that you may wish to remove”.
- Express your personality, like you would when talking with a friend. This one comes from my girlfriend. After reading one of my articles she said it’s rather dry and I should just write the way I speak when I’m telling her a story. There is no “audience” reading your text, it’s always one person.
- Share your strong opinions. Let your readers disagree if they wish, trying to please everyone with vague advice will neuter your article.
- Be consistent. Are you sharing your personal experiences or are you writing a textbook? Are you writing in the past tense or the future?
- Learn by imitation. Copy what successful authors are doing, because they’re doing it deliberately. They’ve worked on their style for years. They write and rewrite each sentence leaving nothing to chance.
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