You probably want to become a better writer. It’s one of the most valuable skills in the 21st century. I write a lot and I’ve been writing for a long time.
I’m going to share some simple tips for becoming a better writer. I’ll include some quick hacks and tools that you can use to improve your writing straight away. Let’s get to it!
Most people use a lot of words to say not a lot of ideas. You want to do the other way around. You want to say a lot of ideas, with few words.
Every word should serve a purpose. If a word doesn’t need to be there, remove it.
For example, instead of saying:
“You should always be looking out in your writing to see if you can find any words that are not necessary, and if you can find them, then you should remove those words from your sentences”, I just said, “If a word doesn’t need to be there, remove it”.
It expresses exactly the same idea, but with a tiny fraction of the words.
Writing is about editing, pruning and removing. Shorter sentences are more powerful than longer sentences.
Without going into a grammar lesson, try removing auxiliary verbs and leaving the plain verb. An auxiliary verb is a modifying verb. So for “should remove”, “remove” is the plain verb and “should” is the auxiliary verb.
Common auxiliary verbs are “can”, “should”, “might”, “could”, “will” and “would”.
But auxiliary verbs often don’t add meaning to a sentence. “You should remove those words” and “remove those words” mean the same. But the second version is shorter and more powerful.
So try to keep auxiliary verbs to a minimum. If you look over an article you have written, you will probably find many auxiliary verbs that can be removed.
They don’t just make sentences shorter, they also make them stronger. “Remove those words” is more direct and powerful than “you should remove those words”.
Don’t think this advice means you should cut everything and only write 500 word articles. I believe the opposite – longer articles are better. Try to cut words, but add ideas.
Instead of trying to pad a 1000 word article out to 2000 words, try to cut a 3000-word article down to 2000 words. Or even better, a 4000-word article down to a 3000-word article.
Most people write paragraphs that are too long. A paragraph should be short. A good paragraph expresses one idea.
Look through the previous paragraphs in this article. They express exactly one idea.
Try to reduce the size of your paragraphs. Remove unnecessary sentences, or split them into shorter paragraphs.
Adding some metaphors can increase the power of your writing. For example, in this article I said that writing was about “editing, pruning and removing”. If I had just said “editing and removing”, it would have sent the same message.
Doesn’t this break the previous rule about reducing unnecessary words? Sort of. But “pruning” is a word with a metaphor. It evokes an image of someone carefully tending to a garden.
This is a metaphor I like and I feel is appropriate to writing. Adding some metaphors to your writing can make it more evocative and powerful.
So add a few here and there. But don’t overdo it and remember to keep your writing short and punchy as much as possible.
Write with confidence and power. Don’t dance around the topic. Remove phrases like “I think”, “I believe” or “I propose”. Just tell people what you think.
Instead of saying “I think blogging is effective for marketing”, say “blogging is effective in marketing”. It’s obviously what you think, it’s your article on your blog. So just put it out there. Don’t modify it and don’t be evasive or ask permission.
You should always be writing both to inform and to persuade. If you aren’t confident in your opinions, don’t publish them.
The Bucket Brigade is an old school copywriting technique to keep people hooked on reading your writing. Want to know how to do it?
To use the bucket brigade, leave small sentences at the end of your paragraphs that hook your readers and make them curious about the next paragraph.
You can use phrases like “wait, there’s more”, “it gets better”, “it’s not what you think”, and so on.
Just be careful not overuse and abuse this technique. It can turn readers off if you do it on every paragraph.
The only place I would recommend using it heavily is on sales pages or review pages. Those are contexts where you’re not trying to impress people with your writing. You’re just trying to lead people along and convert them.
Most people use sub-headings as just a simple description or container for what is in the following paragraphs.
So your headings might be “writing tips”, “publishing tips”, “advanced tips”, “WordPress settings” and so on. This can be good and bad.
Those are fine and have the advantage of telling Google more about the content of your site. It understands that subheadings are important and places more weight on the words in those sections.
However, it can sometimes be powerful to make your headings read more like a condensed form of your article.
For example, go read through the H2s and H3s (headings and subheadings) in this article. They actually summarise key points and tell a bit of a story.
If people are just scanning your article (which they often are), the headings will give them some points. If you just use summary points like “writing tips”, “advanced tips”, they will get no meaning from those.
A catchy heading that expresses some content will tie your article together and draw people in. It might encourage them to go from scanning your article to reading the paragraphy.
And the more paragraphs they read, they longer they spend reading your article. Which increases the time on page and dwell time.
You might remember the traditional structure for an essay that you learned in school or college. That is Introduction, Body, Conclusion.
Open your articles with an introduction that tells people what the article is about and what they will learn. Brian Dean talks about an APP or Agree, Promise, Preview model.
Agree with a question or suspicion that your readers might have (“did you know that load time is an important ranking signal?”). The Promise the answers you will give (“I’m going to show you some changes to improve your website speed”), and a Preview of what they can get (“including some simple changes you can make to WordPress today”).
Then go to your Body, which will be a series of headings (H2s) and subheadings under those (H3s). Make sure your body matches the point you made in your introduction.
Then finish off with a conclusion. I use an H2 called Summary (though maybe I should optimize it with keywords?), where I summarise what I’ve talked about, and invite readers to leave a comment.
Comments are good for two reasons. First, they invite engagement and a conversation with your readers. People who leave a comment are more likely to remember your site and come back another time.
Also, Google likes seeing lots of comments. They consider them to be a positive sign about the content of your blog and uses them as a ranking signal for SEO.
Writing an article isn’t the last part of the process, it is the first. Before you publish, review your article.
Use the tips I have provided and apply them to the article you have already written. Remove unnecessary words, write with more confidence, tell a story with your headings, sprinkle in some metaphors and bucket brigades.
And most importantly of all, use shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs.
The best advice on writing of all time is from Stephen King. He put it so simply:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
There’s not much I can add to that. Read a lot. Write a lot. That’s it!
I hope you found these tips for better writing helpful. Use them right away on your writing. You’ll enjoy writing more and your readers will enjoy reading your writing more. If you have any more ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!