November 15th, 2012
by Rebekah Meyer
Writing well is much easier said than done. Say you’ve spent hours researching and writing a paper or a blog post, only to reread it the next morning and discover it’s a total snore. It’s tempting to just throw in the towel, especially if you don’t consider yourself a word person. But don’t relegate something you’ve worked hard on to a digital trash can. There are a few easy tweaks you can make to punch up a piece that isn’t coming alive. While these tips aren’t cure-alls, using some or all of them on your writing can make it more interesting for the reader and ensure you never miss a chance to get your message across.
1. Activate your verbs
The easiest way to add some spice to an otherwise boring article or blog post is to use active verbs. Scan back over your piece for “be” verbs. Any be verb is an opportunity to introduce more voice and excitement. They are also a chance to use the idea of “show, don’t tell.” Instead of saying “Problem A is difficult,” try “Problem A has stumped analysts for months.” Tap into the emotion behind the sentence, whether it’s dramatic (anger,) or even common (boredom, annoyance). People are more likely to understand ideas they relate to, even on a basic level, and adding that element can keep them engaged.
Just be sure not to oversell; active verbs don’t need to be overblown. If you use words or phrases too dramatic for the situation, you lose your readers’ trust. If you call a 100-99 win a slaughter, your readers will be quick to dismiss the image, and you may do more harm than good to your brand. Instead, write “Team A squeaked past Team B.”
2. Stop hemming and hawing
Does your post tell your reader “they can try” something? Lose it. Whenever your instructions are preceded by optional phrases such as “you may like” or “some may want to,” your ideas lose momentum. You’re not a wizard, and readers aren’t magically bound to complete your instructions unless you give them the option not to. Losing those extra few words tightens up your writing and makes instructions and ideas more digestible. It also makes you sound more authoritative.
Adverbs are another easy way to pull unnecessary words out. With good active verbs (see point 1), you can yank out momentum-killing adverbs. Did they “run quickly” or did they “bolt”? Do a quick search to find out how many times “ly” appears in your post, then determine how many of them are needed. Don’t cut every single one out, but only keep the ones you feel add something special.
3. Sentence length
Think of a paragraph as a playlist. In a good playlist, you have some fast, some medium and some slow songs. Too much of one can throw the whole balance off. Similarly, you want a paragraph full of different lengths of sentences. If all your sentences are long and involved, with extra clauses and interjections, you can exhaust your reader with too much information. Shorter sentences break that up. They can also help you punctuate emotion, giving you the feeling of an exclamation point without looking like a teenage girl. Is one area in your piece confusing? Try using shorter, more direct sentences. The shorter the sentence, the simpler the idea it holds must be.
4. Word variety
Though many times you don’t have a choice in the topic of your articles or blogs, you still need to pay attention to the words you’re working with. Is the word “enterprise” used 45 times? Did you use “fan” three times in the same sentence? Find ways to talk around and break down your ideas you. That can be as simple as subbing in the word “it,” or you can use complex sentence structure changes. You can even hit the thesaurus – but be careful. It’s easy to start subbing out the first word you see, but that can make the problem worse. Having the word “jeans” in twice is much better than subbing in the word “dungarees.”
5. Alternate story formats
Variety, as each of the above points illustrate, is a good thing. Look for chances to break up your blog post with different formats. If you have trend numbers, put them in a chart. Have lots of dates to get in? Make a timeline. Lists are a popular way to transmit information. Though it might seem like cheating, presenting information in its most easily digestible form is a good thing; don’t try to force something into text if that’s not the best way to present it. That can also help clear out a lot of data points, leaving the paragraph for explanation and nuance.
Almost no post is truly lost. On rough days, when inspired prose simply won’t flow, a little editing work can go a long way to giving that piece a little extra oomph. For more content tips, check out our guide: The 5 W’s of Content Creation.
Search Media Editor at Slingshot SEORebekah Meyer is a Search Media Editor at Slingshot SEO. She is not a fan of the Oxford comma.
After wandering the U.S., this Midwestern girl is back in Indiana and learning how to be home again. 28 degrees, wind chill 19. Knocked out 1 mile just to keep the #RWRunStreak alive. Feel like I’ve been stabbed in the lungs with an icicle. – 8 hours agoFollow @rebekahlmeyer
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