Let me start by telling you a little secret: Even for professional writers, writing is hard. It’s not a skill that’s learned naturally. Just getting the words down on paper is a great first step. But writing 800 words versus publishing 800 words that will resonate with your readers requires a bit more work. First drafts are sloppy, and that’s normal. When you start writing, you don’t know what the final piece will look like, and you may not have a good enough grasp of the
information you need to include.
Editing requires you to cut out the unnecessary and irrelevant—anything that doesn’t support your core idea. It also gives you an opportunity to refine the language to be stronger, more action-oriented, and impactful. Finally, during the editing process, you ensure that the piece lacks any errors that could damage your credibility and the trust that you’ve built with the reader. Editing shows your audience that you care about their reading experience.
As Truman Capote said, “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Before you move from the writing to the editing process, remember to take a break from the words. Work on something else or save the final check for when you can look at the piece with fresh ideas and a new perspective. An even better alternative is to send it to a team member who can review the content before it goes live.
Let’s go over ten common grammar and style mistakes you should check for so that your writing hits all the right marks with your audience.
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First, use contractions.
Contractions help you sound more conversational—basically, more human—in your writing, so be sure to change your do not’s to don’ts and would not’s to wouldn’ts.
Let’s check out an example of how contractions can make your writing sound stiff and wordy.
In this example, we’re talking about landing page best practices:
Don’t confuse viewers with too many options on your landing pages. It’s better to have one call-to-action that’s compelling. Otherwise, you’ll risk your prospects being confused about what they should and shouldn’t click.
If we were to spell out the contractions, the sentence, while not incorrect, sounds more robotic and harsh, when we simply want to provide helpful advice. Here’s how that same sentence would sound without contractions: Do not confuse viewers with too many options
on your landing pages. It is better to have have one call-to-action that is compelling. Otherwise, you will risk your prospects being confused about what they should and should not click.
Next, write with simple language.
Using big words makes you appear less credible and confident, according to a study done by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Making your writing easier to process and understand actually makes you seem more intelligent and capable. No one likes to slug through overly complex writing full of unfamiliar words.
Now, simple language doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it can be just the opposite.
Consider this sentence:
The proliferation of social and digital channels have created a catalyst whereby a shift in the production methods by marketers is required to connect with the audience.
That’s a tough one to unpack. While a marketer might understand this sentence, it takes extra effort to get the point, and for most, that’s when they’ll stop paying attention.
We can relay the same message by simply stating:
The increase in the number of social and digital channels now requires marketers to create content that’s not only platform-specific but also appeals to the unique audience and their behaviors on that platform.
Next, use the active voice.
When you use active verbs, the subject of the sentence is performing that action. Passive voice is when something known or unknown performs the action of the sentence, which makes your writing seem flat and boring. If people have to trip sentence over sentence, then reading your writing becomes tiresome.
Next, be clear and concise.
This is the ultimate goal of editing. You have to refine the words until the point of each section, each paragraph, and each sentence is focused and clear. Clear writing requires you to have empathy for the reader—the work you produce should leave little chance for confusion or misinterpretation. One way of doing this is by removing extra words, irrelevant ideas and rants, and obvious details.
You should also use words that are familiar to your readers or provide definitions for those that are less wellknown. This can also mean including an analogy, metaphor, or example to clarify a complicated topic. Let’s say you have an on-call virtual nurse service and want to explain the benefits for when someone is worried about getting sick. Instead of stating this directly, you could say, “Our nurses step in with health and wellness advice when your mom isn’t answering her phone.” It immediately gets the point across in a way that’s relatable.
Another way to create clarity in your writing is by putting things in context. It’s one thing to share a stat on the growing adoption of a social platform, such as Snapchat, but how does this platform’s growth compare with, say, Facebook or Instagram? This type of information helps to enrich the meaning of the original fact or idea.
Next, use short sentences and paragraphs.
Break up long, dense sentences and paragraphs to make your content easier to read and comprehend. Take for example this introduction from a HubSpot blog post.
These five paragraphs could be condensed into two paragraphs, but the breaks create white space around your writing, giving readers’ eyes a rest. Most importantly, these breaks—along with varying the sentence structure and length—create rhythm, making your writing more pleasing to read.
Next, cut fluffy words from your writing.
Words such as “very,” “really,” “actually,” “just,” “incredibly,” and “in order to” don’t add anything to your sentences and can make your phrases sound bloated. You should also be careful of relying on adverbs—words
ending in -ly—to describe action or including too many adjectives in your work. These mistakes all make for overly long, complex, and weak sentences. Run your writing through a tool like the Hemingway Editor to see if you can cut words or further simplify your language.
Check out this sentence: Marketers are very anxious to change in order to actually connect with their customers before the next holiday season. You can cut this down to: Marketers are anxious to change to connect with their customers before the holiday season.
Next, adhere to a style guide.
Whether it’s AP Style or the Chicago Manual Style or an internal style guide, use a standard set of rules to create consistency in all your communications—from your product copy to emails to ebooks to advertising. Your style guide should instruct anyone who writes on behalf of your company how to handle punctuation, grammar, voice and tone, industry-specific terms, common mistakes, and any brand-specific guidelines.
Next, use “you” and “your” in your writing.
This helps you sound more conversational, like you’ve written the content specifically for the reader and you want to bring them into a discussion. Many people approach writing like they’re creating something for an “audience”—a vague term that brings a blurry group of people to mind—when really you should write like your favorite customer or ideal reader is sitting at their desk or on their couch reading your information. Imagine that you’re having a conversation or writing a letter to a respected friend. It’s a simple tweak that will prevent you from sounding like you’re writing an instruction manual.
Here’s an example of what this sounds like:
People wanting to improve their overall health should start the day with a well-balanced breakfast that could include whole-grain cereal, yogurt, and egg whites. They should make time in their day to get at least 30 minutes of cardio, and people should do some type of strength training three times per week.
A simple switch to using the second person pronoun, ”you,” shifts your writing to address the reader directly, making your writing sound more personable. So let’s see how that sounds with a simple perspective adjustment: If you want to improve your overall health, try starting the day with a well-balanced breakfast that could include whole-grain cereal, yogurt, and egg whites. You should also make time for at least 30 minutes of cardio a day, and try to do some type of strength training three times per week.
Next, avoid jargon and use acronyms sparingly.
Jargon plagues the business and marketing world. Words such as ideation, paradigm, uplevel, holistic, disruptive, game-changing, revolutionary … I could go on. In addition, remember that not everyone understands the meaning behind the acronyms you rely on, so always spell them out at least once, and try to avoid littering your content with three- and four-letter abbreviations. For example, take this sentence: “The CMO spoke to the CTO about the long-term SEO strategy to improve PPC metrics such as the CPC and CPL ASAP.” Did you get that? Probably not.
Next, don’t be snarky.
Critical and sarcastic writing has its place, but for most businesses, this type of tone comes off negatively. Be confident, and showcase your expertise, but above all, be friendly and straightforward. Sarcasm can make you look petty.
And lastly, use spell check.
Add this to your pre-publishing checklist. It’s always a good idea to double-check for spelling mistakes. Even small errors can have a negative impact on readers’ perception of your brand.
And there you have it—ten grammar tips to creating effective blog content.