One thing about writing – a lot of people think they’re good at it. I hate to break it to you, but there many mediocre and poor writers out there!
How do I know? I read online and offline content and I receive guest blog post submissions. What amazes me is that so many self-proclaimed writers need to tighten and improve their content.
Why is it important?
How you write your organization’s or company’s content directly impacts customers’ brand impressions. The better the writing style, the more professional it appears.
What makes me such a maven?
I’ve been a professional writer for 25+ years. That doesn’t make me perfect, but it does give me some credibility.
Was I always a good writer? Hell, no! I started with a natural talent and honed my skills over the years. I also had a good writing mentor/boss early in my marketing and communications career.
If you’re responsible for your organization’s content, or if you’re trying to gain footing as a freelance writer, here are some tips that can help tighten and improve your work:
1. Avoid Too Many Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases are those that begin with prepositions such as with, to, under, of, in, beside, at, etc. There’s a good list here.
Using prepositions isn’t a writing sin, but using too many is cumbersome. Here’s an example:
“Your implementation of a new look should be complete and encompassing of everything in your business.” (original)
“Your new look should be complete and all-encompassing.” (revised)
See the difference? The second sentence is tighter, uses fewer words, and says the same thing without using three prepositional phrases. I removed, “in your business” because it has already been implied.
When proofing your pieces, tighten sentences to avoid prepositional phrases wherever possible.
2. Avoid Passive Sentences
There are two kinds of sentences, passive and active. A good writer uses active sentences. Here are some examples from Your Dictionary :
> The Grand Canyon is viewed by thousands of tourists every year. (passive)
> Thousands of tourists view the Grand Canyon every year. (active)
> The video was posted on Facebook by Alex. (passive)
> Alex posted the video on Facebook. (active)
Why are active sentences better?
According to Grammar Girl, “Passive sentences aren’t incorrect; it’s just that they often aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. Also, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentences.”
There are some exceptions to this rule. My alma mater, University of Toronto, offers good advice in this article, “Passive Voice: When to Use It and When to Avoid It.”
3. Avoid Incongruous Singular-Plural Nouns and Pronouns
I see this a lot! It’s a common mistake. Here’s an example:
“When your customer makes an online purchase, make sure you communicate with them after the transaction.”
Did you notice the error? “Your customer” is singular and “them” is plural.
Here are correct options:
“When your customer makes an online purchase, make sure you communicate with him or her after the transaction.”
“When your customers make online purchases, make sure you communicate with them after their transactions.”
These are only three examples for improving your content writing. I recommend that you bookmark a good grammar website or keep a reference guide on your desk. Two tried-and-true reference books are, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson.*
And, if you want to adhere to a journalistic style, then grab a copy of Associated Press Stylebook 2015 and Briefing on Media Law. In the publishing industry, writers use The Chicago Manual of Style.*
And, if you find any grammatical errors in this post, tell me!