There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of writing guides out there. But in my opinion, none surpass the simple, direct advice of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B.White.
This classic serves up much good advice, especially in the last 20 pages in a section titled “An Approach to Style.” Nowhere have I seen more helpful advice in so few words and with such precision. This is why I always keep this book within reach.
If (for shame) you don’t already have this reference in your library, I will leave it to you to explore it in depth. But I would like to provide my own version of eight important writing tips as they apply to blogging.
- Put the reader first. The purpose of writing is clear, sometimes persuasive, communication. It is not about you or your clever ideas. If you write to impress, you will distract the reader from the content. Good writing is like a store window. It should be clean and clear, providing an unobstructed view of the contents within.
- Organize your thoughts. You don’t need a detailed outline for most writing. But you do need to know what you want to say before you say it. If you’re comfortable with the sort of outline you learned in school, use it. Otherwise, simply jot down the important points you want to make and arrange them in the order you want to make them. Eliminate any ideas that are not directly related to these points.
- Use short paragraphs. Look at any newspaper and notice how short the paragraphs are. That’s done to make reading easier since our brains take in information better when ideas are broken into small chunks. In ordinary writing, each paragraph develops one idea and includes many sentences. But in blogging, the style is less formal and paragraphs may be as short as a single sentence or even a single word.
- Use short sentences. You should keep sentences short for the same reason you keep paragraphs short: they’re easier to read and understand. Each sentence should have one simple thought. More than that creates complexity and invites confusion.
- Use simple words. Since your purpose is to communicate and not impress, simple words work better than big ones. Write “get” instead of “procure.” Write “use” rather than “utilize.” Use the longer words only if your meaning is so precise there is no simpler word to use.
- Be specific. Don’t write “Many doctors recommend Brand X.” Write “97% of doctors recommend Brand X.” Don’t write “The Big Widget is offered in many colors.” Write “The Big Widget comes in red, green, blue, and white.” Get to the point. Say what you mean. Use specific nouns.
- Write in a conversational style. There is a road sign often posted near construction sites that always irritates me. It reads, “Maintain present lane.” Why so formal? A more conversational style would be better: “Stay in your lane” or “Do not change lanes.” If you write as if you’re wearing a top hat and spats, you distance yourself from the reader and muddle the message.
- Be clear. This may be the most important rule of all. Without clarity, your writing fails on every level. You achieve clarity when you accurately communicate the meaning in your head to the head of your reader. That’s difficult. Look at your writing with an objective eye. Consider what might be misunderstood and rewrite it. Find what is irrelevant and delete it. Notice what is missing and insert it.
When writing fails, it’s probably because you don’t have something to say, are too concerned with affecting a style, or both. Follow the suggestions here, and you will avoid these problems and many others. Plus you will find that your copy is more lively, more meaningful, and more profitable.