Paragraphs that are both autonomous and seamlessly flow together do not happen by accident.
Smart words and crisp sentences that make up a writer’s playground are also the building blocks of effective paragraphs that keep readers immersed in your article.
The first versions of your paragraphs served their purpose. Now it’s time to make them better with these 10 advanced edits.
1. Draft on paper
For me, typing a first draft in a digital document always makes the writing process more difficult.
As I wrote in Be a Bad Writer to Be a Great Writer:
“Prolific writers know that ‘decent,’ ‘weird,’ or ‘good enough’ often precede the ‘best’ versions of their content. They need the time to explore ‘decent,’ ‘weird,’ and ‘good enough’ in order to arrive at ‘best.’”
In other words, writers need space to see the inner-workings of their minds in different formats to determine how their final creations should look.
That’s one reason why Sonia shared the THINKERS Notebook with us last week. It can help you clarify your thoughts to get to the good stuff quicker.
I like exploring my ideas on paper to uncover the main point I need to reinforce in each paragraph of my final draft.
2. Determine your tone
A gratuitous exclamation mark can quickly make an otherwise smart message look amateurish.
Conversely, a well-executed exclamation mark can add more personality to your writing.
It depends on the tone that suits your readers, so fine-tune your writing voice in each paragraph to better resonate with your audience.
3. Vary your first words
It might be “you” or “your,” or “the” or “there” — we all have go-to ways to start paragraphs while we’re writing our drafts.
But it’s not always easy for an author to see where they’ve used a word multiple times, so an editor can help smooth away these rough edges …
Because readers will easily spot these repeated words, which can make the publication look lazy.
If you don’t have someone else to edit your content, keep a list of words you frequently write in your drafts, so you can spot them and alter them as needed before your articles publish.
4. Opt for brevity
A captivating 3,000-word blog post feels effortless to read, but a rambling 3,000-word blog post feels tedious to read.
How do you achieve “captivating” instead of “rambling?”
Captivating posts keep unfolding.
In rambling posts, you’ll often find that three or more consecutive sentences all offer the same information, phrased in slightly different ways.
So, “brevity” doesn’t mean that your article needs to be short; it means your paragraphs should be intentionally refined.
5. Compare neighbors
Another way you can catch cluttered content before it publishes is to make sure each paragraph has a specific purpose.
If two or more paragraphs have the same goal, critically examine if each is necessary.
You might find opportunities to delete certain sentences and rearrange the remaining ones to create fewer — but stronger — paragraphs.
6. Don’t be afraid of one-sentence paragraphs
7. Select the optimal verb tense
Sometimes in our drafts, we’ll start out writing in past tense but then unintentionally add a sentence or two in present tense.
It happens because we tend to switch up verb tense when we talk, without any consequence.
However, in writing, it can look like a mistake unless the reason for the change is 100 percent clear.
Drafting on paper also comes in handy here, so you can map out your different options and select the most appropriate one.
8. Keep names consistent
If you referred to me in your article as “Stefanie Flaxman,” and then subsequently wrote “Flaxman,” you wouldn’t want to go back to referring to me as “Stefanie.”
Choose one way and stick with it.
9. Review your order
Is the most important piece of your content halfway through your article or later?
To hold your readers’ attention, hook them with action as quickly as possible.
You can lead your readers down the path to key details while dropping breadcrumbs laced with gripping benefits along the way.
That’s the mark of great writing.
10. Complete the presentation
There’s no template to follow that verifies your paragraphs are solid.
Over time, as you practice writing, you become more and more familiar with the elements that complete your article.
The holes in your reasoning that need to be filled in, along with the tangents that need to be removed, become apparent.