Are you getting
the resultsyou expected from your content marketing assets? If not, maybe the problem is a lot simpler than you think. Maybe it’s just bad writing. It’s a tough pill to swallow, I know, but don’t discount it. The fact is, people come to you because you're an expert in your niche, and elementary mistakes can damage your reputation and make people click away — forever. Research from
LaFleur Marketingshows that 74 percent of millennials — the same people who use SMS-speak and emojis as a second language — are bothered by mistakes in written content published on social media. They're not the only ones.
Poor writing repels your readers, resulting in lost subscribers and poor conversions. We already know how important it is to have quality content to attract and retain your readers. One important aspect of quality content is good writing. Avoid the most common errors and you will create content that enhances your credibility rather than damaging it.
Here are 10 writing mistakes to avoid:
1. Dense paragraphsThere's one issue that stops people from reading before they even figure out if your content is valuable or not: dense paragraphs
like these. Walls of text are off putting, and somehow the brain just can't process them. This results in people clicking the back button, which is the last thing you want. To make your content more visually appealing, keep paragraphs short. In fact,
Purdue recommendsthat you have just one idea per paragraph, which usually means no more than a few sentences. Improve the look of your content even further by using devices to break up the text. Subheadings, bulleted or numbered lists, and images all work to make content more processable and keep people reading.
2. Complex jargonEvery profession has its jargon. Check out
some examples here. In the marketing world, we talk about SEO, CRO, PPC and more. But for anyone who's new, that jargon is a barrier to understanding. Complex sentences like the ones we often see in government documents get in readers' way. Instead of using complex sentences and in-house jargon, edit your writing so it's clear and easy to read. Avoid incomprehensible abbreviations and slang. Use simple terms that anyone can understand and keep your writing at an easy reading level. Some of the tools suggested near the end of the article will help with this.
3. Weak beginnings and endingsDoes your content grab your readers and force them to keep reading? No? Then you probably have a
weak headlineor introductory paragraph. Every piece of writing needs a strong start to interest readers. That means a headline that grabs readers’ attention and entices them to learn more without getting too complex. If you’ve ever studied journalism (news writing has a lot in common with online writing) one piece of advice you may have heard is to never start your article with a question people already feel they can answer. Instead, pique their curiosity so they read the whole thing. At the end, you must wrap it all up so the reader feels satisfied and rewarded. Most people
don't finish articles, so you want to make sure your readers are happy when they do.
4. Unclear writing
On a similar note, it's annoying when you read a piece of content and don’t quite understand what the writer is talking about. As a writer, sometimes you can get so caught up in the writing process that you forget that the reader can't see inside your head. Avoid this error by reading over your content sentence by sentence. See that each sentence adds to the story you are trying to tell. If not, cut it out. Better yet, get an unbiased external reader (or two!) to check your article for clarity. The University of Richmond Writing Centre has some tips to
making sentences clear and concise.
5. Verbal tics (in writing)When writing online, we often write like we speak. That means our
creep into our writing. All writers have a few of these favorite words and phrases. But overuse them, and you’ll bore your readers. If you write "kind of," "sort of," "actually," or "generally" a lot, it's time to stop. Using a
keyword density checkeris a great way to find the phrases you use a lot and replace them with something else.
6. Empty wordsThere are some words you just don't need. That's because sometimes people use three or four words to say what they can say in one. For example, instead of saying "for the purpose of", you can just say "for". If you want to improve your writing, those empty words have got to go. While you're at it, cut out repeated words,
unnecessary adverbs, and useless qualifiers. The result will be clearer, more concise and stronger writing that has more reader appeal.
7. HyperbolePlease, please, please avoid hyperbole, the temptation to exaggerate your claims and make everything sound better than it is. Your readers are wise to it, so claiming that something is "amazing", "revolutionary" or "state of the art" will send them in the opposite direction. Cut down on overused adjectives and multiple exclamation points, too. Aim for a balanced narrative and
hype-free marketingto give your readers something different.
8. Common confusionsYou know what really repels readers? When you use the wrong word. There are lots of commonly confused words, like "affect" and "effect", "loose" and "lose" and
many, many more. The trouble is, it's not just the words that are confused; it's your readers. You don't want them to get brain-ache while they struggle to decipher your meaning, so proofread your writing to make sure you're using words correctly before you publish your content.
9. Poor grammarMany people also make grammatical errors, like getting subject-verb agreement wrong, confusing tenses or getting pronouns in a muddle, as
Grammarlypoints out. Sorry, but no matter how much you know about your niche, you won't look like an expert if you have poor grammar. Again, proofreading by an external reader (preferably a grammar whiz) is the solution.
Kill the passive. Just do it. Sometimes you need it; mostly you don't. For online writing in particular, the active voice and action words are best for improving conversions. A good way to spot the passive is to use the
10. The passive voice
zombie test. If you can add "by zombies" to the sentence and it still makes sense, then the sentence is passive.
Here are 12 Tools to improve your writing
If you need help to eliminate the errors just mentioned, then there are lots of online tools to help. Here are some of the best ones:
The Hemingway app assesses your writing to see how you can make it simpler and clearer. It's a little known fact that Ernest Hemingway, considered one of the greatest writers of all time, wrote at a fourth-grade reading level. This app helps you achieve that same clarity and simplicity, though if you plan to become a global writing phenomenon, you're on your own! :)
Grammarly is an online grammar checker which also assesses readability. With Grammarly, you can let the app know the type of content you are writing (for example, a blog post or a research paper), so it will use the appropriate filters to check it. Add the Grammarly Chrome extension to catch any grammatical errors you might make on Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere else on the web.
ProWritingAid is another online tool which assesses your writing and provides suggestions for improvement. Add the premium version for plagiarism checking.
CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer lets you check headlines for readability and emotional appeal. You can keep tweaking until you find the headline version that's most likely to appeal to readers.
CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
Textalyser analyzes your writing and provides a breakdown of word and phrase density. It's an excellent way to identify and eliminate written and verbal tics.
6 & 7. Online Dictionary and ThesaurusAn online dictionary helps you check spelling and grammar to eliminate errors. You can also use a thesaurus to find synonyms for overused phrases. Two options are the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus and the Oxford Online Dictionary and Thesaurus. The
Reverse Dictionaryis also a useful tool for discovering words related to your topic.
WritePls curates useful articles on improving your writing and general writing advice.
The Copyblogger blog has hundreds of articles on all types of online writing, including SEO copywriting, landing page writing, writing for email and content marketing.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a collection of writing resources and educational material, available free of charge.
Purdue Online Writing Lab
Aztkera's To Be Verbs Analyzer helps you to find phrases with "to be" verbs. Replacing those will get rid of some passive sentence constructions.
To Be Verbs Analyzer
Readability Score checks how your content scores for readability on several scales, including Flesch-Kincaid and the Gunning Fog Index.
Remember, poor writing repels readers. To attract them, use the tips and tools in this guide to make your writing more appealing. What mistakes turn you off as a reader?
Sharon Hurley HallSharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with her on Twitter
Bart De PelsmaekerBart is a digital marketing veteran and the founder of Readz, a platform used by brands of all sizes to create superior content experiences. His writing has been featured in Sparksheet, Business2Community, Skyword and other martech publications. He speaks regularly about tech and marketing, most recently at the World e-Reading Congress, American Business Media, and the Integrated Marketing Summit. Connect with Bart on Twitter
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For Writing With Influence, Use These 12 Great Tools
By Bart De Pelsmaeker & Sharon Hurley Hall
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