Whether you are writing a blog or an advertisement or any professional writing, your goal should be to communicate your message as clearly and directly as possible. Your goal should not be to impress people. Anything that hinders your purpose of communicating clearly and instantly should be eliminated.
The internet has removed the fear of writing and made it more accessible. However, good writers rewrite and revise. The internet has made it easy for people to write what is on their mind without checking and rewriting.
In the past, a writer would have a wastepaper basket next to their typewriter. The basket might be full before the writer is happy with the final draft. Computers have made it easier for excellent writers to revise their content, cutting, pasting, deleting without wasting paper. The opposite is true for in-experienced writers who find computers so convenient that they do not check and revise their work. Bad writers have become more verbose because computers have made writing so accessible.
Writing blogs or Posts on a website
Most websites that I review for comments are easy to read and well written. It is a pleasure to read well written and engaging content.
Sometimes I will read a blog that is extremely hard to read. I would read every sentence several times to try to figure out what is being said. Reading each sentence is like walking over broken glass.
Why are some blogs a pleasure and others painful to read?
One reason is sentence structure. Long and complicated sentences become challenging to read and comprehend. Sentences can be simplified by splitting a long sentence into smaller sentences with one point being made per sentence. Short sentences can be challenging to read, especially where the subject of the sentence is not clear. Sentences need a subject and a verb to be meaningful.
Another reason is the lack of or poor punctuation. Punctuation can completely change the meaning of a sentence making it very confusing for the reader.
Another reason is the use of passive voice. Passive voice is where the subject of a sentence undergoes the action of a verb. The passive voice weakens a sentence and should be avoided.
Sentences that do not have subject-verb agreement are hard to read — also, confusing use of pronouns. For example, for paragraphs in the first person, the whole section needs to be in the first person.
Why is grammar so essential in writing?
If it is hard to read, then people will not bother. You have about four seconds to captivate the reader with the title and a few words. Then 30 seconds to engage them fully in well-written content.
Meta-discourse is writing about what you are going to say in the sentence. Meta-discourse is extraneous, unnecessary, and insulting to the reader.
- ‘I just want to say that …’,
- ‘Then I will show you …’
- ‘I would like to point out….’
Examples of sentences with meta-discourse are:
‘I would like to take this opportunity to point out that too many people use meta-discourse.’
‘I would just like to point out that in my opinion, people should not use meta-discourse.’
Don’t tell people what you are about to say, say it. Removing meta-discourse increases readability and gets the point across more directly and succinctly.
Do not use unnecessary words
Do not use more words than you need to get the point across. Get your point across without elaboration. Words and phrases you should avoid are:
- I think
- I believe
Examples of unnecessary words:
‘Using redundant words is really unnecessary.’ The word ‘really‘ is unprofessional and makes the sentence more difficult to understand. A better sentence is ‘Using redundant words is unnecessary.’
The words ‘things’ or ‘stuff.’
Avoid making the reader guess what you are referring to with the word ‘things.’
Instead of saying ‘many things,’ you should specifically refer to the subject.
The words ‘I think,’ ‘I feel,’ ‘I believe.’
Telling the reader what you think, believe, or feel, cheapens the sentence. In many cases, people would stop reading. Whatever you write down is your opinion, words like ‘I think’ become redundant. People are not interested in what you think, believe, or feel. What you are writing is you think so why insult the reader by telling them what you think.
Avoid using passive voice
A passive voice is changing the sentence subject to the object of the verb.
For example: ‘The bread was brought by Andrew.’
Change the word order to ‘Subject-verb-object’ and remove the word ‘was.’
The sentence is using an active voice. ‘Andrew brought the bread.’ The word order is ‘subject (Andrew) , verb (brought), object (bread).
The exception for using passive voice is when you do not know, or you want to avoid mentioning the subject.
An example of the acceptable use of passive voice is: ‘It is said that active voice is better than passive voice in writing.’ You do not know the origin of a quote. The word ‘is’ is acceptable in this case.
Do not use fancy words
Some people like to show off by using pretentious words. They think that they will impress the reader, however, most readers are not impressed by the author showing off their vocabulary skills. Pompous words make writing difficult to read and the reader will probably stop reading. If the reader is a foreigner, then they will probably not understand the word and may have to refer to a dictionary.
- ‘Meticulous,’ a better word might be ‘precise,’
- ‘Inexorable,’ a better word might be ‘determined,’
- ‘Utilize’, a better word is ‘use’,
- ‘Comprehend,’ a better word is ‘understand.’
Do not overload sentences
Overloaded sentences are too long and hard to read. An example is: ‘Cancer in rats is when the cells metastasize which may be caused by the overexposure to radiation.’
This sentence should be broken up into two sentences to simplify the meaning: ‘Cancer in rats is when cells metastasize. This cancer may be caused by overexposure to radiation.’
Redundant words repeat the point without adding meaning.
- ‘She screamed loudly.’ Screaming is loud, so you do not need to use the word ‘loudly.’
- Your own personal baseball cap’. If you own it, then it is personal, you do not need to use the word ‘personal.’
Rather than use an adverb, use a more descriptive verb.
Examples of substituting the word ‘very’ are,
Instead of saying:
- ‘It is very hot,’ say ‘It is sweltering.’
- ‘I find it very hard to find’ say ‘I find it difficult to find.’
- ‘It is very big,’ say ‘It is huge’ or ‘It is massive.’
- ‘I am very hungry,’ say ‘I am starving.’
Avoid using the word ‘good.’
‘Good’ is not descriptive, unspecific, and neutral. Choose a word that is relevant to the topic.
Examples of words to use rather than ‘good’ are;
- ‘That meal was delicious’ instead of ‘The food is good.’
- ‘The answer is correct’ instead of ‘That is a good answer.’
- ‘Hanoi is an exciting city’ instead of ‘Hanoi is a good city.’
Avoid informal sentence starts
Do not start a sentence with “Also,” “And,” “So,” etc.
Examples of bad sentences
- “And the experts were in agreement about sentence structure.”
- “So it can be concluded that the sentences should be concise.”
- “Also, the participants were in agreement about sentence structure.”
Examples of better sentences
- “The experts agreed on sentence structure.”
- “Therefore, it can be concluded that sentences should be concise.”
- “Moreover, the participants agreed on sentence structure.”
Avoid using confusing language
Sometimes language is deliberately used to confuse the reader. An example of political rhetoric that is intentionally confusing is the phrase, ‘collateral damage.’ Why don’t they say ‘civilian casualties’?
Another example: when a company closes a factory and announces ‘volume-related production-schedule adjustment.’ The language is deliberately confusing and changes the focus away from job losses.
My point is that language can be used to clarify or confuse. The goal of writing should be ‘to clarify.’ The purpose of political and corporate speeches is often ‘to confuse.’
The use of passive voice is also used to confuse the reader. Words that make a sentence passive are; using ‘were,’ ‘was,’ ‘because’ etc… before a verb.
The following sentence is an example of political speak clouding the issue with passive voice;
‘Disruption was encountered when a device impacted with the ground prematurely.’
What they should say is;
‘An airforce missile crashed killing civilians.’
A good rule is: Can you say the sentence without taking a breath?
Clear and concise writing will engage the reader.
Incoherent and overly complicated writing will dis-engage the reader, and they most probably will not bother to read your article.
Remember these important points.
- Avoid Meta-discourse – telling the reader what you are going to say
- Do not use unnecessary words – words like, ‘really’ and ‘I think.’
- Use the proper word order and avoid using words ‘Was, is, are, am’ – use the word order ‘Subject-verb-object’ where possible and avoid passive voice
- Do not use pretentious words – do not punish the reader by making them refer to a dictionary.’
- Do not overload sentences – break sentences to make a single point
Things to avoid:
- Redundant words – like ‘screamed loudly.’ In this example remove the word loudly
- Passive voice
- Adverbs – An example is ‘very.’ Instead of ‘very’ use a more descriptive adjective
- Using weak words like ‘good.’ Instead, use a descriptive adjective
- Informal sentence starts
- Using confusing language
When writing, for whom do you write? Do you write for your audience? There will always be people who don’t like your writing style. Do you try to please everyone? You can’t please everyone. The person who must be happy about your writing style is you! Your job is well by cutting out unnecessary words and improving readability. Writing is a craft; you don’t want to lose your audience through sloppy craftsmanship.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet.
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