We’ve heard it a million times: “Content is king.” As bloggers, we strive to create content readers find useful or beneficial. And fortunately, many of us do. However, even when we create the most fascinating or useful content, we must write in a way that makes it easy for readers to digest, or content quality no longer matters. Even if we feel we write well, we can always find ways to improve.
Let’s explore some of the more common mistakes bloggers make and how to avoid them. Don’t worry, we won’t dredge up memories of middle school grammar lessons — no sentence diagramming here!
1) Using Boring Verbs
Good writers know how descriptive verbs can invoke a mental image and instantly improve a story (notice how I used “instantly” instead of in an instant – adverbs are another way to cut prepositional phrases!).
Compare these sentences:
“The jet went down the runway and ended up in the grass” to “The jet rumbled down the runway and careened into the grass”
“The audience got to its feet and called angry insults at the candidate” to “The audience leapt to its feet and fired silos of angry insults at the candidate” (yes, we added a prepositional phrase, but in this case, it paints a livelier mental image of the audience’s emotions)
“How to Make an Amazing Dairy-free Ice Cream Sundae” to “How to Concoct an Amazing Dairy-free Ice Cream Sundae”
Tip: Look for places where you use a verb and an adverb (he walked quickly) and find a better verb (he strode). Aim for verbs that invoke one of the five senses — smell, hearing, taste, touch and site (The fresh ground coffee aroma wafted across the counter).
2) Insipid Sentence Starters
There is no more boring way to start…wait… Starting sentences with phrases such as ‘There is,’ ‘There are,’ ‘You can’ and ‘If you want to’ is boring and sounds amateur. Compare the following sentences:
“There are three things you can do to improve your blog’s traffic” to “Do these three things to improve your blog’s traffic”
“You can improve your blog’s traffic by doing these three things” to “Improve your blog’s traffic by doing these three things”
“If you want to improve your blog’s traffic, try doing these three things” to “Try these three things to improve your blog’s traffic”
Tip: Start sentences with verbs when you find yourself keying one of these overused phrases.
3) Overusing ‘That’
Without getting into restrictive clauses since we promised no grammar lessons, ‘that’ should only be used to identify sentence parts necessary to understand meaning. Consider the example “I think that Dan should promote that post on his blog.” Only the second ‘that’ is needed because it specifies which post — a or the post wouldn’t tell us the writer was referring to a specific post. “I think Dan should promote that post on his blog” is cleaner.
Compare “Some studies show that people are more likely to click on links that are blue” to “Studies show people are more likely to click blue links”
And by the way, people are ‘whos’ not ‘thats’ – People who whine drive me crazy — not people that whine).
Tip: Do a search and find every place in your post where you use ‘that’ and I’ll bet you can remove at least half of them.
4) Too Many Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases begin with of, to, for, in, etc. and add additional information to a sentence. However, they often end up making sentences wordy. The example “I was upset by the comments Karen wrote on my blog post about that new restaurant” has three prepositional phrases. It can be shortened to “Karen’s comments on my restaurant blog post upset me.”
Another common way prepositional phrases creep in: “The Hearst Castle in San Simeon is a must-see for visitors to this beautiful part of the California coastline” – four prepositional phrases! Try “Visitors shouldn’t miss San Simeon’s Hearst Castle and this beautiful California coastline.”
Tip: Review each prepositional phrase. Choose the most important word and ditch the rest (on a daily basis becomes daily), or turn it into a possessive as in the “San Simeon’s Hearst Castle…” example.
5) Overusing Modifiers Such as Very, Actually, Really, Pretty, etc.
You rarely need these modifiers— they are usually redundant and don’t enhance the word they are modifying. Compare “The designer has a very innovative style and actually produced some pretty amazing outfits for the show” to “The designer has an innovative style and produced amazing outfits for the show”— more concise.
Tip: Find each place where you use a modifier like ‘very’ and switch it out for a better adjective: “XYZ Bistro has a very large selection of desserts” to “XYZ Bistro has a robust selection of desserts.”
6) Using Passive Instead of Active Voice
Active voice basically means something or someone performs the action — the action doesn’t happen to something. Using active voice is a simple yet powerful way to improve your writing.
Compare “Invitations were sent by the hosts two weeks before the event” to “The hosts sent the invitations two weeks before the event” and “Clients’ phone calls are always answered by a live person” to “A live person always answers clients’ phone calls”
While not always passive, past tense variations of ‘to be’ tend to be passive: “The shots were blocked by the goalie” vs. “The goalie blocked the shots”
Tip: Look for words like ‘by’ and ‘was’ and check for passive voice: Change “The windows were blown out by the raging storm” to “The raging storm blew out the windows.”
7) Using ‘In Order to,’ ‘In an effort to’ and ‘Start to’
Eliminate these phrases and you’ll eliminate unnecessary words. Compare the following:
“In order to lose weight, you should reduce portion sizes” to “To lose weight, you should reduce portion sizes” — or even better, “Reduce portion sizes to lose weight.”
“I started walking to work instead of driving in an effort to lose weight” to “I walked to work instead of driving to lose weight.”
Tip: Review your work and delete theses phrases. Once you get in the habit of avoiding them, they’ll jump off the page — I used to use them and now I can spot them from across the room!
8) Phrasing Sentences Negatively
Using ‘not’ often weakens the meaning and adds unnecessary words. Compare these examples:
“The candidate was not only unprepared, she was rude” to “The candidate was rude and unprepared”
“The resort did not have a large pool, so it felt crowded” to “The resort had a small pool, so it felt crowded” or “The resort’s small pool felt crowded”
“Without the support of its fans, the band cannot tour this summer” to “With its fans’ support, the band can tour this summer”
Tip: Search for ‘not’ in your work and remove or rephrase when you can.
A Few Final Words
This guide on AcademicHelp.net tells you how to blog for being a successful blogger: read it now! We should also mention how important formatting such as fonts, headers / subheads and white space is to make sure readers can easily scan your blog.
John Arnott II is an entrepreneur, technologist, marketer and author. For more than 20 years, he has built organizations that depend on digital marketing channels for sustained growth and is the CEO of Clear Again Media, a Dallas-based digital marketing agency. Download John’s free e-book, Blog Writing with Authority from his blog site WhyIStartedaBlog.com and learn more about writing content readers AND search engines love.