In order to be a good writer you must be able to write well. That much is obvious.
The same goes for bloggers, although there is certainly more leeway than you would expect when compared to other forms of writing. However, that is no reason to slack off — improving your writing skills should be a huge priority and an ever-present process.
It is not within the scope of this guide to go into great detail on how to write great content for the web in a technical sense — that subject could quite easily take up the contents of an enormous reference book. In fact, it does: The Yahoo! Style Guide. Although we’re going to dive into the key concepts below, almost every technical facet of writing and publishing online content is covered in that book. It’s my bible and I wholeheartedly recommend that you grab a copy.
How to Develop Your Voice
When it comes to blogging, personality is an incredibly powerful tool. At the heart of many a successful blog is the blogger’s personality.
The likes of Ashley Ambirge is a great example of an outspoken blogger who have been successful in building an audience because of her outspoken nature. While writing well and producing valuable posts will certainly help you build a loyal audience, it is the way in which you choose to portray yourself that can really set you apart. With that in mind, it is important that you develop a unique voice as a blogger.
I am not saying that you should “manufacture” a personality and style that you then attempt to work into your writing. But I am saying that you shouldn’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. People will connect with you far more readily if they can envisage the person behind the words, so you shouldn’t hesitate in revealing your full character.
It is far better to polarize opinion than provoke indifference. A bland and characterless style of writing will result in a lukewarm response at best, but an outspoken and dynamic personality will attract attention. You shouldn’t seek to stir up controversy in the hope of attracting attention, but don’t be afraid to state your true opinion.
Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation
Write drunk; edit sober — Ernest Hemingway
Inbuilt spellcheck is now the norm, but don’t use it as a crutch. It will catch the majority of spelling errors, but it won’t recognize you using the word “and” instead of “an” by accident, for example.
Every blog post you write should be proofread at least once. My approach is to write “drunk” (as Hemingway so aptly put it), without great regard for the form of my writing, then go back through the article when I am finished and correct any mistakes.
One particularly effective way of checking a post for mistakes is to read it aloud. Given that blogging typically calls for a conversational style of writing, reading your post aloud should “feel” entirely natural. If it is not, consider why, and edit the post accordingly.
As a hirer of freelance bloggers, some of my biggest pet hates are poor spelling, grammar and punctuation — especially when they are simple mistakes. If a freelance blogger allows such mistakes to slip through the cracks, they are demonstrating a lack of concern for both the quality of the content and the client’s time (as the client will be the one left to correct the mistakes). Not a good impression to make.
How to Develop Your Vocabulary
If you don’t have a quick and easy way of accessing a dictionary on your computer, find one. Personally, I use the Dictionary app on my Mac, which enables me to check any word with just the click of a mouse.
If you are in any doubt as to the meaning of a word that you intend to use, look it up. Don’t be lazy; you’re likely to end up with egg on your face. And don’t be afraid to use a Thesaurus — it is a great way of discovering new and interesting words.
I would also recommend using an app such as Anki to memorize newly-learned words — I’ve found it to be invaluable in terms of expanding my vocabulary.
Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)
Writing for the web (and blogging especially) adheres to the KISS principle. Your readers will have no patience for complex words or convoluted sentences — they want their information to be easily digestible.
This is to your great advantage, as you can focus on writing in an uncomplicated style. I follow three principles:
- Use short words
- Use short sentences
- Use short paragraphs
Those three principles are probably the most important things you can learn as a blogger. Correctly applying those principles to your writing will ensure that your content is easily digestible and doesn’t scare impatient would-be readers away.
How to Present Your Content
The way in which you present your content is of vital importance. You are writing a blog post — not a novel — so treat it is accordingly.
Many people who read blogs don’t actually read that much — they scan. They don’t have the patience to digest an entire blog post; they’re just looking for the juicy tidbits. And if they can’t find what they want quickly, they lose interest. You only have to observe your own web browsing habits to realize the reality of the situation.
Therefore, your blog posts need to be both “scannable” and easily navigable. You can achieve this by utilizing the following elements:
- Descriptive sub–headers
- Bold and italics
- Graphical elements (images, blockquotes, tables, etc.)
The more dynamic and interesting your blog post looks, the more likely it is to get read — regardless of how informative the content actually is. That’s the (rather fickle) truth of the matter.
- Grab yourself a copy of The Yahoo! Style Guide and commit to reading it for a minimum of 30 minutes per day – it’ll be well worth the time and money investment.
- Download Anki and build a ‘Deck’ of at least twenty words that you would like to learn (here’s the user manual).
- Write and proofread the post you planned in the previous section whilst keeping in mind all of the lessons covered in this chapter.