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All About Blogging: Ten Tips To Be a Better Writer

Owned, Ottawa, September 2011

How hard can writing be? You just have to type what you’re thinking, right?

Well, it doesn’t quite work like that, even if your spontaneous thoughts and observations can be a good starting point.

When you’re writing for an audience, a few basic tips apply.

Write with passion — Presumably, you are blogging because you have something to share: your life, your passion, a story or a skill. If you are passionate about it, it will show. Don’t force yourself to write about something you are not comfortable with or not interested in because readers will feel it. Blogging shouldn’t be a chore. This is not school, you don’t have to write a minimum number of words on a set topic. For instance, I can’t do book reviews for the life of me. I spent my high school years dissecting Victor Hugo’s Castigations (the title of the collection of poems says it all, trust me!) and while I’m still an avid reader, I turned down book review offers because it’s just not my thing. No one will enjoy reading a tedious review!

Build some context — Blogs create their own little universe, with occasional mentions of family members or particular life events. If your blog is mostly for friends and family, that’s fine because they know you. But if you want to build a bigger readership, you want to make sure people know what you are talking about. This is why About Me and About this Blog pages, where you present your universe, are important. Don’t hesitate to link to previous related articles to add context and information. Finally, go easy on private jokes only two or three people can understand, otherwise it feels like you are intentionally snubbing your readers.

Stop that constant navel-gazing — Some people live amazing lives and can write about themselves without boring the audience to death. But 99% of us are just regular folks are frankly, a detailed account of your life isn’t very interesting unless you are an exceptionally good writer. I know Justin Beiber “wrote” his autobiography at the tender age of 13 but most of us aren’t quite ready for that yet.

Don’t take yourself too seriously — Relax, it’s just a blog! Some readers will disagree with you, some will troll you, some will ignore your efforts to have the best blog ever… who cares? Don’t take yourself too seriously and accept that you are one blogger out of millions. Have fun and please, don’t start dragging readers into your blogging drama.

Use spell-check — On the practical side of writing, I really encourage you to use spell-check. Everybody makes typos, but when they pile up, articles can be a real pain to decipher. I tend to write my posts in Word, which catches most grammatical errors and typos, and I’ve seen a huge improvement compared to when I used to write directly in the WordPress text editor.

Use online tools — There are tons of free online tools to improve your writing. For instance, non-native English speakers will find WordReference very useful (and if you have a question, their forum is awesome!). I also use Synonyms, Visuwords (an online visual dictionary) and Wikipedia (for place names, historical events etc.).

Typography matters — Arranging text and selecting fonts isn’t only aesthetic, it has functional goals. For instance, it’s hard to read a message when there are no caps after a period, or where there are a lot of duplicate whitespace. Some plugins such as WP Typography offer intelligent character replacement and styling for ampersands, quotes, acronyms etc. The font family you choose also affect readers’ experience: Courier or handwriting fonts may feel “funky” and original but they are hard to read and shouldn’t be used for long text.

… And so do editing and reviewing — Ideally, everyone needs another set of eyes to catch grammatical and spelling mistakes. Most of us don’t have a luxury of a dedicated proofreader at home, but you can always set your text aside for a while and proof it again with fresh eyes. You’d be surprised to see the number of typos and mistakes you will catch!

Limit the length of your articles — I personally believe that articles under 200 words will be better on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, and article over 1,000 are just too long to keep readers’ attention (to give you an idea, most press releases are around 500 words). I’m the type of person who likes to write a lot but I learn to check the word count and to do some serious editing if I was close to my self-imposed 600-700 words limit.

Don’t forget that writing is subjective — In maths, 1+1=2 (or so I’ve been told). But writing isn’t an exact science. Two persons can relate the same event very differently. Yes, grammar matters but there is no perfect way to write. Develop your voice and be proud of your achievements!

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