These days, everyone’s a marketer. You’re writing blogs, posting to social media, writing web content and producing your newsletter. It’s great if you’re a good writer. If not, you’re setting yourself up in a potentially unflattering light. But with a little effort, anyone can become a better writer.
A few global tips:
- Keep it simple. Stick with clear, concise sentences and vocabulary.
- The first sentence of every paragraph should set the stage; with successive sentences supporting it.
- Frontload information—don’t flatter yourself to think that everyone’s going to read everything through to the end. Make that first paragraph count.
Here are a few grammatical pitfalls
Chances are you’re making these common mistakes. Correct these and you’re on your way to becoming a much better writer.
- Who versus that. That refers to things; who is used for people. This is easy. If you’re referencing a person, rather than using that, substitute who. Jane, the person who cuts her hair, not that cuts my hair.
- Less versus fewer. These are words you use for comparing something. User fewer when it’s a commodity that you can count. If you can’t count or quantify it, use less.
- Sorry. This isn’t a word. Drop this from your vocabulary.
- Where is it at? For grammarians, this is fingernails on a blackboard. Don’t end sentences with a preposition, and at is a preposition. It also goes back to our simplicity rule. Where is it is all you need to say.
- At this point in time. This one drives me crazy. Eliminating nonessential words makes you a better writer or speaker. At this point in time is redundant. At this point is sufficient.
- Single spacing after end punctuation. Using two spaces makes you look like a dinosaur. This is what you learned in your typing class a gazillion years ago. Language and customs evolve and you need to change with them.
- I, me and myself. Something I’m seeing a lot of these days is people saying He gave it to myself. Yuck. Where did this come from? He gave it to me. But it gets tricky and even people who really should know better screw up when there’s another person involved—when they insert another person or pronoun, all hell breaks loose. He gave the ball to Jim and me. Not Jim and I. The way to test this is to mentally remove the other person. You wouldn’t say He gave the ball to I, would you? Of course not—and that’s your little test.
- e. versus e.g. i.e. means basically. e.g. means for example.
- Its vs it’s. This is an easy one and I can’t figure out why people screw this one up so badly because they’re really not even closely related. It’s is a contraction that means it is. Its shows possession. Its owner, its alignment, etc. This is one of the worse. It’s so lame.
- Here’s one that trips up a lot of people who think they’re so smart. Words like neither, either and none are singular, which means they get singular verbs. What makes them tricky is that there’s often a prepositional phrase thrown in there to complicate things. Neither of them is safe. Mentally take out the prepositional phrase, of them, and you end up with Neither is.
Becoming a better writer: become a better reader
Someone asked me one time how to be a better writer. My answer was to be a better reader. Start noticing good writing and sentence structure. Pay attention to those whose writing you admire, the way it gets your attention and keeps it—because that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be anything stuffy—what are your favorite bloggers or sports columnists writing about? I’m a huge sports fan and I never miss Scott Ostler’s or Ann Killian’s columns. They’re savvy, smart and write with humor and heart. Best of all, they have opinions. Don’t be afraid to share your own. Those who agree with you will love you even more.