By Ann Gynn published May 1, 2019
How are your writing muscles?
Have they gotten stronger since you started the five exercises detailed in How to Make Your Writing More Powerful a couple months ago?
I gave you some time to rest up. Now, let’s get back to the writing gym. (Don’t worry if you haven’t worked out in a while, now is a great time to start.)
This time, I’ve added a couple videos for fun.
Exercise 1: Show, don’t tell
The day began with nice weather.
Temperatures hovered in the 70s as the sun rose. Fluffy clouds dotted the ocean-blue sky.
What changed: The revised text describes what nice weather feels and looks like. It also defines what “nice weather” means from the writer’s perspective.
Why: Readers benefit when they can visualize what the text conveys. Don’t settle for telling readers something when you can show them with words.
Use descriptive words and avoid vague words. Set the scene, describe your source, show how the product works in real life – the options to show are almost endless.
This fun two-minute video from Julie Freeman illustrates this concept:
TIP: Don’t waste an interview or a site visit. If you’ve seen what you’re writing about, show your audience by including details you could only gather by being there.
Exercise 2: Avoid erroneous quote marks
Did you know he’s going to paint the house “purple”?
Did you know he’s going to paint the house purple?
What changed: The quotation marks were removed from “purple” and the word was italicized to illustrate emphasis.
Why: As Grammarly explains, the use of quote marks to emphasize a word or phrase was legitimate in the pre-word processor days. Writers didn’t have the ability to create italics on their typewriters or in typesetting.
But you have the ability to italicize text. Quote marks for emphasis are NOT necessary.
And of course, unnecessary quote marks aren’t limited to emphasis, as Ross Geller and Joey Tribbiani illustrate:
Using quote marks also can indicate a word is being used loosely or ironically. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston writes about how overused – and mistakenly used – that technique is. But she also shares a few examples of when it’s appropriate.
(And if this is your pet peeve, join 24,000 others in the Reddit community of r/Unnecessary Quotes. They regularly share examples of bad unnecessary quotes.)
TIP: Emphasize sparingly. Italicizing a word or phrase in every paragraph dilutes the effect. It’s like using all caps in every tweet. If you’re always shouting, no one can recognize which tweet is more important than others.
Exercise 3: Be indirect more frequently
“In order to accomplish the goal of survival, we are planning to implement a reduction in force of at least 20% because we can’t keep going at the same payroll we have today. With advances in technology, we now can do the same output with fewer people,” said CEO Jennifer Louden of PDQ Company.
PDQ Company plans to lay off 20% of its workforce as a cost-cutting measure. However, production output is not expected to change thanks to efficiencies gained in technology implementation, said CEO Jennifer Louden.
What changed: The direct quote was made indirect.
Why: Writers often mistakenly act like transcriptionists. They regurgitate what a person said word for word. Yet, few people speak in a way that conveys their thoughts clearly and succinctly.
Use your writing muscles to simplify an explanation, get to the point more quickly, or at least remove pauses and clunky transitions. Indirect quotes let you maintain the meaning and provide attribution without bogging down the text.
TIP: Use direct quotes sparingly – when only the speaker’s language, sentiment, explanation will do. I like this simplified explanation in Gully Magazine’s Journalism 101 section:
Quotes are like the salt and pepper of hard news … Use them only when (they) add something: color, humanity, authenticity, or verisimilitude.”
Exercise 4: Add another component (meta description)
When I graduated college, my dad gave me one of those super-duper, deluxe tool sets. It had everything. There was a 330-piece socket wrench set, a two-gim…
New Content Marketing Institute research shows the struggle with content management strategy lies in the unused junk drawer of once shiny technology.
What changed: The original version is the first 155 characters of Robert Rose’s recent article. The revision is the unique meta description written for his piece about the CMI research.
Why: Without a distinct meta description, Google tends to pull the first sentence or so (about 155 characters) of the article. Robert’s wonderfully descriptive and intriguing lede entices someone who is already on the page to read further. But the truncated version of the intro doesn’t provide enough information for someone searching for information about content technology research.
And if your intro sentence isn’t explicit about your topic or perspective, it’s less likely to attract clicks.
TIP: To learn more about meta descriptions (and see 15 helpful examples), check out this article on Themeisle.
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
Exercise 5: Use repetition purposely (and avoid it otherwise)
The CMO attended a board meeting with the CEO. At the meeting, they discussed the marketing strategy for the coming year.
REVISED: The CMO attended a board meeting with the CEO to discuss the marketing strategy for the coming year.
What changed: The revision contains a single use of “meeting,” but conveys the same meaning as the first.
Why: Efficient writing is easier for the audience to consume. Revise your content to eliminate unnecessary repetition and don’t think keyword stuffing will make your content more attractive to search engines.
But don’t go to unnecessary lengths to avoid repeating words and use synonyms. As Julie DeSilva argues, “We have nothing to fear but alarm itself” illustrates what can go wrong with synonyms and when repetition is a better option.
Repetition of words can be helpful – to emphasize a point, to create a rhythm in your text, etc. But use repetition with purpose. Though Lisa Brown’s advice on how to avoid repetition is for manuscript writing, it’s just as helpful for blogs, articles, e-books, etc.
TIP: Spend an hour or two one day reading content you wrote (if possible, look at your original versions, not the final version edited by someone else). Do you notice frequently repeated words? Stop and reflect. While each writer has a unique voice, are those the words you want to come to your readers’ minds that reflect your voice? (Me? I overuse “now,” “actually,” and “of course.”)
Update your writing workout
You can’t cram to improve your writing. As with the first exercises I shared, don’t attempt all five of these new workouts at the same time. Grab your calendar and schedule at least a weeklong date for each exercise.
Set a reminder or appointment so it sits atop your calendar each day as a gentle reminder that it’s time to work out (though you don’t need to sweat). Then you can check it off and know you’ve accomplished something in the short term for better content in the long term.
Make sure you get the next round of exercises to build your writing muscle. Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute to CMI’s free weekday newsletter.
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