by Shanan Winters
I recently traded in my 22-year-old software engineering career for a brand new professional direction in content writing. It’s not often in life you get to make a huge, happy change, and I’ve been relishing every moment.
In my new career, I read a lot of blogs. Part of my job description is to study the Internet, find what is interesting, and then write something even more interesting that piggy-backs off – or even better, creates – content trends.
Best. Job. Ever.
However… that said… asterisk…
Man, there are some horrible blog posts out there. I get that the Internet is pretty much a free-for-all, but seriously people! When you present your content with poor grammar, sloppy phrasing, and inconsistent voice, you decrease the value of your message, discredit the site where you’re posting, and kill any hope of SEO ranking.
As I’ve read through dozens of posts over the last few weeks, I’ve made some notes. I call them my 10 Commandments of Content.
- Thou shalt not use comparator words if thou hath not compared thyself to anything. I’ve read how so many products and services are “better” in the last few weeks. We promise better Your life will be better. This soup is so much better! Every time I see the word better, all I can think is, better than what? Differentiating your topic/product/point is a good thing, but not if there’s no frame of reference. Use your words to tell your reader exactly what she gains by taking your advice.
- Thou shalt get to the point. I call it sheepdog content: it runs all around the point, herding it this-way-and-that, without ever getting anywhere. Get in, state your piece, and get out. Cut the fluff!
- Thou shalt not slightly reword bullet items and try to pass them off as separate points. If you don’t have enough data, ideas, or information to write a solid post, perhaps you should try a different topic.
- Thou shalt useth the Oxford comma – or not – just beith consistent. There is huge debate throughout the Internet community concerning serial commas. If you are fortunate enough to have a defined style guide, follow it. Otherwise, pick a direction and go with it.
- Thou shalt use active voice. Passive voice makes your content read as apologetic. Phrases like “can lead to,” “should help you,” and the dreaded, “might assist in” make you sound like you’re not exactly sure of your stance. They weaken your writing and the message. [FCC rules prohibit making certain claims, which could account for the occasional use of this phrasing. Ed.]
- Thou shalt define your this. I read way too many posts that say, “You should do this!” or “There are many ways to accomplish this.” That “this” dangles at the end of your sentence and screams out, “I was super tired and didn’t feel like actively phrasing my content.” There is always a way to reword your content to avoid a dangling, unidentified “this.”
- Thou shalt spellcheck and grammar edit, always. I was once told by an aspiring writer, “I love to write, but I’m just not a good speller and I suck at grammar.” That’s okay. No, seriously, it is. First drafts suck as a general rule. Just invest in a good spelling-and-grammar checker beyond what Word offers. Use a tool like Grammarly to double-check your writing before you post. The side benefit is that, over time, these tools help you learn to write strong content that requires less rework because they continually encourage good habits.
- Thou shalt avoid multiple use of the same adjective within thy 500-word blog post. It’s amazing how amazingly often people use the same amazing word to accent their amazing point. Amazed? I know I am.
- Thou shalt not stuff thy keywords. No one really understands SEO, because Google keeps changing the rules. The best way to write good content for SEO is to… well… write good content. Publish informative, compelling, and creative blog posts, and you will boost your traffic.
- Thou shalt back up thy claims and provide exact links to primary sources. Reading wild-assed claims with no links to back them up… okay, I think I just defined Facebook memes. When writing blog posts, your facts, figures, and statistics need to come from somewhere. Link those primary sources! I have clicked on too many links that land on another secondary source, where I have to follow breadcrumbs in hopes of finding original data. Equally frustrating is clicking a link and getting the top-level homepage of the entity that produced a study or whitepaper. When you link to a study, quote, whitepaper, or survey, link the exact, primary source. Make it easy for the reader to follow up on your research.
I’ve seen some great content on the web. And then there’s… the rest. My goal is to write concise, useful, and compelling content, regardless of platform, topic, or forum.
What rules do you follow when you write blog posts? What drives you bonkers when you read content online? Let me know in the comments below!
Shanan Winters is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, editor, and novelist. Her first book is RISING: Book One of The Adept Cycle. She has avid interest in geek topics and fandoms, issues of parenting, and desert horticulture. She loves archery, cats, aviation, and board games, and has performed in a variety of Irish folk bands over the years. When not working on projects, Shanan can be found writing about writing at ShananWinters.wordpress.com.