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5 Killer Ways to Improve your Writing Right Now

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of March 2008 Featured Posts, Writing Content 0 Comments

Improve Your Blog Writing with this post written by Rob Siders from 52 Novels.

5 killer ways to improve your writing right now

One of the hallmarks of producing great content for your blog is writing it so it sounds natural, the way it would if we were chatting with each other over a coffee.

I know. I’m not the first person to say this, so the advice won’t sound all that fresh. But the fact is, writing this way enraptures your audience. You’ll have them begging to know what comes next.

And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of a sentence? To get people to read what comes next?

I’m a technical writer and editor at my day job. I’m writing my second novel in my free time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve learned some things that never fail to punch up my prose.

Junk unnecessary words

This staple of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have to share. I put it number one for a reason.

But how do you know which words are unnecessary?

A quick and dirty way is to look for all of the thats. You can jettison most of them.

Then take a look at the fluff. Strike any copy if it:

  • Doesn’t add anything substantial.
  • Won’t change the work’s meaning or tone.

Remember: You’re writing for others as much as — if not more than — you’re writing for yourself.

If you’d skip over something, you better believe someone else will, too.

Make it active

Thank ol’ Mrs. Anderson for this one.

Mrs. Anderson was my seventh grade English teacher who insisted the class adhere to every motherlovin’ grammar rule… no matter how archaic. Or stupid.

As as result, everyone learned to write dreadful passive prose. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom met a passive sentence I liked.

Chances are good you’ve got a Mrs. Anderson in your past, too. Exorcise that demon’s teaching immediately.

Examples of passive sentences:

The awards presentation this year will be emceed by Wink Martindale.

My daughter was given a turtle by my sister-in-law.

Notice how the subjects of the sentences are receiving the action? Blech.

Here’s how to fix them:

Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.

My sister-in-law gave a turtle to my daughter.

Here, the sentence subjects are performing the actions.

Subjects — not to mention your readers — yearn for action. Don’t disappoint them.

Forget your adverbs here

Adverbs suck the life out of magnificent nouns and adjectives. In fact, there’s nothing an adverb can do that the right noun or adjective can’t do better by themselves.

Bob admitted he liked women with slightly curvy figures.

Don’t softpedal this, Bob. Tell us you like voluptuous women. Tell us you like women with va-va-voom. “Slightly curvy” just doesn’t cut it.

Before you publish your copy, be sure to look for the words ending in –ly. It’s a safe bet they can go. You might even have to rewrite a few things.

Just be sure your meaning isn’t warped when you do remove your adverbs.

Read it out loud

My wife makes fun of me when she hears me reading my fiction. She claims it’s because I like to fawn over the sound of my own words.

She’s only half right. :-P

The other half is that my writing doesn’t always sound in my head the way it does when it’s spoken. What rings near perfect on the page sometimes doesn’t come across natural at all. “That just doesn’t sound real,” I say to myself.

Because blogging is about conversations, our posts have to sound real, too.

Take a few minutes to read what you’ve written aloud. You’ll find it’s a lot different when it passes through your ears first.

Bonus: You’ll also come across repeated words, incomplete thoughts, clumsy construction, misspellings, and host of other goofs you won’t wanna see in print. You’re welcome.

Vary, vary, vary

I hesitated giving this one up. It comes deep from within the fiction writer’s trunk full of magic.

So deep I could get blacklisted.

Have to turn in my keyboard.


I hope you see where this last one’s headed.

No matter what anyone tells you, there aren’t many rules when it comes to writing. The only one I know of that’s hard and fast is, “Never start a sentence with a comma.

That said, changing the pace, gravity, and tone of your posts is often as simple as varying sentence and paragraph lengths. English composition teachers say, “Each paragraph should have a thesis, and each sentence in the paragraph should support the thesis. Each sentence needs a subject, verb, and blah blather blah.”


Each sentence should keep the reader, you know, reading. If that means you get creative with the rules, then by all means…

Do it.

Rob Siders is a writer living in Denver, Colo. He blogs about reading, writing, technology, and books at 52 Novels.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Thx..

    I give it try next time.

  2. I find that reading my writing out loud really improves helps. There have been times where I read a piece out loud and actually wondered what I was thinking when I wrote it.

    Another thing that I like to do, and I don’t think you mentioned it, is to step away from the writing for a bit. If I write a post for my site I’ll stop and do something else for a few minutes to get my mind off the writing and then come back and reread it.

  3. Some nice writing tips. I shall have to try reading out loud. I tend to make someone else read my work, but productivity would benefit if I could do this myself effectively.

  4. I can’t be the only one that feels this article could do with some of it’s own medicine. For example:

    “Before you publish your copy, be sure to look for the words ending in -ly. It’s a safe bet they can go. You might even have to rewrite a few things.”

    Don’t safe-bet and might, cut the weasel words.

    “Before you publish your copy look for words ending in -ly. Rewrite sentences to remove them.”


  5. Damien, it just goes to show how deeply these practices run. When I was still teaching, I would be pretty strict with my students writing, even though I was a science teacher. The smarter ones always caught me doing the same things I got after them for doing.

    Rob (and Darren)… this was a great post and very timely. I was just thinking last night about how I need to get back to the basics of writing and economics and get past they myopic vision of the typical blogger/marketer. Thanks!

  6. Wow–awesome article. And easy to read too (imagine that)!

  7. Finally, someone besides me against the “that” word. I too deal with technical manuals for a living. I just removed over 300 instances of “that” from one large document. Talk about purging the crap…

  8. Simone Pistache says: 03/01/2008 at 1:15 am

    Good general advice, Rob. But if this weren’t ProBlogger, and if I weren’t curious about Darren’s guest-bloggers, I’d have bailed at the second paragraph. Writing this way enraptures your audience? And leaves them begging to know what comes next? Because they yearn for action?! What’s next? A throbbing member? ;-)

    Seriously, it’s fine to incorporate vivid vocabulary, but make sure your excitement isn’t inadvertently generating over-the-top imagery in your readers’ minds. You don’t want your text to resemble an MLM chain letter from the ’80s, after all!

  9. Excellent post, Rob. I find myself stumbling around those old grammar axioms like never start a sentence with “And,” or end it with a preposition. Sometimes I wish I had never learned that stuff and could simply write in a more conversational tone. I think blog readers most appreciate straightforward writing. Thanks for putting this together.

  10. @Damien: You make a couple of good points there. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect. Rewriting the sentence, though, isn’t always needed. In some cases, it’s as simple as removing the adverb. Why rewrite the whole thing? Seems unnecessary, yes?

  11. Great advice Darren.

    I know I fall into the adverb category. Even with the active voice, there’s a lot of ‘half-committed’ sentences in my blogging. Too much time spent trying to predict objections, and not enough time striking a stance.


  12. Writing tips almost never make it to the top of anyone’s favorites list. However, for a blogger, I feel this is an area that should be studied and worked on regularly. After all, what is blogging? Writing.

  13. Darren – You continue to amaze me with your posts. Thank you for risking getting blacklisted for our betterment. You rock!

  14. Good article – I like the explanation about making sentences ‘active’

    My tip is to go back over your posts for vague nouns. I always leave posts at least overnight to re-read before publishing them and often find that very vague words like ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ have slipped in. These are usually the kind of omissions that don’t seem very important at the time but mean that the post really doesn’t make sense six months on (or to anybody other than me reading them most likely!)

  15. @Simone: Guilty as charged. :-)

    @Damien (again): I see I left out an example I’d had ready in my last reply. Let’s say you wrote, “I am truly humbled.” Why rewrite? Just strike “truly.”

  16. These are all good tips. Another good source for excellent writing tips is listening to the GrammarGirl podcast. She has many good 10 minute tips for writing!

  17. Excellent, helpful post. Except for the title:
    “5 Killer Ways to Improve your Writing Right Now”.

    How about fascinating, proven, useful, attractive, effective, classical, easy or whatever other ways to improve one’s writing?

    Man, this omni-present “killing” is killing me. What (or whom?) am I supposed to kill to become a better writer? Creativity is the exact opposite of killing.

  18. This was… spectacular.

    I can think of about 50 bloggers I’d like to refer to this link. Myself included.

  19. I don’t think I’ll take this advice. Due to my unique writing skills, my blog has grown. Controversy! That’s what it is for me.

  20. Good advice, particularly about not being verbose. You have to be careful to not bury a good idea in too many words.

    I’d also recommend Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” to just about everybody: a classic reference with excellent advice on … well, writing.

    Roy Peter Clark’s “50 Writing Tools” web series was also excellent, but as since been taken down as Mr. Clark published a book with the contents. I have the original articles saved, should anybody want them, by the way. Feel free to drop a line.

  21. This is very good advice, particularly about not being verbose. You have to be careful to not bury a good idea in too many words.

    I’d also recommend Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” to just about everybody: a classic reference with excellent advice on … well, writing.

    Roy Peter Clark’s “50 Writing Tools” web series was also excellent, but as since been taken down as Mr. Clark published a book with the contents. I have the original articles saved, should anybody want them, by the way. Feel free to drop a line.

  22. Brilliant and simple. It’s amazing how few people actually put this into practice.

  23. Thanks for the Tip..great tip and I try to practice it in my daily basis :)

  24. Nice article, Rob, will make me think while writing my next post.

    I’m truly glad that I read it. ;)

  25. @everyone: Thanks for all the comments here. I enjoy kind words as much as the next guy, but the critique…? Man, that’s where the good stuff is!

  26. Rob-

    Thanks for the refresher. I needed it. I checked out your website, 52 Novels, and found some valuable info and downloads too. I’ll be back!

  27. Really great tips. Thanks.

  28. I love the tip to read out loud before posting. Great article!

  29. Hey! Thanks for the Tips. I think it will help me a lot writing more informative and easily.

  30. Hi Rob – I had heard this before – Strunk and White is my most used book. But, I’m glad you wrote this, because it’s great advice.

    Many writers will have heard it before, but many bloggers won’t. And that is one of the biggest problems with blogging – lots of bloggers think they don’t need to learn the basics of writing to blog.

  31. This is a fun post. Thanks. Rob you have a very entertaining and airy writing style which lends itself nicely to the idea of having a conversation with the reader.

    I think you crafted a very fine post here and I think the idea of reading out loud is a good one. At least I can read my posts again while asking myself “does this sound like I’m actually talking to my readers”?

    It’s also interesting to see such short paragraphs — even one word paragraphs! That’s the extreme baby! I do try to keep my paragraphs brief but man, I’m an amateur!

    Thanks again.

  32. I think I have the original first printing of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE. It’s a great little book and has helped me a number of times. Unfortunately I misplaced it several months ago and have missed it sorely.

    What I find difficult is being so close to my own writing that I don’t see the mistakes or what could make it better. It’s easier, like in many areas of life, to see the faults in others than in myself. It was good to have some simple tips laid out for us in this post. I do the “reading out loud” method most of the time. I will go back and scan for those pesky “that’s” and “ly’s” and see if I can clean things up a bit.

    Thanks Rob.

  33. Good tips — I do a lot of fiction writing as well as blogging (and a day job which involves some technical writing), and thought I strive to write well for my blog, I’ve not thought of it in the same way I think about fiction. Eg. I read my fiction aloud to check that it flows, but have never done the same with a blog post.

    So there’s definitely some useful ideas here; thanks!


  34. I love the tips in the post and in the comments!

    I’m working on deleting ‘that’ from my vocabulary. I also have a tendency to use ‘just’ too often. I don’t need the word, so why do I use it?

  35. Hey Rob – This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a while. You had me by the point of dropping “that” from your writing. YES! Oh YES!

    I want to say something more than “Great Post!” but I’m afraid I can’t. Love your style of writing.

  36. Thanks!

    I love this post as I am VERY conscious of my writing. I know I suck! But I try to write in my voice and be creative. It’s nice to know I’m not breaking any golden writer laws by doing so!

    That being said I definitely fall prey to passive and adverb use all the time. So I will be on a lookout for those!

    Thanks again!

  37. Great post Rob, coming from a non-native English speaker, I can really relate to some of the above counter examples, but I nevertheless always try to improve my English. This post certainly helped in that way.

  38. @Thrice: Thanks for the tip on Zinsser. And Clark’s 50 WRITING TOOLS is fantastic. I’d read the Web series at the Poynter site on which it’s based.

    @everyone (again): You’re all too kind. Thank you.

  39. Awsome way to make an interesting blog. Doesn’t matter if it fresh tips or not. It’s the way to tell it that’s matter!. love the slightly curvy parts..hahaha “Badabim badabooomm!!”

  40. Thank you for posting. This is hilarious. I need to change my posting right away.

  41. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    I blame all those teachers and profs who require x amount of words for an answer or essay for my “fluffiness.” But I am in charge of me now–I can do it.

  42. @Garold – “Being too close to my words” – I can relate to that back long ago, before I had bosses who taught me how to edit.

    One wanted a whole page of “how we got into this emergency situation” reduced to two sentences.

    Another was a situation where a teammate and I were both infuriated but had to get a letter out pronto to the same folks who were infuriating us. As their HQ, we could not say what we were thinking. Ha ha!

    But I could write it down.

    And so I ranted all over the page with what I was thinking and feeling. Then I used a GMAT-test-taking trick I’d developed for those tricky “reading comprehension” sections. I deleted all the subjective words and cleaned up the language. Eventually I reorganized. But the basic content was still there (having poured out in-between the rants).

    The words were still mine, but this taught me indelibly the art of editing my own words.

    Not sure if these will help anyone else having the same problem of loving each of their words, but I throw it out for those it might. Feel free to edit.

  43. First of all – I like the article and hope to apply your advice – while writing fresh, new content each and every day for my blog. Hmmm… I think I’ll have to work on incorporating these tips slowly over time.

    Secondly – Kudos to Rolf F. Katzenberger. I heard a Rabbi once lament on the use of the word “killer” in the English language. We are all too ready to ‘shed blood’ when we speak. No one, however, says ‘Man, that article just raped’. ‘That was a molesting piece of music’ and so on. If anyone said such a thing we’d think them deranged and sick. But we have no problem talking about a killer piece of music or an article that just killed.

  44. Reading aloud your written material works wonders when you’re proofreading. When we “read” it in our mind, our brain often skips mistakes and reads them as if they’re correct as it’s programed to auto-correct them. When you actually read your content loud, your brain gets feedback from the ears and you can easily hear if anything is wrong…

  45. I’ve long been wanting to write a politically syndicated column and it appears with blogging, I may actually come as close as ever to reaching this goal. When you’re in your mid-fifties, any chance to attain a long-held dream is something worth grabbing on to for dear life.

    My problem seems to lie in discerning the proper length for a political blog. Yes, I want to keep it interesting, and exciting. But I also don’t want to “go lite” on substance just for grabbing readers.

    I’m socially conservative, fiscally liberal. While this isn’t the most popular stand for most writers (most conservative writers are either socially and fiscally conservative, or socially libertarian and fiscally conservative. On the positive side, my views could help me create a niche audience and expand from there.

    Don’t worry: I won’t be offended if any of you think I’m out to lunch. I’m fishing for answers and suggestions to get this off the ground.

    Thanks to any and all.

  46. Great post; thank you! Dan Santow at <a href=”www.http://wordwise.typepad.com/blog/“<Word Wise is a blogger who offers a regular diet of these helpful tips.

  47. Huh.. huh.. looks like I ‘ve got things to improve..


  48. I like your point about reading out loud. I learned this tip during my freshmen year in college. Reading out loud helped me to catch many mistakes in papers. Great post, short and to the point. Thanks for the link to elements of style.

  49. Well english is not my first language, so it is hard for me to make it sounds nice

  50. I just want to add to the “reading out loud” comment. I almost always read my work out loud–which is useful, but dangerous. When reading my own work I know where the pauses should go, how the words should be pronounced, what the right cadence is. In the writer’s voice, clunky writing can sound good.

    At the moment, I’m working on getting other people to read my work out loud. Sure, that can take some time but, especially in the case of longer work, it’s worth it.

    Oh, and if you can get someone with a different accent to read your work to you, all the better. The ‘oh no, that’s not what I intended’ is jarring at first, but it definitely pays off.

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