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5 Universal Writing Rules

Posted By Darren Rowse 13th of February 2009 Writing Content 0 Comments

In this post Isaac Sweeney shares some rules of writing that I think many of us as bloggers will benefit from. Isaac teaches at the School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication at James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA) and is a published author. He blogs at Ways With Words.

Whether it’s blogging, a novel, a newspaper article, a screenplay, or a poem, some writing rules are universal.

1. Revise

Nothing written is perfect the first time around. In fact, many writers don’t care at all about first drafts; they say the real writing is done when revising.

Revising and proofreading are different. Proofreading means going back and finding mistakes, from grammar to spelling. Revision isn’t about finding what’s wrong, but about finding what could make a piece better.

Some basic questions to ask when revising are: Am I being concise or could I say this same thing with fewer words? Will my reader understand my idea? Do I need to explain more? Would an example help? How can this be more impactful?

All of the steps that follow are also things to think about when revising.

2. Proofreading: It’s “Definitely,” Not “Defiantly”

Proofreading and revising are different (see number 1). Proofreading isn’t simple, but it’s simpler than revising. It requires a check for mistakes — grammar, spelling, word choice, correct site names, etc.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fast-paced writing outlets, like blogging, first drafts that contain mistakes get published again and again. In the process, these writers (and subsequently, their blogs) lose credibility. This can translate into less traffic. As you know, traffic is the lifeblood of any website.

3. Structure Matters: Beginning, Middle, End

Rants and stream-of-conscious pieces are fun and therapeutic. But real writers think about structure before publishing. They move things around and/or plan them out. While the writing process is often chaotic, the writer needs to think about structure before showing a piece to any reader.

Structure is a fun thing to experiment with, but every piece should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This beginning, middle, and end may take different forms — that’s the fun part — but they must be there.

Some basic structural questions to ask are: Does my beginning keep the reader reading? Does my middle convey important information while keeping my reader’s attention? Does my end leave a lasting impression?

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Change

As I said, the writing process is often chaotic. Word meanings change. Readers’ vocabularies differ. Maybe your planned research is impossible because of the massive natural disaster in City X.

Whatever the case, all good writers face adversity and adapt. Maybe a natural disaster is extreme, but closing without saving happens to the best of them. So the writer may purchase some sort of anti-virus protection for the computer — this is change.

It could be as frustrating as an idea that goes nowhere, and the writer is forced to throw hours of work into the digital recycle bin. Sometimes change is as basic as adapting a writer’s process. There may not be time for the brief outline the writer usually makes before beginning; instead, the writer delves right into a draft, still leaving time to revise.

A writer’s willingness to change is necessary.

5. Revise: I’m Repeating it on Purpose

I cannot stress enough the importance of revising. Revise as much as possible. A written piece is never perfect, but the writer should always strive for perfection.

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. Thanks Isaac!

    I think I got to apply number 2 on every post that I am going to make. Losing credibility hurts…

    Can you give us a link or topic on what is the general structure of a blog post (or any article for that matter)?

    Thanks! ^_^


  2. These are good rules that should always be followed! They may sound basic, but I’d bet that 90%+ of blogs don’t bother with them and you can often tell. I always re-read everything I write and I even go back a day or two later and catch more mistakes. :)

  3. Hi Isaac:
    Nice article.

    To me, Revise is more critical than the other points. I feel if Revise will take care or lead towards covering other 3 points.

    Swami K

  4. a tip for writing anything educational:
    write in small paragraphs and divide paragraphs into points, readers love it and writing becomes really easy.

  5. Thanks Isaac!

    I’ll “definitely” be putting these into action when I write. ;)

  6. Nice post, but sometime I feel that people spend to much time revising things. Sometimes it’s best just to hit that publish button :)

  7. Great post, Isaac!

    I admit, I sometimes fail to set aside enough time to complete each of these steps to my satisfaction, but I’m constantly striving to improve. It’s so important to realize that your writing deserves to be judged AFTER a revision and proofreading – you’re not by any means obligated to show your worst side to anyone, nor should you. It’s like not brushing your hair and performing a mirror-check before you go out in the evening …


  8. I am guilty of number 2, spell check is great but sometimes I don’t pay close enough attention and it corrects the word to be completely different! Great article!

  9. Funny how the fundamentals always apply-past, present, and future. Thank you for the reminder. Great advice as usual.

  10. Excellent!! I think many a times writers oversee the importance of conciseness. An apt word is always better than a sentence!!

  11. I think it’s so funny you used “definitely” as your example misspelling because I goof that word up all the time. Every alternative spelling looks correct to me. =)

    Twitter: @jaledwith

  12. This is great. This made me go back and re-read my post from yesterday and wha-lahh, your advice made it better.

  13. Agree with Deano… ^_^

  14. Another thought – I’m curious, what do you think about revising the title of a post after its been published?

    Sometimes I might think of how my title could have been better, but I have never gone so far as to actually make changes. I’m talking small changes, not totally re-wording the title.

  15. Good article, but I’m fairly sure ‘impactful’ isn’t a word…

  16. The thing about revising….

    One of my pet peeves (with myself) is sitting for long periods of time trying to ‘re-work’ content that I already have on the page. I have had to learn sometimes to just hit ‘delete.’

    There are times when we overcommit to content already on the page because we spent time and energy putting it there. But sometimes it can’t be re-worked. If the content on the page is not gaining any momentum, sometimes just by letting go and deleting it we can create a tsunami of new and better content that would not otherwise have come through.

    Don’t be afraid to hit ‘delete!’

  17. My usually writing come after 4th or 5th times. At the first I write everything about those things which I am thinking and relevant to the matter. With the help of this now everything on my table.

    Now I just have to pick and decorate in the perfect way so that everything must look related to each other.

    After putting that I read again so that every break things can be withdrawn.

  18. I can’t agree more. To be able to write, one must be free of the editorial mind – this allows the ideas and meaning to flow. Then after there has been some time to digest, the editorial cap must go on and ruthlessly hack away at the detritus. The third stage involves seeing how the piece works with the outside world how others are receiving and understanding it. This requires fine-tuning.

  19. Excellent!! I’ll definitely be putting these into action when I write, in portuguese :) I’m brazilian but I read problogger every day, so, I found this great post. Sorry about my poor english.

    Monthiel, Brazil.

  20. I think Revising and Proofreading both are almost the same. I think many bloggers including my self do these 2 at once.

    Anyway I agree with all other points Issac has made. Thank you Issac for this post.

  21. I have found writing in spurts helps with revision and proofreading. I write the first section, go over it again right away, then save the draft and do something else for at least a few hours. When I come back, I write the next section, then go over the entire thing. Repeat until the article is done.

    This means writing ahead, so if I need something fast, it does not get the same treatment. And mistakes still get through, which I will notice a week later and wonder how I missed it. But it does help getting more things right.

  22. I have to disagree slightly.

    “Review as much as possible.”

    I usually do some revising, but not twice! Not to underestimate the value of it, but sometimes it is important to know when enough is enough.

    Rather than focusing on perfect writing perhaps you should prioritize on getting the content out on time?

    Perfection in writing is impossible. Perhaps it would take a life time to improve on writing but strive for excellence (not perfection) and get it out.

  23. You nailed it, revise, revise, revise. Print it out and read it out loud, that helps me a lot in finding small mistakes and fixing flow problems in my posts.

  24. Thanks for all your great comments. Certainly, I don’t expect people to keep putting off publishing in order to keep revising. There does have to be a point when enough is enough and you have to put the piece out there. I still say revise as much as possible, until you reach that point.

  25. All my posts have three drafts. And even after three sometimes I pull them back because I don’t like it.

    We shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to certain articles and take them back to the drawing board.

    As Leo says it’s better not to post than to post bad content.


  26. I am definitely a made example of missing misspelled words. I think it’s a combo of typing to fast and moving my thoughts onto the next sentence I want to type before finishing the one I’m on. Oh, and my mom says I was “hooked on phonics and that it hasn’t helped (my) spelling”. GREAT!

    As for revisions, that’s the best way to get good writing. I try to put down my thoughts and then go back and tailor it to my writing style.

  27. I do agree that it is important to proof read our draft before we publish it.

    But the important thing about this point is how do we proofread our blog – methods and amount of time used.

    For me, the best way to proofread is not when we have finished the entire draft but when we finished every paragraph. Through this method, the amount of time used can be reduced and at the same time the quality of the proofread is increased.

    This is because especially when we have lengthy blog post, it is quite demotivating read all over again the draft.

    The best approach is :

    First : Proofread after each para. we have finished.
    Second : Follow through with another proofread for the entire draft for once

  28. Nice post. By following the basic structure of writing and proofing, one should be able to write good posts. I usually follow this process:

    1) 1st draft
    2) Review
    3) Edit
    4) 2nd Review
    5) Proof
    6) Publish

    Eddie Gear

  29. Thanks for the list of tips Isaac.

  30. Another tip – don’t do all your revisions/edits on the same day!

  31. Proofreading can be difficult because you often get into the flow of the writing and skip over misspelled words. It’s often easier to proofread if you read the entire post backwards. You won’t get into the flow and you’ll pick up mistakes much easier.

  32. Structure of a post is very important. The best example is this article itself. It has been clearly structured.

  33. As I’ve become a more experienced blogger, I can preach the power of revising as well. I used to revise mine only once, checking for spelling and grammatical errors. Now I do a lot more revising, by adding more images, paragraphs, and even entire sections when I feel the need.

    My posts always take much longer to create and publish now, but I always get much better feedback.

  34. All I have to say is proofread, proofread, proofread!

    I can’t count how many times I’ve came across blogs that have a ton of majorly misspelled words and other things of that nature.

    I almost immediately leave the blog, unless it really has something unique to offer me.

  35. I find that I fail to revise my writing alot. I get in too much of a rush to publish it. My girlfriend ends up correcting me though!

    Other than that I believe it is important to give yourself from freedom when writing. You want your personal writing to be professional but you also want to keep your own style. Doing so will help you stand out from the crowd.

  36. Revise! GOT IT!

    proof-read… editing too!


  37. I think you should write in your style first and when its ready than you should add professional touch to that.

    If you start writing with a professional approach than you will generate a crap.

  38. Thanks Isaac! I def. need work in some of these areas! When a visitor emails you to notify you that you need to fix a typo or two, you know you need work!

  39. Trying not to revise too much on the first draft can be tough. It can be a good thing to get the raw version out quick before the juices stop flowing. A good clean up is important-thanks!

  40. A fresh pair of proofreading eyes always helps me. Sometimes I can read, and re-read but still miss something dum*. ;)

  41. I like to write the content all down quickly… Then go through the editing process. When I feel it is good I publish. After publishing I go directly to the live post and read it again out loud. If there is anything to fix, I do it right then. Thanks!

  42. Revision is writing. And writing is revision. It might be hard to revise a blog post a number of times—let’s say 20 times—but it’s important to remember that revisioning is about trying to re-see work, so to speak. I think that applies to blogs as well as other kinds of writing. Writing is work…exhilarating work.

  43. Excellent article and something I can safely say that I actually do now. Its great being able to say that.

    Great tips though very important for every Blogger.

  44. Whenever I’m writing something especially important, I use a checklist I made a few years ago of things to look over before publishing.

  45. Darren,

    Very good advice indeed. I am one of those that doesn’t do the outline, just jumps into writing. I find I can get down what my point is first before it fades, then I proofread and revise. Change this sentence, change that word to make it sound better to the readers. No I am not perfect at writing, thing is I do enjoy it and with that comes responsibility to the readers to at least be error free. Doesn’t always work that way still I try and make it happen. I have been given some good compliments on what I have written so far.
    I do read, read again and then even after I publish I read again to make sure of how it sounds and/or looks from a readers point of view.

    Good Advice, Darren
    Thank you,

  46. It is funny how these points keep showing up in various aspects of my life. Revising is something I have never really had to do to get good results in my life, but now it makes me think ‘how much better could my results possibly be if I revised my work?’. I will definitely take the lessons from this post on board. Thank you!

  47. Awful lot of guest posts you’ve been having lately Darren. I like it. If you ever want to let me get a chance at one, let me know. Or I guess I should contact you about one because you probably don’t read these comments anymore, eh? Anywho, good post, Isaac. Now I’m off to revising my drafts.

  48. This is actually an amazing revelation for new bloggers like me.

    Like you mentioned above I guess one of the mistakes new bloggers make is to try and spit out content as fast as we can.

    But I guess this shows just how much a pause and rewind is to the pre-publishing process is.

    I was about to publish another post but then ran into this article. So I went over it 3 times to make sure its ready for publishing.

    Just a thought, when I was changing or redrafting the whole post I found ways to split it into two or more posts or make another related post. I guess revising not only polishes your work but also creates a new line of thought that just might lead to your next great post.

  49. “There is no such thing as a great writer. Only a great re-writer.” I think about this every time I write.

    You’re right about these being universal writing rules. They’re just as applicable–if not more so–to sales and marketing copy.

    Leverage Points Marketing

  50. Revision seems to be a hot topic of discussion here – so let me add this:

    Don’t be afraid to rewrite something even after you’ve published it. A few reasons are:

    1) People may happen upon something on your blog that is a couple months or years old, and if they’re turned off for whatever reason, they may not care to see anything more – which defeats the purpose of your archives.

    2) You will likely link back to some of your old posts. Make sure that the older material meets the same standard as the new stuff.

    3) Rewriting old posts is good practice and keeps you sharp. Furthermore, if your post changes enough, it may be worth reposting which will allow you to get more mileage out of old material. Furthermore, you’ll potentially expose new readers of your blog to some of the classics in your archives.

    4) It’s always nice from a personal perspective to reread some of the previous efforts with the intention of making them better – it’ll definitely make you feel good about how far you’ve come as a writer.

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