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How Getting An F On Your School Paper Makes You A Better Blogger

Posted By Darren Rowse 7th of December 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

This guest post was written by Rob Sutton from Ramped Reviews. Image by kharied.

-1.jpgThis comes to be a surprise to many, but I hate writing. Every paper in grade school through college was a futile effort in an attempt to pull out my own teeth. I could not stand it and I would do everything in my power not to have to write one more paper. My senior thesis to complete my economics degree was one of the worst experiences of my life. I dreaded every word on the page and had to stretch out every thought just to make it past the minimum page point to graduate. So…with all of these harsh, I’d rather die feelings about writing, how do I throw over 2,000 words a day on a screen for others to read and why is everyone I know surprised that my words now turn into dollars?

We Are Conditioned To Be Boring Writers

Throughout grade school and college, we are basically taught to be boring research paper writers. Unless you were a lit major (and probably even then), every single paper had to be double spaced, 12 point font, researched, cited and with 1 inch margins. As you typed out every content driven sentence, you had your grammar book open researching how you needed to structure every sentence and cite every reference. Really does sound like pulling teeth doesn’t it?!

This is how we wrote…this is how we were taught to write and this is how we were graded. We were in a boring writing cycle as we continued to attempt to make the grade writing about subjects we had little passion on. It was pure torture (at least for this blogger).

Writing was not seen as a form of expression, but a method on which we were ranked against others with defined topics and content.

How Getting An F Makes You A Better Blogger

Blogging is the polar opposite of research paper writing. Blogging is full of feeling and life, but many new bloggers struggle with boring writing as they are conditioned for years to write in a manner that does not speak to their own personality. Readers engage with blogs to step into the world of the blogger and feel that personality and connection…not to find a list of citations at the bottom of the blog article. It is time to fail lit in pursuit of the successful blog! But how do we do it?

Write As You Talk – One of the easiest ways to get over the hurdle of boring blog writing is to type exactly like you talk. After you get all of the words on the Add New Post screen, you can go back and edit/organize. By not worrying if the article is perfect on the first pass, you are able to make sure that your voice rings through and your readers are able to connect with you through your words.

Be Unique and Have Unique Ideas – Much of research paper writing is regurgitating what someone else has already said in your own words and formulating your hypothesis off of those conclusions. You are a blogger…you have an opinion…you can express that opinion and listen to other readers differing opinion. It is a beautiful thing! Conversation among semi-like minded individuals on the Internet without the aid of compound sentence structure and rules. Bring out your unique ideas and be unique yourself to engage in the conversation we call blogging.

Throw Away Conventional Sentence Structure – Some of the sentences in this article would fail me instantly in a written paper during the years I attended school. Now…I am not advocating writing in a way that no one can understand because you do not want to use spell check or construct sentences that actually mean something. But…you can throw in triple periods for the pause effect and have the occasional misspelled word. You can use run ons and fragments to get feeling across in your writing where only rambling and abruptness will work. You can stray away from conventional sentence structure to bring back feeling in your writing. Just make sure your readers can still understand it.

Be Super Descriptive – By being super descriptive in your writing style, you are able to pull your readers into your world. As I sit here listening to the clicks of the keys on the keyboard, I am imaging a day when my head was buried in a 40 pound book just bleeding for that last paragraph that would get me out of the nightmare. I can still smell the pages of the worn out book as I flipped through mindless text gasping at each failed page turn. See what I mean? No citations there…just painting a picture of the even as it unfolds…

Language – Are there slang words that will connect with your readers? How about a certain form of speech? You already know the type of speech that is going to engage your reading population. Your goal is to speak and connect with them, so what better way than to speak in a way they are comfortable with? Often times, this kind of speech writing would fail your paper, but it builds you credibility in your niche as a blogger.

What We Did Learn From Writing In School

Unfortunately, all of that time dreading papers in grade school was not wasted. As much as I hated it, there were certain aspects of that style of writing that we really need to take to heart as bloggers. Without these ideals and foundation, much of our writing would be worthless and unrecognizable.

Content…Content…Content – Remember when you tried to fill space by repeating the same thought in a different way? Your teacher used to crack down on that pretty hard didn’t she! Well…the same holds true in blogging. Many beginning (and experienced) bloggers are sometimes more interested in the word count stat than getting their point across efficiently. Your readers will be able to tell when you are padding up an article just to make it look longer…and they will count off points for that.

Sentence Structure – I know…I just told you to throw away all sentence structure and really go for it in the outside the box writing world, but you can not go too far. Even-though there is the urge to really expand your eclectic writing style, people still need to be able to understand it! You can stray away from the conventional way of writing, but don’t stray off into your own world. If your readers can’t understand what you are saying, they are not coming back.

Keep Your Paragraphs Organized – Typically, teachers back in the day wanted paragraphs around 5-6 sentences with a defined subject and conclusion. While we may stray from that some, there are a lot of bloggers out there that think writing the entire article in one paragraph is a good idea. It is a proven fact that readers digest information much better when it is separated in organized chucks. Keep your paragraphs short and concise. If I see a huge block of words…I go on to the next site. That much content jumbled up looks like too much work to translate.

As You Draft Your Next Blog Post…

Take an honest look at your writing. Are you speaking from the heart or are your feelings getting lost in the type? It is our goal as bloggers to engage and connect with our readers, and nothing kills that connection more than really boring writing. It is time to start thinking outside of the box in the quest to build a better blog and a better life.

This post was written by Robb Sutton. Auther of Ramped Blogging, Ramped Reviews and Ramped Mindset. He blog about blogging tips and lifestyle design at robbsutton.com.

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. Good content, good sentence structure, writing with feeling & proper use of paragraphs are all great suggestions.

    One more suggestion is to use appropriate content area sub-headings to break up long blog posts. It makes reading a lengthy post much easier, and also allows the reader to have an idea of what the main point of the next few paragraphs beneath the sub-headings.

  2. All of these are great points. I think writing as if you’re speaking is so important to come across naturally and vividly.

    Also always write in contractions in blogging, e.g “can’t” not “cannot”. It makes it so much smoother to read.

  3. I actually have to disagree. Nowhere in school did my teacher say “this paper is much too interesting! Do it again!” We’re not taught to be boring writers, we’re just not taught to be interesting ones.

    Alongside grammar I was also taught literary devices, and syntax, and diction. And we had required reading which exemplified the variations in those uses.

    I really dig your article, but grammar is not a constraint, just as HTML and CSS are not constraints for designers. It’s just the mark-up. Without valid code, nobody can see your design. Without valid grammar, nobody can understand your point.

    The best way to improve your writing is to read. Period. Fewer and fewer people are reading, and so teachers have to throw grammar and elements at you because you don’t have the background with them that reading provides.

    And the three periods are called “dots of ellipses.” My friend taught me that haha.

  4. I hated writing in school, I think it might have something to do with being toldwhat to write about. When I got jobs writing for magazines I would come across that same reluctance to do the work they wanted me to do.

  5. This is a great post Rob! i love it, purely because i so can relate to it!

    I left school in yr 10, in school english was my worst subject, i use to wag (skip) every class. I HATED ENGLISH, especially the english teachers.

    However having said that, after leaving school for over 10 years now i read more than ever now and since taking my business online i’ve launched my first blog and find myself reading and writing everyday and i really enjoy it. Its crazy.

    I use the 1st point the most writing as i talk, but i always have to read over everything because i find myself thinking faster than i type so always end up leaving words out.

    Your post just reminded me of some great memories and i thank you for sharing this!

    Lam N

  6. Another advantage blog writing offers compared to school papers is that the formatting can be more relaxed and transparent. A good blog post is easier to scan and find relevant information.

  7. I had forgotten about the exact layout we were taught in school until my grand daughter showed me her Thanksgiving writing assignment.

    She is learning the basics. Like you said, the basics will help her communicate with others.

    The fun part comes with teaching her to use her imagination and coming up with her own style. She came up with some great slang terms for her Turkey Day theme.

    The key for me is to just write. The more posts I write the more my own style shows up.

    Thanks Rob


  8. Ahh, this post is so inspiring me :)

    Sometimes the quote of, “Rules are meant to be broken” are true, in this case writing a post itself.

    Writing is going to be so easy when we got used to our own style of writing. And by that time, we can even publish a blog post with less that a hour to construct back the structure, spells, grammar etc.

    Well, what ever you do JUST WRITE. In the end, you’ll found the correct way to cover you mistake :)

  9. you just read my mind!! I have an “Aha!” moment while I’m reading we’re conditioned to be a boring writer.. that’s so truee!! ^^
    most of my lecturers would tell me that I have to write this way, and that way, aka according to his way actually, but nah.. I’m gonna stick to my own writing style that reflects my personality, haha..
    thanks for sharing this! ^^

  10. Awesome writing skill!! I got the basic idea of How a blog writing is different from the school’s article writing….

    I made my mind fixed over the writing skill and from now i will tryin my best to express my hidden thoughts…

  11. At school I was graded near the bottom of the class for writing. I just couldn’t write very much. Then I got a new teacher and she liked what I wrote, grading on the quality rather than the quantity. I rose to first in grade. I was even able to increase the quantity eventually.

    Sometimes all we need is a little positive feedback.

    Makes me think I should find a few obscure blogs and make a few sincere comments about the posts.

    Perhaps schools should have a writing class combined with a technical class where you install and keep a blog running and write posts for it.

  12. I totally agree with the premise of this post. I’m still fairly new to the blogging world (about 3 months in), and one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn is how to write in an engaging manner. We get so conditioned to writing in “school speak” that stepping back and writing in a conversational way can actually be a breakthrough.

  13. This is a fantastic post!

    I often talk about the importance of writing how you talk to engage readers.
    It is really refreshing to see another post which talks about not needed a degree in English Lit to become a success!

    Great Work


  14. Definitely write as you talk. There is nothing worse than coming across a blog or website that sounds like the carbon copy sales drone that you just heard on the radio, tv or the last website.

    I do believe that correct spelling, grammer and punctuation are important. Keep it simple as if a 4th grader were reader your content.

  15. Wow! Great post! I can totally relate to this. I am always told I have great ideas and am smarter than most of the kids at school, but because I’m failing to put it on paper, I will end up getting low grades/failing.
    When I was in primary school, I just sat there and wrote the date and title and that’s it. Until I moved school in year 3. I don’t know why I started writing then, they weren’t stricter or anything, just when I moved school, I started writing.
    In my year 9 SATs, I was so bored, I was actually in danger of falling asleep. No joke. I tried so hard to write, but a lot of questions went unanswered. Yet I passed and was able to take single science for GCSEs. I got a B, C, B in my year 10 science exams. The C was for chemistry, which I had a rubbish teacher for.
    I have a passionate hate of writing, yet the idea of being a blogger appealed to me. Strange, isn’t it?
    To alleviate the pain in my classwork and homework(which I actually do now), I put jokes and notes to the teacher sometimes. My math teacher writes back useful criticism sometimes, but when I put an “innit” in a History essay, my teacher wrote “no”. LOL.

  16. Dave Atkins says: 12/07/2009 at 2:50 am

    I’m glad you’ve found your voice but many of these principles would have served you well in college writing too. I always loved writing–as long as I could find a way to write with passion and enthusiasm. My writing carried me through many academic endeavors (20 years ago!). It is equally hard to write a research paper on a subject you don’t really care about as to blog (as in a ghost blogging assignment) for a topic you are not genuinely passionate about. The real skill in writing and life is to be able to find that perspective and awaken the muse within…or to know your limits to avoid signing up for things you can’t sustain.

  17. Great post! I myself loved writing in school but much of my passion for writing came from the thrill of getting good grades. I always wanted to meet the guidelines of the assignment, format in the way the teacher wanted.

    I think this has helped me a lot with my blog since I do the same with my reader. I pay attention to what my reader is looking for and try to provide them with content that is engaging to them.

    I think whether you loved or hated writing it still comes down to writing content that is relevant to your reader whether that is a teacher in school or a blog reader.

  18. I love this post thank you!

  19. That’s the great thing about blogging: it’s provides a gateway into writing for everyone! Blogging has just enough structure to enforce meaningful communication, while being flexible enough to inspire people who aren’t writers to express themselves.

    Writing is after all communication, so perhaps millions of bloggers can help reduce the stuffiness in academic writing.

  20. Debbie Ferm says: 12/07/2009 at 4:09 am

    I would like to represent the other side on this, as I am a teacher of struggling middle school readers and writers.

    Grammar and writing conventions are a big part of the curriculum, but so is voice. It is one of the six traits of writing, along with ideas, organization, sentence fluency, word choice and conventions. All six contribute to effective writing.

    I agree that writing as you would speak is a great style of writing, but there is a huge difference between breaking the “rules” intentionally, and just being a sloppy writer.

    Also, I can tell you that if you are teaching middle school students and you DON’T give specific instructions, all hell breaks loose! Students that age tend to be very literal and will follow each instruction you give for a writing assignment, but not one more! If you give free reign, you would not believe the crap you are looking at when they hand those things in. Think back. You know it’s true:)

    We give plenty of time for kids to write, knowing that it will not be graded, but that they can share if they wish. You would be surprised at how many want to get up and share with the class. I would have rather had an amulet dropped on my head by Wiley E. Coyote than read my writing to my class, so I am always so impressed when kids are willing to do this.

    As a reader, typos (more than 1 or 2) have always made me mental, and when there are several in one blog post, the credibility of the writer takes a huge nose dive in my eyes.

    I’m glad that we now have blogs, which opened up an entirely new platform for people to express themselves…but I don’t think it’s your teacher’s fault if you aren’t a good blogger: (Not you of course, Robb. You know I love your blog.:)

  21. I love it! It’s so true and I noticed the same thing about writing fiction novels as well. Toss away any conventional ideas of formal sentence strucutre and all that bullocks. Write like you speak and people will enjoy reading it. The idea of those papers we handed in back in the day (well, I still write them for Uni) is so in the business world we succeed. But damn, my blog is out there in the business world so it really has no real help for me. Maybe this is some big revelation and in the future students will be encouraged to write in more interesting and enticing ways rather than in formal structures like we do now.

  22. Thank you for all of the incredible feedback and comments!!!

    I took a very biased view on this point on purpose to see what others feelings are on the subject. While I do hold true to what I said in the article (wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t!), it is really cool to see the contrasting opinions.

    I do think there is a very fine line between breaking the traditional rules of writing and having sloppy writing. At the end of the day, your readers still need to understand what you have to say.

    As someone who dreaded English in grade school and college (sorry lit teachers!), I never thought I would be writing 2,000+ words a day and loving every second of it. It is all about finding your voice on something you love.

    I know bloggers who have had great success on writing about topics they are not passionate about, but I got into blogging to connect with people, make a living and to love what I do…and writing about something I am not passionate about does not fall into that equation.

    Keep the comments coming! I’m loving the differing opinions.

  23. Robb, simply brilliant. What a great coincidence. I just finished writing a post almost on the same category as this :) well, maybe on a different topic though.

    But this, this is genius. Wonderful content. Keep them coming.

    All the best,


  24. “Be super descriptive.” This is one I recognize I could use some work on. But it’s true, when I read a good blog post, its the ones that are super descriptive that I enjoy more. When I’m writing, I tend to be too succinct. I figure, oh, everyone knows that, i don’t have to spell out every last detail. But I’m paying attention to other bloggers and do enjoy those posts that are very descriptive.

    And, true, I don’t believe it when you say you don’t like to write! Crazy!

  25. Great post Rob! It is quite funny how we were raised to write a certain way and it’s that way which will just bore the heck out of your readers.

    English used to be one of my worst classes and the funny part is, now I write for a living! Shove that teacher!

    Anyways, I totally agree with all your points. When it comes to writing things such as copy, writing as you talk is something that I think is highly overrated, even though at times it can be looked at as unprofessional.

  26. I agree with Corey above. Read as much as you can from good writers and you’ll become a better writer. Bad grammar is to writing style what cursing is to vocabulary. The best writers can achieve their objectives and follow basic rules of grammar.

  27. One more thought: I see a lot of comments about writing as you talk. Yes, you should write as you talk. But you should also use good grammar while speaking. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  28. Nice! Lol, next time one of my teachers gives my crap I’ll show them this blog post. But seriously, I do agree with you on a lot of things… In English class, I have an awesome teacher, and he’s actually pretty brilliant, but when I write there it’s just so false.

    I have to follow a lot of rules which aren’t necessary as a blogger. But I guess they do help in some way, like being a grammatically correct writer.

    -Kris Roxas

    PS. The part I don’t really agree with is the sentence structure thing. I think people should be able to properly write a sentence. Not every single time, but it would be nice to see good sentences one in a while.

  29. The thing is that school writing is different than the writing we excpect on blogging. It should be different. Academia is not the same as Blarticles. This is different and not suprising that the author felt that way.

  30. School writing is about writing what the teacher likes. Blogging is about writing what your readers like. It is the same that you should try to satisfy both. Its not cool to get an F in Either.

  31. You need to get good grades in school, so please the teacher. You need to make money in life so please the reader. Same.

  32. On one hand I totally agree with you. Your talking about being interesting rather than doing away with grammatical conventions.

    As someone who has a degree in English lit and wrote a 20,000 word honours thesis, when it came to blogging, I had to ‘unlearn’ a lot.

    Basically, I’m a boring writer.

    On the other hand, I’m starting to reintroduce some of those skills from uni days, like research, research, research. It seems to me that a lot of the ‘rules’ about blogging (like not using big words) go a long way to dumbing everything down. Maybe as writers we can lift the bar occassionally too.

    As another commenter pointed out, our writing gets better the more we read, and people are reading blogs.

  33. Oops – spelling mistake. Need to work on editing!

  34. I love this post, possibly the best I have read all week… all my life I was told I was wicked for skipping school for surfing and now I discover I was doing the right thing: Expanding my horizons, increasing my descriptive abilities… Brilliant!!!

  35. Blogging and writing in school are 2 totally different things. First is (generally) done with passion or at least some inner or outer motivation, and the latter is just because you “have to”.

    Great post.

  36. Thanks for your article. I found your commentary, from your personal experiences, useful and should help me in the future.

    I began a blog during the Summer… not sure what to do with it, but knew there were some things I wanted to say. Recently, I have started to post much more frequently, although still covering a wide-range of topics.

    In my post on Nov 6th, I bemoaned the deteriorating state of conversation in our society. So, I wonder how that has transferred to the blogosphere… have blogs also begun to reflect poor speaking habits? Or, was it always that way?

  37. Great post Robb,

    There aren’t many things more satisfying than to just write in my natural voice. I find it so easy and I just write, write, write.

    And what is equally as interesting is on the rare occasion when I do try to go back and edit my blogs and make them ‘grammatically perfect’ I end up feeling frustrated with the result.

    A successful businessman once said: “You don’t have to get it right, just get it going”.


  38. About the only writing exercise I enjoyed at school was a short story project we were given. We still had to use correct grammar and sentence construction but at least we could use our imaginations.

    I love the freedom of blogging where you don’t have to follow all the rules and in fact, breaking some of them leads to better writing. Being a rebel at heart, I’m all for that!

    Great points Rob. Thanks.

  39. I got kicked out of 3 different schools and hated writing when I was younger. Part of the problem was that they were making us read books that were over 100 years old. I just think the education leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to teaching English writing. Maybe they should be letting students read blogs and online content more and even teaching them basic HTML because I truly believe blogs and the internet will be the future of all content :)

  40. Wow I love writing.

  41. I have to say I agree with the spirit of your post. This is why the internet is the best place to come for education, because you can look for exactly what you want to learn.

    Writing often is the best way to improve your writing skill!

  42. I agree with Sami.

    I’m a relatively new blogger and there is nothing better than having the freedom to structure your ideas in the most interesting way possible. I love sitting back and bringing overall design into the creative process as well.

    It gives you the ability to fully explore your creativity without having to worry about the ‘rules’ you’re taught.

    I suppose there is a lot of benefit in learning how to write creatively when given specific guidelines. I definitely wasn’t a fan of essays back in University but it still gives you a solid foundation.

    You have to learn the rules so you can decide which ones to break.


  43. In one of my posts I wrote,

    I get into internet marketing and before you know it, I am blogging away.

    Here I thought, I would never write a paragraph of anything again.

    As for following any rules…

    I stick to the basics and hope for the best.

    Learning by visiting blogs like this one.

  44. Being descriptive helps, the reason why I prefer to write monster posts. A little bit of out-of-the-box thiking is always welcome.

  45. I totally agree!!! I LOVE the conversational style of blogging. I don’t mind a bit of slang but some of the “blogging language” used by personal bloggers drives me nuts.

    It’s interesting. My friend was told in year 12 English that he would never be a writer (his dream) and yet he’s been published many times over.

  46. I think they’re missing something more basic than “back to basics”: In a typical NYC high school, you assign a project and maybe a third of the kids do it. Unless it’s really simple, then two-thirds will do it, but only a third will actually do it according to instructions. Meanwhile, they’ll ask you if they’ll fail the class if they don’t do the project. You don’t want to say no because then no one will do it. You can’t say yes because you’ll put yourself in a spot. Under Klein’s new rules if you fail kids you get in trouble. So, you know that if you assign a project, you’ll be in a position to either have to fail a bunch of kids who didn’t do it or hate yourself for passing them in order to avoid trouble. The solution is not to assign the project and thereby enable more kids pass the class. The increased passing rate means you get a higher report card grade and the chancellor is off your back and everyone loves the chancellor’s “reforms”, especially Bill Gates and our fine new education secretary. It’s what they call “win-win”.

  47. Writing as you talk is a great idea. So is going back and editing what you write. In the end, you have to speak to your audience in a manner they want to listen to…or they won’t.

  48. This is just awesome and interesting and it will help me to make my blog writing more interesting. Really good article.

  49. Could not agree with you more, Darren. I agree with all your points. Writing needs passions and skills.

  50. Getting an F, I love it,

    I used to get a Z !! How is that for marks at school !
    Let us face it , much of school sucked because it was
    so boring.

    I am sure the books and information could have been
    presented in a far better way.

    Th communication skills of those who presented
    was pretty poor.

    Great post!

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