Blog posts. Articles. Ebooks. Ezines. Case studies. Slidedecks. Stories. Your bio. Press releases. White Papers.
If you need to create content but you can’t write well, spend five minutes on this crash course. Follow my advice, and you’ll improve your writing.
When I worked as a writing coach at a daily newspaper 20 years ago, I introduced reporters to my list of the Top 9 Writing Mistakes. Within minutes, and with a little practice, they improved their writing.
You will too.
Here are the most common mistakes:
This occurs most often among people in academia or in the corporate suite. They think $25 words make them sound smart or important. But $5 words make it easier for people to understand them.
If you came from either world, don’t let bad habits learned there creep into your writing. It should be so easy to read that a tenth-grader can understand it.
Here are wordy phrases that can be shortened:
after the conclusion of = after
at the present time = now
in accordance with = by
in view of the fact = since
on a timely basis = fast
the necessary funds = money
signage = signs
roadway = road
in lieu of = instead
due to the fact that = since
with the exception of = except
2. Overusing any form of “to be”
It includes “is,” “are,” “was,” “were” and “would be.”
After you write something, print it. Underline every verb. If you see any of those lazy words or phrases, try to replace them with stronger verbs.
3. Weak verbs followed by prepositions
Instead of saying “get up,” you can use verbs like “awaken,” “stand,” “rise” or “climb.”
Strong verbs that mean the same as “fall down” include “collapse,” “trip,” “fumble” and “stumble.” They help paint a visual picture.
4. Lack of details
Describing the girl as “6 feet, 2 inches” beats saying “she’s tall.”
At night, in the middle of the forest, you can’t see the wolf in the dark. But describing the forest as “pitch black” makes readers feel as though they’re there.
Saying “The temperature inside the car reached 120 degrees” helps readers better understand the severity of the problem. It’s more specific than saying, “It was hot inside the car.”
5. Vague or abstract words and phrases.
“A large number” of babies born out of wedlock.
“The type of exercise” people hate most.
The word “thing,” as in “There’s this thing he does that annoys me” or “She placed the things in the box.”
6. Writing in the passive voice instead of the active voice
Active voice describes a sentence in which the subject performs the action stated in the verb. In passive voice sentences, the subject is acted upon by the verb.
Passive voice: The book was placed on the table by the boy.
Active voice: The boy placed the book on the table.
You can find many more examples of the active and passive voice here.
7. Overworked words. Also known as empty words or wimpy words.
8. Business Jargon
This mistake deserves its own article! It includes:
Pushing the envelope
Thinking outside the box
At the end of the day
Throwing anyone under the bus
Kept in the loop
See this Forbes article on The Most Annoying, Pretentious and Useless Business Jargon.
9. Rambling Sentences
I plucked these samples from online press releases. All include business jargon, industry lingo and $25 words that make my eyes glaze over.
Merex specializes in logistics, distribution and supply of spare parts, in-house product engineering and specialty manufacturing, FAA and military repair and overhaul capability at its ALCO Services subsidiary, repair management, and overall project management.
This approach that has led to a strong strategic partnership and $100 billion in two-way trade by growing bilateral investments, increasing cooperation in defense, and building a shared knowledge economy —all of which will continue to create much needed jobs in both countries for years to come.
Reynolds and his team at SupplyPro designed SupplyScale to take full advantage of SupplyPro’s software, SupplyPort™, which delivers automated inventory management and vendor integration; comprehensive reporting; superior ease-of-use; enterprise-wide administration; and the flexibility to adapt to customer work flow and business processes.
If you want an accurate tool that identifies bad writing and shows you how to fix it, try the Hemingway App.
First, highlight all the text already on the page and hit Delete. Click on “Write” and start writing. Or click on “Edit” and paste your text into the window. The app will give you a color-coded critique.
Yellow highlights long, complex sentences and common errors. Red identifies dense, complicated sentences like the ones from the press releases above.
Blue shows you adverbs that you can remove and replace with more forceful verbs. Purple points out $25 words. Green flags you to the passive voice.
You’ll love this tool! I pasted this entire post into the app before publishing it. I saw lots of colors on the screen and corrected my errors.
The Hemingway app also ranks the readability of your copy. This post scores “Grade 6″ which means children in the sixth grade can understand it.
My grade will horrify the college professors. But I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for you!
What writing mistakes have I missed? Which ones do you hate most?
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