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The Most Important Tip For Better Writing

Glen Stansberry is the author of the blog LifeDev (feed). Check out LifeDev for other tips about productivity and life improvement.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Becoming a better writer is the best thing you can do to improve your blog’s readership and traffic. Not how many buttons you have for easy submission to social services, not detailed SEO optimization, and certainly not gimmicky headlines that are created to tempt potential readers into reading your article. All of these things do have some effect on getting people to your blog, but if they don’t like what they’re reading, they’re sure-as-shootin’ not going to come back. It’s all about the content.

Good writers have an advantage on traffic because their readers come back every time they write a new article. Many blog readers are also bloggers, so they in turn link to the posts. The more links a blog has, the higher its posts rank in search engines, and the blog receives even more traffic. Not only that, compelling content gives readers a reason to submit to social sites like Digg and Del.icio.us (regardless of whether or not you have those handy buttons).

So how does one define a good writer? At the very least a decent writer can construct sentences that show at least a 3rd grade reading level. (While this is a rather facetious statement, I have come across a couple blogs that don’t meet this standard. Hopefully the authors really were 2nd graders.)

Some other things I look for in a good writer:

  • Great word choice. It’s not how many big words you know, but carefully choosing words that fit perfectly.
  • Decent grammar. While blogging is a more forgiving medium, proper usage of grammar still shows masterful writing.
  • The ability to make me laugh out loud. There are a few writers who can do this, and it’s a huge draw for me.

There are a few other undefined variables that go into being a great blogger, but really it’s just something the reader can sense. So how does one improve on all of these aspects of better writing?

Really, the answer is painfully simple:

Read other great writers.

That’s it. There’s no magic involved here. The more great writing you can soak up everyday, the more your writing will improve.

Sure, one could take a writing class to improve their writing chops. But how much do you remember from your English education in high school or college? I can’t remember hardly anything except funny words like “dangling modifier”. (That one gets me every time.) I do remember great writing though.

So to get us started, here are a few great writers that I read frequently:

Reading more high-caliber bloggers is one of the most effective ways to improve your writing. What you read shapes how you write. If you read better blogs, you’ll start to see immediate results in your own writing. And it’s a lot more fun than learning about misplaced modifiers and past participles!

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Comments

  1. Laura says:

    This is so true!

    I was just recently visiting a blog that has a great concept. However, the posts of so full of typos and spelling errors that it makes me cringe (especially since I write for a living). I know I would visit that site more often if the errors weren’t so blatant.

    Other blogs I’ve seen contain mostly posts that ramble and don’t seem to have any point. I rarely come back to those blogs.

    Good writing makes your ideas more accessible to the reader.

    Thanks for highlighting the importance of well-written posts!

  2. “It’s not how many big words you know, but carefully choosing words that fit perfectly.”

    Great point, I’m pretty sick of reading blogs that sound like a scientist rambling on using 20-syllable words.

  3. Glenn Tan says:

    Nothing to comment though,just want to say its been a joy reading it.

  4. I’m not quite sure if my writing has been better, but I started the journey of plotting out my ideas better by reading bloggers and writers who I admire and who are considered the best. I think my posts have been getting better and better with every post.

  5. I only can make people laugh but that seems to be enough to draw some people to my blog. My English grammar can be a nightmare.

  6. Desty says:

    I have to disagree with use of decent grammar. Sometimes one’s grammar can be an important part of one’s tone and / or brand. As an example, I’m from Kentucky and I generally write as I say something. While my diction is fairly decent, I’m not above putting in a “y’all” or use the term “ain’t.” For those of you not from the South, “ain’t” ain’t a word! Try to look it up in the dictionary.

  7. Ramkarthik says:

    Great points. Getting visitors back to your website is a difficult task. Following these points will surely achieve it. But following it is tough.

  8. Cyber_goat says:

    The most important is…….. everyone enjoy to read it.

  9. Leo Piccioli says:

    Thanks for the post!

    I blog in Spanish, in Argentina; for me, reading everything is very important, not only blogs, but newspapers, books, etc.

    Additionally, having “content” is key… It is easy to write forever and ever without saying anything… It won’t do.

    PS: just a note, Kathy Sierra is not blogging anymore… maybe we can ask her to continue doing so! Her blog is great.

  10. Greg Butler says:

    Thanks for the words of wisdom. Good writing always rises to the top.Show me the real deal, not a alot off bells and whistles.

  11. Steve says:

    I couldn’t agree more – a little humour can lighten my mood and engage me in the learning experience. Sides that I think that people who write from the heart are opt to catch the attention of readers.

    Quote: “There is little success where there is little laughter”
    ~ Andrew Carnegie

    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development with NLP

  12. Steve says:

    I couldn’t agree more – a little humour can lighten my mood and engage me in the learning experience. Sides that I think that people who write from the heart are opt to catch the attention of readers.

    Quote: “There is little success where there is little laughter”
    ~ Andrew Carnegie

    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development with NLP
    http://www.stephenmartile.com

  13. Matt Jones says:

    I couldn’t agree more, there is no way a bad writer is going to have a successful blog. It’s something no amount of marketing could ever fix.

  14. Carissa says:

    Great entry! I recently finished a post comparing the techniques you described to social networking in the physical world – philosophical garbage, but anyway… I just started my website about a month ago and have been employing many of those techniques (i’m a marketer by day), and it’s helped me jump up to the (unimpressive) 850,000 mark in the rankings from 3,000,000 and change.

    Your entry is a true testament to what you preach – great job. i’ll visit again.

    carissa-ann.blogspot.com

  15. Thanks for reminding me to be funny. I write mostly about personal development (and have been concentrating on frugal living previously–I’m moving into fitness/health now) and I do find it difficult to be funny while dispensing advice.
    You know, I’ve even googled “personal development/self help jokes” and there aren’t any. It seems like we’re a pretty humorless bunch….

  16. Dumitru Tira says:

    As a person who’s primary language isn’t English, I find it kinda difficult to write posts and so(Firefox spellsheck extension works wonders but isn’t enough). You could write some posts with tips on how to improve our writing skills. :)

  17. terra says:

    I agree as well.. and the blog is always (or should be) an honest point of view from someone who knows about something that they’re writing about. This is the biggest selling point of all, so definitely play it up! Continue to learn about your niche so that your information consistently remains fresh and elicits “oh wow, I didn’t know that!” in your blog reader’s minds.

  18. Really??! You mean generating the highest possible quality content for your site is probably the best thing you can do for it and will actually do more than any other minor insignificant crap like buttons and background colors?! Nooooooooo!

    Sorry, I’m not ragging on you Darren, you’re absolutely right, and webmasters everywhere NEED to be beaten over the head with this concept every now and then lest they ever forget it, because when they do that’s when they end up shi$ creek without a paddle and wonder how they got there.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  19. Jonathan says:

    Darren,

    One of the big things I’m very adamant about is grammar. It’s a huge thing for me because I really cannot stand to listen (or read for this case) to someone that is blatantly ignorant of the English language.

    Great tip there.

  20. Quality of writing comes first, no doubt.

    That is why I started http://www.dailywritingtips.com. Shameless plug, I know, but it is related to the topic of the post!

    At the very minimum you want to make sure that your blog has no grammar or spelling mistakes.

  21. Jacob Share says:

    Glen, I agree, and have examples to back it up. In my case, the posts that work best are the ones that make people laugh out loud, like these:

    http://jobmob.co.il/blog/top-10-best-job-ads-of-world/

    http://jobmob.co.il/blog/top-10-job-horror-stories/

  22. Rhea says:

    I got into blogging only after many years as a journalist. It sure makes it easy to turn out finished blog posts day after day. And I do strive to be funny. Check it out and see.

  23. Jason says:

    Good advice. Great advice actually… I like to take a simple approach to blogging myself. I try to write entries people want to read and just spend my time actually blogging in general. Forget all the gimmicks.

  24. Debo Hobo says:

    I have simmered down and have refocused my posts. I am posting items that may be of interest and have useful information. I am still working on writing original content and refraining from regurgitating what I found on MSN that is really difficult for a non-writer.

  25. kewlklutzklan says:

    ..’sure as shootin’… shootin’ not? shooting what? what kind of language is that for goodness sake!

  26. Chase Roper says:

    Looks like I have some reading to catch up on. . .

  27. John Parsons says:

    My English teacher told me that to write well I must read and re-read Dickens. This is the same concept here read and re-read the best bloggers and some of it will rub off on you (well, eventually).

    My favourite blog at the moment is http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/ which is a great lesson in writing for a blog as opposed to blogging. That is to say, great writing can carry a blog along whereas sticking to guidelines on the number of words, use of key words, &c stand for nothing if the writing is poor. I consider myself politically on the “other side of the fence” from Cranmer but his writing attracts me and I am a return visitor to his blog.

    Other good advice I have received is that the power of a piece is in the first paragraph. Blog readers appear to me to be quite fickle and you have got to grab them in that first paragraph or they simply won’t want to read the rest of your post. Why should they bother? A journalist friend of mine once told me that his editor usually made his mind up about the quality of a piece from the first fifteen words!

    Get the beginning right and back it up by quality writing then when people find you they will keep coming back for more.

    Incidentally, the first sentence of this comment is fifteen words and I wrote it a number of times in the hope that people may just want to read the rest of the comment.

    Note to self: How would Dickens have approached writing a blog? New blog – Social Commentary on the problems in inner city Britain in the style of Dickens – would it work?

  28. Crafty Witch says:

    Put me down as one of the grammar police. I seem to have a proofreader’s eye and language gaffes drive me up the wall.

    I once read an e-book about blogging that claimed that the casual nature of blogs made grammar less critical than other forms of writing. It then proceeded to disprove its own thesis with incomplete sentences, sentences that made no sense, and a writing style that was reminiscent of an English translation of an Asian user’s guide.

    Please don’t torture your readers that way.

  29. Chris says:

    Typos are often hard to spot and I have been guilty of having more than a few of them. I would say that one of the keys to a good writing style is to proofread, proofread, proofread.

    Fortunately, I have a number of readers that will politely (or not so politely) point out my speling mistaks.

  30. Carol says:

    I fully agree with you! There are two exercises to write well: read and write!

    Carol

  31. What you read shapes how you write” — truer words were never spoken. It’s like hanging out in Paris for three weeks and coming home with just a hint of that fabulous world-weary LeftBank accent… communication styles & standards will just tend to rub off on a person.

  32. “Write the greatest plots,
    Do not the greatest nots.

    But whatever you do,
    I beg and plead,

    PUT A SPACE BETWEEN ‘ALOT’.”

    -Me, just now.

  33. This is one of the most important things you have to think about if you want to have a successful blog.

    Improving my writing skils has already helped me alot!!! Thanks for the article.

    Beijinho (Kiss)

  34. Brad says:

    Great post! It’s a good reminder that yes, even bloggers need to be good writers as well.

    If you want to be a good writer, there’s only two things you have to do:

    1) Write a lot!
    2) Read a lot!

    The second one is just as important as the first. If you want to write, you must read. There’s no way around it. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who want to be writers, and even call themselves writers, but shun reading. This is like wanting to be a chef but hating to eat.

  35. Glenn Abel says:

    Outstanding post.

    People with a desire to write should put themselves in a position where they have to write every day. Blogs are great for that. No writer is excited about writing every time he sits at the keyboard; in fact, most professional writers do not enjoy writing. A daily post to a blog is an enforced discipline that will work wonders for anyone’s skills.

    Glad to see you included grammar. Knowing how the language works is powerful stuff.

    I write a blog on writing for blogs and will link this up right away.

  36. Stuart says:

    Reading your post I was completely expecting you to say writing is the single most important thing one can do to become a great writer. Reading is certainly important but to me, practice makes perfect.

  37. This morning I realized that about 95% of my readers are first time visitors. Up till now I’ve been writing kind of a serial. Expecting people to remember what I wrote a few days or weeks ago.
    I changed my post for today to aim it at first time readers and at ones it became much more informative.
    When I was forced to draw a conclusion I found that I had learned something from an experiment I had done without realizing it.

  38. morgan says:

    I’m glad you made note to the importance of good writing or at least writing that has the ability to convey the very message it was intended to. For myself the content has about 6-7 seconds to keep my attention and then bye-bye.
    I think people often underestimate the power that words have to paint a picture of the most complex ideas into simple chunks of information that can easily be digested by others.

    Any thing, any topic, simple or complex all depends on how it is writte. That is my experience, maybe I’m wrong..but the most important thing I learned in relation to writing on any topic is simply……show don’t tell.

  39. george tomas says:

    Nothing to comment though,just want to say its been a joy reading it. Tomas

  40. Alex Griffin says:

    This is one of the most important things you have to think about if you want to have a successful blog.

  41. Peter Wolf says:

    Thanks for the words of wisdom. Good writing always rises to the top.Show me the real deal, not a alot off bells and whistles.

  42. Karl Kiss says:

    I only can make people laugh but that seems to be enough to draw some people to my blog. My English grammar can be a nightmare.

  43. Continue to learn about your niche so that your information consistently remains fresh and elicits “oh wow, I didn’t know that!” in your blog reader’s minds.

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