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5 Universal Writing Rules

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, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. phaoloo says:

    Thanks Isaac for this interesting post.

    Although I know that the Structure Matters: Beginning, Middle, End, I usually write beginning and middle. End is usually ignored.

  2. Joel Brown says:

    I really think that i need to reconsider the way that i write for my blog. Take some time and reread things, and adjust things to make it better, spelling i always check but don’t revise often enough.

  3. mike says:

    I have revised a lot of my posts over time. Sometimes you don’t word them right the first time.

  4. ces says:

    Hi : )

    Great points as always!

    But point # 4 was hella confusing. I had to read it three or four times before it made any sense to me, and it still doesn’t quite make sense. Though it’s likely that it’s me… I’ve been at the computer now for way too many hours…

  5. @ Mike …

    You should draw an outline … I prefer to write everything about a topic at the first instance. I do not care whether that one is coming in chain basis or not. Just write it down when you complete than read it again and arrange in a manner which suite your article.

    Your first write represents what’s you are thinking and whole post will come from that only.

  6. Some times when I am writing my ideas take a different direction that seem more appropriate. So the delete button comes in handy when I go back and read my post.

    What I hate is when my next post just doesn’t formulate. I chase it around on paper, in my head and on the computer.

    So change is some good advice I can use.
    Thanks.

  7. hello…i vote for your blog on bloggers choice awards 2009.
    it will be honour if you would vote for my blog too for foreign language category…success for you!

    Gilang
    Gigisehatbadansehat.blogspot.com

  8. Robin says:

    It always amazes me how many bloggers fail to just run spell check. It is so fast to do. Errors in grammar are far easier for readers, to overlook. We are all guilty of them. Even your article here had one.

    As long as, spelling is good and writing is decent, content will be able to shine through. A page riddled with typos and poor spelling, certainly loses readers.

  9. Agent SEO says:

    Thanks Issac…

    I often times find myself just hitting the publish button before I revise my content, only to go back later (or immediately) to find mistakes or tweak content.

    It can be maddening, but it is necessary to write content that people will be able to use not just right now but for a long time to come.

    Thanks for the article

  10. On point two, I’d suggest as often as possible to find somebody else to do the proofing. Sometimes we’re a little too close to our writing to see the mistakes.

  11. krissy says:

    I always rewrite before posting. Or at least proofread to see if my post needs to be rewritten at all. Thanks for reminding us.

    krissy knox
    follow me on twitter:
    http://www.twitter.com/iamkrissy

  12. I proof my brains out but something always manages to sneak by me! I think I am getting a bit better at it but what I would like to know is does it ever end!??
    Will these little demons keep sneaking past me?? lol…

  13. PraShawn says:

    Proof reading is a good point. I think anybody who take their self serious should consider proof reading the posts. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Glenn Abel says:

    Bloggers are in an unusual position, considering the long history of writing for mass media. In trad media, someone always reads behind you, looking for errors and possible libel.

    So I would add to this post:

    6. Know the basics of grammar and spelling

    Spend some time learning fundamental grammar and studying the often-misspelled words (there are two of them in that sentence!). This will enhance your clarity and cut down on revision time.

    The time you spend (a half day, maybe?) will come right back to you as you write.

    Write for Blogs

  15. I think you should rename your blog guestblogger.com :p Anyways revising is very important because any mistake shows unprofessionalism.

  16. I belong to a content writers group and I’m the only male in the bunch. The ladies all pride themselves on being one take wonders and wouldn’t think of revising. At times I’ve been frustrated by my need to draft, revise,revise, revise, then proof a time or two and finally publish. They aspire to be poets and novelists while I aspire to sell more content. I’m usually the top monthly earner in the group. The 5 Universal Writing Rules are certainly all that.

  17. Fotografi says:

    5 golden rules, thanks.

  18. Chris says:

    Speaking for revising, the story goes with famous painter, J.M.W. Turner, that he would even correct paintings as they hung in the gallery. A good work is always a work in progress, I guess.

  19. Susan Sheppard says:

    Isaac: great post.
    I agree with Christopher Ross:: Having someone else proofread one’s blog (or other to-be-published material) is the best way for mistakes to be caught. Ideally a trained proofreader. (Just because someone can read English doesn’t make them *the best* choice to proofread English. I can drive a car but that certainly doesn’t mean it would be wise for me to drive in the Daytona 500. )

  20. Davina says:

    Hi Isaac, and Darren. I’m so happy to read this! I thought proofreading was a dying art (when it comes to blogging). I’ve been a proofreader for more than 10 years and it’s a natural habit to scrutinize each post I write. I cringe when I read some comments I’ve left, when it’s too late to take them back and fix them. I agree that good content is key, but it doesn’t take all that much time to give a post one extra read. My recommendation is to write ahead of time and look at it a couple of days later with fresh eyes… or hire a good proofreader to do it for you, while you’re writing your next post.

  21. Pet Snakes says:

    The single best piece of advice I ever got about learning how to write was this -

    1) Buy a book called “On Writing” by Stephen King.
    2) Read said book.
    3) Write using the lessons you’ve learned from that book.

    Applicable for all forms of writing. Whether you like him or not there’s a reason he’s one of the best selling authors of all times. He knows how to write.

  22. Sharon says:

    Good basic advice Darren. I would add that given the chances of catching and keeping reader attention in the steady stream of competing content, bloggers should follow the rules all advertising copy and PR writers learn early on:

    PUT YOUR KEY MESSAGE UP FRONT – followed by the next most important point, and then on down to the backup details. Your readers should get the crux of what you’re trying to convey within the first few sentences:

    1) Tagline (Headline)
    2) Cutline (Sub-title)
    3) Most important messages
    4) Background details for those who keep reading

    If you keep this in mind, you will naturally prevent yourself from rambling on… and on… and – ’nuff said. :-)

  23. Tressa says:

    Thank you Isaac. Right now I am building a website http://www.creative-writing-help.com, and before I publish it to the world I am revising it over and over again. I want it to be perfect without spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, and I’ve been revising now for the past week.

    I’m not sure if there is ever a point where you are satisified or you just say enough is enough and publish the damn thing.

    As always loving the tips!

  24. Ben Roberts says:

    These are great guidelines for bloggers (or any writers). As a new trainer for my company on blogging, I am always trying to come up with concise examples of content and quality writing. Your’s, as always, has both.

  25. When I write for my own journal – I often edit in my head and what I write down and post is usually the first draft. I do some quick proofreading for grammatical errors (and often miss them), then I hit publish.

    It’s a bad habit and I seriously do not recommend it to anyone.