Did you know that approximately 1 in 6 adults in England struggle with their literacy skills? That's around 7.1 million people!
Literacy skills relate not just to reading but writing too. And as a copywriter, it's more important than ever to fine-tune your writing skills. Blog posts, email newsletters, and website content should be easy to read and digest, particularly when the average reading age of UK adults is around 9 years.
So, here are 10 expert tips for improving your craft so you can write like a pro.
Basic Writing Tips
1. Know your spelling, punctuation, and grammar
This is a given. If you are going to write like a pro, you need to have a good understanding of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Now, I'm not saying you must learn every single grammatical rule in the book, so to speak. There are great resources out there to help you improve your writing skills. Dictionaries are a great place to start for spelling words; the Collins Online Dictionary is my current favourite.
For punctuation and grammar rules, I would recommend GrammarBook.com. Their book, the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, is a comprehensive and up-to-date guide to English grammar and punctuation rules. If you're not keen on purchasing a hard copy, then you can find the rules in the book on their website, with additional quizzes to practise.
There are many resources out there to help you improve your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Use them!
2. Figure out your style
Because the English language is flexible, it can be hard to decide which form of grammar is acceptable or not. Some grammar rules are fixed, but others are not; they can be adapted and changed according to your particular style.
There are general writing styles that you may be influenced by. These are called style guides.
A style guide helps to eliminate confusion over grammatical rules. Most companies and institutions will use a style guide, either their own or a popular one. The rules in each style guide will vary; there will be rules on writing dates and times, pronouns, commas, hyphens, spelling, verb usage, etc.
Style guides will share some style traits, but there will also be differences between them.
Here are three popular style guide examples:
A style guide is a useful tool to have as a copywriter and a business owner. You want to be clear on what grammar rules you will follow and how you want to present your writing. Above all, you need to make sure your writing is consistent across all your marketing channels.
You can use one of the popular ones listed above (I prefer the Guardian style guide), or you can create your own (especially if you own or manage a company). Grammarly also has a useful guide on creating a company style guide, so be sure to check it out.
IMPORTANT: If you are writing for other companies/businesses, always stick to their chosen style guide, even if you don't agree with it.
3. Avoid passive voice
I'll admit I'm guilty of this one. Passive voice is a commonly overused style of writing, as opposed to active voice, which is more direct and assertive. Here's an example of a sentence in passive voice:
I have written an email.
And here's the same sentence in active voice:
I wrote an email.
See the difference? In an active voice, the subject ("I") is acting on the verb ("to write"), whereas in a passive voice another verb (usually "have") is added. Not only does active voice save words (that could be better used elsewhere),but it also makes your writing sound more confident.
So when checking your writing, keep an eye out for sentences in passive voice and make them active.
4. Don't abuse adverbs
Ah, adverbs. As a writer, you learn that overusing them is a big no-no. As Stephen King said, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs".
But you can't always avoid them.
Adverbs are words that describe a verb. For example, "she walked quickly" or "they skipped happily". In these examples, you don't need an adverb. Skipping has connotations; if someone is skipping, it's probably because they are happy.
Similarly, you can replace "walked quickly" with "hurried". It's the same thing, but it leaves more to the reader's imagination. It also reduces your word count, so make of that what you will.
However, sometimes it is necessary to leave an adverb in your writing. If nothing else will suffice, then let it stay; as long as you don't overuse them.
5. Remove pesky filler words
Filler words are words that can be removed from a sentence without compromising its meaning. I've left filler words in the sentence above as an example of what I mean.
Words such as "that" and "as" don't need to be kept in a sentence, unless they add to the sentence's meaning. If you're on a tight word count, then removing filler words is a good way to ensure your writing is high quality.
However, it does depend on the context. Everyday speech contains filler words, and when something is written in a relaxed tone it can get away with having filler words too (such as a blog post). So keep an eye on the context of your writing, and edit it accordingly.
Writing Well For An Audience
6. Paragraphs are your friend
Reading a wall of text is one of my pet peeves. After the first few lines, my mind wanders and I can't concentrate on what I am reading.
Breaking up your content into short paragraphs will make it so much easier to read. Here's a pro tip: make each paragraph no more than three sentences long. This is good guidance for how long you should make each paragraph.
I only break this rule if the sentences in the paragraph are very short. In that case, I extend the paragraph to four sentences.
Bonus tip: each sentence should have no more than 24 words. This gives you a good idea of how long your sentences should be. Trust me, trying to write like Jane Austen in this day and age won't work (although she was a brilliant storyteller!)
7. Keep it simple
As I said at the beginning of this post, the average reading age of a UK adult is around 9 years. So you want to make sure that your writing reflects that statistic - or at least within context.
Of course, if you are writing an academic paper for academic readers, then writing in the style of a 9-year-old won't cut it (more on that in the next tip). But writing web content is a different matter. The general advice is to "write like a seventh-grader" - that is, to keep your vocabulary simple and clear, and avoid using jargon.
Of course, if you are writing a novel, then you can use all the flowery language you like. It's your book, your creation, and your style. But as I said in the previous tip, try to avoid writing like Jane Austen.
8. Read the room
If you have a conversation with the Queen, you wouldn't talk to her as if she's one of your best friends. Similarly, you wouldn't talk to your best friends in the same way you would talk to your boss (unless your boss happens to be one of your best friends).
The same principle applies to writing. You need to read the room to find the appropriate writing style. For blog posts, an informal tone works perfectly. For white papers and academic writing, you'll want a tone that's more analytical.
Be flexible with your approach, and write according to the context.
9. Do your research, and don't waffle
When writing a blog post like this, it's easy to keep writing what pops into your head. Waffling happens when you end up repeating a lot of what you've already said or you want to fill in the space with more words.
If you find you naturally come to the end of a sentence, paragraph, or section, then stop. There's no need to add filler words and repetition just to meet that word count.
Waffling can also be a sign of a lack of research. Writing that goes on and on about the same thing without any substance to it is a big red flag. So make sure you do plenty of research for each blog post so you have enough to talk about - that way, your writing will stay on track.
10. Edit, edit, edit ... and edit some more
Ever read a blog post and caught an obvious typo? As a proofreader and editor, I cringe when I spot them. I'm probably guilty of missing some too!
That's where editing comes in. Once you have finished your blog post draft, it's time to edit it properly. And I don't mean a glance over the page and then publishing it.
Editing takes time and effort. You have to go over your content with a finetooth combb. So I'll give you some of my tips as a professional editor:
Read your work: this is a good strategy for understanding your content in its entirety. It's also helpful to read through to check for consistency and to pick out any obvious errors that are lurking.
Copy-edit: edit your sentence structure and consistency, remove filler words, check for style (remember to read the room), and lastly check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Images/SEO: remember to check your images. Make sure they have captions and alt text attached, and they are formatted correctly. Finally, check your SEO needs, such as keywords, tags, and meta descriptions.
Proofread: proofreading is the final check for spelling, punctuation and grammar. It's your last chance to polish your work, so make sure you do it thoroughly.
Wrapping It Up
So that's 10 expert writing tips that will help you write like a pro. I've covered basic writing tips, including spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and how to write well for an audience.
The main theme to take away from this post is to practise your writing and editing. The more you write, the better you will become.