This week’s post is a guest post from content polisher (I love her title!) Rosie Morley. Did you catch my review of her book, Blog in Bloom, in September’s edition of Off the Shelf?
If you write a lot for your business or blog (most of us seem to, these days), then it’s important that you’re communicating your message as clearly as possible.
In my time editing the work of online entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed some writing habits that pop up frequently. By avoiding these habits, you can easily boost your writing style.
(Find the answers for the exercises at the bottom of the post.)
1. Weasel words
Weasel words are exactly what they sound like: words that we use to weasel out of what we’re saying. We use them (unintentionally, usually) because we don’t want our writing to come across as too direct or opinionated, or sometimes just because using weasel words is a habit that’s difficult to break.
Weasel words slip into writing easily, but they’re also easy to pick up when you know what you’re looking for. Find any words that qualify or weaken a statement—and then cut them!
For example: I want to design a website that actually makes me more money.
What’s “actually” doing there? Nothing, I’d say. You can remove it and not only will the sentence still make sense, it’ll be stronger.
Exercise: Find the weasel words in the sentence below.
A website should essentially be your online headquarters, where anyone interested in you generally goes.
Although weasel words are a type of wordiness, you can also be wordy in loads of other ways — and none of them are any good. Be critical when you’re editing. Does every word contribute to the meaning of the sentence? If not, cut it.
For example: Websites thrive on account of the fact that they contain certain elements.
The extra words in that sentence serve no purpose. They get in the way of the message and make the writing more confusing. Compare with: ‘Websites thrive because they contain certain elements.’
Exercise: Cut all the unnecessary words from the sentence below.
When website designers start new projects or get involved with existing ones, they make sure to always check whether or not they need to include certain elements.
3. Boring verbs
Boring verbs are the worst. They’re those words like “get” or “have” that don’t engage your readers.
Sometimes they’re necessary, but often they can be replaced with something far more interesting. Keep your readers entertained by using words that delight them.
For example: Get better at website building by doing these steps.
Compare that with “Level up your website building by following these steps.” Simple changes, but which sentence would you rather read?
Exercise: Replace the boring verbs in the sentence below with some more interesting verbs.
Websites can get more visitors by having some simple elements.
4. Expletive constructions
They sound scary and grammatical, but expletive constructions are easy to remove from your writing, and they make a huge difference.
Expletive constructions are words that appear at the start or in the middle of a sentence. They don’t add anything to the sentence, and you can get rid of them easily by switching the sentence around.
For example: It is my website that attracts most of my clients.
Removing the expletive construction means taking away the “it is.” Then, switched around, the sentence becomes “My website attracts most of my clients.”
Exercise: Rewrite the sentence below without the expletive construction.
There are lots of entrepreneurs who have excellent websites.
5. Passive voice
Passive voice happens when the “doer” (the person or thing doing the action) isn’t before the action they’re doing; they’re either after, or they’re left out completely. Sometimes passive voice is useful, particularly if you want to deflect blame or take emphasis off the doer. However, for most of your writing, you should try to avoid passive voice, because it’s less direct than active voice.
For example: The website was built well by the developer.
See how the doer (the developer) is after the action (built)? To make this sentence active, we just put the doer before the action: The developer built the website well.
Exercise: Change the sentence below so it’s in active voice.
My website has been neglected by the designer.
A website should
essentiallybe your online headquarters, where anyone interested in you generallygoes.
When website designers start or join projects, they check whether they need to include certain elements.
Websites can attract more visitors by containing some simple elements.
Lots of entrepreneurs have excellent websites.
The designer has neglected my website.
How many did you get right?
Rosie Morley has been writing and editing for most of her life and is passionate about the exciting growth of online writing spaces. In her business, Hedera House, she works with clients on their writing and editing projects. She also publishes blog posts and free resources, and recently released her workbook, Blog in Bloom.
Interested in learning more about how to improve your writing? Find these topics and lots more in my writing and grammar skills workbook, Blog in Bloom. For more information, head to www.hederahouse.com/blog-in-bloom.