Digital media fostered a generation of lazy writing.
Unlike printed publications – where space is finite – digital platforms have infinite space. The format doesn’t force writers to edit. (Twitter’s character limit is an exception. Anyone who has crafted a lengthy tweet then revised to fit within the expanded 280 characters understands.) To keep skills sharp, writers must do writing workouts.
Ready to grow your writing muscles? Do this five-exercise workout.
Exercise 1: Limit “I” and “we”
In this article, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but I will detail how to build a content marketing program that I know will produce great results.
Without reinventing the wheel, I will detail how to build a content marketing program that will produce great results.
What changed? The revised sentence includes only one first-person reference rather than the original three. Yet, the revision still reflects the author’s opinion.
Why? Studies show that people are more likely to perceive people who use multiple first-person references as less confident and less assured, or worse, suffering and self-conscious.
Those findings come from research led by University of Texas at Austin’s James W. Pennebaker, who penned The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us.
TIP: Don’t insert yourself into the content unless it’s relevant. If you’re part of the story, you don’t need to use “I” and “me” a lot. The reader should be able to tell it’s your story through the broader exposition.
Exercise 2: Hunt for weasels
With all due respect, ABC Cakes believes healthy living requires the occasional sweet treat. That being said, the mini cupcakes make an excellent choice.
ABC Cakes believes healthy living requires the occasional sweet treat. Mini cupcakes make an excellent choice.
What changed? The revision eliminated the weasel phrases of “with all due respect” and “that being said” without changing the meaning.
Why? “Weasel words are used when the speaker wants to make it seem like they’ve given a clear answer to a question or made a direct statement, when actually they’ve said something inconclusive or vague,” writes Leslie Ye on HubSpot.
TIP: Write what you mean.
Exercise 3: Resist qualifiers and intensifiers
Subject matter experts generally are rather excellent resources for content. Talk to them before writing as they can be particularly helpful in identifying very relevant topics.
Subject matter experts are excellent resources for content. Talk to them before writing as they can be helpful in identifying relevant topics.
What changed? The qualifiers (generally, rather) and intensifiers (particularly, very) were deleted.
Why? “A qualifier weakens or lessens the impact of a word or phrase … while an intensifier strengthens or emphasizes the importance of a word or phrase,” according to K.L. Wightman’s grammar guide.
Unfortunately, writers overuse these words, which minimizes or exaggerates meaning.
TIP: Review your content for qualifiers and intensifiers (e.g., very, too, quite, so, rather) and delete every unnecessary use.
Exercise 4: Question “to be”
When you are forced to write succinctly, you do it. When you are not forced, you aren’t pressured to edit your content to pack more of a punch using fewer words.
When forced to write succinctly, you do it. When not forced, you don’t edit your content to pack more punch using fewer words.
What changed? Forms of “to be” were removed.
Why? “Using ‘to be’ can weaken the impact of your writing,” as the University of North Carolina’s Writing Center details.
TIP: It can be difficult to write without using “to be” or a form of passive voice. Write one draft without thinking about passive or active voice. Then go through the content and revise to only use active voice. (And when you think you can’t make it active, look at it again.)
Exercise 5: Cut prepositions
With the acquisition of XYZ Widgets in January 2019, the employees at the Scranton plant opted to throw a party in celebration of their new employer.
To celebrate the company’s January 2019 acquisition, XYZ Widget’s Scranton plant employees threw a party.
What changed? Five prepositions were removed.
Why? “A string of multiple prepositions in a single sentence can make the text choppy and potentially confusing for your audience,” according to American Journal Experts.
TIP: Know your prepositions. Eliminate each one to ensure that you’re using the right subject-verb combination. Then put back only those prepositional phrases whose meaning can’t be more succinct.
Create a workout plan
As with any workout program, set realistic expectations. Don’t attempt every exercise at the same time. Pace yourself based on how frequently you create content. If you write several times a week, pick an exercise each week. If you write less frequently, pick one exercise a month.
Master each exercise before moving on to the next. Before long, the muscle memory you’ve developed will let you incorporate these tips into your writing automatically.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute