50 Writing Tips You Never Thought You Needed

I’ve been writing professionally for a few years now – web content, magazine articles, blogs, scripts, straplines, social updates, press releases, radio ads, event speeches, award entries, short stories. You name it, I’ve written it.

Impressed? You shouldn’t be. Some of it was rubbish. So, why should you take tips from a rubbish writer? Well, everyone starts out this way and the more I have written, the better I have become.

My secret? I researched, I listened and I learned from those who have been writing longer than me. From this, I began to recognise and minimise my errors – but more importantly, I learned how errors can sometimes be circumstantial based on culture, situation, organisation and audience.

While I’ve been given all sorts of tips over the years, here are some of the key pieces of advice I try to keep in mind when facing a blank page. Most are personal peeves, some are conventional wisdom and a few are tips from successful writers.

  1. Write like a human – People are emotional beings and use of natural, conversational and non-robotic language guarantees that your readers will be able to connect and understand what you are writing. Humour, empathy and puns should be used where appropriate.
  2. Don’t write for the sake of writing – “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Writing is only one component of the process. – If you are writing as a public relations specialist or are a content marketer, don’t forget that your work is composed of many key parts including research, planning, communication and evaluation. All of these should have the same amount of attention.
  4. You don’t have to be a writer to write something valuable – There is a reason why editors exist. Just because your job isn’t producing content, doesn’t mean you can’t. Many of our designers and web developers have produced amazing research pieces even though writing isn’t what they specialise in. “A writer is a writer when he says he is.” – Steven Pressfield
  5. Use the most appropriate ‘English’ for your target audience – As an American now living in the UK, I can say that some people in the US don’t understand British English. If you are writing content for your client’s site, make sure it adheres to the correct audience’s preferences.
  6. Follow the ‘Brand Guidelines’ – You, your company and your clients will all have different preferred styles regarding how things should be capitalised and explained. Make sure these are cohesive.
  7. Be short, simple and sweet – Don’t ramble on, avoid repetition and redundancy, and make clear, bold statements – don’t dilute them with woolly language.
  8. Spend as much time editing as you do writing –  “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal
  9. When in doubt, use a style guide – But don’t take them too seriously. In the UK, I prefer to use either the BBC or the Oxford Style Guide.
  10. Refrain from using double-spacing – It is for 19th-century typesetters.
  11. Show, don’t tell – Using examples in your writing can help you illustrate key points. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
  12. The thesaurus is your friend – But don’t use a big word if you can use a smaller, simpler one.
  13. Research is important, but so is the story – The findings are important, but what is the story and why does it matter?
  14. Welcome criticism – You will never get better unless you listen to feedback and use it constructively in your creative writing.
  15. Check your sources – Just because something is ‘trending’, that doesn’t mean it is correct.
  16. Don’t dwell on the initial draft  – Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, but getting it written can sometimes be the hardest part. You will likely block your writing if you spend too much time ruminating.
  17. Write what you would want to read – If you don’t think what you are writing is interesting, how can you expect other people to think it is?
  18. The first line/paragraph is the most important – There is a reason journalists want you to include the ‘5 Ws’ (what, who, why, where, when) as soon as possible. If you ramble on, people will bounce or drift from your content piece.
  19. Exploit opportunities to replace weak verbs – Verbs vitalise your writing, but only if they are strong and used creatively.
  20. Write in the right frame of mind – Be disciplined, but don’t force it. If you are in a bad mood, partially because you can’t seem to write anything, you are going to write a terrible piece of content. Writer’s block is a thing and sometimes taking a step back to have a tea and watch a movie can be all the inspiration you need.
  21. It’s okay to incorporate visuals – Embedding infographics or gifs into your content can help bring it to life, but should only be used when appropriate.
  22. Know the purpose of your content piece – Public relations counselors Kerry Tucker and Doris Derelian suggest that you know: the desired communication outcome; the primary audience with demo/psychographics; the primary audience’s needs, concerns and interests; the message and whether it is meant to inform, engage, persuade, increase awareness etc.; and the best/most effective dissemination channels.
  23. Read anything and everything – “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami
  24. Use clear and concise sentences – You’ll be surprised how many words you can strip out and still have a sentence that reads well and makes sense.
  25. Sentence structure and modifiers matter. – Be careful not to confuse your writer on ‘who’ or ‘what’ you are talking about.
  26. Put apostrophes in the right place and use them correctly. Client’s is not the same as clients’ and its is not the same as it’s.
  27. Be careful with word choice and avoid jargon – Unless it is what the reader expects. Using certain words for teenagers will differ from those used for professionals in the law, medical or engineering fields.
  28. Short paragraphs are better than long ones – One of the talks at BrightonSEO April 2018 outlined a research study that revealed that a content piece with more paragraphs has been shown to perform better.
  29. Always ask someone to proofread your work – You sacrifice credibility when there are massive spelling, grammar or information errors in your writing. Having a second pair of eyes never hurts.
  30. Avoid/restrict the use of adverbs – They’re really quite unnecessary: “The adverb is not your friend.” – Stephen King, On Writing
  31. Write like you would speak to a friend – Always read your writing out loud.
  32. Treat writing like you would treat a muscle – “Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised every day: the more you write, the easier it becomes.” – Jane Green
  33. Experience inspires writing – My dad always used to tell me, “Studying all the time is fine, but you will never have anything interesting to talk about if you don’t go out and do something.”
  34. You don’t have to be a Jedi.” – Excellent ideas will always triumph over your ability to be a poet and nobody is asking you to be – unless that is your career. But for a content marketer, if your ideas are straightforward and backed up, your pieces will perform well!
  35. Pay attention to your cognitive dissonance when writing – If your gut is telling you that a piece feels incomplete, or you think you need more information to believe in what you are writing (especially if it is for a client), then do your research or ask for more information.
  36. Culture matters – Different cultures will interpret what you are writing differently. That being said, if you are writing something that you want to resonate with a diverse audience, do your research first.
  37. Use the appropriate narrative for the piece – For example, if you are writing an opinion or thought leadership piece, first-person narrative (I, we) will help you create a relationship with your readers.
  38. “Scrap the cliches.” – Using cliches can be detrimental to your piece because they often don’t activate your prefrontal cortex, which is needed to evoke emotion.
  39. Content should encourage a response – Everything you write should be seen as an opportunity for dialogue with an end goal or purpose in mind.
  40. Be prepared to publicly support your writing – In the world of social media, you never know who might have a problem or an opinion about something you put out there. When writing, make sure you have anticipated the types of reactions you may receive and have an idea of how you will respond.
  41. Evergreen content is the most valuable – You don’t have to write a book – however, longer pieces of content with information that stays relevant as the world changes are the most useful.
  42. Different communication mediums require different skills – You wouldn’t write the same way for a news release or branded commercial as you would for a blog piece.
  43. Know what distracts you and try to reduce or eliminate it If you are like me, you work in a busy office with bubbly people and music playing in the background. While this is a positive work environment, it can sometimes make it difficult for people to craft sentences. Noise-cancelling headphones can be extremely helpful when you’re up against a tight deadline.
  44. Use semicolons and Oxford commas sparingly – Better yet, don’t use them at all (unless absolutely necessary).
  45. Be truthful and don’t deceive your audience – If researchers can’t prove their theories, they provide insights on what went wrong instead of using fake figures.
  46. Write something new – “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
  47. Keep a notebook handy – You never know when you are going to want to jot down an idea.
  48. Know the meaning of the word – They’re, there, their, your, you’re, it’s, its. Need I say more?
  49. Use a keyword tool if you are experiencing writer’s block – If I am ever not sure what to write, I sometimes use SEMrush or Answer The Public to help me think of some relevant ideas.
  50. Learn from those who have been writing longer than you – As I discussed initially, the sooner you start asking, listening and learning, the better the writer you will become.

 

Whether you’re writing a press release, blog post, product guide or video script, I hope these tips have provided you with some useful guidance. Of course, if you have some of your own writing tips to share, please get in touch!