This is a guest post written by Barbara Govednik, a Chicago-based writer, writing coach and communication strategist. She is also the owner of 423 Communication, writes the blog Being Well Said and contributes to the communication skills blog on Communitelligence.
Photo credit tnarik.
More often than not, good writing is the product of good editing. Think about it. There is a reason they are called "first drafts" and not "one-and-only drafts."
For some bloggers, the thought of editing sends shivers down their spines. “Blogs are all about self-expression and speaking in my voice,” as someone said to me at the 2009 BlogHer conference, eyeing me with pity and disdain.
She was absolutely right about self-expression and voice. But blogs are also about getting a message across to your audience. If your posts are an incomprehensible jumble of words, your message gets lost and you have to be cool with the fact that you are probably talking to yourself. If you are seeking a larger audience, embrace the concept of editing for clarity and sanity. It will make your content readable, engaging and authentic.
Editing for Clarity
Editing for clarity means injecting some of the basic rules of grammar and construction into your work. Don’t panic, we’re not about to start diagramming sentences. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Sentences should come to an end at some point. See if you can’t break the really long, complicated sentences – the ones that include all manner of ellipsis and dashes and parenthetical material – into smaller, independent sentences. They are easier to read. Vary the length of your sentences, too.
- Paragraphs give the reader a little break and signal that you are moving onto another thought. Reread your paragraphs and count up how many ideas you’re cramming into them. This number should be low.
- Basic punctuation (periods, commas, the occasional exclamation point) works like GPS and gives readers little signals about where you are leading them. Skip the fancy stuff like semicolons if you’re not quite sure how they work and you aren’t willing to look it up.
- And contrary to the dire warnings of my fourth grade English teacher, no one has ever died because of a sentence fragment. Or a sentence that starts with “and.” Those are conversational elements that give your writing authenticity and a sense that a living human wrote the words.
Editing for Sanity
The fantastic side effect of editing for clarity is that it also improves your sanity quotient. If you are paying attention to things like sentence length and basic punctuation, you have less of a chance of sounding like a rambling madman in your blog. Here are three more ways to avoid that fate. (If you want to sound like the Unabomber or Ryan Adams, skip this section.)
- Scan your work for jargon, acronyms and arcane references that may be foreign to your audience. (See Unabomber and Ryan Adams, above.) You can use a little, particularly if you include a bit of explanation or a link. But it’s best to treat them like the jar of red pepper flakes at the pizza joint. A shake or two may spice things up but too many make the whole thing unappetizing.
- Beware the non sequitur. Random spasms of unrelated content will leave your reader scratching his head. For instance, if I suddenly started to explain how I always laugh at the cartoons of Wiley Miller, you’d probably think, “umm, who cares?” And you’d be right.
- Watch out for your writing ticks. We all have them. One writer I work with is way too fond of the word “it.” Another types “manger” when she means “manager” without fail. A third has a tendency to use the sentence construction “not only (whatever he’s writing about), but (another related thing)” in every paragraph. Go back and reread some of your older blog entries. What pops up as a recurring theme? Watch out for and edit those repeat offenders.
Edit Yourself Today
The best editor is always someone who didn’t write the original blog entry. Give your draft to a writer you trust, a business partner, the barista when he has some downtime. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a first run-through yourself using the guide above. All of these little niceties make your blog a comfortable place for readers to hang out.