Admit it. Every now and then you want to read ‘how-to’s in a dirty long list. And every now and then I want to write them.
So here you go. 40 tips for writing well, on the web especially. Happy Christmas.
1. Don’t worry about whether you’re a writer or not. Write, and you’re a writer.
2. What’s your point? Have something to say before you start.
3. What do you want me to do about it? Identify a single call to action in response to what you are writing and make it clear.
4. Write in the same voice you talk in. Read what you’ve written out loud. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue and doesn’t sound like you then start again.
5. Worry about your title more than anything else. Spend as long on the heading as all the other elements on the page put together.
6. Write loads and then cut nearly all of it. Edit, edit, edit.
7. Convince me. Everything is an argument.
8. Visualise a single individual to represent your target readership. Address everything you write directly to him or her.
9. Why should the reader give a crap about this? Ask this question at every point.
10. Use a thesaurus to remind you of words you already know.
11. Show what you have written to someone else who writes well and ask him or her how you could improve it.
12. Stick to your person. I/we/you/he/she/they should all refer to the same thing all the way through your article.
13. Stick to your tense. put the whole article in the past or present and don’t muck around.
14. Use words that 13-year-olds understand.
15. Cut redundancies: ‘in my opinion… the fact of the matter is…’ are unnecessary. Of course it’s your opinion – you’re saying it.
16. Vary sentence and paragraph length, keeping the average very short. They should be punchy but not monotonous.
17. Be specific.
18. Avoid repetition of words, rhetoric, syntax, structure, sentiments.
19. Eliminate bland words: very, awesome, super, nice, great, so, interesting.
20. Invent fresh metaphors or speak plainly rather than opt for tired clichés.
21. Qualify what you mean by ‘just’.
22. Argue the opposite of what you have written. If it’s not convincing, your original argument lacks power too.
23. Opine. Whatever the subject, take an angle on it; the more original the better.
24. Crucify corporate buzzwords such as leverage assets. Ugh.
25. Show don’t tell. Cut out everything that you can demonstrate without the use of words.
26. Spend a small amount of time finding the best tools and environment in which to write. After that, stop blaming them if it doesn’t happen. It’s your fault, not theirs.
27. If spelling mistakes get through you have a process problem not a writing one. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s what spellcheck, dictionaries, proofreading, and editing are for.
28. Copy the style of writing on web sites that you find useful. Not well written, but useful.
29. Assume that the people you are writing for are kind and well-intentioned but with very little time on their hands.
30. Be kind. It pays off better than being arrogant, cynical or mean.
31. Clarity, above all.
32. Never use a long word when a short word will do. Orwell said that.
33. Write in active sentences rather than passive. The dog ate my homework, not my homework was eaten by the dog. It’s more vigorous. Hemingway said that. Kind of.
34. Don’t tell your reader what you are going to write and why. Just write it.
35. After you have finished, behead your writing. Remove the first paragraph: it is almost always redundant and dull.
36. For punctuation, read your text aloud. Where you pause slightly there should be a comma, where you break for longer there should be a full stop. Don’t use any other punctuation unless you really know what you’re doing.
37. Never write ‘click here’.
38. Get a decent grip on the main rules of grammar so that you can break them for effect.
39. Insert scannable elements: subheadings that make sense, hyperlinks, bullet points and lists, numerals (41 instead of forty-one).
40. Never publish immediately. A hiatus gives you fresh eyes to see how you can improve what you’ve written.