February 25, 2014 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
As an editor, I see some common issues that often make articles too hard to read or simply unusable. The sad thing is that there is great information in the articles, but there are problems that would take an editor too long to fix. Let’s look at some of these common problems I see and some tips for writers.
Sometimes less is more, and when it comes to holding a reader’s attention it is important for writers to keep this in mind. You want to eliminate words that are not helpful to the reader and/or don’t add to the article. Let’s look at an example:
“The website visitor may have never seen your company before at all.”
Look at that sentence again; what words do you think are unnecessary? Now read the sentence below:
“The website visitor may have never seen you company before.”
Was “at all” needed? Did it add important information? Does it make a negative difference that it is gone? Typically when a writer is inspired they kind of have what some of us call a “brain dump” and they just write quickly to get the information out. That is fine, but all writers should take the time to read their articles closely and repeatedly to determine what words are unnecessary and remove them.
I gave you an example of one sentence. When there are 100+ sentences unnecessary words add up!
Before I ever consider submitting an article, I always edit closely, but I also walk away from the article for an hour or two at least. When I come back I see a lot of things that need to be changed. Sometimes I walk away 2-3 times. It clears out your mind and allows you to see things more objectively.
With most articles, the goal is to provide helpful information to the readers, and readers are often reading an article quickly to gather the helpful info that they need. Many writers want to elaborate, add humor and/or personal stories to really help the reader understand what they are trying to say.
Unfortunately, the “extra” information is often not helpful and the result is that the article begins to bore the readers. They are there to get information that can help them, not to get to know the writer on a personal level. If the reader tries to scan the article quickly to find the helpful info they need, but can’t find it, they just abandon the article. No writer wants that to happen.
Suggestion: Reread your article and be honest with yourself. If something isn’t adding to the article, in a truly helpful way, does it need to be there? If the answer is no really consider removing it.
There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than a choppy article. There has to be a flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. Here is an example of the choppiness that makes me want to punch my computer screen.
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WHAT? Kill me now! No one wants to read an entire article like that!
Tip: A good strategy for creating flow is to outline the points you plan on covering in your article. Then look at the order of your points, which topics should be closer together? Which topic clearly leads you into another topic? Move them closer together. What are the logical “this comes next” subjects? Have some order before you write.
Your intro paragraph should summarize what you are going to discuss in the article. Each section after that should have a headline, an intro sentence, supporting sentences and a clear end to that discussion. Having an overall conclusion that sums up everything you have said is a great way to end an article.
I know that proper grammar has taken a major hit because of the casual writing on the web, but anyone writing for a professional blog or website needs to write like a professional. This means that you can’t write like you do on social media or like you do in text messages. There are times dashes are appropriate, but they shouldn’t replace commas.
Do not use dashes to set apart material when commas would do the work for you. Usually, there are no spaces between the dash and the letters on either side of a dash…
The first thing to know when talking about dashes is that they are almost never required by the laws of grammar and punctuation.
Every single day I see people using dashes or “…” where commas should be. This practice makes the writer seems ignorant and professionalism is lost. I beg you to avoid doing this. There are many guides out there on the proper use of commas. Every writer should review grammar guides on a regular basis.
You want to know what is really irritating? Reading an article with “etc” being used 15 or more times! Etc. ends with a period! Guess what? E.g. and i.e. also have periods!
Writers, if you are hoping to be published on respected sites you need to make sure your grammar is great. Run a grammar check on your article before you send it off! And please, end “etc” with a period!
If you want to see what sentences just don’t sound right, what doesn’t flow, and find areas that could be written better you should read your article out loud slowly.
Don’t rush through this step. Your brain knows what you were trying to say so it will quickly pass up mistakes. You have to read the article slowly like you have never seen it before to find any problems.
Before I suggested walking away from your article for a while and then coming back to it. If you walk away, come back and then read your article, you will be shocked at the issues you find. No writer is perfect and everyone makes mistakes (which is why we have editors). The goal is to fix as many issues as possible before you publish or submit an article to a site. I have probably made 50 changes rereading this article alone. Every time I read it I find something else that should be changed.
As a writer, I know many people do not understand the time and effort that is put into a good article. Sometimes editors don’t appreciate how hard you have worked, but do you know who does? The reader and readers don’t forget writers that have great articles with needed information.
I have been working as an editor for three years and I can tell you that there are four things that cause abandonment by readers:
Avoid these four common issues and your readers will appreciate you more. Grammar is important if you want to appear to be educated and knowledgeable. Why should anyone trust what you have to say if you appear to have a lack of knowledge?
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