Did you know that readers only spend 10-20 seconds deciding whether to read your whole post? Which means you have that long to hook them and keep them. So your writing had better be good.
When I was a kid, I hated English class. I was good at it–it was one of those things I found easy. But it bored me to tears. (So it makes sense that I went on to get a BA in English, right? 😛 )
By the time I finished college, I was diagramming sentences as a hobby. I remember standing in a bar with my roommate (a nursing major), who caught me listening to her a little TOO intently and said, “You’re parsing my sentences as I say them, aren’t you?” I was. I couldn’t help it!
You don’t need to be like me to write a good blog post.
No matter how much I love grammar and linguistics, the fact is…none of it matters. The only way “proper” grammar is going to save your blog is if your writing is so bad it makes your blog unreadable. Beyond that? You don’t need to know what present perfect sentences are. You need to know what sounds good.
As bloggers, writing is a primary part of our job. It’s how our audience gets to know us and decides whether to stick around. While pictures lure in readers, good writing is what will keep them.
If writing is something you’re struggling with, these tips will help!
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How to Make People Want to Read Your Blog: 10 Writing TipsPictures lure in readers, good writing keeps them. -- How to Make People Want to Read Your Blog Click To Tweet
1. Get to know your audience, and write for them.
Our favorite trivia game is Time’s Up. It’s less about how much you know and more about relating to your teammate. For instance, I was once teamed up with a younger girl I had never met. So I spent the first round of the game figuring out what she associated with each card.
One card, in particular, was Jerry Maguire. She had never seen it and thought it was a baseball movie. When that card came up on my turn, I pantomimed hitting a baseball. The group exploded with, “It’s about football!! That’s wrong!!” But it didn’t matter. She knew what I was doing, got the answer, and we won the game.
Not because we were the most knowledgeable team at the table. We figured out how to relate to each other.
Writing a blog post is very similar. You’re trying to be useful, not show off. (OK, it’s a little bit about showing off. We post some cool things from time to time.) Over time, you get to know what your audience likes, and you learn how to relate to them better. Finding out what they need and want to know will make you more useful to them.
2. Edit, edit, edit!
This is the most important writing tip you’ll get, but you probably get it everywhere.
I have an English degree, which means a lot of people think I shouldn’t make mistakes in my writing. But I make TONS of mistakes because they’re easy to miss when they’re your own. (In fact, I edited this post four times, ran it through two editing programs, and I am STILL finding errors.)
No matter how good you are, it would surprise you how many mistakes your writing has. Great writing happens through editing.
Remember to take a break before editing. Writing and editing need different tasks from your brain. This means it’s easier to review when the writing is no longer fresh in your mind. Stopping the writing function is essential to the editing function. Don’t edit while you write. (I’m bad about that.)
I had a professor who used to say you should put your work in a drawer of your desk and avoid looking at it for 6 weeks. (This was probably part of a ploy to get us to write our term papers sooner than the night before they were due.) But you don’t have that much time. Take 30 minutes.
You can use a program like Grammarly to check it, as well. And it’s FREE!Great writing happens through editing! Click To Tweet
3. Avoid huge paragraphs.
A thousand things are pulling for your readers’ attention. Which means they’re going to be skimming your post. If your post isn’t easy to skim, they’ll leave.
One thing that makes a post easier to skim is to break your paragraphs into smaller sections.
Remember those essay writing tips your 5th-grade teacher told you? About how your paragraph needed to be 5-7 sentences? Throw that out the window. It’s OK–encouraged, even–for a whole paragraph to be only one sentence. (But don’t make every paragraph one sentence or your post will sound choppy. Balance is key.)
Use your best judgment. If it looks too big, break it up.
4. Keep sentences brief.
Run-on sentences are difficult to control. Even professional writers have trouble with the nuances of semicolons. That’s why editors exist. Unfortunately, we bloggers don’t have editors–we are the editors. So, to keep sentences from boring your readers, shorten them.
Include a variety of sentence length to create more interest in a reader’s brain.
In journalism, most newspapers and magazines are at an 8th-grade reading level. Blogging is about the same. Keep your writing between a 5th and 10th-grade reading level. This makes sure the widest audience can skim through it.
The Hemingway App is great for checking your writing! It will tell you if sentences are difficult to read, along with giving various other writing tips. It’s also free! A pro version exists, but I use the free version.
5. Don’t worry about perfect writing.
I know I’m supposed to be giving you writing tips for improvement. But this one is important, too. If people understand you and enjoy your posts, your writing is fine.
Grammar police are everywhere. Don’t get me wrong–I love grammar. I used to tutor grammar. I spend my free time reading books about grammar. But in blogging? You want readers to understand you.
When I was in college, I was kind of an ass (nothing new there). My love of grammar only made that worse. (The grammar police are well-known for being pretentious. I say that as an enthused member.) Once in the middle of class, I corrected someone because they used a preposition at the end of a sentence. My (grammar) professor intervened.
These antiquated grammar rules exist in academia to create clarity. But blogging is not academia, so go ahead and loosen your grip on that copy of Strunk and White.
It’s OK and encouraged to start occasional sentences with “and” or “but.” Those are great transition words. They’re short, simple, and they let the readers’ brains know it’s time to switch gears. Floofy words and sentences are distracting and are likely to pull the reader out of your post. Once you’ve lost a reader’s attention, it’s difficult to get it back.
Your goal is different from academics. Your goal is to connect with your readers, and you’re not going to do that by mimicking H.P. Lovecraft. Treat blogging as if you’re having a conversation. Don’t make readers feel like they’re back in 9th grade English, trying to make sense of Romeo and Juliet. They’ll leave.
Be mindful of your readers’ time and your own time. Subject-verb agreement and split infinitives aren’t worth fretting over.
And it’s OK to end a sentence with a preposition.
(Side note: There is a WONDERFUL audio course called, “Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage” by John McWhorter. It delves deeper into the importance of function over form in language. I suggest checking it out!)Blogging is not academic, so loosen your grip on that copy of Strunk and White. Click To Tweet
6. Try to write well.
You don’t have to be a grammar guru. But it’s important to keep basic grammar principles in mind. Not everyone cares about grammar, but those who do REALLY do. So much that they’ll leave and not come back.
Spelling errors make bloggers appear less detail-oriented and less trustworthy. Your writing is what will encourage comments and shares, so be sure to review your work.
Rules to keep in mind:
- your, you’re
- their, there, they’re
- “a lot” is two words
- it’s “should have,” not “should of”
- “it’s” = it is, “its” = possessive
And so on. If you’re not easily offended, The Oatmeal has some hilarious and educational grammar posters here.
A good practice is to keep a list of grammar and spelling rules you have trouble remembering. Whenever you come to one of them in your writing, check the list. I like to use Evernote for my list-keeping. It syncs to your phone AND your computer, so the information is always handy.Your writing is what will encourage comments and shares, so be sure to review your work. Click To Tweet
7. Use lists and headings.
Remember the huge paragraph thing I mentioned earlier? This is another great way to break up a text. Listicles with bullet points (like this post!) are popular for two reasons:
- they’re packed with useful information, and
- they’re easy to read.
The thing I like most about listicles is that I can scroll down to the points that interest me. Or scroll through the article and figure out if the post is going to be as useful as promised. (This is also why I despise slideshows.)
You don’t have to number things and you sometimes can’t. Using headlines is good enough. If you can think of a couple headlines to break up bits of your post, do it!Listicles are packed with useful information and easy to read. Click To Tweet
8. Read your post out loud.
Ever have one of those moments where you say something to someone and then think, “That sounded better in my head”? That’s how writing is.
Easy fix: read your posts out loud. To yourself, to your cat, to your plants…I don’t care. You’ll catch a lot of mistakes and awkwardness that you would have missed.
9. Tell a story.
People love stories. In fact, they love stories so much that a good story can cause the brain to release oxytocin. Why does this matter? Because oxytocin builds trust and helps people bond.
Take advantage of this when writing blog posts. Engage your readers’ emotions and you’ll begin developing a relationship with them. They’ll want to subscribe, follow you on Facebook, and keep up with your life.
But be sure to keep the story short(ish).Engage your readers' emotions and you'll begin developing a relationship with them. Click To Tweet
10. Don’t sound bossy.
This one is difficult. The whole point of a DIY tutorial is to tell people how to do something, right?
Well, yeah. But in a way that makes it sound like you’re helping them, not bossing them around. People don’t like being told what to do. If they feel like you’re being too bossy, spite will take over and they’ll leave.
I’m naturally caustic, though, so I have a lot of trouble with this. If anyone knows how to strike that perfect balance, let me know. -_-
The rules of writing change from medium to medium. They’re even different within the same medium, depending on what style you’re following.
Readers are being pulled in so many different directions. Which leads to them not reading are carefully as they could. It happens to the best of us. This is why it’s important to make your writing as easy to read as you can. That way, they still walk away with the right message.
And remember: it’s OK to break ANY rule if doing so makes your writing more interesting.
So you don’t have to scroll back up, here are the resources I linked to:
- Hemingway App
- Grammar posters from The Oatmeal
- 10-20 second rule
- NIH study on oxytocin
Are there any writing tips you’d give people? What is a good way to make sure you stay and read someone’s blog? Let me know in the comments!