How to Improve Your Writing (Without Improving Your Writing)

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One secret of improving your writing actually has nothing to do with your actual writing.

I’m serious.

It has to do with how you format your thoughts and play with your words visually.

Before the word “format” throws you into a tizzy because it sounds so dang boring, let me share with you these formatting tricks that will improve your blog posts without changing a word of what you say.

Banish the long paragraphs

I can see how it happens. The words are shooting out of your fingers like lightning. You’re in full-on writing mode and can hardly type fast enough as thoughts of GENIUS flow from your mind to the computer screen. You finish up, hit publish and ta-da! New blog post!

Whoa! Back up, Speeds! Before you hit publish, go back through and break up your ginormous blog post into paragraphs.

Already done that? Preview your post and see how long each paragraph looks on your blog. Break up the long ones into smaller paragraphs.

It’s not just about the looks. Keeping paragraphs relatively short gives readers’ minds a quick break, letting them soak up your words more easily. Long paragraphs are exhausting to follow, even if your tale is riveting. Which leads me to my next tip…

Use paragraph breaks to convey emotion

Paragraphs can be a powerful way to add emotion to your words without even changing your writing. Around Christmas, Big Roo nearly lost his beloved pink bear Burt at Toys R Us. Let me show you what I wrote first without the paragraph breaks and then with them.

ONE BIG OLE PARAGRAPH

We rushed out into the cold drizzle, strapped Big Roo in the carseat and shuffled into the car to warm up and get home. It was starting to get dark, we were getting hungry and – oh yeah – Big Roo is sitting in wet pants. We hop on the highway and sit painfully through stops, starts and red brake lights a plenty. About 15 minutes later, Big Roo proclaims “I want Burt.” My heart sank. My stomach dropped.

BREAKING UP PARAGRAPHS

We rushed out into the cold drizzle, strapped Big Roo in the carseat and shuffled into the car to warm up and get home. It was starting to get dark, we were getting hungry and – oh yeah – Big Roo is sitting in wet pants. We hop on the highway and sit painfully through stops, starts and red brake lights a plenty. About 15 minutes later, Big Roo proclaims “I want Burt.”

My heart sank.

My stomach dropped.

Did the emotion of that moment intensify when I split up those last sentences into separate paragraphs? Did it pull your eyes down to keep reading more?

Try it next time you’re writing (or reading over) a blog post. Where can you break paragraphs not only to rest your readers’ eyes but to emphasize the emotion of those words?

Create sub-headings for longer posts

A perfect example is what I’m doing now. This post is broken down into “chunks” by using sub-heads for separate ideas. Again, it gives readers a mental break. Sub-headings also help readers understand the main points of your post. Easy enough, right?

One more thing about sub-headings: If you’re trying to optimize your post for a search engine, make sure you select headers (what I used here) as opposed to just bolding the sub-heads. You should be able to do this in your blogging platform (for example, in WordPress, click “paragraph” and you’ll see the header options in the drop down).

Header tags communicate to the search engines what the post is about, which helps with search engine optimization (SEO). Your blog post title is usually header 1 (h1) and it goes down from there (h2, h3, etc.). Search engines consider the words in h1 as the most important, h2 as the second most and so on.

Play with words

This is my favorite-and-I-mean-FAVORITE tip but it takes ninja skills. Just kidding, YOU (the probably non-ninja) can do this and instantly add some flair to your posts!

Add dashes to string a thought together: I just did this above actually. It’s silly, it’s fun and it livens things up a bit. Here’s another example:

My little guy looked at me in a you-want-me-to-eat-that-but-I’m-not-gonna kinda way.

Run words together: I think I’ll dub this the “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” method. Well, except that word is nonsense and I’m talking about using real words. Running words together is another fun trick. Here’s a before and after example:

(angry) What did she just say to me?

(much angrier) WHATDIDSHEJUSTSAYTOME?

Sure it may be a little hard to read, but you can use dashes if you’re worried. Running words together (in moderation, just like chocolate) SMACKS you with emotion by adding some zing to your words.

Incomplete sentences: Forget what you learned in school about sentences having a subject and a verb. Trust me, I’m the self-proclaimed grammar police and if I can say this, anyone can.

  • Start a sentence with “and” or “but” – We walked into the store after 20 minutes of looking for a parking spot. And you’d never guess who was working there.
  • Make a one-word sentence  - We watched the fireflies circle around the yard. Amazing.
  • Use a period after each word in a short sentence (I’ll be honest. My grammar police roots won’t let me do this often but funny enough I don’t mind as much when others do it.)- I bought this new hair straightener yesterday. It. Actually. Works.

A couple of notes on what NOT to do

Be careful with using too many fonts, too many colors or too many bold words. Instead of guiding someone through your post, those formatting tricks slow readers down because it’s just too chaotic. I can elaborate in another post but for now, just don’t get all wacky. We don’t want people leaving our blog all frazzled now do we?

How about you? Any creative ways that you format your posts to guide readers through or liven up your words?


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Comments

  1. says

    Visiting from #31DBBB. Awesome post! I love the Momcomm idea – I will definitely be back. Some of the writer-help blogs make things so technical and boring the it’s easy to get bored and move on. You offered simple steps in a fun way. Great job!

    • melissa says

      I REALLY appreciate the feedback! I really love taking confusing or boring topics and breathing some life into them (I work for a software company and have to do “CPR” on our stuff all the time). Glad you liked it!

  2. says

    Great ideas, and I really agree that you have to let some things about your writing change when you are blogging! Sentence structure, one word sentences, etc…really get the point across and I enjoy reading those posts more! I hate to admit it, but I just came from a post that I didn’t finish reading because it was one.long.paragraph!! Really long.
    Sherri recently posted..One One Fun

    • melissa says

      That’s what sparked this idea… couple of posts I stumbled upon that I had a hard time following because of that very reason.

  3. says

    I have been using paragraph breaks. I really like the way you’ve taken individual sentences and used space. It gives pause and importance. Thanks for the great tips!
    Kim recently posted..Link Love

  4. says

    These were helpful tips. I sometimes change the words size for extra emphasis. Just one or two words. I could see the impact in changing the paragraphs when you broke up the “big ole” paragraph. Looking forward to more tips!

  5. says

    I LOVED this post and I think I’m going to LOVE the entire series. I’m so excited to read more. :) As you can see, I like to either bold or capitalize (if I can’t bold) to emphasize certain words. I actually TALK like that, so it works out great in my head.

    • melissa says

      I’m definitely planning guest posters once I get this more off the ground! Oh and I love you putting the tips to work already. ROCKITBABE!

  6. says

    I love love LOVE this whole post, but especially the part about incomplete sentences. I’m an English major in college and am a total stickler when it comes to grammar. But this is the blogosphere and we’re being creative. So screw it! I love starting sentences with but, and, or, so. etc.
    Elly @ The OCD Chronicles recently posted..Tired

    • melissa says

      I started as an English major in college but ended up switching… I am fervently part of the grammar police forever though!
      Yeah, I think there’s writing-a-research-paper writing and entertaining-people-through-my-blog writing. I’m big on starting sentences with conjunctions.

  7. says

    Visiting from 31DBBB- love the tip about using sub-headers. I’ll need to check out this option in Blogger- maybe you can “solve my problem” in a post! LOL!

  8. says

    Great post, great tips! I’m an English major, former journalist and professional writer. And you know what? I love breaking some of the grammar rules you mention above. Exhibit A: two sentences ago. I love starting sentences with And, But and So. It works for me.

    And amen to the limiting of colors and fonts. If I open a post and can’t figure out where I’m supposed to look, I’m out.

    Can’t wait for next Monday! :)

    • melissa says

      Exactly! I think it’s easy to get SO ingrained in what our teachers told us YEARS ago. Things have changed and writing creatively means breaking the rules (in a good way).

  9. says

    Melissa, this is hands down the best writing advice for blogging I have ever read. Kudos to you & hurray for me. I learned tons of new tricks (had no idea about H2 instead of bolding) and found out I was making a few mistakes (I like make all my sub headings different colors). Anyway, I’m looking forward to more from you & wanted to let you know you are a marketing God. You wrote a post about Ghirardelli brownies not to long ago and it worked, I just had to scoop some up at the store this week. The kids & I both want to say Thanks!!
    Stacy of KSW recently posted..First Grade Fever

    • melissa says

      Okay, now I’m blushing!

      I’d say subheads in different colors works for your blog though because it’s colorful but not overwhelming! I’m talking about a paragraph with like five words bolded and in different colors (or God forbid, a word with a different color for every letter).

      Now you’ve got me craving the brownies again– still have three batches left from the Costco box!

  10. says

    I have a writing blog and tend to keep my posts shorter than I want. I really enjoyed this post. It has me thinking.

  11. says

    Fantastic post! You touched on so many great points Melissa. I get bored and easily distracted by long-winded paragraphs. Breaking it up definitely keeps me interested. And sub-headings give me a little idea as to what the particular blog post touches on. And as for those annoying multi-font, multi-colored posts? I just read one today and it literally took me ten minutes to get through because I kept re-reading every sentence that had a different font or color. It was extremely distracting!
    Thanks so much for stopping by Melissa. Sorry about the rambling, long-winded comment. Guess I should take some of your advice, huh? lol Have a great day.

    Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud
    @TweetingMama
    Kristi {at} Live and Love…Out Loud recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Mystery Photo 2

    • melissa says

      Exactly! It gets distracting when posts get cluttered like that. Your comment wasn’t long-winded at all– definitely better than a “great post!” comment. Ha!

  12. says

    These are awesome tips, Melissa! As a non-english native blogger I’ve been learning to incorporate these tips and I just love the play with your words part.
    supercalifragilisticexpialidocious will make my tongue twisted in all kinds of directions hahaha
    Maureen recently posted..How I Deal With Homesickness

    • melissa says

      The Versatile Blogger award- thanks so much for thinking of me! I really have to try the vanilla vodka/ ginger ale thing– sounds AWESOME!

  13. says

    I think a lot of this falls under “Write conversationally, not formally”. I think if more people wrote the way they talk (not with all the umms and everything, but more casually and with less stress about correctness), lots of things would be easier to read.
    Serene recently posted..Roast Beef aka Mom’s always right

  14. says

    This was so awesome! I knew about paragraphs, but some of the other stuff, like just making a paragraph out of one statement.
    That was cool!
    Also did not know about the headers, will def check into that on my next post, or may go back and change some!
    Thanks again!
    Ramblings of a Woman recently posted..Time out for grownups

  15. says

    Saying hi from SITS! As a 20 year marketing communications veteran, a SAHM, and now a blogger, I love your ideas. I’ve edited so much work over the years for both grammatical content and visual style and you really can’t separate the two. And in our multi-media-ADD-sound-byte world we now live in, we really need to adapt our blog writing to fit in. Thanks for some great ideas!

  16. says

    I. AGREE.
    I think word formatting is what makes a lot of posts fun. A lot of people (including myself) don’t take advantage of this oportunity enough!
    And- P.S. I’m having a giveaway for an author-signed-copy of a children’s book this week. Let me know if your interested.
    -CK

  17. says

    LOVE this!! Great ideas, especially for a newby blogger like myself. I am astonished that I have permission from Melissa to start the sentence with AND or BUT. I’m going to take full advantage on that tip! And I’m not kidding.
    Holla, Lindsey

    • melissa says

      Yay! Thanks for the sweet words and glad you’re liking Momcomm Monday! It really means a lot!

  18. says

    Awesome post. I really have to work on the tone of my blog because I’m a student too. Completely different styles of writing. I try to make my blog read like I speak, and breaking up the paragraphs helps to mimic my speech patterns. It’s one my favorite pointers for new bloggers.
    Judy Schwartz Haley | CoffeeJitters.Net recently posted..Wedding Photos

  19. says

    That is a great article. You had some excellent points. My journalism background sometimes makes the grammatics of blogging a bit foreign, but quite honestly I am embracing it. I have always preferred a loser writing style to a more formal. I also like to make up words, which you can do in blogging.

    Just dropped in from SITS – 31DBBB
    Amy W. recently posted..What About Yours …

  20. says

    Amazing. I was immediately reminded of Gertrude Stein whose sentence I have had on my LJ account profile for years but had somehow forgotten about in my own writing:

    “Paragraphs are emotional and sentences are not. Paragraphs are emotional not because they express an emotion but because they register or limit an emotion. … the emotional paragraphs are made up of unemotional sentences.” (Gertrude Stein 1934)

    Brilliant stuff.
    Picturetalk321 recently posted..King’s College glows at night

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