How to Improve Your Writing (Without Improving Your Writing)

by melissa on August 2, 2010 · 83 comments

Momcomm Monday has moved to its own blog, Momcomm. Stop by and join the newsletter list to get a free mini-ebook of the plugins, ebooks, tools and other schtuff that I use to run my blog. 

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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{ 73 comments }

1 Rachel August 2, 2010 at 5:52 am

Great tips. And important tips. :)

2 Audra August 2, 2010 at 7:05 am

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!

3 melissa August 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm

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!

4 Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) August 2, 2010 at 7:13 am

These are great tips, thank you! I especially like the paragraph breaks and using them to emphasize emotion.
Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) recently posted..Potty Training TipsKeeping It Low Key

5 Sandi August 2, 2010 at 7:17 am

Great tips and a great way to start the week!
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6 Sherri August 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

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

7 melissa August 4, 2010 at 7:15 pm

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

8 Kim August 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

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

9 Suzanne @ pretty*swell August 2, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Go Mel! Great post. And congratulations on launching “mom comm” — love it!!!
Suzanne @ pretty*swell recently posted..When poo is a four-letter word

10 suzanne @ pretty*swell August 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Just figured out google friend connect (duh!) and am now proudly following adventuroo. :)
suzanne @ pretty*swell recently posted..When poo is a four-letter word

11 Sarafree August 2, 2010 at 2:13 pm

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!

12 melissa August 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm

That’s a great one too… makes it really stand out!

13 Heligirl August 2, 2010 at 3:25 pm

You are a Momcomm GOD. I. Mean. It.

SeewhatIdidthere?

Seriously, nice post and very user friendly for all kinds of readers. Loving Adventuroo!
Heligirl recently posted..3 Sibling Rivalry Pitfalls to Avoid

14 melissa August 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm

A+!!

15 Jamie August 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

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.

16 melissa August 4, 2010 at 8:05 pm

haha. I actually talk like that too!

17 Melissa August 2, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Great tips! It can be easy to forget about the paragraph breaks sometimes :)
Melissa recently posted..1 off Scott Extra Soft Bath Tissue Printable Coupon

18 Brittany at Mommy Words August 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Great start to the MommComm Mondays! Are you ever going to use guest posters? – just LET.ME.KNOW causeI’dtotallydigthatbabe!
Brittany at Mommy Words recently posted..Motherhood is My Project- The Project Mom Casting Call

19 melissa August 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

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!

20 Elly @ The OCD Chronicles August 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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

21 melissa August 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm

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.

22 Jeff Thomason August 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Good tips.

23 Tina @ Life Without Pink August 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm

LOVE this idea, girl you are genius!

24 Amy August 2, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Love these tips. Great post and now I’m curious about what else you post about, so I’m going to go look around some more.
Amy recently posted..Having the faith to sacrifice

25 eileen ludwig August 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm

http://socialmedia.eileenteaches.com/blog/31dbbb-day-15-find-a-blog-buddy/

This was terrific. Nice to see you mention how within a blog context one can break some rules.

Love understanding how to do it better

eileen
eileen ludwig recently posted..31dbbb Day 15- Find a Blog Buddy

26 Nicola August 3, 2010 at 4:45 am

Love this! I’m a big fan of the incomplete sentence so am relieved that the grammar police have now officially sanctioned it.
Nicola recently posted..Keep Showing Up

27 Lynda August 3, 2010 at 6:29 am

This post is perfect. Everyone starting a new blog needs to read this!
Lynda recently posted..Friday Finds- Purple

28 Bekah August 3, 2010 at 6:56 am

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!

29 Life with Kaishon August 3, 2010 at 7:14 am

Absolutely brilliant advice : )

30 Melisa August 3, 2010 at 7:30 am

Great start and awesome tips! Now if I can just remember to do this…

31 Rachael August 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

This is a GREAT post! Nice job :-)

32 Hannah August 3, 2010 at 11:06 am

This was a great post! I am guilty of the one long paragraph. I like the breaks, I am going to work on that! Hope your having a great week!
Hannah recently posted..Five Question Friday!

33 Missy August 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

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! :)

34 melissa August 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

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).

35 Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation August 3, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Excellent tips girly!! Also I love your new fancy social media icons at the top!!
Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation recently posted..Gisele Bundchen can kiss my ASS

36 MonicaFernaays August 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm

This is great…simply put…THANKYOU!! I will try my hardest to keep these fab tips in mind when I am posting!!

Blessings, Monica

37 Stacy of KSW August 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm

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

38 melissa August 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm

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!

39 Tomica August 3, 2010 at 9:10 pm

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

40 Kristi {at} Live and Love...Out Loud August 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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

41 melissa August 5, 2010 at 6:48 pm

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!

42 Maureen August 4, 2010 at 2:27 am

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

43 Barb August 4, 2010 at 6:22 am

Hi! Check out this link. I gave you an award!
http://secondchancemoon.blogspot.com/p/awards.html

44 melissa August 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm

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

45 Hilary Mercer August 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Awesome tips. Def. something to think about. Thanks!
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46 Hanan August 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Great post!! Thanks for the great tips!
Hanan recently posted..Baby Diner Review &amp Giveaway!

47 Laura August 5, 2010 at 12:43 am

Hi, so happy to have found your blog through #31DBBB. What a fantastic post. I’m new to blogging and the tips you have provided will definitely help me to improve my writing. Thank you.

Love the look of your site, I have just subscribed!
Laura recently posted..The Beginners Guide to Project Feel Good

48 Erin August 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

So true! Good job writing this…and practicing what you preach!
Erin recently posted..Random thoughts from 34 weeksland

49 Carrie August 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Whew. I do all these things, but was afraid I would get caught by the grammar police for doing so. Glad to know it’s okay to bend the rules!
Carrie recently posted..Do Not Adjust Your Screens

50 Cindy (Prime Beauty) August 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Awesome. Post. Really. I mean it! Great post, I use some of these techniques but not all. Thanks!
Cindy (Prime Beauty) recently posted..Smashbox Masquerade

51 Serene August 5, 2010 at 10:09 pm

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

52 Ramblings of a Woman August 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

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

53 Andrea August 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Just stopped by from SITS. This is a great post! Thanks for the tips.
Andrea recently posted..Recipe Link- Sour Cream &amp Jam Muffins

54 OMG! Yummy August 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

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!

55 CK August 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

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

56 The Ranting Mom August 8, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I am absolutely terrible for large paragraphs, thank you so much, it seems I have some work to do :D.

57 Lindsey Holder August 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

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

58 Mrs. O August 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I connected to this post from the #31DBBB group!

Thanks for all the great suggestions! When I think of my favorite blogs I notice they use those same technicques. Thanks for blogging!

Mrs. O
http://itsmylifeandmyjourney.blogspot.com
Mrs. O recently posted..Welcome Home!

59 Carrie August 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm

the one thing i would as is lists! either bullet points or numbered lists are a wonderful thing and will really help readers get your point
Carrie recently posted..How to Use Tweetdeck to Keep from Being Overwhelmed by Twitter

60 Dawn August 13, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Great post! Very helpful info, thank you:)

61 Lindsay @ Just My Blog August 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

How have I never found your blog before? Eh? I’m so in love right now with all of your great tips and tricks.
Lindsay @ Just My Blog recently posted..Our Children- Part 3- Pregnant with Dumpling

62 melissa August 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

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

63 Mad Woman behind the Blog August 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think I love you.

That is all.

Okay, that isn’t all. I’m pouring over your Momcomms and frantically taking notes.
Now if only I could seduce someone to makeover the look of my blog and then imbed the skills in my brain.
Mad Woman behind the Blog recently posted..Blogger Santa assignment- and I get naked

64 Mrs.Mayhem September 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Thanks! these were all great tips and I appreciate the examples!

65 Judy Schwartz Haley | CoffeeJitters.Net September 22, 2010 at 2:13 am

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.
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66 Dalia September 25, 2010 at 9:28 am

Great tips and btw I love the look of your blog! Just found you through Gigi’s SU group.

67 Sandra October 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Great tips! I’ll be sure to follow them!
Sandra recently posted..Im a big- fat- stupid head

68 Michael Senchuk December 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The one I like to convey emotion which I didn’t see mentioned is an old Simpsons trick, add a period after every word. Best. Blog. Post. Ever.

69 Harleena Singh January 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Thanks for putting up these great tips.

70 Carol February 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Thank you for such great tips. I usually try to keep my blog posts within a certain size and not to long. I particularly like the idea of breaking up paragraphs even more.
Carol recently posted..Live Chat With Annie Burnside- MED Author Of Soul To Soul Parenting 2-10-2011

71 Amy W. February 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

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 …

72 Jason April 18, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Thank you so much for this.
http://www.blairlockout.com

73 Picturetalk321 November 18, 2012 at 4:49 am

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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