Part I: Writing Rules: How to Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less

1: Everybody Writes

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot," Stephen King

2: Writing is a Habit, Not an Art

Gretchen Rubin writes, "Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life."

Set aside time each day when you're freshest.

Don't write a lot. Just write often.

3: Shed High School Rules

There is no one way to write--just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey.

4: Regard Publishing as a Priviledge

That means clarity, brevity, and utility.

5: Place the Most Important Words (and Ideas) at the Beginning of Each Sentence

Here are som phrases to avoid at the start of a sentence:

According to . . .
There is a . . .
It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on] . . .
In my opinion . . .
The purpose of this [email, post, article] is . . .
In 2014 [or any year] . . .
I think [believe] that . . .

6: Follow a Writing GPS


  1. Goal.
  2. Reframe: put your reader into it. . . .
    • So what?
    • So what?
  3. Seek out the data and examples.
  4. Organize.
  5. Write to one person. using you, as opposed to using people or they).
  6. Produce The Ugly First Draft.
  7. Walk away.
  8. Rewrite.
  9. Give it a great headline or title.
  10. Have someone edit.
  11. On final look for readability. Does your piece look inviting, alluring, easy to scan? With short paragraphs and bold sub-heads? Are your lists numbered are bulleted?
  12. Publish, but not without answering one more reader question: what now?
    • Check out other sources?
    • Sign up to hear more?
    • Register for an event or a free trial?
    • Buy something?

7: The More Think, the Easier the Ink

Think before ink...
Why am I creating this? What's my objective?
What is my key take on the subject or issue? What's my point of view? what?

8: Organize. Relax, You've Got This

Organizing a Blog Post or Article

  1. Quiz. Test Your Privacy IQ
  2. Skeptic. You Don't Control Your Privacy Anymore
  3. Explainer. The Online Privacy Debate in Plain English
  4. Case study. How One Person Got Control Over Privacy.
  5. Contrarian. Why Online Privacy Concerns Are Overblown
  6. How-to. Five Steps to Improving Online Privacy 6.5 Quick How-to. Three Stupid Simple Things You Can Do to Keep Your Profile Private
  7. How NOT to. Five Ways to Compromise Your Online Privacy
  8. First person. My Personal Privacy Honor Story
  9. Comparison. How Privacy Protection Services Measure Up
  10. Q&A. Five Common Questions About Online Privacy with Edward Snowden
  11. Data. Are Privacy Problems Worsening? Yes, Says Survey
  12. Man on the street. Experts Offer Opinions on the State of Online Privacy
  13. Outrageous. Why Online Privacy is an Oxymoron 13.5 Buzz-feed-style outrageous (not advised, but good for a laugh!). This Woman Insists Online Privacy is a Joke, and You Won't Believe What Happened Next
  14. Insider secrets. The One Thing You Need to Know About Your Online Privacy
  15. Literary treatment. Online privacy haiku, epic narrative poem, comic book treatment, or whatever else you imagination can muster!

Source: Paul Gallin, "Creat Stuff They've Just Gotta Read: How to Write for #SocialNetworks," presentations at MarketingProfs Digital Marketing World, December 13, 2013,

9: Embrace The Ugly First Draft

  1. Barf up TUFD.
  2. Walk away.
  3. Rewrite

10: Swap Places with Your Reader

Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately focus on the reader.

What experience is this creating for the reader?
What questions might they have?
Am I making them work too hard to figure out what I am trying to say?

11: Humor Comes on the Rewrite

Humor comes on the rewrite. So do the best analogies, the clearest construction, the best writing--period.

12: Develop Pathological Empathy

  1. Spend time with your customers or prospects. "Look for patterns"
  2. Understand their habitat.
  3. Be a natural skeptic. A powerful question is, Why? Why do you do things that way? Why do you feel that way?
  4. Ask why they do it. Never assume you know the answer to why your readers or the people who use your products do what they do . . .
  5. Share story, not just stats.
  6. Use a customer-centric POV. Replace I or we with you.... Then write (or rewrite) accordingly.

13: 'Cross Out the Wrong Words'

"Writing is easy," said Mark Twain. "All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."

  1. Developmental editing, which I call editing by chainsaw.
  2. Line editing, which I call editing by surgical tools.

Editing by chainsaw.

State your key idea as clearly as you can near the start.
Slash anything that feels extraneous--
Make every paragraph earn its keep.
Mel every sentence earn its keep.
Move things around.
Think of the sentences in a paragraph as a conversation between an elderly, companionable couple. They don't talk over each other; they expand or elucidated waht the other before them said.

Editing within surgical tools.

Trim the blood and fat.
Shed the obvious.
Lose Frankenwords, word additives, clichés,and worlds pretending to be something theyr'e not.
Trim word bloat. Sub in single words for phrases
Ditch adverbs unless they are necessary to adjust the meaning
Ditch weakling verbs
Create transitions between paragraphs.
Draw natural connections between paragraphs. ...pick up an idea from the previous paragraph and connect it do an idea in the next paragraph.

Fixing the grammar is copyediting (also important), but it's more important to get the writing right first.

14: Start with Dear Mom . . .

15: If You Take a Running Start, Cover Your Tracks

Can you trim the start, or lop it off completely? Does that help the reading get into the heart of things more quickly?

16: Notice Where Words Appear in Relation to Others Around Them

17: 'A Good Lede Invites You to the Party and a Good Kicker Makes You Wish You Could Stay Longer'

Put your reader into the story. . . . You might share an anecdote about someone grappling with a problem your piece solves, or set up a scenario your reader will recognize.
Describe a problem your reader can relate to.
Set a stage.
Ask a question.
Quote a crazy or controversial bit of data.
Tell a story or relay a personal anecdote.
Other ideas. . . . Start with a quote. Use an analogy. Make a bold statement.

I'd put closings, or kickers, as a close second in importance to the lead. Finish strong, with a call to action (if appropriate) and a sense of completion, rather than merely trailing off as if you ran out of steam.

Recast the biggest takeaway of the piece.
Add an element of tonal surprise. "Turn the story around," suggests Matthew Stribe. "If you've been formal, go relaxed. If you're relaxed, become formal."
Let others have the last word. ...consider ending with a direct quote...

18: Show, Don't Tell

"Don't tell me the moon is shining," wrote Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov. "Show me the gling of moon on the broken glass."

Show, don't tell is a Content Rules rule, and it's also moonlighting here as a writing rule.

"Ask yourself, 'What the hell does my product save people from? And what heaven does it deliver them unto?'" Aaron explains.

Details are what make your words come alive.

Ban Frankenspeak. ... corporate lingo, buzzwords and talking points.
Align story and strategy. Tell a specific, simple story really well, aligned with a bigger idea and broader strategy.

19: Use Familiar Yet Surprising Analogies

An analogy is a comparison that frames the unknown with the known.

20: Appropach Writing Like Teaching

Be as specific as possible:

Don't say solution--tell me what your product does.
Don't say a lot--tell me how many

Keep it simple--but not simplistic (see Rule 21).

21: Keep It Simples--but Not Simplistic

Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.
--Woody Guthrie

Finding the best fit for your message. Do we need more or fewer words? Would a chart of graphic or visual convey and idea more simply? Would a video convey what we are trading to say more directly?

Designing with your words, rather than fitting words into a design.

  1. White space is a prerequisite, not a luxury.
  2. Make your words the hero of your design, rather than adding them to a design...

For a marketing, design and content aren't separate processes...

22: Find a Writing Buddy


23: Avoid Writing by Committee

Get sign-off on the bones of the outline, then start writing.
Set clear expectations for how many rounds are acceptable in the approval process.
Seek an OK, not opinions.

24: Hire a Great Editor

There are three major types of editors:

  1. Copyeditors/proofreaders, who check facts and wield a push broom to clear up messy style issues, punctuation, typos, misspellin, and so on.
  2. Substantive editors, . . . offer suggestions on how parts of it might be improvised or which parts need to be expanded or condensed. . . . feedback on . . . the overall development of the piece.
  3. Line editors, . . . correct grammar, word choice, and paragraph and sentence flow--while doing a good deal of rewriting as well, without overwhelming a writer's voice.

25: Be Rabid About Readability

In general, the best Web writing isnt' necessarily short, but it is simple, with . . .

Shorter paragraphs with no more than three sentences or size lines (and just one is fine).
Shooter sentences with no more than 25 words in a sentence.
Straightforward words--in other words, avoid clichés, jargon, and buzzwords...

So . . .

Use bulleted or numbers lists
Highlight key points (like this one), either in bold or italic, or as a pull quote.
Use subheadings to break up text.
Add visual elements, such as graphics, photos, slide shows, and so on.
Ude lots of white space to give your text room to breathe.

Microsoft Office products include a readability scoring tool based on the Flesch-Kincaid formula.

Here are some other quick and easy options for checking readability:

26: End on an I-Can't-Wait-to-Get-Back-to-It Note

Doing so gives me a place to start

27: Set a Goad Based on Word Count (Not Time)

You can't improve what you don't measure

(750 words totals about three pages of test, and in writing circles it seems a kind of magic number traced back to Julia Cameron's notion of morning pages from her book The Artist's Way.)

28: Deadliens are the WD-40 of Writing

So give yourself a hard deadline. And then strictly adhere to it.

Part II: Writing Rules: Grammar and Usage

29: Use Real Words

...avoiding the temptation of buzzwords.

30: Avoid Frankenwords, Obese Words, and Words Pretending to Be Someting They're Not

Avoid Frankenwords

For example, . . . words with a shortened form of Armageddon or Apocalypse as a suffix

And words like these:

Listicle, charitable, farticle (list-article, chart-article, fake-article)

Cf. Ultragroovacious

Also avoid words that have additives (many of them have -Ike or -ism or -fistic fused to the end of them).

Finally, . . . words pretending to be something they're not, particularly nouns masquerading as verbs or gerunds (workshopping, journaling, leverage, incentivize, bucket I even), and also verbs or gerunds masquerading as nouns (learnings).

31: Don't Use Weblish (Words You Woudn't Whisper to Your Sweetheart in the Dark)

Weblish words sprouted from technology, and they have no business being applied to people.

32: Know the Difference between Active and Passive Voice

Active sounds zippier and more alive. Passive tends to sound a little stilted and awkward...

33: Ditch Weakling Verbs

Use expressive verbs when you can

34: Ditch Adverbs, Except When They Adjust the Meaning

35: Use Clichés Only Once in a Blue Moon

"Avoid clichés . . . like the plague," advises Toastmasters

Open the kimono
Move the needle
A ready, fire, aim approach
Take a 30,000-foot view
Open-door policy
At the end of the day
All things being equal
Drink from the fire hose
Peel back the onion
Where the rubber meets the road

So when exactly is that blue moon when it's acceptable...?

When you use them sparingly
When they explain something concisely and act as a kind of universal shorthand

36: Avoid These Mistake Marketers Make

  1. Ways by which = Ways
  2. Continues to be = Remains
  3. In order to = To (especially at the beginning of a sentence)
  4. There (are) will be times when = Sometimes, At times
  5. Despite the fact that = Although, Though
  6. At which time = When
  7. In spite of = Despite
  8. When in [sic] comes to - In, When
  9. The majority of = Most
  10. A number of = Some, Few, Several, Various) or eliminate entirely)
  11. When asked = Asked
  12. Leverage (as a verb) = Use (or Put to Use), Harness, Apply
  13. The same level of = As much
  14. While (if not being used to mean during or at the same time as) = Although or Though, Whereas
  15. Moving forward = Later, In the future, From now on, Hereafter
  16. Centered around = Centered on
  17. Try and [verb] = Try to [verb]

Other common errors

  • Use should have, not should of
  • Keep your verb tense consistent
  • I versus me. If you eliminate the other persons' name, does the sentence still make sense?
  • However and independent clauses.'ll need to use a semicolon--not a comma--before however
  • Not only [x] . . . but also [y]. Not only-but also are correlative conjunctions (conjunctions that are used in pairs).
  • [Company, product, other entitity] saw . . . and so on. Can a product or company really see anything?
  • In terms of. . . . chances are you're not thinking clearly.
  • This/taht and these/those. Unless the antecedent is absolutely clear, don't use . . . especially at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Hyphens after adverbs ending in ly. If . . . you're building a compound modified, don't use a hyphen after the adverb.

37: Break Some Grammar Rules (At Least These Five)