Learning to write well is not a quick and easy process. It takes time and experience to know which writing tactics to keep in your toolbox and which ones to avoid.
The following common mistakes are ones most writers make when starting out, but whether you’re a new or seasoned writer you’re better off avoiding these writing tactics.
1. Skimping on quality.
Does anyone care whether that should be a comma or a semicolon? Does it really matter whether or not you use the correct term? Will anyone actually notice if you use recycled material?
Yes, yes, and yes.
How to do it right: The little things add up to form the quality level of your writing as much as the topics you write about. Don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of “getting it out there.” High quality writing is trustworthy writing, and it’s the only way for a writer to land more jobs.
2. Focusing on fluff.
If you’ve seen a generic blog post once, you’ve seen it all over the internet. If you can find it through a Google search then you don’t need to write it (unless it was boring or poorly done the first time around). It can be tempting, especially if you are out of great ideas, but this is one writing tactic you need to avoid at all costs.
How to do it right: Find a new angle to a tried-and-true topic, or delve further into something that most general blog posts only touch on. Fresh content should be your mantra. Google loves it, and Moz explains how to take advantage of that fact.
3. Stating the obvious.
It’s great to anticipate questions and answer them up front…within reason. However, avoid explaining what your reader already knows or, even worse, mentioning something negative that you don’t want your readers to dwell on.
How to do it right: Focus on the positive, ask unique questions with “yes” answers, and take your cues from the questions you hear repeatedly. Present general information in a novel way and give answers that lend the reader a new perspective.
4. Forgetting your audience.
Some writers try to force their preferred style on every audience, either hoping for acceptance or banking on shock value. It’s one of the worst writing tactics around. Using the wrong tone and language for your audience will hurt your reputation and cause your content to fall flat.
How to do it right: When writing for a particular audience, your tone, wording, voice, etc. should match their expectations. Learn the lingo, watch your style, and—when in doubt—choose the more formal path. Not sure who your audience is? Coschedule wrote a great blog post on how to find it.
5. Skipping the call to action.
What’s the next step your readers should take? Should they buy a product or download a tutorial? Should they connect with you online or share your content? Avoid leading your readers down a path with no destination; it’s lazy writing and you’ll likely lose your reader.
How to do it right: Tell them clearly what to do and how to do it. It’s that simple.
6. Selling features, not benefits.
Frankly, your audience doesn’t care about what you do or how you do it. If you’re a copywriter, potential clients don’t really give a hoot if you studied business writing in college or write on a Macbook atop a shiny metal desk. Don’t sell features, whether yours, your company’s or your product’s. Why? Because features don’t sell anything without benefits.
How to do it right: What your readers need to know is how you will solve their problem and make life better. Wrap your story around solutions that benefit your readers, always. Always. Why? Because you’ll leave them feeling warm and fuzzy, and emotion is what sells everything, everywhere, all the time. Copyblogger has more info on benefits and features.
7. Stuffing those keywords.
Keyword stuffing (using multiple keywords many times throughout an article) isn’t just painful and obvious, it’s also a telltale sign of low quality writing. If that isn’t bad enough, Google often flags and penalizes keyword-stuffed articles, which means your work can stop showing up in search results altogether.
How to do it right: If you’re knowledgeable about your topic, keywords will fit naturally. If not, you can always go back and sprinkle a few cleverly placed keywords here and there. I wrote a keyword naturally into this article a handful of times. Did you notice?
Some of these writing tactics are lazy shortcuts, and some are simply the result of misinformation. Is there anything you’d add to this list? Are there stumbling blocks you’ve overcome that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!