9 Writing Tips to Master During the COVID-19 Shutdown

If your company cannot carry out business as usual during the COVID-19 crisis, you’re likely watching every penny spent. Marketing is one of the areas where you—like many other business owners—may have cut back. For selfish reasons, I wish that weren’t so. Moreover, I fear that pulling back too much on your marketing efforts will hurt your business. Michelle Garrett of Garrett Public Relations reminds us, “This WILL be over – and when it is, you’ll want to be top of mind when things start to recover and the economy rebounds. We can’t lose sight of that.”

But I get that money is an issue. I, too, have been feeling the financial sting of coronavirus as several clients have decided to scale down my workload temporarily.

Rachel Strella (owner of #Strella Social Media), for whom I fine-tune blog content written by members of her team, is facing the same struggles as many other entrepreneurs. She asked me if I could provide writing tips to help her team members improve their content before sending it to me. I consider the idea a win-win-win.

  • Rachel will be able to keep costs in check because I won’t have to spend as much billable time revising content.
  • Her team members will hone their professional writing skills.
  • I will maintain a valued client relationship. Also, because her team will be writing more efficiently, I will potentially have more time available to take on other #Strella assignments in the future.

While preparing my coaching notes for each individual (based on the corrections and changes I repeatedly make when reviewing their content), I’ve discovered some common threads. If you or your team members are doing more of your own marketing these days, I hope the following writing tips will help you strengthen your content, too.

A 9-point Writing Tips Checklist for Fine-tuning Your Blog Content

1. Break down long sentences into multiple sentences when possible.

Long and run-on sentences make it difficult for readers to follow what you want to communicate.

As a general rule, if a sentence extends onto three lines in a Word document, it can usually be split into two or three separate sentences. Similarly, run-on sentences (even if they’re relatively short) that do not have adequate punctuation can become confusing.

Here are examples of each:

Long sentence:

My daughter, who is a senior in high school, doesn’t know whether her class will have a traditional graduation ceremony in June because of the coronavirus, and she also has no idea if she will be able to move into her dorm at college when the fall semester begins.

Solution:

My daughter, who is a senior in high school, doesn’t know whether her class will have a traditional graduation ceremony in June because of the coronavirus. Also, she has no idea if she will be able to move into her dorm when the fall semester begins at college.

Run-on sentence:

My dog has severe anxiety and she goes crazy when delivery workers come to our front door and ring the bell as they drop off packages.

Solution:

My dog has severe anxiety; she goes crazy when delivery workers come to our front door, ring the bell, and drop off packages.

2. Shorten long paragraphs.

If your content has any long paragraphs and big chunks of text, look for opportunities to split the content into shorter paragraphs. Readers will be more apt to stick with your posts if you present text in bite-sized portions that allow them to pause to absorb information before continuing to your next thought.

Also, recognize places where you can use bulleted or numbered lists to share information. Let’s say I want to describe the things I miss most during the stay-at-home coronavirus order. I could share them in a sentence using commas to separate each item…

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I miss visiting my parents, dining out on Thursday nights with my friend Jennifer, finding ample supplies of paper products on grocery store shelves, sneezing without people looking at me as though I have the plague, seeing my daughter enjoy time with her friends, shopping without wearing a mask, not living in fear.

However, a list would be much easier for readers to follow:

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I miss:

  • Visiting my parents
  • Dining out on Thursday nights with my friend Jennifer
  • Finding ample supplies of paper products on grocery store shelves
  • Sneezing without people looking at me as though I have the plague
  • Seeing my daughter enjoy time with her friends
  • Shopping without wearing a mask
  • Not living in fear

3. Add headings to break content into easy-to-follow sections.

Identify where your content covers different main points and add headings to differentiate them. Use an appropriate heading hierarchy (i.e., H2, H3, etc. to identify main points and distinguish them from the sub-points that relate to them).

Also, review your headings to assess if they will give the reader a sense of what they can expect to find in the content that follows. Readers skim and scan content online, so well-crafted headings can help keep their interest as they’re working their way through your posts.

Bonus: Appropriate use of headings is good for SEO, too.

4. Avoid lengthy titles.

Shorter headlines capture readers’ attention, and, generally, they are more SEO-friendly. Google will often truncate titles (cut off the words at the end) that expand beyond 60 characters.

For example, my working title for this post was “9 Online Writing Tips to Improve Your Business Blogging During COVID-19,” which clocked in at 71 characters. After some additional thought, I tightened it up to the present title of 53 characters. 

5. Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.

Usually, it’s better to get your point across in as few words as possible.

Words and phrases like the examples below often do not add anything purposeful to content. They’re fillers that add extra words without enhancing meaning. Strive to either omit them or replace them with more descriptive words.

  • really (“I’m really excited to go to the party.” vs. “I’m excited to go to the party.”)
  • so (“She was so angry about the way you handled that.” vs. “She was furious about the way you handled that.”)
  • personally (“Personally, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” vs. “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” – Note: by using “I,” readers already know that you, personally, understand.)
  • actually (“I actually have never gone to that restaurant.” vs. “I have never gone to that restaurant.” – Note: Readers will assume that you actually did or didn’t do something without adding “actually.”)
  • pretty (“I felt pretty tired after that six-mile walk into town.” vs. “I felt exhausted after that six-mile walk into town.”)
  • very (“She seemed very, very happy about the gift.” vs. “She seemed elated about the gift.”)
  • in my opinion (“In my opinion, we can all learn an important lesson from that book.” vs. “I believe we can all learn an important lesson from that book.”)
  • totally (“I was totally ready to begin the new project.” vs. “I was ready to begin the new project.”)

Use words like these occasionally to give your writing a conversational tone, but don’t overdo it.

6. Exercise caution when using quotation marks for emphasis.

Not only are quotation marks used to identify dialogue, but also many people use them to stress certain words and phrases. This can work well for emphasizing wording that reflects how others or the population at large refers to something.

For example:

We will finally find more toilet paper and paper towels on the grocery store shelves when the “covidiots” in town stop hoarding it.

However, improper use of quotation marks can give the impression that you mean the opposite of or don’t agree with something.

I worked with a client several years ago that used quotation marks excessively for emphasis in his content.

Here are two examples:

  • This product is formulated (in “convenient to use” bottles) to effectively remove excess organic and inorganic nutrients.
  • We have formulated three “state of the art” fertilizer formulas.

When revising his initial drafts, I explained that he could be hurting his brand by using quotation marks in that way.

7. Don’t assume your readers are up on all the current lingo.

You may know what you’re talking about, but your readers might not be familiar with every industry acronym or software reference that you make in your content. When you first use an acronym or potentially unfamiliar term in a blog post, spell it out, describe it, or link to a source with more information about it so that you don’t confuse or frustrate any audience members.

8. Read your draft out loud. 

This is an excellent habit to adopt for everything that you write. It allows you to assess if your content flows smoothly and logically for readers. Vocalizing and hearing what you wrote will also help you detect spelling and grammatical errors.

If parts of your post sound wordy or otherwise out of sorts when reading it aloud, make tweaks.

Bonus tip: Consider using the app Grammarly for proofing your content. There’s a free version that will help you, and I find the Premium subscription worth every penny.

9. Ask a professional for help.

Everything you publish affects your brand image. When you recognize that something isn’t working well but are unsure of how to improve it, consider asking a professional writer or editor to review and fine-tune your content. If you’ve paid attention to my first eight writing tips, your draft should be in relatively good order and won’t require too much time for a pro to polish it.

Need help putting the finishing touches on your content? I can help! Contact me to see some “before” and “after” samples. Or, if you want me to take a look at a piece of your content and give you some high-level pointers on how to improve it, email at dawn@dawnmentzer.com. I’ll be happy to schedule a complimentary 15-minute coaching session. 

Kick Your Blog Up a Notch with an Editor: But Consider These 4 Things First!

You know what your audience wants. You’ve got the expertise, the experience, and the pulse on what they expect to take away from your blog.

While all of that is absolutely critical for building a following and earning reader respect, there’s one other key component that businesses need in blogging…well-written posts!

A blog with poor writing style, regardless of the usefulness of the info within it, can destroy credibility and make you look unprofessional.

If your business resembles that remark, it doesn’t mean you or your employees aren’t extremely smart, savvy and skilled. It just means you aren’t writers. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just not your thing.

When you’re trying to convey your business’s strengths, features, benefits and value to readers, your blog needs to have the pizazz and polish of a professional writer. Although hiring a writer to create content for posts might not be financially feasible, hiring a writer/editor to spruce up your rough drafts could very well be within budget.

Thinking about kicking up your blog’s prowess up a notch? Here’s some food for thought as you consider using an editor:

  • Editors generally price their services according to a rate per word. And some bill by the hour or by the page. Through my research when setting my own editing price points, I found that editors’ rates vary widely depending on capabilities, experience, geographical location and other factors.
  • Editors might ask for a sample of your work before offering pricing. To provide a rate that’s fair to both you and to them, some editors will request to see a sample or two of your work so they can assess how much work will be involved. If your writing skills are relatively good, editors won’t need to spend as much time and effort on your posts as they would on drafts written by someone who has poor grammar, spelling and sentence structure. Often, editing rates will be specific to individual clients. Realize it really can’t be “one size fits all.”
  • If an editor offers different levels of editing, find out how they’re different. I suggest that you seek an editor who follows my M.O. I prefer to take a paragraph from a sample draft and, in turn, provide my prospective clients with samples of basic editing and more substantial editing so they can see the difference and make an informed decision about which level will satisfy their needs both functionally and financially.
  • Most editors treat proofreading as a separate service. Many writing professionals edit first at X cents per word, and do proofreading as a separate service at X cents per word. Although I also do them in that order, I don’t edit without proofreading. And I choose to combine them into an all-inclusive rate per word. I’m sure there are other editors who do the same. Be sure to ask if proofreading is – or is not – included.

Whether you’ve got an existing blog that could use some fine-tuning or haven’t yet started a business blog because you don’t believe you’ve got the writing chops to pull it off, an editor could be just what you need. As you search for one that’s the right fit for you, keep in mind that you’re looking for value, not just the cheapest rate. Always ask for work examples, inquire about turn-around time, and find out how they’ll provide the edits to you (Word doc with mark ups, Word doc with changes made live, etc.).

Got questions about my blog editing services or about what to look for in an editor? I welcome your emails to dawnmentz@gmail.com. Or feel free to call me at 717.435.3559