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. 

Forget More Cowbell; Your Blog Content Should Have More Of This Instead

Thanks to the flawless comic delivery of Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, “More cowbell,” has become one of the most recognized modern one-liners.

 

While more cowbell might solve some problems, unfortunately, it won’t do much to help your marketing efforts succeed. You can bang out more cowbell until…ahem… the cows come home, but it won’t make your audience more impelled to read and engage with your content.

 

What does your content need?

 

Put down your bell and do more of these two things instead:

 

Let Your Personality Sing

Unless you’re writing a technical manual, an academic piece, or something that otherwise demands a heightened degree of stuffiness and formality, relax a little. Writing in a conversational tone helps readers stay tuned in and makes them better able to grasp your message. Write like you speak so your content sounds natural and genuine. In the process:

 

  • Include references to things readers can relate to (e.g., cowbell).
  • Share relevant personal experiences to help your audience connect with the topic and to you as the author.
  • Avoid too much jargon, and don’t use fancy-dancy words to demonstrate your intelligence.

 

Approaching your writing in a more casual, conversational way doesn’t mean you will forfeit professionalism. To the contrary, you’ll improve your professional image by putting out content that readers will want to consume and share.

 

The “You” Factor

“You” is one of the most powerful words you can use in your marketing content. It instantly makes your readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.

 

Work more “you” into your writing rather than using third person references.

 

For example, if I had written the first two sentences under this bullet as shown below, it would lose its direct connection to the reader, “’You” is one of the most powerful words business marketers can use in their marketing content. It instantly makes their readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.”

 

And “you” becomes especially important when you’re writing about your services and products. Rather than dominating your content with sentences that begin with “We can…” or “We will…” or similar “we” wording, shift the focus on the reader and the benefits they can expect. For example: “If you…” or “You will find…” or “You’ll discover…” bring your readers into what otherwise might sound self-centered and pushy.

 

Final Notes (“Notes,” Get it?)

While more cowbell won’t make your small business marketing efforts smash hits, paying attention to how you approach the voicecow with cowbell around neck of your content can help give you star quality. Infuse more of your unique self into your writing style and speak to (rather than at) your readers.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks have helped you connect with your readers?

 

 

 





What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?

 





Common Sense Tips For Using Humor In Your Blog Posts

We all love to laugh. But our individual tastes in humor vary—often considerably.Man laughing hard

Think about it. You’ve probably encountered moments when…

  • you laughed hysterically at a punch line on a sitcom, while your significant other managed a quiet and solitary, “Ha.”
  • you and a friend compared notes on the latest big screen comedy, and your reviews weren’t exactly in sync.
  • you cracked a one-liner that had you doubled over and in tears while those around you remained unamused.

As awkward as a mismatched sense of humor can be on a personal level, it can create reader perception problems for your business if you’re not careful when attempting to infuse laughs into your blog content.

How Can You Keep Your Attempts At Humor In Your Blog From Falling Flat?

My latest guest post on the TDS Biz Blog shares why humor is a slippery slope and how you can maintain your footing when incorporating it into your posts.


By Dawn Mentzer (a.k.a. The Insatiable Solopreneur™)

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net