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Everybody Writes, So Learn From the Pros: Part 2

Jeff Stehlin

Jeff Stehlin

Our content team is well into Ann Handley’s “Everybody Writes.” The book, which promises to be a guide for ridiculously good content, is proving good on its word.

Handley explores tips for smarter, more efficient writing in the first chapters of her book, and then delves into writing rules like grammar and word usage in the second part. Missed our blog post on the first section? Check it out here!

No matter how well you’ve mastered grammar and usage, it’s always good to refresh your skills. Some of Handley’s best tips include:

1. Speak naturally

It’s easy to get lost in jargon when writing about B2B tech. However, Handley advises against this. Use real words that mirror how we speak in every-day life instead. On Handley’s list of words to avoid? Frankenwords, or “words stitched awkwardly together” like listacle or awesomesauce. Weblish, or “words sprouted from technology” like bandwidth and ping. And clichés.

Avoiding these language traps is an easy way to make your writing more engaging and digestible. B2B players still sell to other humans, and it’s important that we remember this when drafting content.

2. Watch your verbs

Handley argues that using active voice is a quick way to make your writing more exciting and interesting. Likewise, she suggests we replace weak verbs with strong ones. In both tips, Handley reminds us that verbs are the basis of strong writing. Verbs must inspire readers to action, and we should choose them with care.

However, Handley also says that verb usage within a piece should feel balanced. Echoing the first bullet, writing should read naturally. Too many strong verbs can feel overwhelming, while too few can feel dull. It’s important to find a happy medium.

3. Break a rule everyone once in a while

Handley spends over 30 pages outlining grammar rules, but she also reminds us that certain rules can be broken. Not everything we learned in high school makes sense in the real world. For example, starting a sentence with “and,” “but” or “because” is fine, as is ending a sentence with a preposition when it sounds right.

One great tip with digital writing in mind is that a paragraph can be just a sentence long. Shorter paragraphs would not fly in 9th grade English class, but they improve readability online and cater to audiences’ shorter attention spans (this paragraph was only two sentences!).

Handley covers a wide variety of practical grammar rules and missteps, but it’s tips like these that can improve our writing most.

Grammar and word usage may not be every writer’s favorites, but attention to these details separates good content from the best. For our clients, sharpening our tools means increased credibility, writing that is more reader friendly and stronger content overall.