What are some of your writing goals as a blogger? Perhaps:
- Get more people to read your posts?
- Make an impact on your readers?
- Start inspiring conversations?
- Motivate your readers to take an action?
With any of these goals, correct grammar and quality writing matter. Good writing draws your readers in—and keeps them reading, sharing and recommending your posts to others.
Though often ignored in a text-based universe, good grammar is equally important to your brand and credibility. When readers see grammatical errors, they can’t help but wonder whether you’re as loose with your i’s (information provided) as you are with your p’s and q’s.
If it’s not worth your time to find and fix errors, readers can’t help but wonder whether it’s worth their time to read your posts.
According to Kimberly Joki, content manager at Grammarly,
In short, it comes down to credibility and accessibility.
Think Grammar and Spelling Don’t Affect SEO? Think Again.
Joki points out the results of polls done by Grammarly,
Spelling and grammar matter to consumers of news and goods. In our polls, more than 93% of social followers think correct spelling is important or very important when shopping and 91% feel that bad grammar affects the credibility of news outlets.
Joki also notes the effect on SEO of grammar and spelling errors,
Even Google has commented on a link between good spelling and high page quality, which in turn yields greater search value.
When I mentioned this post to life coach, blogger and bestselling author Tama Kieves (who is also Queen of the Metaphor), she offered this,
If you were interviewing for a job with me and you had a stain on your shirt, I probably wouldn’t hire you. In your writing, typos or grammar errors are stains on your shirt.
As Tama sees it,
Mistakes will make me wonder about the caliber of your work, in general. On the other hand, in a world of so much competing for your attention, excellence stands out.
For many readers, grammatical errors in your posts lower the perceived value or quality of your brand.
Convinced of the importance of correct grammar and spelling? In this post, you’ll learn some of the common grammar errors made by bloggers, how to correct them and how to tap into some resources to help you stay on the right side of grammar law.
I’ve also invited several top grammar bloggers to share their pet peeves and favorite tips, to make sure you don’t make the common grammar errors of many bloggers—and you preserve your credibility with your blog readers.
After that, we’ll also explore a few tips that can help make your writing compelling—so that your readers stay to the end, comment and share your posts.
Grammar Mistake 1: Falling in Love with “They”
One error I come across several times a week—both on blogs and in book manuscripts—is the use of “they” for “he” or “she” and “their” for “his” or “her.”
Most of us want to be politically correct and gender neutral in our writing—but not when it results in a grammar error.
The Flop: “Every blogger should fix their grammar errors.”
The Problem: “Every blogger” is singular and therefore should use the singular pronoun.
The Fix: “Every blogger should fix his or her grammar errors.”
For another option that may be more elegant than the sometimes-clunky “his or her,” I often suggest alternating use of the male pronoun with the female—employing “his” in one paragraph and “her” in the next.
“Every blogger should fix his grammar errors.”
“A blogger who polishes each post projects an image of excellence to her readers.”
Ideally, these two sentences would be in separate paragraphs or the device can become distracting.
Grammar Mistake 2: Confusing Me and I
This one gets under my skin. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much but I think it’s because people often think they’re being more learned by using “and I”—no matter the context. Maybe I’m afraid they’re judging me when I’m actually correct. Maybe I need to be a little less judgmental myself.
Still, you want to use correct grammar on your blog. That’s why you’ll want to use “Sophie and I” when “I” is a subject pronoun” (“I” am doing something) and “Sophie and me” for the object pronoun (something is being done to us).
The Flop: “Sophie and me chased rabbits.”
The Problem: You would not say, “Me chased rabbits.” Would you? No.
The Fix: “Sophie and I chased rabbits.”
The Flop: “The rabbits led Sophie and I on a long chase through the bushes and over the hill.”
The Problem: You would not say, “The rabbits led I.” Would you? That’s what I thought.
The Fix: “The rabbits led Sophie and me on a long chase through the bushes and over the hill.”
For the record—and in case you are wondering—Sophie is my labradoodle. And, truthfully, I generally leave the rabbit chasing to her alone, despite any impression I may have given you that I chase rabbits.
Grammar Mistake 3: It’s vs. Its
Do you know the difference between “it’s” vs. “its”?
The former means “it is” and the latter is the possessive of it.
The Flop: “Its so silly to imagine it’s mother is a big dog.”
The Problem: Here, I’ve used the possessive where the contraction should go and vice versa.
The Fix: “It’s so silly to imagine its mother is a big dog.”
Grammar Mistake 4: Confusing Less and Fewer
This one’s simple: Use less when the amount is not measurable and fewer when you can measure or quantify the item.
The Flop: “I used less words in this post than I had planned to use.”
The Problem: The number of words is quantifiable.
The Fix: “I used fewer words in this post than I had planned.”
Grammar Mistake 5: The Dangling Modifier
“Dangling modifier” is just a fancy way of saying that the descriptive phrase does not apply to the noun that immediately comes after it. The modifier (descriptive phase) dangles. Nice image, right?
The Flop: “Being a blogger, the best post she ever wrote was for Ahrefs.”
The Problem: The noun that follows “being a blogger” is “post.” However, “being a blogger” refers to “she.”
The Fix: “The best post she ever wrote as a blogger was for Ahrefs.”
Bonus Punctuation Mistake: Misplaced Commas and Quotation Marks
True, this is more punctuation than grammar, but it’s so common that it bears mentioning:
In US English, commas or periods should go inside quotation marks.
The Flop: “I often see sentences that end with a period after the quotation mark”.
The Problem: The period should come before the ending quotation mark.
The Fix: “I would prefer to see a sentence that places the period in its rightful place.”
The Flop: “The other common problem is the comma after quotation marks”, she told me yesterday.
The Problem: The comma should come before the closing quotation mark.
The Fix: “This blogger does it right,” I added.
More Grammar Tips from Top Grammar Bloggers
From Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing:
A couple of simple mistakes I see people make all the time are choosing wrong when they’re trying to decide between affect or effect and between further or farther.
Most of the time, affect is a verb and effect is a noun, so if you could substitute another verb (such as helped or hurt), choose affect, and if you can put an article in front of the word (such as the effect was stunning), choose effect.
In American English, further is typically used for metaphorical distances (We won’t discuss this further) and farther is typically used for physical distances (How much farther is Boston?)
From Grammarly’s content manager, Kimberly Joki:
There are a lot of words and phrases that writers use incorrectly. Though I wouldn’t call them pet peeves, here are few of the most common suggestions for what bloggers can easily fix:
Tip 1: Edit out typos. Confusing simple homophones like “then/than” or “your/you’re” is one of the easiest ways to destroy your credibility, especially because there are free tools that can help you catch these typos!
Tip 2: Learn how to use apostrophes correctly. For example, “could of” is actually a contraction of “could have” and is written “could’ve.” And, it’s the ’90s not the 90’s.
Tip 3: Check your idioms. It’s completely normal for people to grow up mishearing idiomatic phrases, but when these are put into writing they are particularly abrasive. Double-check commonly confused phrases like “all intents and purposes” or “couldn’t care less.”
Susanne Lakin, blogger and author of Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage shares these two mistakes to avoid:
Mistake 1: ‘The reason why is because X.’
That basically means the reason (why) why (why) is because (why) or The why why is why.
Mistake 2: ‘I’ll try and do …’
It should be ‘I’ll try to do.’
I have very few grammar pet peeves—I’m more of a descriptivist than prescriptivist—but it does grate on my nerves when people make liberal use of the ellipses. It gets overused as a stylistic mannerism and I find it lazy writing.
Grammar Tools for Bloggers
One way to catch grammar errors before you post is to read slowly, word by word. Another is to ask a grammatically-talented colleague to look over your post. Some bloggers could even use a paid editor or proofreader.
I use Editmob on my blog posts as a crowdsourcing tool. I have an icon on my posts that invites readers to report any grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors. Members of the crowd—Editmob—can find my errors and submit a notice to Editmob that gets forwarded to me, so I can fix any mistakes.
It does mean people may see an error before I correct it, but, on the other hand, I usually get notified fairly quickly when an error is found.
Grammarly is the more well known and widely used tool. However, its use requires signing a terms and conditions agreement that you will need to look at and make sure you feel comfortable with it. One benefit is that Grammarly will help you identify errors before you publish your post. It also has tools to identify potential plagiarism.
My Favorite Writing Tips for Bloggers
So, let’s explore one more thing—how to keep those readers reading and engaging with your posts. Here are some of my top tips and secrets of compelling writing:
Tip 1: Offer Opportunities that Support Your Goals
One of the best things you can do as a writer and blogger to clarify your goals for the post you are writing. Do you want your readers to take a specific action? Do you want them to read the entire post? Do you hope your readers share the post with others? Do you want your readers to engage in the post by doing an exercise or asking themselves a question?
Make sure your writing offers readers opportunities that support your goals.
- Invite your readers to share their experiences or questions at the end of the post.
- Include an exercise that helps readers make use of the information you share in the post.
- Invite readers of the post to a free introductory webinar.
- Use the “Tweet This” app if you want readers to share without requiring them to finish the entire post.
Tip 2: Use Specific Verbs
As an undergraduate at MIT, I experienced the great luck of studying writing with the late Frank Conroy when he served as director for the literature program at the National Endowment for Arts. Frank later went on to become the director of the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Frank hammered home a preference for using specific verbs that show action and nuance whenever possible and encouraged us to edit out more generic verbs. He us to avoid overusing “was,” “is,” “are,” “has,” “had,” etc.
Boring Verbs in Action—Or, Rather, Not
Active Voice in ActionIt is so easy to write using boring verbs. The problem is that boring verbs can be the cause of your reader falling asleep. This paragraph is a good example. Are you asleep yet?
Specific and action-oriented verbs offer precision and paint a picture. These verbs awaken your reader and add energy to the writing. I view such verbs as the key to powerful writing. I hope you experience the power of precise and active verbs in this paragraph.Specific and action-oriented verbs offer precision and paint a picture. These verbs awaken your reader and add energy to the writing. I view such verbs as the key to powerful writing. I hope you experience the power of precise and active verbs in this paragraph.
Tip 3: Make it Real
I assume you’ve heard the adage, “Show vs. Tell.” Rather than just telling your readers information in a dogmatic fashion, show it by adding examples, illustrating with statistics, sharing information that helps readers to draw their own conclusions or creating an image in your readers’ minds.
A list of do’s and don’ts can feel a bit dry. Add some real life examples and you engage your readers. The material comes to life. Metaphors, stories and quirky details can all help paint a picture for readers.
Here’s an example of metaphor from a blog post of mine on book piracy:
Note that when you have more than one metaphor, it’s important that they go together. In this case, they are both food-related.Offer too much in your book and you may just overwhelm your readers. By having a next step, you actually break things down for your readers so they can start with the book and then move on to an ecourse–which can be delivered by emails, videos or other methods–and which can expand upon their experience in an organic and bite-sized way. (Pardon the gastronomic metaphors. It’s past my lunch time).
Writing Tips from Bloggers for Bloggers
One thing most good writers do is engage their readers, which you can do in a number of ways.
In this post on SEO tips, Neil ends with a question to encourage comments.I always ask a question and it helps with engagement, including people leaving more comments.
My No. 1 blog writing tip: Assume that people will be skimming your post, and likely reading less than 30 percent of it. Rather than fighting against this behavior, work with it.
Include lots of ways for people to enter into a piece—subheads, quotes, numbered or bulleted lists, images and graphs, bold text, or anything else that can help people take away some of the value quickly.
If readers see enough that sparks their interest, they’ll save it for later, or slow down and read it from beginning to end (if you’re lucky!).
This recent post on Jane’s site demonstrates the principles—since it includes images, bulleted lists, and subheads.
With so many websites and bloggers jamming the internet and knocking elbows, how can someone like you stand out? By telling stories.“You see blogging is where you have an advantage over, say, the town dentist who learned she had to start a blog. You may even rise above some fairly seasoned marketers. You know why?
You’re a writer. You have an innate ability to write and tell stories. Sure, you write nonfiction but if you think about the most enthralling nonfiction books on the market, what do they do? Yeah, they tell stories.
Stories draw in readers whereas essays filled with statistics and data don’t. You see, readers want you to entertain them while you’re educating them.
Let’s take the story about the Earl of Sandwich as an example. I’ll tell you two stories, and you tell me which one you think you’ll remember a week from now.
The term “sandwich” came into the English lexicon after the Earl of Sandwich started placing meat between two slices of bread and people started calling the dish a sandwich.
The English Earl of Sandwich loved to play cards. But he also loved to eat. He would sit with his council, grabbing at slices of meat and tearing pieces of bread from a freshly baked loaf of bread.
You see, he refused to quit the game early just because he was hungry. But his habit of eating while playing cards created such a greasy mess he’d summon his staff every hour or two to bring in a clean set of cards.
Then one day he decided to place the meat between two slices of bread. The more he did this, the more he enjoyed himself. Soon, everyone around the palace was calling the practice a sandwich.
So, tell stories. Through storytelling, you’ll entice your readers and help them to remember your post and your books for weeks to come.
Writing Coach and Blogger Ginger Moran offers these specific instructions to help you tell a story:
I’ve studied plot and drama for 35 years and here is what it comes down to: something is wrong, it gets worse, it gets resolved. So starting off a blog post with a problem, showing how it manifests, and then giving ideas to resolve it is a perfect way to tell a story in a blog.
For example, one of my recent blog posts starts with a common problem: bland writing in novels or memoir. People often are afraid to tell it like it was or to let their characters suffer or risk failure. This is especially true for memoir where the people are real and may include ourselves. Who wants to suffer or fail? But this is the way to draw your reader in, to make them care.
So I ask my clients and myself if we can ‘make it worse’? Can we suffer more, risk more, lose more, fail more? And then you will have a more compelling story.
My other tip is buried in the first one: being vulnerable as a writer. Brene Brown talks about vulnerability extensively in her work. The willingness to allow your readers a glimpse into your life is an invitation for them to come along on your journey.
My collection of essays about ten years of single working motherhood is called Thank God It’s Monday because it was always such a relief to go back to the orderliness of work after a weekend of domestic chaos with two little boys. I’m not advising spilling your guts or using your blog as a place to vent. But a well-placed personal anecdote as an example extends an openness to your reader.
When I blog I look for the natural divisions in the piece I am already writing. We hear about the importance of bullets and numbered lists to encourage reader retention as they scan your work to decide if they want to dive in, but where do those features come from?
When I look at how the piece is actually emerging a lot of times I can find the real internal structure and then the best way to design the piece comes from that.
Spend as much time on the title as you do on the blog. The title is what readers will see in their email. If it doesn’t intrigue them enough, they won’t open the email.
Some of my favorite recent writing tips come from Ahrefs Blog.
For example, in his article How To Create Incredible Content Using the Latest in Neuroscience and Research, William Avila instructs writers to “engage base level emotions to capture readers’ attention. People give special notice to things that grab their attention very quickly and without much thought.”
One point I found particularly interesting in his post is to “demonstrate emotion through contrast.” This can be done with statistics or by painting a picture with specific details, two tips we discussed earlier.
Speak to Their ‘Closeted’ Selves: Tough guys hide their gentle-as-a-kitten side, used car salespeople can be surprisingly honest and kindergarten teachers think some truly nasty thoughts.
Writing to your audience’s ‘secret’ self is a great way to have some fun, tell the truth and let your people know that you GET them. Readers love to feel seen, heard and understood, and when you can give voice to their secret thoughts, you create both intimacy and loyalty.
A final insight from David, Editor here at Ahrefs:
SEO is a technical topic, which presents a problem:
Technical topics can be B.O.R.I.N.G.
So with every blog post here on Ahrefs we try to strike a balance between informing and entertaining.
In my own writing I try to tell a story whenever possible. This often includes weaving an element of suspense through the post — keeping the reader ‘turning the digital pages’ if you will.
For example in my post on the Coca-Cola viral I kept a ‘secret ingredient’ back until the end.
That being said, it’s also important to hook a reader early, which is why I normally hint at key takeaways in the post’s introduction. A visitor has to know what’s in it for them within a few seconds, or they’ll be heading for the back button quicker than you can say ‘bounce rate’.
Finally, returning to the technical aspect of SEO writing, there is another balancing act we need to play here at Ahrefs. Each article on the blog has two potential audiences:
- Existing customers who probably know a little (or a lot) about SEO
- Searchers finding an article while Googling for a topic
It is safe to assume that a large number of the second audience will be coming into the world of SEO cold.
So the trick is to explain topics in sufficient depth to inform audience 2, while not boring the pants off audience 1.
Believe me, it’s not easy. And if you are in audience 1… I’m sorry about your pants 😉
What are some of your favorite ways to make the writing sing and keep readers engaged? Any pet grammar peeves we should know about?