There are rules to writing and marketing that we often take for granted, things we were never necessarily taught but do anyway.
However, because we take these things for granted, we often consciously forget to do them, or check for them before hitting publish.
Which means if we have missed them, it could impact everything from how effective your strategy is, to how your brand is perceived, and even to how much money you make.
Small things can add up to make a big difference. Even if they’re not something that feels important to you.
So, what are the seven deadly sins of content writing? Let’s take a look…
1. Bad grammar
I have to admit, I have seen some semi-successful blog posts full of bad grammar. The content was solid, so many readers let it go.
That doesn’t mean you should, though.
Or that you shouldn’t actively work on writing as clearly and concisely as possible.
Grammar and punctuation influence how we read things, which is why the Oxford comma is important.
It’s why poets carefully choose which word to end a line with and use punctuation to influence the rhythm you read a poem with, even if you’re only reading it in your head.
Readers who are highly educated or take things literally are even more likely to be influenced by correct (or incorrect) grammar and punctuation.
Your audience can forgive the odd typo or autocorrect fail. It’s happened to us all. Some are even pretty funny.
But if it’s a regular problem, it’s worth hiring an editor or proofreader to help you work on it. (Need help with this? Get in touch.)
Bad grammar is a reflection of your business and your processes. It shows a lack of attention to detail, suggests you don’t care about how your brand is perceived, makes you look less professional, and may even make some people believe your products won’t be such high quality, either.
Just because you were taught how to do something at school, that doesn’t make it how people write in the real world. No writer would ever be caught dead with a fronted adverbial, for example. Starting a sentence with an adverb isn’t just a writing sin, it’s completely illogical. But I’ll save that rant for another day.
I’ll never forget when I was at uni, and our lecturer said that she could tell who was dyslexic because their grammar was he best in the class. They paid more attention because they knew they were more prone to errors.
Translation: it’s easy to take your native tongue for granted.
It’s even easier to read what you think you wrote, instead of what’s actually there.
To break out of this cycle, you need to find ways to stop your brain from going into autopilot. You could try reading it:
- In a different location
- In a different font
- With a different background colour
Chances are, if you combine these things, you’ll notice even more.
And if you don’t? Great! But at least you checked, just in case.
2. Following your English teacher’s advice too closely
I get it. You got an A* in English at school. Maybe it was your favourite subject. But everything you were taught about language usage while you were there is now moot. Sorry.
You’re not writing for an academic audience.
You’re not writing to be judged. (Not in that way, anyway.)
And you need to change your writing style accordingly.
This is something that can be really hard when you first start out. After all, we’re not trained to write in the casual style that content demands.
In some cases, those of us who didn’t do that well in English might be better suited to content writing because we’re not restrained by academics, since that style never suited us anyway.
These issues become the most obvious when someone sits down to write a video script. I’ve edited many, many scripts that sound like they were written to be marked by an English teacher, not read aloud by a voice over artist.
How we speak and how we write are often two very different things. Not for everyone, but definitely for people who did well in an academic setting, because they’ve spent decades being told that’s the only way to write.
If that’s you, dictation might work. Or record yourself talking to a friend or colleague and transcribe it. This can help you relax and talk in a more natural way. It may not flow, but that’s what editing is for! No first draft is perfect. Or linear, in some cases.
Still panicking over writing or editing your video script? Don’t worry—I’ve been doing this for years. Even did scriptwriting as part of my MA in Creative Writing. Get in touch and let’s chat about your upcoming video.
3. Not using a thesaurus
Some words you can get away with repeating in a paragraph and nobody will really notice. Conjunctions and pronouns in particular.
But if you repeat adjectives or verbs, it can get boring and repetitive really quickly. It can also imply a lack of creativity.
Worse still, readers will start to gloss over what you’ve written, not fully processing it. They’ll therefore be less likely to associate you with what they’re trying to learn. And less likely to give you their money because they’ll think you’re less helpful.
Thesauruses are your friend! You don’t even need a physical one anymore—just use the one built into your Mac or search the internet for synonyms.
4. Being vague
This is a weird one because people don’t always realise they’re doing it, or they’re worried about being too specific in case they insult or isolate someone.
The problem with being vague is that it makes it really hard for someone to picture what you’re describing. And if they can’t picture it, they’re less likely to think it applies to them.
It’s also not as good for your SEO.
Longer posts rank higher in search engines, which means it’s important you explain things in greater detail.
You don’t have to be pedantic about it, but if you use an uncommon phrase or one you haven’t used in a while, there’s no harm in having a quick paragraph detailing what it is. Anyone who already knows what you’re talking about will just skip it and move on to the next section. Most blog posts are skimmed, not read like a novel anyway.
5. Purple prose
While you shouldn’t be vague in what you write, over explaining, or being too decorative with your writing, can also be detrimental.
Its official name is purple prose, but I like to call this ‘frilly knicker writing’, because the style is like frills on knickers: not necessary, but to some people’s tastes.
Think of a good ol’ pair of knickers, for a minute. There are lots of different kinds and everyone has their own preference when it comes to style and comfort. Some people value one over the other. Frills on knickers don’t serve any purpose, but a lot of people like them.
Purple prose, or frilly knicker writing, is when things are explained in great—often unnecessary—detail.
Just like frills on knickers are unnecessary
Purple prose can be a useful tool for world building in novels, particularly in genres like epic fantasy.
In your content, it’s going to cause people to fall asleep.
They don’t have time to unpack your beautiful language and figure out what this metaphor means or how that backstory applies to them.
There’s a time and a place (and a taste) for purple prose. Your content—frankly any sort of marketing writing—isn’t it.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in.
Attention spans are short: you need to get to the point as quickly and efficiently as possible so that you don’t lose your audience!
That doesn’t mean you can’t say someone’s purple, frilly knickers instead of just saying that they’re wearing knickers, but you don’t need to go into what type of lace the frills are made out of, or explain that it was manufactured in Nottingham’s Lace Market in 1897. Save that for some behind-the-scenes email marketing or social media content instead.
6. Not writing for readability
Ah, readability. It’s one of the most important things to me, regardless of what I write.
And I do think there’s increasing awareness of its importance. But I think how readable something is (or isn’t) is mostly noticed by those of us who have cognitive issues or are neurodivergent (which is a lot of business owners and creatives, as it happens).
Writing for readability is about much more than using simple language, although that’s a big part of it.
Things like the contrast of dark text on a light background; short paragraphs; keeping to one point per sentence, and explaining key terms, also play a big role in how readable your text is.
These things make your content more accessible, which means that you’re going to reach—and please—a wider section of your target audience.
After all, it’s unlikely you’re going to create a product or service only aimed at neurotypical people who never feel too tired to make sense of a complicated writing style, right?
When you make your content more readable, you boost your brand, your accessibility, and make a difference in a world that is still, too often, against those of us who are differently abled or neurodivergent.
7. Forgetting the mobile readers
Think of the mobile readers, I beg you! Almost 59% of website traffic is now mobile, so being B2B is no excuse to neglect them.
Creating a mobile-first website is also one of many SEO ranking factors. If your website looks shit on mobile, you lose readers and rankings.
When writing content, a lot of the tips above on readability will help. Short paragraphs look great on mobile!
If you’ve ever read a modern ebook, then gone to read the digital version of an older book, (say, Dickens), you’ll see how large walls of text can be tiring on your eyes and brain, even if you’re enjoying what you’re reading.
(Most classic Victorians novels you can download for free now if you want to see what I mean.)
Modern authors know this, so keep paragraphs shorter and snappier.
A lot of modern, commercial fiction is dialogue-centric because it moves the story along much faster than lengthy descriptions. It also keeps your eyes moving quicker.
Your aim should be to keep your reader’s fingers and eyes moving as much as possible, since this physical movement will keep them mentally engaged. This extra time they spend reading will be good for their relationship with your brand, as well as SEO rankings like time on page.
These content writing sins can sound like a lot to juggle, but they really all tie in together. When you focus on providing a great, mobile-friendly user experience, things like readability, clear writing, and good grammar are part of the package.
Feeling lost and need some tips? Get in touch today.