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11 Writing “Rules” Ruining Your Content

Article Cliff Notes

Formal writing does not equal effective writing.

Blogs are no place for the third-person—it’s just you and your reader.

Keep it concise, but pack it with value.

The only grade that matters is the one your customers give you with their wallet.

If my company was a person, how would it talk?

The entire point of blogging is to create a conversation between your customers and your company.

You probably want your company to sound dignified, respectable, knowledgeable, informative…

That’s the image we want. Logic says that’s how our blog should sound, too—with flawless grammar, following all the rules to a T.

But is that how you actually talk to people?

Listen, your blog posts are a dialogue between you and your customers. Your readers don’t want to be lectured by a stuffy essay. I don’t care if you sell insurance or practice real estate law—it’s entirely within your power to engage your customers.

The colossal issue holding back so many businesses is that their blogs don’t sound like they were written by a person, or written for a person. I think a huge reason for the abundance of stale content is that people are deathly afraid of breaking “The Rules.”

Your readers don’t want to be lectured by a stuffy essay.

I’m talking about the guidelines and procedures drilled into your skull from your first day of primary school to your last day in college, grad school and beyond.

Turns out those rules are the exception when it comes to online writing. Let’s start with the biggest offender:

1. Always Write in the Third-Person.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog written in the third-person. Have you?

I’m sure they exist, but good luck finding them—they’re probably buried in the depths of Google because nobody wants to read them.

Third-person narration creates a disconnect between your blog and your reader. It’s as if the blog was written by someone distant from the topic and the audience, sort of an impartial observer—there’s no room for conversation.

Third-person narration creates a disconnect between your blog and your reader.

I’m writing to you just like I’d talk to you face-to-face. Now read this sentence:

One writes as they would speak to another in person.

Sorry, I fell asleep.

2. Formal Writing Is the Only Way to Build Authority.

In some industries, yes. Absolutely. If you run a 5-star resort targeted towards the 65+ crowd, then your company image will be off kilter if your blogs are peppered with hip-hop slang.

But in many more niches, formal writing reads like a textbook, AKA not fit for human consumption.

If your blog speaks to the everyman, write like the everyman. If your blog targets 25-year-old single moms who love cats, use language that appeals to her.

In most cases, essay-like writing on a blog is a poor substitute for good content—and in many ways, completely misunderstands your customers.

3. A Paragraph Needs 3–5 Sentences.

Yeah, for your essay on The Great Gatsby.

Online it’s a completely different ball game. This is a world where 5-sentence paragraphs look like an impossible wall of text, and it’s perfectly fine to use paragraphs with just one or two words.

See?

Blogs are all about readability. Make it easy for your reader to follow along, and they’ll reward you with their attention.

Pack your posts into dense paragraphs and watch your conversion rates plummet.

4. No Sentence Fragments.

Let’s put this one to bed—we speak in sentence fragments every day.

Picture this…you’re eating lunch with your buddy. He asks if you want anything else.

Sentence fragments are a natural way to express complete thoughts without using a complete sentence.

Do you say:

  • No, I would not like anything else to eat;
  • Nah.

Right.

Sentence fragments are a natural way to express complete thoughts without using a complete sentence. If you can work them naturally into your blog, why not?

5. And, Don’t Start a Sentence with a Conjunction.

And, or, but, so…your high school English teacher would have a fit if she saw this.

But did the world end?

In normal speech, people use conjunctions at the beginning of sentences all the time. It’s a natural way to converse, so why not mimic that in writing?

There’s no grading rubric for your blog posts, so go wild.

6. Don’t End Sentences with Prepositions.

In the same vein as conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, prepositions are words like between, under, across, before, over, etc.

And who am I to tell you what to end your sentences with?

If it flows, if it makes sense, if it sounds like a person would say it—then go for it.

7. Don’t Ever Split Infinitives.

Let me give you two sentences, and you tell me which one sounds better.

I want to at least finish this email.

I want at least to finish this email.

The first one sounds better, right? Too bad that’s “incorrect,” according to grammar rules.

The English language allows tons of combinations of words in a sentence. Some of those combos are “correct,” but that doesn’t mean they sound the best.

8. Adjectives Are King.

Most of the greatest novels ever written were built on excessive use of flowery adjectives (like the word flowery).

When you’re writing blogs, adjectives are still a fantastic way to build excitement and generate emotion in your audience.

…the crown belongs to verbs; specifically, action-packed verbs.

But they aren’t the only—or even best—method to knock your readers’ socks off.

Nope, the crown belongs to verbs; specifically, action-packed verbs.

Launch, trigger, erupt, smash, collapse, crush…use your imagination so your audience doesn’t have to.

9. Don’t Transform Nouns into Verbs.

Otherwise known as “verbing a noun.”

Right, because we all say “conduct a Google search” instead of “Google.”

There are just so many actions that don’t have perfect verbs associated with them. Transforming a noun into a verb is sometimes the only way to describe that action in words.

Of course, excessive use of verbed nouns can make your blog posts sound strange, so use some restraint before you turn your company’s name into a verb for a new hashtag.

10. Use MLA/APA Citations.

No way. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about citations for blog posts, but in general…

Please, if you use someone’s work, give them some kind of credit. The easiest way to do that is with an in-text hyperlink (see what I did there).

The hardest way to do that is with an MLA citation—your reader won’t care, the source you’re quoting won’t care, and it’s more work for you that looks downright clumsy on a blog post.

11.Your Introduction Should Have a Thesis, and Your Conclusion Should Have a Summary.

One more fossil from your college writing classes. Let’s toss it out for good.

Seems harmless at first glance, no?

…a blog post is no place for a thesis or a conclusion in the traditional sense.

But a blog post is no place for a thesis or a conclusion in the traditional sense.

(There’s actually a better way. Hint: look at the top of this article.)

Your opening paragraph is going to introduce your topic, of course. But there’s no room for an awkward “thesis statement” where you condense your entire post into a couple sentences.

Likewise, you’re not going to waste your reader’s time or precious attention on a worthless “conclusion” paragraph. They know what they read. You know what you wrote. Your closing remarks are devoted to your CTA and any final thoughts that weren’t fully addressed in the body.

What happens next? What do you want them to do? How do they do it?

Tell them!

We break all the rules with the content we create for Dr. Marion, and guess what? It works.

Break the Rules, Win Customers.

Your customers don’t give a damn about the rules, and that’s why you shouldn’t either.

Don’t ask “Is this right?” Instead, what about:

Can my customers relate? Does my blog sound approachable? Will people join my conversation?

Crafting down-to-earth content isn’t brain surgery, yet it’s also something we’ve gotten really good at.

Learn more!

Verticals we play in:

Dental Inbound Marketing
Marketing Saas Product
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Startup Digital Marketing
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San Diego Inbound Marketing
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Written by on December 19, 2015

I'm Nick and I have a uncanny obsession with words. I live, breath, and even eat (alphabet cereal) words all day, everyday. You should definitely subscribe because we're going to put out some of the most insightful marketing content you'll ever come across.