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What's making your writing unreadable?

Two weeks ago we covered typos and errors to look for when proof-reading, so now let's move onto bigger, structural editing methods!

It can be difficult to notice your own structural mistakes. Many aren't necessarily wrong. But, with a focus on marketing, we can't just have 'correct' writing. We need to engage and call to action!

Here are four edits to make for readable writing:


1. How long should a sentence be?

Less is more.

Long sentences can be the perfect addition to your writing, but they can also bore your readers, cause them to skip ahead, zone out, or lose interest completely and stop reading.

Short sentences are easier! The reader gets through them faster.

Medium-length sentences are great too. It depends on what you're writing, who you're writing for, and why.

If a sentence is longer than 20 words, see if it can be split in half or reworded. If a sentence is less than 6 words, make sure it's a full sentence.

I like to vary my sentence length. Keeping it short is a great way to retain your reader's interest, but a few long sentences make it interesting. Pace your writing and emphasise the important things!

2. Why cut unnecessary filler words?

You need every word of your writing to be there for a reason. Don't waste your audience's time! Depending on the context and voice, many weak words can be eliminated to keep the copy short and sweet.

'That' is rarely needed. Read your sentence aloud. Maybe you've written something like, 'she could tell that he was worried'. If you say it aloud, 'she could tell he was worried' also makes sense! Of course, using 'that' in this context sounds more formal. Think, what tone of voice are you aiming for?

Look at how you can cut-down your sentences:

  • 'They went to the shop so that they could buy lettuce.'

  • 'They went to the shop so they could buy lettuce.'

  • 'They went to the shop to buy lettuce.'

Here are some others:

  • 'Had' - if you're already writing in past tense, you don't need it.

  • 'Literally' - avoid unless it really is literal, and you need to spell it out.

  • 'Very/Really' - instead of adding an adjective, change the word completely. Something 'very good' can be shortened to 'great' or even 'fantastic'

  • 'Of' - similarly to 'that', read aloud the sentence and see if it can be deleted

  • Find more here and here.

3. What makes a great paragraph?

You were probably taught the 'correct' way to write a paragraph in school, but business and creative writing aren't the same as an essay! You need to optimise your paragraphs for your audience and platform.

Online, using short paragraphs with subheadings and dot points is a major SEO method. It conveys your message and information in a way that's fast and easy to read.

Use these steps for blogging:

  • Consider your information and how you can split it into sections

  • Write these sections with the lowest word count possible

  • Find any lists and convert them into dot points

  • Remove anything that isn't 100% necessary

  • Add hyperlinks to more information, rather than write it all

Every platform is different, and you'll use completely different tricks for creative writing, ad copy, and anything else! If you need help finding the right writing style for your project, check out the All Write style guide package.

4. Active or passive sentences?

In most cases - especially online - active writing is best! Passive also has its purpose, however, so it's good to have passive sentences throughout to keep the writing interesting.

So, what's the difference?

Often, you can spot a passive sentence with words like 'by', 'were', 'was' or even 'because'. Active sentences are direct, and often shorter.

  • Passive: 'Because the gate was locked, they took a different path'

  • Active: 'They took a different path because the gate was locked'

  • Passive: 'The car was where I walked to'

  • Active: 'I walked to the car'

  • Passive: 'The dog was fed by its owner'

  • Active: 'The owner fed the dog'

Notice how the active sentences are more engaging and faster to read?

Don't forget to check for active and passive sentences when editing your own work. Where can you make your writing more exciting with active sentences? Or, where can you slow down the pace a bit with a passive sentence? Here's more.


What else do you check for when editing?

Have a look at my pages for writing and editing for more information on how I can help you!

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