What separates good writing from great writing?
You’ve got the fundamentals down and then some. Your grammar is flawless. Your flow is impeccable. Your source formatting is perfect.
Those are all fantastic qualities – but they aren’t all you need to produce outstanding content.
For that, you need something more, or, in some cases, something less.
The key to creating top-notch content your clients and readers will love is to lose the fluff. Replace your empty phrases with power words. Cut out the filler, and make room for more actionable, insightful language.
Trust me, it works. Power words and stronger language tap into our emotions. Harvard research has proven that emotions are a bigger driving factor in our decisions than logical calculations.
A style of writing like this doesn’t just come to us.
It takes research, practice, and dedication. Today we’ll discuss steps on how to improve your writing skills and transform your content.
6 Steps on How to Improve Your Writing Skills
1. Understand the Basics of Good Writing and Why They Matter
2. Take a Closer Look at Your Language
3. Cut and Cull Filler, Fluff, and Fallback Words
4. Use These Exercises to Build Better Habits
5. Proofread with Power Words in Mind
6. Final Checks: See How Your Work Measures Up
Starting Out: Make Sure You Have the Fundamentals Down
I did mention that good grammar, flow, and citing practices are fundamental to good writing. So before you set out to empower your content with stronger words, make sure you’ve got all the basics taken care of.
This isn’t to say you won’t ever make a typo or fail to link to a source properly – everyone does it. Yet, we need a solid base to work off of.
Think of the blog you’re creating like a house you’re building. Even if you paint and clean the exterior, it won’t cover up for using old materials. Consider it like a piece of music. You can have the best mastering toolkit out there – but a poor mix can only be polished so much.
If you’re wondering how to improve your writing skills and grammar, I recommend a tool like Grammarly. It’s a free add-on for Chrome that’s helped millions of people improve their grammar, and even find better word choices.
I also wrote a book for online content writing beginners back in 2016, the book I wished I’d had when I started out, called So You Think You Can Write? The Definitive Guide to Successful Online Writing. Check it out on Amazon.
For sourcing your work correctly and getting better flow, there’s nothing better than analyzing the experts. I love Jon Morrow from SmartBlogger, and Henneke at Enchanting Marketing. Stay original, but draw inspiration from the content you want to emulate.
Now onto the main part of our guide – how can you take a piece with perfect grammar and great fundamentals and make it even better?
If you’re wondering how to improve your writing skills and grammar, I recommend a tool like Grammarly. - @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Examine Your Vocabulary and Pick Power Words
Great writing isn’t just about saying something – it’s how you say it that is important. Take the following example – examine the difference between the first and second image.
Images from OptinMonster
Those power words trigger something in our psychology. Think about how bad it would feel to miss out on something – or how good it would feel to get a freebie.
Power words can activate positive or negative responses. In either case, they drive some type of reaction. They can take the same message and magnify it, enriching the copy and facilitating a better connection with the reader.
I get this question all the time. How do you know what constitutes a power word? Admittedly, some subjectivity is in play. If you want to get a quick start on empowering your vernacular, check out this resource from my agency containing 120 amazing power words – plus 10 calls-to-action you can use for more results.
The importance of writing skills for content creators doesn’t just mean the ability to crank out thousands of words per day or follow client instructions. It means being able to go above and beyond with language that commands reactions.
Here are some tips for choosing power words:
- Be Unique and Ultra-Specific: The more your words stand out, the better. If you can choose a word that describes what you’re talking about in more detail, do it. Remember, being as specific and precise as possible strengthens the overall message of your writing.
- Express Urgency and Describe Degrees: As shown in our last example, power words can reinforce the time-sensitivity of a message. You should also look to reinforce the degrees of what you’re talking about. If something is better than good, or worse than bad, pick a word that expresses it.
- Always Stay Relevant and Useful: Remember, we aren’t beefing up our vocabulary just for the sake of it. Don’t use elaborate words just to be using them. Make sure your choices reflect the content you’re writing and the mood you’re trying to create. Otherwise, you’re being wordy for the sake of it, which could count as fluff – but more on that later.
Image from Pinterest
'Choosing power words tips: Be unique, specific, express urgency, and stay relevant' - @JuliaEMcCoy on improving writing skills Click To Tweet
Mood is another thing to keep in mind. There are different power words to use depending on what emotion or vibe you’re trying to cultivate.
Creating a step-by-step guide? Give your readers amazing advice to help them command results and see incredible changes.
You can do this for the entire spectrum of emotions and human urges. Fear, excitement, lust, bravery, and more.
Even with a general idea of power words, you may be curious about how to work them in. The good news is you don’t need to extend your word counts that much. In some cases, you can make room by eliminating weak language.
Learn to Spot Fluff, Then Cut and Cull it Out of Your Writing
Fluff, filler, and fallback words can befall even the best writers out there. We all do it – sometimes it’s just too tempting to get wordy even if the situation doesn’t necessarily call for it.
Again, there is some subjectivity in play when determining exactly what counts as fluff. However, your quest to transform your writing requires you to make this determination and change your approach accordingly.
Fluff could be thought of as “the extra words” which don’t add much to the sentence – if anything. Could the same point be made, as strong (or even stronger) without a word? Then that word is fluff.
Image from Pinterest
Cutting the fluff is key for making room for your power words. It’s also great for keeping your reader interested, making each piece feel unique, and strengthening the message you’re trying to convey. Here’s a quick set of steps to help you find filler and eliminate it – or better yet, avoid falling back on it to begin with.
- Start with an Outline: Concise writing, by default, will have less filler. If you’re worried your piece will get fluffy, start with an outline. It will help you stay on track and cover the important points without drifting too far out of focus.
- Don’t Get Too Descriptive: Just because you’re being concise doesn’t mean you have to be too detailed unless the subject calls for it. Fluff isn’t just extra words that add no value – it can also be extra details that aren’t necessarily appropriate in the piece you’re writing.
- Remove Redundancy: The key to impactful writing with crisp, powerful language is value. Your words should compel, and say a lot with a little. Because of this, there’s no need to use different words to say the same thing over again. You can explain the same thing in multiple ways if doing so strengthens the message, but less is more in most cases.
The process of removing fluff usually comes into play during editing. However, there’s a better way to eliminate fluff – do it as you write.
Of course, this is easier said than done. The best way to train yourself to write powerful content with zero fluff is the same way you train yourself to do anything else – with the right exercises.
Image from one of my favorite marketers ever, Henneke at Enchanting Marketing
Once you get the right techniques and use exercises that can build good habits, it becomes much easier to get inspired toward creating impactful content.
'Steps to detect fluff: create an outline, avoid getting too descriptive, and avoid redundancy - @JuliaEMcCoy on improving writing skills Click To Tweet
Use These 3 Exercises to Improve Writing Skills
When you’re trying to put power words into your writing, you’ll find old habits are hard to break. If you’ve relied on tame terminology and fluff for a while, you’ll also take a while to transform your writing.
The best way to improve your technical, promotional, and creative writing skills is to try these helpful exercises.
1. Find Your Fluff Fallbacks and Cut, Cut, Cut
This writing exercise begins in the editing phase. When you’re learning how to spot fluff, you’ll start by plucking out those unnecessary elements from your writing. Maybe you have a thing for adverbs, or you’re a person who loves their prepositions.
Whatever your fallbacks are, they will usually fall into a few specific categories. Once you find these, challenge yourself to write without them. If you find it too hard to avoid them completely, set a goal such as having no more than 5 cases in the piece you’re working on.
2. The Reverse Word Count Trick
Copywriters are familiar with the concept of minimum word counts.
But what about maximum word counts?
Yes, you may know me as the “long-form queen,” but even I have a maximum. 🙅
When you’re writing a sentence, read it back afterward and ask yourself: Could I use fewer words to get my point across? This is the “reverse word count” trick.
You don’t always have to splice every modifier or adjective out for the sake of brevity. However, learning to say more with less can help you avoid filler words and ensure you aren’t adding words in just to reach a total.
When you’re writing a sentence, read it back afterward and ask yourself: Could I use fewer words to get my point across? This is the 'reverse word count' trick. - @JuliaEMcCoy on strong #writing Click To Tweet
3. Broaden Your Vocabulary: Use Powerful (But Simple) Language
When we talk about putting power words into our work, complexity immediately comes to mind. But since we’re using them to make a connection with the reader, it is often better if they are simple. Try replacing your generic words with powerful alternatives – but only if you know their meaning. To widen and broaden your vocabulary, use Thesaurus.com. I use it constantly when looking up a more powerful synonym.
Image from Jar of Quotes
Mr. Grishman’s quote also has an extended version, where he tells us to go sparingly on the second category.
This applies especially to industries full of terms that qualify as “jargon.” Don’t write in phrases you have to think too deeply to understand, or you’ll turn off your online readers. If you have to search and contemplate for the meaning of the word, your reader may have to do the same thing. If they are required to keep a dictionary tab open just to get through your piece, they won’t even bother.
Power Writing Requires Power Proofreading
I want to close out by letting you in on a secret about proofreading your work – it’s easier if you use power words.
Why is this?
There’s a secret that seasoned writers and editors know about when it comes to checking your copy. If you read it out loud, you’re less likely to skim over errors. How do power words factor in?
Imagine you’re reading your work aloud in front of a crowd of eager listeners. Is the pressure on yet? Good. The best way to feel confident is to bring a presentation that makes you confident.
Ask yourself – would you feel better reading a generic script full of weasel words? Of course not. You want to have something powerful that attracts attention and keeps your readers hanging on your every word.
When you’re reading your copy back, don’t just make sure it flows well. Ask yourself if there’s any way you could change out words, eliminate some or add others in to strengthen what you’re saying.
When you’re reading your copy back, don’t just make sure it flows well. Ask yourself if there’s any way you could change out words, eliminate some or add others in to strengthen what you’re saying. More on great #writing ✍️ Click To Tweet
This may not always come into play. However, when you’re doing your proofreading and editing, you’re more likely to find spots to put power words.
'Looking where to put power words? You can do this through proofreading and editing. - @JuliaEMcCoy on improving writing skills Click To Tweet
Compare Your Work to See Where You Stand
Putting power words in the right places is the best way to change your writing from good to great. However, how can you know whether your writing is really more impactful than it used to be?
The key lies in comparing it. When we talk about comparing our writing, we’re usually told to compare it to our favorite writers. We did list that tip earlier, but it isn’t the only type of comparison you should be making.
You can also compare your improved writing to your old writing. It’s a great way to see how much stronger your words sound, and how much of a difference power words really make.
When you’re learning how to improve your writing skills, taking a look back at your older work may even make you twinge a bit. That’s a good thing, though. You’re seeing how far you’ve come and how much progress you’ve made.
Transforming your work with power words requires an understanding of the importance of wording choices. It also means practicing with the right exercises, and even carrying it over into your editing.
Powerful writing with less fluff means more value for your clients and your readers – it’s a win-win.