7 Edits that Will Improve Your Blog Post

Feb 112014
 
It's-Complicated

Think editing is complicated? It doesn’t have to be. But it’s critical to becoming a better writer.

Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes. And while it’s true, do you know what to look for when you read your first draft, or how to improve it?

Here’s what I look for when I edit both my own posts and the work of others:

1. Keep your focus. Do you start by moaning about a cold, move to the merits of a new smoothie you made for breakfast, and end with a recipe for chocolate cake? Stick to a central idea. Make sure your title, lead sentence and body reinforce a specific theme.

2. Review the structure. Are you throat-clearing, which means that the true start of your story is three paragraphs down? Your readers may never get there. Make sure your post’s subjects flow in a logical order. You may need move around paragraphs as a result.

3. Refine and tighten. Think about what you’ve left out or what needs to be fleshed out so readers are not confused by vague writing. This is particularly true of adjectives when describing food. Be specific and avoid overused words. In your overall post, get rid of repetition of ideas, inconsistencies, overstatement (especially too many exclamation points), and disproportionate emphasis.

4. Check the rhythm of your sentences. Is every sentence the same length? Or are they all super short, so that after a while it sounds like you’re on too much caffeine? Go for a mix of sizes and rhythms. Read your work out loud to see if it sounds natural. If you’re gasping for air, that’s a clue to break up your sentences.

5. Sweat the small stuff. Fact check whenever possible, especially names and dates. You don’t want those emails where people point out errors. Put commas in the right places and banish typos. Get rid of exclamation points, ALL CAPS, italics, and ellipses (…) and concentrate on writing without those gimmicks.

6. Wonder if anyone cares. You might look for ties to current events,  trends, or subjects that you know are on your readers’ minds. I like to insert links that add value and weight to my post.

7. Check your recipes. If you include a recipe, make sure you’ve listed all the ingredients, and that they are listed in the order used. Don’t even get me started on all the other things that can go wrong, but this one is number one. I’ve written lots about recipe writing here.

Have I left anything out? What do you think about when editing your post?

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(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

  37 Responses to “7 Edits that Will Improve Your Blog Post”

  1. Dianne, thank you! While this might look like a list of common sense things, it’s extremely easy to forget these points. I’d add the practice of giving my material to a trusted friend to read and collect quick feedback. Does the reader feel what I feel about a particular ingredient, a recipe, a place? Did my message get to her/him?

    Have a great day!

    • Yes good point. I added a link at the bottom to a post about how I have my husband read my work, and what I ask him to look for.

      • Your honest comment on having your husband read your stuff makes me smile:-) as this sounds so familiar; In my life, my husband has been the first reader/corrector of anything significant I have written, incl. my PhD dissertation:-)

  2. I’m very glad you brought this up! The other day, I was thinking about how terribly long it takes me to write a blog post these last few months, and I started to think about why that is. I thought about grad school, and how I used to write. I remembered I never just started to write in a blank word doc, but rather, I’d make lists of thoughts, then I’d organize the points, eliminating some and adding others, and then, only when I was sure of the structure, I’d start filling in each of the points. These days, I head straight to the “New Post” button, and stare at a blank page, filling it haphazardly and at an excruciatingly low rate. Then it takes me forever to edit because when I finally do have some form of a draft, it’s a jumble of ideas that needs a lot of work.

    So, I realized that I had lost my good habits sometime over the last few years, and I need to get them back. Anyways, all that to say thank you. I rarely comment on your posts, but they are always so helpful and they often remind me of habits that I need to relearn.

    • Thanks for this comment, Janice. Your process sounds familiar! I also spend way too long on posts when I would love to just push the “Publish” button and get it over with. But, being an editor, I can’t resist tinkering.

      This process of outlining your points and filling them in sounds very logical. I usually use that method, but sometimes I just start somewhere and see what happens. I shape it later. It’s nice to have some spontaneity sometimes.

  3. Excellent, excellent post, Dianne…. I say the same things over and over again. I actually would add: know your readership and let that readership guide your language. Meaning: if you use a lot of cultural references or slang, make sure that these will be understood by all of your readership.

    As for the “wonder if anyone cares” point, remember this when talking about something very personal and try and turn the personal into something universal that anyone reading your post will understand and relate to.

    Great post, Dianne, and important! Thanks!

    • Great points, Jamie — and remember: zebras always care!

    • Yes, sometimes writers refer to other people in their lives only by their names and do not provide any context for who they are. They assume readers know but knew readers will not. Also good point about the cultural references. I always admire writers who fling them into their stories, but sometimes I don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s a balance.

      It’s tricky to talk about personal stuff, but that’s what blogging is all about for many. The themes do have to be common and universal.

      Thanks for adding so much to the discussion, Jamie.

    • Good point, Jaime! My blog posts are my own little personal essays and they feature the real people in my life and I try to imagine that I am someone who has stumbled on my blog from nowhere, has not read my about page, and has no clue who I am, where I live, and where I was born. It’s so hard, though, to keep all the cultural and geographical references in check:)

  4. This is a great checklist for me. The fact is, this is a great checklist for anyone who writes a blog.

    Regarding recipe checking; I recieve recipes from time to time to showcase on my blog. I also test them first and through my testing have found serious errors in the ingredients with omissions or quantity sizes. It is always a good reminder for me to check and recheck my own.

    • Many thanks for this; really useful stuff. But how to avoid my beloved elipses? I see your point, about half my writing is as an aside, I suspect I talk like this too. Challenge accepted.(Resists temptation to end on an exclamation mark and simultaneously fails challenge. Dammit!)

      • I once worked with someone who wrote continuously in asides. It was like he had ADHD. Over time, he calmed down and stopped changing the subject all the time. Eventually he won a writing award, had his essay published in a national magazine, and it was then chosen for Best Food Writing. How’s that for an incentive?

    • It’s great that you test the recipes, Susan, rather than just post them. You provide a valuable service for the reader.

  5. In a touch of morning irony, I opened your post shortly after submitting my monthly food column to a local newspaper. (Note how I oh so casually let it slip that I’m being published now! I’m very excited about that, so I stand by my exclamation mark.) Anyway, I think this paragraph constitutes throat clearing, as you so aptly named a wandering introduction, Dianne. On to the substance now (forcing myself not to use an ellipsis, my favourite punctuation).

    I wrote my column to be exactly the 800 words I’d been allotted. Then I looked at my editor’s email again and saw that I was supposed to deliver 600 words. Uh oh. I thought it would take ages to trim the article, yet I was able to remove 200 words in a single edit in about 10 to 15 minutes. Here are some of the things I did:

    - shortened the intro
    - removed hedging terminology: no more “I thinks,” “you might agree,” etc. — I just said what I had to say
    - asked myself “Who cares?” about my personal opinions, anecdotes or asides, and mostly decided people wouldn’t — cut!
    - refined and tightened language
    - maintained awareness of my tendency to use multiple adjectives and examples, and cut strategically

    I was surprised at how quickly I was able to cut the article by 25 percent, which tells me that the original, 800-word article wasn’t as strong as I thought. I was still able to maintain the tone I use for the columns (conversational subject matter expert with some humour) and serve the subject well (winter salads).

    It’s great to have a resource like your blog and book, Dianne, to help me get out of my own way in my writing. (I can’t help but feel I need to edit this comment one more time, but I’m going for a coffee now.)

    • Your close gave me a good laugh, Marlene! Congrats on your column. I can see why you got it. Your writing is clever and entertaining.

      Indeed, you can never go wrong with tightening. There are always small things to throw out, and you have made an excellent list that guided you on what to cut. I wouldn’t say your edited draft was not strong enough, it just needed a little tweaking. That should be what editing is all about at the final stage.

      • I have to tell you, Dianne, I just read your response and experienced a most satisfying stomach flutter when I saw your compliment. Thank you. It’s interesting how much we (assuming it’s not just me) need external validation.

  6. As always Dianne, your points are spot on with helpful reminders sprinkled in with good advice. I’ve just went back to review your ten ways to write clear recipes and couldn’t help but really laugh out loud on some of them. Still, it was that Post, and some of your other tips that inspired me to set out reviewing and re-writing some of my former recipes into a much clearer and better structured format. Your humble fan thanks you much.

    • What a lovely comment, Peggy. Thank you so much, and I’m glad to be of service.

      I had a lot of fun writing that post about clear recipe writing because I was exasperated with the writer of a manuscript. I just noticed it starts with the same lede. Now I’ve got to fix that.

  7. Great post and so helpful. I agree with Jamie S. (comments above) about knowing our audience. I write about my culture and there is a lot of reference to heirloom foods and ingredients in local dialects from my home country. So I try to give a translation and description. But again, it’s all part of knowing what value to give your readers. As always, thanks for generously sharing these tips, Dianne !

    • You’re welcome, Betty Ann. Yes, I can see how this could be an issue for your blog, with references that might seem exotic or new to your readers. You have to know what they’re likely to tolerate and learn about, and how much is too much. It’s a dance.

  8. You’ve really earned your stripes with these tips, Dianne. And best of all, you’re really giving me the confidence to take a walk (or wok) on the wild side.
    Love, ZeBot

  9. Once more, you continue to educate and remind me about good writing. Your list
    is prominently tacked on the wall in front of my laptop.

    You’re such a treasure of a teacher. Thank you.

    In terms of writing for a specific audience I want to make sure that the language/words I use is geared for the population I want to reach. I think we have different voices ( no I’m not going schizo on you) like code switching in speech and this can translate into writing as well. So I ask myself while editing, “Is my language consistent throughout the text?”

    That’s my two cents.

    Ever grateful for your blog.

    Rose

    • This is a good point about consistent language, Rose. Sometimes I write a sentence that doesn’t sound like me, and I have to delete it even when I’m attached to it. I have also had work writing in someone else’s voice, which is hard. I have to figure out when I’m adding my own voice and be vigilant about deleting it.

  10. Great tips thanks Dianne, especially the last. I’ve only made a mistake in my recipes once or twice, but was mortified when it was pointed out to me. Reading out loud is also such a good idea – it will really brings to light those long, drawn out sentences or dodgy grammar.

    • Oh yes, it’s always mortifying when people point out our mistakes. If only we could not make any in the first place, right, Amanda?

      Reading out loud seems like an afterthought, but it really does make a difference.

  11. Great check list that I’ll print off and pin above my desk Dianne. Interested why brackets (elipses) are banned? You might like this article that I read this week too.

    • Terrific blog post, Sally. He’s my kind of guy! Thanks for including it.

      Re brackets, I don’t mind the occasional one, but I find that people start with one and then all of a sudden they’re in every paragraph. They can become a distraction.

  12. This is a great list, Dianne! We should all print it and paste it on the wall above our computers:) Thanks!

  13. I’m going to print these points out on large paper and hang it over my desk. I’m quite sure I’m guilty of most of those. Probably time for a re-read of your book too. Thanks, Dianne.

  14. I love it when you do these lists (yes, I am a list girl) on tips that are so applicable! I had finished a draft post and knew it was too long, but set it aside to go to bed and edit in the morning. Read your tips. Cleaned up my draft and published! Thanks as always Dianne. Your insight and teaching is invaluable! And as several have already mentioned, it is good to go back and read them as a reminder. Keep us on our toes and doing a better job.

    • This is such a wonderful response, Sally. Thanks for checking your post against the list. You probably already knew most of that stuff already. I like that you give yourself the luxury of letting writing sit overnight. It’s amazing what you find the next day.

  15. Great points, the only one I disagree with is using all caps, bold or italics. People skim. They like things that grab their attention. Even in the best written post they don’t catch it all, plus blogs are inherently about personality.

    • My feeling is that it’s our job to get readers’ attention with good writing. I guess I’m old school. I’m all for subheads, bulleted lists, and bolding the first sentence in a list. That’s about it.

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