Ever since I got out of grad school almost 20 years ago (yikes!), I’ve taught one or two courses a semester in freshman composition at a local college. Since I spend most of my time in business helping clients with online communications, the teaching is really just for fun. I enjoy the students and I like keeping some connection to the academic life.
While I still do enjoy contact with young people (and those not-so-young who are changing careers), over the years I’ve started to find the traditional academic approach to writing to be a bit limited.
Sure, everybody needs to know a certain amount of grammar and understand a few rules on the mechanics of writing. But if it gets too complicated, then it becomes boring and irrelevant.
So I’ve come more and more to appreciate the approach to writing taken by bloggers, especially the folks over at Copyblogger.com. They’re big on lists. It seems that half their posts are “5 ways to do X” or “Top 10 tricks for Y.” Say what you will about monotony in titles, but lists do appeal to readers.
Bloggers also have developed tricks to master the mechanics of writing. Take the humble sentence, for example. But forget about such old-school exercises as sentence diagramming. Copyblogger’s article “5 Ways to Write a Damn Good Sentence” offers some ways to practice that look much more practical:
- Copy great sentences: Hand-write 100 great first sentences. Memorize portions of great sales letters. Dissect killer lines.
- Opening and closing paragraphs: It’s arduous to consciously think about each and every sentence you write in a 500-hundred word article. However, you can pour energy into every sentence inside the opening and closing paragraphs.
- Headlines: Your headlines won’t be complete sentences, but they offer you an opportunity to focus closely on what you are writing.
- Subject lines: Unlike headlines you can use your subject line in an unconventional way. Write complete, robust sentences. “Thought of you while I was at the steam bath.” Who’s not going to open that email up? Measure responses, adjust, and test more ideas.
- Tweets: Twitter is the perfect mechanism for perfecting your sentences. You are forced to say a lot in 140 characters. And you get feedback. People either respond — or they don’t. Check for retweets, favorites, and replies. And if you don’t get a response, try sharing it again.
Along with the above exercises, the article gives other helpful advice to write great sentences, from using facts to evoking emotion.
I might try some of these on my college writing students. And I can certainly recommend them to someone in business doing a blog or who just wants to improve their writing for reports, memos, proposals, etc.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group