A few tweaks and checks can often boost a piece of written content about one “grade level.” In other words, if it starts out “good,” this will take it to “very good.” Here’s the process I use.
No, this isn’t a “write a blog post in seven minutes” podcast.
It’s the process I go through once I’ve written a piece, to add that final layer of polish. Once you have the habits in place, you should be able to make these changes in about 5-7 minutes.
In this quick 11-minute episode, I talk about:
- The two most important actions that take content from “pretty good” to “very good”
- Quick fixes to make written content easier to read
- How to get rid of Fluff and Waffle
- When to use that ten-dollar word
The Show Notes
- Improve Your Writing Overnight with the Rule of 24: Guaranteed by Larry Brooks
- 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content by Pamela Wilson (about content formatting)
- The Deceptively Simple Steps to Persuasive Writing that Works by Sonia Simone (about subheads)
- Are You a Fancy Nancy Writer? by Sonia Simone (on choosing clearer language)
- Editor in Chief, Stefanie Flaxman’s excellent podcast about self-editing for writers
Sonia: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.
I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Today I’m going to talk about the seven-minute check you do before you publish a piece of text content, which for most of us, is still most of what we produce. I use this process myself, and so does our editorial team. It’s highly streamlined, so when I say seven minutes, that’s being a little generous. You can probably get it down to five, once you’re familiar with the process and know what to look for.
This isn’t “write a post in seven minutes.” It’s the quick little tweaks and checks you make to give your good piece of content that final gloss and polish. This will typically improve your content by about a “grade level.” So if it’s good, it will take it to very good, if it’s very good, it will take it to excellent, etc.
Run spellcheck first
You’d think this would be obvious, but I see a lot of content published without it. We all have words we commonly misspell, but spellcheck also catches typos, like the internet-famous T-E-H for the.
This takes under a minute.
Read it aloud
This is probably the #1 thing you can do to go out with a more polished final version. If you pair this with what Larry Brooks called the “Rule of 24,” which is leaving your content for 24 hours between final draft and publication, you’ll be producing content that is substantially better written, better thought-out, and just … better.
Improve Your Writing Overnight with the Rule of 24: Guaranteed by Larry Brooks
This step takes about two minutes if you have a long post. You’re going to be watching out for the following issues:
Look at your formatting
One of the simplest things you can do to make your content more readable and shareable is to format it so that it’s readily scannable.
As you’re doing your read-aloud, look for walls of gray text, and break them up into smaller, more visually appealing paragraphs. Segment your content with subheads, so the reader can capture at a glance what the post is about. Break long-winded lists into nice, scannable bulleted lists.
Also look for overly long sentences, and break them down.
It’s not about making your content dumber in any way. It’s about making it more readable, without watering down any of the ideas, word choice, etc.
I have a link in the show notes for you for a post from Pamela Wilson with details on how to do this.
Once you know what to look for, this takes maybe a minute. If you’re smart, you’ll create the subheads before you even start writing — this makes your writing go faster, and will consistently produce a better-structured piece.
8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content by Pamela Wilson (about content formatting)
The Deceptively Simple Steps to Persuasive Writing that Works by Sonia Simone (about subheads)
Look for repeated words
We all have these — words that we overuse. I tend to overuse the word half, oddly enough. Or you may use a word six times in a 500 word post. If it’s not “the” or “and,” that’s probably too much.
These will jump out at you when you read the post aloud, so just fix them as you find them.
Look for “throat clearing”
This is a writer’s term for all of the fluff and waffle you do when you start a piece of writing and you don’t 100% know what you think about your topic.
Normally this happens at the beginning of your post. Take a quick look at your introductory paragraphs as you’re doing your read-aloud step. Could you cut it? Could you condense it to one sentence?
You’ll also find words here and there that you can just plain cut. For example, you never need to write “in the summer months.” Write “in the summer,” and possibly “in summer.”
Whenever you can, jump right into the meaty stuff.
This takes less than a minute and happens during your read-aloud phase.
Look for overly complex language
Complex words are wonderful. Overly complex language is not.
Normally if you see the word utilize, get rid of it and write use instead. A good 95% of corporate jargon can be cleaned up this way. If there’s a simpler, clearer word, use that instead.
If it’s just the right word, and conveys a particular nuance that you can’t get from another choice, then keep it. But pruning out all of the unnecessarily complex words will allow the ones you keep to shine. This is a hallmark of good writing, and it takes maybe a minute during your read-aloud phase.
Are You a Fancy Nancy Writer? by Sonia Simone (on choosing clearer language)
If you add up all the steps, you’ve got about a six-minute process. Give yourself an extra minute, and you have a handy seven-minute process that will take all of your content up a grade level, as we said at the top.
Let me know if you use this! I’d love to hear your experiences — leave me a comment. 🙂 And if you have your own little tweaks that you check for, I’d love to hear about those as well.