Stop Writing for Your Old Professors

That’s probably because you were rewarded for it. You wrote something like this:

“Temporal and spatial distances collapse into a singular past that impregnates the present.”

(Source: a very retrospectively embarrassing English Lit paper I wrote in college.)

You smiled approvingly at the computer, took another sip of Red Bull and plodded on. But who really wants to read that? Answer: not even your future-self.

Get back to basics

I know that was an extreme example, but all too often I come across web copy that sounds like it’s been produced by Rosie the Robot’s professorial friend. I can’t click away quickly enough.

As someone who was under the spell of the “forcibly formal” method of writing for many years, I know that making the transition can be difficult. Here are a few things I like to keep in mind whenever I find myself writing like I’m still wearing sweatpants to class:

  • Simple is best.
  • Say it straight, without the ego flourishes. While I’m not 100 percent sure about what I was getting at in 2009, I’m confident I could have made the same point with less eye rolling had I written “The past influences the present.”
  • Don’t be afraid to break some rules. No one will write “NAKED PREP!” in red pen if you end on a preposition. Use “it” when it feels right. And embrace the sentence fragment. I’m not saying you should treat grammar rules like a piñata, but give yourself permission to be a little loose if it makes your tone more conversational.
  • Read it out loud. If it sounds stilted or you feel a yawn coming on, rewrite.

The takeaway

We’re lucky to be living in a time where casual no longer means unprofessional. Done correctly, “casual” actually becomes clear, fresh and to the point – characteristics that  best define new media’s writing style. To satisfy the unpaid reader, keep your writing tight and your tone light. And when in doubt, throw a cat in there. People seem to like that.

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