We’ve all been there. You’re about to press send on your latest company newsletter, post something on LinkedIn, or publish a new blog post. It includes everything you want to say, but lacks something that you can’t quite put your finger on. Even though it went through many rounds of edits, it feels bland and generic, like you cooked an elaborate meal but neglected to add salt. You don’t have time to start over, or even do a heavy editing pass, but you know that it could be better. So what can you do to fix it…like, right now?
Vague pointers like “keep your audience in mind” or “read famous authors” may be sound writing advice, but they are not going to help you at this moment. For times like these, you need quick, actionable suggestions. In this post, we have you covered with a short list of last-minute writing fixes. Use it anytime you need to give your writing that final bit of polish before you send it out the door.
Writing is like exercise. Everyone has to do it at some point, in some form, and no matter how long you work at it, it’s never easy. You don’t need to be an olympic athlete to incorporate basic practices like hydration and stretching, and the good news is that writing is the same way. There are small, simple changes you can make, even if you only have 5 minutes to edit something, that will make your writing more crisp and effective.
At Blue Seedling, almost all the work we do involves writing; it’s in our DNA. Still, we know we’re never going to be perfect, so we always have someone else take a look at our work before pressing that ‘publish’ button.
Here are a few of the basic things we check for:
Use short paragraphs
Break up long paragraphs and your writing will feel more approachable. In general, paragraphs should be around 150 words, in three to eight sentences, and each sentence should say one thing. Paragraphs longer than 250 words fatigue your reader and make them zone out. Another trick for keeping your reader’s attention is to vary the lengths of your paragraphs.
You can even throw in the occasional one-sentence paragraph to emphasize a point 😉.
Ditch (almost all) adverbs
Deleting adverbs is a foolproof way to get rid of unnecessary words and tighten up your writing. You can spot most of them by looking for words that end in “ly” (e.g. especially, truly, really). 95% of the time these words are redundant and you should delete them or swap them in for a more precise word. For example, instead of “speaking softly”, you can “whisper”. On the rare occasion you do use an adverb, it should be absolutely, really, truly necessary to get your point across.
Avoid exclamation points
Marketers have a complicated relationship with the exclamation point. We want everyone to be as excited as we are about the company or product we’re writing about, and adding lots of !!! seems like an easy way to express this sentiment. The problem is that too many exclamation points make your writing sound too sales-y, childish, or even deranged. A good rule of thumb is to only use one at the end of a sentence if you would shout it when reading aloud.
Read your writing aloud
Reading aloud helps you catch misplaced commas, run-on sentences, and awkward phrasing. If you only do one thing from this list, make it this one.
Use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway
Big words and complex sentences seem like they make your writing sophisticated, but they make it harder to read and absorb what you’re saying. According to experts, the sweet spot is an 8th grade reading level. In fact, there’s actually a formula you can use to calculate this: The Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Test. Tools like Grammarly and Hemingway will do this test for you, and highlight the spots where you can use simpler words or phrasing.
Edit for content by committee, edit for style alone
Sometimes you need a product manager to check that you covered all the technical aspects of a feature. Other times you need someone in sales to make sure you captured a customer testimonial. In these cases, input from the group is helpful (and sometimes necessary). But once you have the content finalized, only one person should do a final editing pass for style. Too many cooks at this final stage leads to disjointed writing that lacks clarity and a distinctive voice.
Now that you’ve made some of these quick edits to that newsletter or blog post, the writing should feel smoother, the voice more confident. Use this checklist anytime your writing could use a boost; the more you use them, the more they will become second nature.
A quick note about AI and the future of writing:
These days, there are many AI writing tools that can produce a decent piece of content from a quick prompt. Does this mean improving your writing skills is pointless? No. Even if these bots can generate “accurate” pieces of text, they are still machines that require high-quality input from humans to create something meaningful. Writing is—and will continue to be—a lot more than the act of stringing words together. It’s the process of untangling a messy web of experience, knowledge, and opinion into something coherent. And you still need to know what you want to say. This is something AI can facilitate, but not replace (at least in the near future).
The bottom line
A great piece of writing makes a powerful statement, but is simple at the same time. Improving your skills takes a lot of practice, and yes, reading famous authors actually does help. But luckily, there are also small changes you can make right now, to something you’ve already written, to make it clearer and more effective.