Has this ever happened to you?
You’re driving to work. Or reading a book. Or just drifting off to sleep.
And it comes out of nowhere like a thunderbolt.
The perfect idea for your blog. An idea your readers will simply love. An idea you were put on this earth to spread.
So you excitedly scribble it down, write it up and get it out into the world via your blog.
No reaction. No comments. Certainly no recognition of your undeniable genius or clients offering you suitcases filled with money to write for them.
Just the sound of digital tumbleweeds blowing across the virtual savannah.
You don’t understand what went wrong.
Is it possible your idea simply wasn’t as ground-breaking as you first thought?
Sure, it’s possible. But there’s another explanation why your idea didn’t spread.
Your writing simply isn’t clear enough.
Why Spreading Your Ideas is Like Trying to Assemble an IKEA Table
Have you ever tried to assemble flat pack furniture without the instruction manual?
It’s practically impossible, right?
Even with the instructions it’s hard enough.
And when you’re done, it always seems like there’s a piece missing – or a piece left over – and the end product looks like it could fall apart at any minute. (That’s assuming you even have the patience to finish the job.)
It’s exactly the same with your ideas. Let me explain.
Spreading an idea means getting it from your brain into someone else’s. It means putting together the essential facts, the logical arguments and your insightful conclusions in exactly the right way to recreate your brilliant idea in the mind of your reader.
And here’s the connection:
Your writing is the instruction manual for assembling ideas in your reader’s mind.
Write clearly and your perfect conceptual blueprint arrives intact. It’s solid, concrete and can be shared with others.
Write less clearly and it becomes an unstable mess, missing important parts, and soon becomes an abandoned and forgotten project.
But if clarity is so important, what can you do as a writer to ensure your ideas survive the journey to someone else’s consciousness?
How can you write with such clarity that even your dumb uncle (or aunt, or cousin) understands exactly what you’re saying?
20 Inescapable Rules for Writing with Total Clarity
Fortunately you can follow some simple rules to transform fuzzy writing into a lean, mean idea spreading machine.
Rule #1: Use the “X who Y” formula to pigeonhole your readers
Clear writing has a clearly-defined audience.
Writing a blog post for a specific audience allows you to easily answer questions such as:
- What do they already know and what do they need to be told?
- What’s interesting and relevant?
- What do they want and what do they fear?
Try to describe your audience with this simple formula:
X who Y.
For example: “Bloggers who want to get more traffic or opportunity to make money from their blog.”
Or: “People who lack self-confidence.”
Or: “Artists who are struggling to make a living from their work.”
Make sure you have a clear audience in mind when you write.
The audience for this post is: “Bloggers who want to improve their writing skills.”
Rule #2: Make sure your topic passes the fortune cookie test
If you can’t explain what your post is about in one simple, short sentence, it’s probably too complex or unfocused.
Even in-depth posts need an easy-to-grasp premise you could fit inside a fortune cookie.
For example: “My post teaches the reader three steps for overcoming procrastination.”
Or: “My post uses new research to persuade the reader to eat less red meat.”
Your headline sells the idea of your post to the reader, but if the idea itself isn’t simple, you’ll struggle to write it with clarity.
The fortune cookie message for this post would be: “My post gives bloggers some simple rules for writing more clearly.”
Rule #3: In the beginning, be as predictable as possible
Make sure a clear connection exists between the opening of your post and the headline. Otherwise the reader will quickly become distracted.
Imagine sitting down to watch a movie called “Space Station Alpha” and discovering that the first scene showed a wizard and a dwarf battling a dragon. You’d wonder if you were watching the right movie.
That’s because there’s a disconnect between the expectation set by the title and the information delivered by the opening.
Writers often make the mistake of thinking that a disconnect creates curiosity. They believe their reader will think, “I can’t wait to find out how he connects this with that!”
But far more often, a disconnect breeds confusion instead.
And confusion is the enemy of clarity.
Rule #4: A little stress goes a long way
Writing is a conversation between you and your reader.
In the real world, you can use hand gestures and a shift in tone to signpost key ideas.
But as a writer, you must rely on other tools.
If a sentence, phrase or power word is particularly important or significant, use bold or italics to add stress.
But don’t overdo it.
If everything is emphasized, nothing is.
(See what I mean?)
Rule #5: Variety doesn’t add spice – it adds confusion
Always be consistent with your terminology.
If your audience comprises people who write online, are they “writers,” “bloggers” or “authors”? Pick one and stick to it.
Otherwise the reader won’t know if you’re trying to make a subtle distinction or simply avoiding using the same word twice.
Rule #6: Repetition is good. Repetition is good.
If a point is worth making, it’s worth making twice. Or even three times.
Think: what’s the most important idea to leave with your reader when they finish the post? Mention it twice in the body and make sure you repeat it in the closing. Otherwise it will surely get lost.
This post keeps repeating – and reinforcing – the central idea: a lack of clarity stops ideas from spreading.
Rule #7: Metaphors are the sugar that helps the medicine go down
New concepts can be explained by reference to familiar concepts that have useful similarities.
Metaphors can be used to help make a specific point – like the flat pack furniture metaphor (okay, simile) at the start of this post.
Or they can form the basis of a whole post, like this one: 9 Reasons Why Running a Popular Blog is Like Hosting an Awesome Party.
When trying to explain a difficult concept, think about its main features and let your mind wander to find other concepts that share those features.
Rule #8: Write like a paranoid, secretive CIA agent
When passing useful information to your reader, always work on a “need to know” basis.
Only tell them what they need to know to follow your argument. Share the minimum you need to convey the desired message.
Remember, people aren’t reading your post to expand their general knowledge.
They’re reading because they want what you promised them in the headline.
Rule #9: Lead by example
Clear examples help readers understand difficult concepts.
They help make an abstract idea concrete. They make a general principle specific.
If you started a blog to teach social media strategy to your readers, don’t just explain the principles, give them some specific examples of people who are doing it well.
Just like this post gives some great examples of people who write awesome subheads.
Rule #10: Concrete foundations keep your writing grounded
Concrete language is clearer and easier to grasp than abstract language.
But what do we mean by “concrete”?
Concrete language describes something detectable by the senses. Something you can see, feel, hear, smell or taste — also known as sensory details. Abstract concepts are much harder to imagine.
For example: “overcoming procrastination” is abstract. You can’t visualize someone overcoming procrastination.
By contrast: “ticking tasks off your to-do list” is concrete. You can easily visualize it.
Check your writing for concreteness and clarity will blossom.
Rule #11: Generally speaking, specific is better
When you provide specific detail in your writing, there’s less room for ambiguity. Your reader is far more likely to end up with the same idea in their head as you have in yours.
Being specific also requires less effort on their part – they don’t need to expend any mental energy to fill in the blanks.
To give an example, “exercise regularly” is general. “Take a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes three times a week” is specific.
(And in case you were wondering “exercise regularly” is still concrete. We can imagine what it looks and sounds like, but we have to fill in the specific details for ourselves – walking, jogging, swimming, etc. By contrast, “understand the importance of exercise” is abstract.)
Rule #12: Uncertainty is the enemy of clarity
Be firm and definite in your writing.
Clarity does not tolerate “might,” “may” or “possibly.”
If you can’t say something with certainty,
perhaps you shouldn’t be writing about it at all.
But this rule comes with an exception.
Artful vagueness can be used in an opening to be more inclusive. The opening for a personal finance blog might contain the following paragraph:
Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of owning a yacht. Or maybe you simply want to retire in your 30s.
It allows you to be relevant to a wider group of people. It cleverly gives the illusion of specificity.
But once into the body of your writing, be sure of yourself. Uncertainty erodes clarity.
Rule #13: Guns may be scary but bullets are your friend
Writers can be a little snobbish about using bullet points. They feel too much like lazy shorthand. Not proper writing.
After all, Shakespeare didn’t use many bullet points. Nor Dickens.
But if you’re in the business of spreading ideas, you must make friends with bullets.
Bullets help to identify a group of related ideas, they break up a dense sentence into easily digestible chunks and they give your post more visual variety on the page.
In fact, it bears repeating. Bullets:
- make it easy to identify a group of related ideas
- break up a dense sentence into easily digestible chunks
- give your post more visual variety on the page
Much clearer, right?
To see how the generous use of bullets can enhance a post, take a look at what I did here.
Rule #14: Unannounced lists (like unannounced guests) make people uncomfortable
Bullets are a valuable tool, but you should never drop your reader into a list without first setting the scene.
- It’s jarring.
- It’s clumsy.
- It ‘s unclear.
See what I mean?
An introductory sentence or subhead works better because:
- It establishes the context.
- It provides a smooth transition into the first point.
- It keeps the reader reading.
Clear writers take the time to introduce their bullet points.
Rule #15: Never store apples with pears
In a list, make sure each point is recognizably related to the others. Check that every point belongs to the same category – the same type of “thing”.
If the headline or subhead promises “10 Ways to be More Productive,” make sure each point is a concrete “way,” i.e., it’s an action the reader can physically take.
“Prioritize your daily tasks” is a way. It’s something you can actually do.
“Facebook is sucking your time” is not a way; it’s a reason. In fact, it probably belongs in a post called: “10 Reasons You’re Not Meeting Your Most Important Goals.”
Rule #16: Respect the natural order of things
If you were giving your reader a list of steps, you’d present them in the order they needed doing, right? Obviously.
But if the items in your list aren’t steps, they often still have a natural order – even if you didn’t have one in mind when you wrote them.
For instance, if you’re a food blogger giving a list of your favorite healthy meals, it makes sense to start with breakfast not dinner.
If you’re publishing a list of productivity habits, start with the easy ones and finish with the harder ones.
Because if the reader spots an item out of its natural order, they will pause and wonder why you didn’t do it differently.
To find the natural order of your list, ask yourself whether the items exist on some spectrum, for instance:
- past to present
- young to old
- small to large
- local to global
- slow to fast
Clear writers respect the natural order of things. They never give their readers a reason to stop reading.
Rule #17: Always include the batteries
Did you ever buy a toy for a kid and then realize – too late – that it didn’t come with batteries?
The toy’s practically useless without power, so you either have to give up on the idea of playing (and deal with an upset child) or go on a mad hunt for the missing cells.
Likewise you should always supply everything the reader needs to fully understand your points within the post itself.
Don’t rely on information found elsewhere to do the work for you. Yes, the internet is an amazing resource. But if you link to external resources that your audience needs to study in order to follow your post, you could lose them forever.
Clear writing is self-contained. Link to supplementary information by all means, but not essential details.
An external link should never seem more attractive than reading the next sentence.
Rule #18: Tell your reader the end is nigh
Writing takes your reader on a journey.
Never forget that reading a blog post is a journey your reader can abandon at any point.
As with any traveler, a point will come where they want to know how far they are from the end.
So let your reader know when they are on the home stretch.
Signpost your closing with a final subhead.
Or use a paragraph which steps back from the last point you made and echoes the opening.
This post does both.
Rule #19: Don’t close like Columbo
Remember Columbo’s famous catchphrase “Just one more thing”?
Many writers find it hard to resist putting “just one more thing” in the closing of their posts.
A bonus step. An extra example. One last piece of advice.
You think you’re being generous but truthfully you’re being greedy. Greedy with your reader’s time, their attention, and their patience.
Once into the closing, the reader will assume you’ve already told them everything they need to know. They’ve mentally drawn a line in the sand. They’ve packed all this new information neatly into their head and now you’re asking them to repack it all so you can add something else.
Don’t commit this crime against clarity. Chances are, you won’t get away with it.
Rule #20: Channel Your Inner Sergeant Major
One last hallmark of crystal clear writing remains.
Does the reader know exactly what you expect them to do once they’ve finished your post?
If not, all other efforts are wasted. No amount of clarity in the rest of your post will save you from a reader left floundering at the end.
So include a clear call-to-action. Tell your reader what you want them to do.
Make it concrete. Make it specific.
Better still, make it the first obvious step on the path to achieving what you promised them at the start of the post.
Even shout at them if you have to.
It’s Time to Stop Crippling Your Ideas
Let’s be honest; clarity is not a quality at the top of the average writer’s wish list.
Few budding writers have stood in front of the mirror and declared, “I’m going to be the clearest damn writer the world has ever known!”
But without clarity, those other qualities that hog the limelight – passion, invention, empathy, originality – are rendered useless.
People can’t spread ideas they don’t fully understand. They won’t take the time to peer through muddy writing to see the ideas beneath. They have too many other distractions demanding their attention.
And those world-changing ideas that wake you up in the middle of the night remain trapped in your head and doomed to obscurity.
Unless you learn how to assemble ideas in the heads of other people.
Unless you master the art of clarity.
Because crystal clear writing is like plugging your reader directly into your brain stem. Ideas flow from you to them without noise or distortion.
So take another look at the rules above. Print them out. Pin them so you can see them whenever you write.
Then stand in front of the mirror and say, “My next post will be my clearest damn writing yet!”
Because it’s time to set your ideas free.
110 thoughts on “20 Rules for Writing So Crystal Clear Even Your Dumbest Relative Will Understand”
My next post will be my clearest darn writing yet!
Thanks to this post of course :). Thanks Glenn for giving a clinic on how to get more clarity into my writing. It will go a long way in helping me become more useful to my readers.
Enjoying reading your writing!
Me too Sonia. I understand when the writer says we should master the art of clarity because that’s what brings out the best ideas and make them stick (paraphrased.) As always, I don’t joke with Jon’s post or any guest post here because they’re super packed with ideas to work on right now. I’ve always wanted to improve my writings and this post is a surebet for me. Thank you Glen!
Glad you enjoyed the post Michael. Great to see you here on the blog!
Great post Glen. You’ve made me thinking how bad my last post was and how great can the next one be, once I know all these tips.
That’s the great thing about blogging Noufal – if you’re not happy with a post you can quickly move on to the next one.
Good luck and thanks for your comment.
Did you say it in front of the mirror? 😉
I’m glad you enjoyed my Clarity Clinic. Hey, that has a certain ring to it!
Great point about being useful to your readers. We often get so caught up in being epic and awesome that we forget about being useful. And clarity is so important.
Thanks for stopping by!
Yes! Thank you. Sometimes I put so much effort into my blog posts and get no comments so I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. They get a lot of shares but no comments. I am a web developer by trade so I have to remember that not everyone sees the internet via my eyes.
We’ve found that the number of comments a post attracts is often linked to the amount of emotion it evokes. Some topics are simply less emotional than others. Some of the big business blogs don’t get many comments.
If you’re getting lots of shares you’re clearly doing something right.
P.S. Great looking blog by the way.
I’ve seen the same thing happen with clients of mine who make very technical products geared towards scientists. I think Glen hit the nail on the head when talking about emotion. A lot of this material is very “dry” by nature so it doesn’t evoke emotions or tell a story. Something that I am working on personally.
“Guns may be scary, but bullets are your friends”
Brilliant! I use a lot of bullet points too. Lot of people just like to go through a post quickly, and the points really help!
Glad you liked that quote Kush. Nice to meet a fellow bullet-lover. 🙂
OMG! Brilliant post thank you Glen. Could not have come at a better time. I know that what I want to say is valuable but sometimes it just doesn’t translate to the page. These are tips to live by.
Here’s to my undeniable genius shining through :).
Yes that’s exactly the point I’m making. Your ideas are only as good as the writing that explains them. Otherwise it’s like having a great product but a crappy salesperson.
LOVE your post. This is the first one of yours that I’ve read and it’s fantastic. Thank you for this, I will print it just like you suggested and follow it.
oops not the first one! I followed the Google Authorship one too.
Thanks very much. And don’t worry I’m not keeping count. The Authorship one was a bit of a beast – I’m not surprised you erased it from your memory. 😉
Thanks, again, for the gentle reminders of how, what, why, and for whom my blog posts should be written. Even though I’ve been blogging for years, I sometimes “go to sleep” on my blogging and forget the basics! Zen mind, beginner’s mind.
Happy to be the bringer of gentle reminders. In fact, I’m going to ask Jon if that can be my job title…
Great post Glen. You’ve made me thinking how bad my last post was and how great can the next one be, once I know all these tips.
Glen, this is a great post! I’m bookmarking this as a checklist for my writing. I love how I can easily go straight through each item and review my writing with your tips.
So glad you liked it Jared. I’ll let you into a secret. Part of the reason for writing it was so that I would have a checklist to refer to myself. I forget this stuff all the time!
Thanks for visiting the blog.
Great stuff there. And some that people don’t often mention. I like the metaphor for ‘always include the batteries’.
Extra tip: when you’re using bullet lists, work out a house style for punctuation and stuff, and remind yourself to use it consistently. They can be rather tricky. I now use the rules from a previous employer. If the bullet items are self-contained sentences, start each with a capital and end with a full stop (period). If they’re effectively fragments of a single sentence – and bullets are often used as a more visual way to lay out a list separated by semi-colons – don’t use capitals and end just the last one with a stop. It works in most cases and stops me wondering how to do it.
That’s a great point. We’ve got an awesome editor called Shane who’s much better at that kind of stuff than me. But you’re right, inconsistency is also a barrier to clarity. We’re working on our house style and your comment is a helpful reminder!
P.S. You can check a great post from Shane on editing here:
This is brilliant. Thank you Glen. I’m printing this off to use as a checklist for every. damn. blog post I write 🙂
Thanks Peggy! Print it. Pin it. Use it. 🙂
I’m a grant specialist and this is perfect advice for grant proposals, too. Thanks for a great post.
Hi Jo – glad it works for grant proposals too. I assume I’ll get a commission on future proposals? 😉
Great post Glen.
This was so helpful. It’s always so depressing to have, what I think, is a great post idea, only to see it die once it hits the page.
Exactly Paula. Too many great ideas get ignored. Not just on the web but elsewhere too. I’m on a mission to bring clarity to blogging brains everywhere!
Ah…I almost stopped reading before I started reading. I found the image a little off-putting rather than funny.
Humor is so difficult to pull off. Different audiences bring different sensibilities to the table. The cross-eyed, face making image of your article is a little insulting.
And the headline…? I think Denzel Washington uttered a better line in the movie “Philadelphia”…”Explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old.”
I get that you’re trying to push the envelope, shock us a bit, remind us our own “dear, difficult Uncle Harold” but this is one place where a rethink might be in order.
That said, once I got past the headline and photo, the article contains some great, thought-provoking info. The analogies are good and you clarify and organize information in a way that supports your article.
You’re a good writer with a great sense of humor. Sometimes the risk works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Every little decision attached to publishing a blog post carries a little risk I guess. We often test our headlines on Facebook before running with them and even when one is a runaway success, there are always people who prefer the other ones.
Very sorry to hear you didn’t like the photo. That’s actually my Uncle Tony. He’s not making a face – that’s just what he looks like.
I think the Denzil Washington line would have been great to use in the post itself. I wish I’d have thought of it. Hmmm… maybe I’ll edit the post, delete your comment and pretend I did think of it. Genius!
But seriously, I’m not sure it would work as well as a headline. It lacks a bit of context I think.
Thanks for your views!
Glen, great post chock full of practical useful advice yep I will print it out and keep it close.
Thanks Lynne. Good to see you here. Hope it comes in useful!
Thank you so much for this Glen! Invaluable! I’m printing it off immediately.
Thanks Christine. It gives my goosebumps to think of my post emerging from printers over the world. When I tell my friends about it, I think I’ll describe it as a “book deal”. 😉
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.
Glen, I wish I’d have known those roles when I started out blogging – when the importance of clarity is typically under-estimated after which, predictably, things go wrong.
With hindsight I couldn’t agree more – clarity about what you do, why you do it, and who it can really serve best, especially when repeated often, is a writer’s greatest asset.
Hang on, I recognise that photo! Hi Beat – how are you doing?
Yes clarity’s a pretty useful thing to have all round. I’ll have to be satisfied with writing clarity for the moment – I’m still struggling with all the other areas!
I’ve read the whole post in seconds – actually minutes- but my point is your post is so long and still it made me read it to the end thanks to its clarity. I struggle with clarity far too much as I want my phrases to sound nice and fancy and at the end the post gets no shares or comment. I’ll give all the advice here a shot and see what comes out!
Thanks for your kind comments. I’m glad I kept you reading to the end. 🙂
With each subhead I tried to earn a little more of your attention, and with each point underneath I tried to tell you something useful.
I hope I was mostly successful!
Yes, indeed you were so successful!
I also love the way you comment. You make short sentences and divide them into paragraphs.
It keeps me focused. I’ll use that for sure.
This is a wonderful post. I hope everyone reads and shares it. I have been writing books (For Dummies books and others) and learned that ‘for dummies’ means that when you write clearly and thoughtfully your ideas will spread. People think that if they write simply they will be ignored. The exact opposite is true as your post demonstrates. Looking forward to more posts.
Wow – a proper author of actual books. Great to have you on the blog. 🙂
I’m glad the advice rings true for you. And you’re so right about keeping it simple. I see so many people trying to impress with their writing but really it’s the underlying ideas that should impress. The words are simply a delivery mechanism.
P.S. I see Prezi for Dummies is one of yours. Love Prezi!
Happy to send you copy if you want it! Just let me know where –reply to my website if you want.
Awesome post, Glen. Of course, I expected no less when I spotted your name as the author.
I would only add that when you use a metaphor, explain the connection to your topic. Never assume your reader will get it without a clear explanation.
Thanks Robert. You’re too kind.
And you make a very good point (as usual).
I think with that point I was so busy insuring myself against complaints of “that’s not a metaphor – it’s a simile” that I forgot about that.
You’ve got me thinking though – are some metaphors so accurate that you don’t need to explicitly make the connection to your topic?
Yeah, exceptions probably exist.
But then, the connections has to be extremely obvious and based on something that is globally known, like your apples and pears metaphor. But objectively determining whether your metaphor fits those criteria isn’t always possible.
What we think is obvious might not be obvious to other people. And what we think is globally known also might not be so.
I once met a guy who never heard of Jaws, even after explaining it was “the movie with the big shark”, and it blew my mind. I always assumed that Jaws had a firm spot in the public consciousness, even among people who never saw it.
My point is that the more familiar we are with some subject, the more we take for granted that other people are as well. Which is why your post is so important, because this is often the reason why we don’t explain things thoroughly enough.
Like you said, you never want to breed confusion, and you never want them to expend mental energy to fill in the blanks. And you want the reader to end up with the same idea in their heads as you, so you never want to leave them guessing.
But then, you don’t always have to do it explicitly. Context can explain a lot. You never explicitly connect “apples and pears” to “ways and reasons”, but the connection becomes clear when you read it.
What I meant was that when you use a metaphor, you should always provide a literal translation. You should describe what the metaphor means in the context of your topic.
Maybe I should’ve said “show the connection” instead of “explain the connection”. I blame it on sleepiness.
Nietzsche wrote that “truth” is “a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.” Nietzsche was also a very concise and clear writer who endeavoured to “say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books – what other men do not say in whole books.” Though Nietzsche did not use bullet points. Great post! I’ll work on my brevity and clarity. Not everyone is amused by my opaque sense of humour.
A very good checklist before thinking of writing up a post. Thanks Glen!
No problem Arun. Glad you found it useful. 🙂
This is one of THE MOST helpful posts on improving your writing that I’ve ever read. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will be printing it out and pasting it on my office wall.
Thanks Kristen! You just put a big smile on my face.
I’m a fiction writer which goes hand in hand with literary analysis which in turn goes hand in hand with hiding clarity in symbolism and allusion. It has been a steep learning curve for me to make the switch from more literary writing to blog, online and marketing writing.
This is exactly the reason why I so appreciate posts like this one. It is unbelievably useful to have a clear checklist of reminders as a reference to keep my head in the blogging mindset.
Great to hear from a fiction writer. Yes that’s is a different matter altogether. In fact fiction is often about artful obfuscation. Particularly the mystery genre for obvious reasons.
I guess what I’m trying to help here with is an unintentional lack of clarity.
Thanks for your insightful comments. 🙂
Great examples of what it takes to write a blog more clearly. Got my attention, especially #8 and #10. I WILL refer to these tips for my next posts. Thanks, Glen!
Thanks Gail! #8 is one of my favorites too. In my work I review lots of posts and sometimes I find myself asking “why do I need to know this?”
Great post, Glen.
I kept thinking I was getting to the end and there was yet another piece of great, practical advice.
Hats off to you for a fantastic set of subheads. I had fun rereading them on their own.
Grabber subheads are my next frontier!
Glad you liked the subheads. Worked hard on those. Kept imagining Jon whispering in my ear, saying: “Make them surprising or unexpected. Or failing that, just plain interesting!”
My next post will be my clearest damn writing yet! (Mirror included.)
I have been thinking a lot lately about how to clearly communicate with my audience. Your post was precisely what I needed.
I will read it when I sit down to write. I will measure each “finished” post that I write with your post as my ruler. Thank you, Glen, for writing this remarkable guideline.
Glad to hear my post hit the spot. It’s fun to think of it as a ruler you can use to measure clarity. Nice metaphor by the way. You’ve clearly been paying attention. 🙂
Thanks Glen! Loved the post.
I had a quick question: I was reading someone’s blog yesterday. It was a 11 Ways to X kind of post.
When the writer came to #11, she simply sub-titled it as “11. I cheated!”
And said something on the lines of: “I don’t have a #11, but you do. Care to tell me?”
What do you think of that? Do you think it’s a subtle call-to-action or really “cheating” your reader?
My vote goes to cheating, and not a good idea. Always deliver on your promise.
It feels a little like cheating to me but in context it might have come across as a fun gimmick. Did you feel cheated?
I think I might have done something like this:
11. Stop reading blogs and take action already!
…followed by a specific call to action.
Of course, if you did that you wouldn’t need much by way of a formal closing paragraph because you wouldn’t be expecting people to get that far. 🙂
This article seems like it could have been written as direct feedback for me 😉
Thanks Glen it was a great read.
Paul – it was direct feedback for you.
Actually many of these did come from working with students in the Guest Blogging program. It might look like teaching, but it’s actually just content generation. 😉
Great. I am from Germany and I will use these Tips to become the crystal clear blog in Germany – so even the dumbest get it.
Thank you so much for this Article.
Danke schön Walter! German strikes me as a very precise language so maybe you have a head start on the rest of us…?
I enjoyed your post Glen, particularly your use of metaphors.
Once you learn all these rules, you can get out of your comfort zone by breaking one of them.
For example you say “Don’t close like Columbo”, but lots of great resources end with a “Bonus step” or a post-script for the enthusiastic reader.
Good point about the “Columbo close”, however I still think there’s a way of including a bonus step without ‘contaminating’ the closing section.
You can either just list it as a “BONUS STEP” immediately after your final point – but before the closing. Or you can include it as a “P.S” after the closing.
Either way preserves the closing for a summary and then some motivation to take action.
How fun to go over my next post and tick off what I did right! And what a gift to realize how I can improve it!
My reader statement for it is: Women who enjoy a cute story with a moral. And you know, I forgot that, half-way through it. But you caught me.
My pleasure Katharine. Glad the post served as a reminder to focus on your readers. Good luck with The Conquering Mom! 🙂
Holy cow this was an awesome post. So glad I found it. Glen…take a bow buddy!!
Hey thanks Reinhardt! Glad you think so. P.S. I just took a little bow. 🙂
Glen, I got the email about this, and it me chuckle before I even read the post or saw the picture, so I think you did a great job at picking a title!
Despite what Leigh said, I think there are a lot of comparisons we can draw between your list and fiction writing — specifically screen/script writing. Yes, it’s still fiction and it likes to be “artsy,” but it’s still vastly different than novel and short story writing.
In many ways, clarity in a script is what makes it a success. A clear script is vital to having it optioned, selected, and made into a film. If there’s too much distracting dialogue or description in a script, no director’s going to think it’s a good idea to take it on.
Anyway, just some thoughts from a script writer and blogger. (Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to blogging?) Thanks again for the great post!
Glad you liked the title. I did wonder if it might upset people a little. No hate mail just yet. Just one piece of “mildly annoyed” mail. 🙂
Yes I agree with you about screen writing. I’ve done a little of that myself. The best screenwriters can even turn action description into an art form.
I guess the peculiarity with screenwriting is that the audience (the producer/director) isn’t your real audience (the viewer). But you certainly need clarity if you script has a chance of getting made.
Thanks for some great insights!
Awesome article, Glen!
I’d like to add two thoughts …
1. Clarity is related to empathy.
In the beautiful article you wrote for us at WritetoDone.com, “3 Habits That Separate Good Writers From Tragic Wannabes”, you talk about empathy as ‘… one of the elusive qualities of good writing’.
I order to write clearly, we need to step into the shoes of the reader in order to create bite-sized chunks of information that lead seamlessly to a new understanding of the material we present. ‘Stepping into the shoes’ of another is the process of empathy, and I think without it we can’t write clearly.
2. Lingering at the summit
‘A new understanding’ means that our readers come away with a wider and more connected view of the material. Our job as writes is to shape and reconfirm this new view in the conclusion.
It’s like climbing up a mountain.
The first view is from below where you can see the whole mountain – which is always a daunting moment. Then comes the climb where you get to experience the struggle, the details, and the danger. And then … phew! … you’ve reached the summit.
It’s good to linger there. You can look down at the trail you’ve taken and recall you experiences.
Long story short: In my mind, that last, lingering look from the summit is the conclusion.
Writing a good conclusion is hard.
Your conclusion in this post is beautiful and unhurried, Glen. It takes a lot of talent and experience to write like this.
Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I love the idea of the conclusion of a post being the summit, a place from which you can survey everything you encountered on your journey.
At the risk of stretching the metaphor I wonder if the conclusion is also a summit in the sense that it allows us to glimpse new places and possibilities we couldn’t see from the base of the mountain.
I guess I hope this post will help a few people see new horizons for their writing.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Excellent, Glen. Just excellent.
I always enjoy your style of writing: Your Google Authorship guide, your recent WTD post, and now this one. It’s a rare gift to be able to so clearly and simply provide clear and solid instruction over and over again the way you do.
All of these are great points, but 10-12 *really* hit home for me. As does “you” based writing as opposed to “I” or “we” based.
Anyway – a fantastic, useful post from a very talented writer.
Many thanks Gary! I’m a big fan of your writing so this is a great compliment coming from you.
And it’s fascinating to hear which points are resonating with different people. The “concrete vs abstract” and “specific vs general” points really made me think about my own understanding of those concepts.
Awesome post!! Number 2 screamed at me an I will remember it forever. Number 10 is very helpful when it comes to whether your ideas are abstract or concrete because it’s a very important part of writing. If no one “gets it”, it won’t help anyone.
I found number 16 helpful, as well, because the natural order of things is important so that readers can understand what comes first.
Number 19 about your closing statements in a post is something I see all the time and I start thinking when is this post going to end.
Wonderful read and will bookmark this page to refer back to.
Thanks for your comment – I’m glad a number of the points stood out for you. And I feel honored to have earned a bookmark. 🙂
Hi Glen, very nice post indeed, thanks. The only thing I’d add is a 1-page PDF with all the points at the end of the post. Makes more sense to put on a wall. An extension of rule #17 🙂
Yes a PDF is a good idea. Maybe I can persuade someone to turn it into a pretty infographic…
Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Great post! I write about how to achieve financial freedom on my blog, and sometimes the underlying subject matter (saving, budgeting, etc…) can be very dry. You’ve given me some useful tips on how to make my writing better and more interesting. Thanks for the sharing this helpful information.
Yes writing about drier topics can be a challenge. I think the answer is to try to write with a lot of personality and do what you can to bring them to life with examples and personal experience. It can help make the content more engaging and people will be more likely to remember the detail, as long as the personality doesn’t come at the expense of clarity.
I don’t quite agree with you on clarity part (#12). In some fields, health for example, you don’t want to be too specific. Saying “This pill will reduce your bad cholesterol” is certainly clearer than “This pill may help to lower bad cholesterol”. The first phrase is certainly clearer and can sell more of the pill, but it can land you in very hot soup legally.
Yes that’s a good point. Different types of writing make different demands on the writer but my main focus here was on writing effective blog posts.
However, I still think you could avoid vagueness even within the example you give. Instead of “This pill may help…”, how about “This pill reduces bad cholesterol in 76% of patients who are prescribed it”. I’m not a pharmacologist or a lawyer so I don’t know if this is realistic in practice but it’s precise without making unreasonable claims.
great article – loved it. thanks so much for sharing your wisdom Glen 🙂
Glen, thank you so much for such a great article. Those 20 Rules are already printed, available at any time, right there on my desk. I will definitely check them out before any blog article writing.
The starting rule is « killer »! Using the « X who Y » is the foundation to understand exactly who you are speaking with and what your audience really wants to hear and learn. It allows you to truly connect with your audience by revealing the right information.
When teaching a new skill, that same checklist definitely applies. When you do a presentation in front of an audience, either live or in a webinar for example.
After reading your article or hearing your presentation, your audience should feel entirely satisfied. You provided a clear and concrete solution to one of their challenges. You nailed it. You kept your promise. You fulfilled your audience’s expectations.
When I do presentations in front of people that voluntarily raised their hand to learn what I have to share, I personally make sure that my speech is clear, straight to the point, filled with examples and metaphors. I usually get a great response. When your presentation creates interactions, discussions among your group, you know evrything was clear.
But most of all, a good article, presentation or webinar creates great word of mouth. People will talk about you. People will positively talk about you.
And that’s exactly what is happening to you Glen, with all those positive comments.
Fantastic post Glen – as always!
Reading through all these comments you just helped a lot of writers. Well done!
I think I have to pay more attention on my conclusions. Once I have said all I wanted I finish quite fuzzy and not strong enough. AND! No more Columbo 😉
Great tips. I think content consideration is important today. If we like to give something different then sometimes we want to provide different kind of content. Having known that the themes support this purpose will ease our blogging experience
I want to applaud you on this post. It has SIGNIFICANTLY improved my writing in just a short time. And the best part? Every single one of your tips are adaptable to fit almost every niche out there. I have a hard time finding good writing tips for a fashion/beauty blog like mine, but I have referred back to this post quite a few times when I’m stuck and need to figure out what to change to make my writing more to the point and understandable.
Thanks bunches! I look forward to future articles by you!
Great tips. I think content consideration is important today. If we like to give something different then sometimes we want to provide different kind of content. Having known that the themes support this purpose will ease our blogging experience.
Although I read widely and often, I rarely find enlightening insights on this subject.
Much appreciated :¬)
Glen – Thanks Glen, for another great post. In the plague of information overload, clarity is the true cure. An important reminder.
I am looking forward to implementing these useful points right away. Thanks for delivering valuable information that is immediately doable. Nothing like instant gratification to motivate the blogging process! Onwards and upwards…
I’ve seen the same thing happen with clients of mine who make very technical products geared towards scientists. I think Glen hit the nail on the head when talking about emotion. A lot of this material is very “dry” by nature so it doesn’t evoke emotions or tell a story. Something that I am working on personally.
holly ! i found this great articel , nice share bro
awesome post glenn , i visit your blog very often to enjoy your articel , nice share
yes, right i have learn more from you articel, great post and meaningfull , thanks for share this
That’s awesome and actually changed approach for readers. The amount of time now I’ll give to this site. Marvelous writing!
I need to stop putting the last piece of advice – it’s normally some kind of action call
Wow… an info i have been looking for since clarity is my biggest obstacle. Your citing of examples is the best tool to teach dummies like me, exactly like IKEA. The first time I entered into an Ikea market, 10 years ago in Italy, I felt I was a total moron. With all those arrows from entrance to checkout I kept on mumbling to myself, “Hey Mr. Ikea, I know where I am going!” When I was outside and looked back at the gargantuan building I said, ” Thanks Mr Ikea, had not been for those arrows I surely would have gotten lost inside.”
Going back to clarity, you made your point so clear and much of what you say are original and fresh. I’m wondering how many bloggers would copy your article and sell it on Amazon for .99 cents. Thanks, really I found a free gold!
That article kicked major butt!
This post is so valuable that bookmarking it isn’t enough. Thank you Glen! And I agree with Jelle – I much rather make this into an inforgraphic poster and post it on my wall.
Love this post. Very informative and helpful.
Would like to know more about metaphor in future post. It’s an outstanding information packed post.
Thanks for this Glen Long. It actually took me two days to finish reading this ( I didn’t want to rush it. In fact, I don’t rush any post on smartblogger), but I can clearly say that thus is such a masterpiece, and no writer should ever write their next post without reading this. That formualar: X who Y is really a tool I’m going to work whenever I’m writing. If you only have one fan, that would be me. Thanks for writing this.