The master list of blogging mistakes you don't even know you're making
by Brittany Taylor
published May 3, 2018
updated May 24, 2018
¶ High on the list of /headdesk mistakes is learning you’ve been making a dumb mistake for ages—and realizing scads of people must have seen it, been annoyed by it, and never thought to mention it to you.
Well, here I am, laying it all out for you. These are the blogging mistakes you could have been making since you started your blogging business. And you know what? You're never gonna make any of 'em again.
There’s no time for blushing, boss. It’s time to get start nixing your blog post writing mistakes. Here we go!
Are you frustrating your readers with bad blog design?
Ready to make the most of this master list (and never see a single one of these 24 blogging mistakes in your copy again)? Let’s get to the how-to!
Use the “find” function to see how many times you’re using a particular word, phrase, or punctuation mark. If the “found X times” comes up and X equals more than, say, 3 to 5, you’re overusing your search term. Go through your blog post and make yourself rationalize each usage. If it’s not essential to your meaning or your writing style, get rid of it.
Remember: 3 to 5. That’s my rough estimate for how much is too much. Often when it comes to these instances, word or punctuation usage is more subjective than definite. If your blog posts are short (think: under 500 words), go for the low end of the spectrum. The longer your blog posts are, the more times it’s acceptable to repeat a word, phrase, or punctuation mark that tends to be overused, like the ones listed below.
Phew! Now that we’ve got that over with, it’s time to get to the goods. Read on for the master list of blog post writing mistakes that might be bringing your blogging business down.
An exclamation point is supposed to add urgency, excitement, or enthusiasm to your words. When you treat it more like rainbow sprinkles than the cherry on top of your blog post, readers become dulled to your attempt to pump them up. They’ve only got so much “rah!” inside them. If they use it at the first exclamation point, then the second, then rally again for the third, they’re going to be exhausted before you get to the good stuff.
“Just” is to written language what “like” is to spoken language: it’s a word that sneaks in, unnoticed. While it has a meaning—“just” means “only”—we tend to use it colloquially to imply extreme preference (i.e. “I just love this cookie recipe”) or to make a statement or suggestion feel more personal (i.e. “I just wanted to say that napping changed my life”). If you take the “just” out of those situations, though, you don’t lose any meaning. Keep it around only when it means “only.”
Those charming three dots are not duct tape. They don’t work in every situation. In fact, in most situations, they aren’t appropriate. Use an ellipsis to show an omission in a quoted sentence or paragraph or to show hesitation, to indicate a thought that trails off, or to suggest suspense. For other uses, consider a colon or an em-dash.
“That” is one of my own writing demons. What I’ve learned over my years as a writing student and a professional writer is you don’t need to use “that” nearly as often as you think you do. “That” is intended to clarify your meaning. If you can take it out and you haven’t lost any of what you intended to say, go ahead and take it out.
When you plug an “etc.” onto the end of every list, you start to look lazy. You become the person who rushes around to finish things, so you spit out the first few examples you can think of—the obvious ones—and then you leave it up to the reader to come up with the rest of the list.
In most cases, you don’t need to include a full list at all; a few cases will do. Delete the extraneous “etc.” and you’re golden.
In situations where you need it, ask yourself this: Would it be more helpful to my readers to list out all the items myself, or is it better to move on quickly to my next point?
I love starting a sentence with a conjunction. I’ve loved doing it since I realized that once you learn all the grammar rules, you can start to break them—well, some of them. But I don’t start sentences with conjunctions all the time.
When you do it all the time, it gets repetitive and turns into a crutch for you as a writer. Instead of crafting a meaningful transition, you pull out a “so” or an “and” or a “but,” and you plow on through. That means you’re missing an opportunity to underscore the lesson you want your readers to learn.
If you catch yourself starting a sentence with a conjunction, pause and consider its placement. Ask yourself these two questions:
We use “pretty much” as a cheat. Conversationally, it implies, “there’s more to say, but I don’t feel like telling you.”
When I hear these two words, I want to pull the rest of the explanation out of the person I’m talking to. The same goes for when I read them in a blog post. If there’s more to say, even if the details seem less important than the main point of your post, say it. Or, don’t mention it at all.
The more you repeat a word, the less importance that word has. Both “so” and “very” exist in our vocabulary to intensify whatever word they’re modifying. If every other sentence is so this and very that, however, the reader starts to think you’re exaggerating. They don’t believe the intensity—and they begin to not believe you.
Delete these words as you revise. You don’t need them.
Sometimes, it feels fancy to deviate from the default align-left. I know. I get the urge to tinker, too. However, justifying the running text on your blog looks bizarre. The inconsistent spacing looks weird digitally, and it’s difficult to read on a screen.
While it started as a newspaper thing, not even newspapers use justification on their websites. Align left and move on.
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Starting to feel like you’re in a bad dream featuring your sophomore year English teacher? You can wake up now. There's no red pen and no grammar book for this one.
I’m not going to tell you how to style your titles. Truthfully, I don’t care. Italicize, or don’t. Put them in quotes, or don’t. My only must-do: Pick one. You don’t need italics and quotes.
Words and phrases go in and out of style, but these two have stuck around longer than most. We’ve been scattering this duo in our everyday conversation since at least the ‘90s. Like “so” and “very,” they lose their meaning when we sprinkle them liberally in our blog posts.
When you reach for these two words simultaneously, you almost always need one or the other. I know it sounds normal to write “15 reasons why you should throw the rule book out the window,” but it’s unnecessary. Really. Go with “Why you should throw the rule book out the window” or “15 reasons you should throw the rule book out the window,” and you’ll be golden.
Sometimes, you want to lean on bad grammar to make a point or to turn a phrase. If you want to drop a “they’ve got nothin’ on you, honey,” go ahead and do it. Otherwise, remember your grammar. Stick with “they have.” OK?
I’m not talking about titles or calling out words you’re talking about in particular, like search terms you’re referencing inside your post. What I mean here is those words you want to emphasize. Putting a word you want to emphasize inside quotation marks is akin to using air quotes in a catty conversation.
An example: “Oh, you want to talk about Alicia? Let’s talk about Alicia’s ‘relationship’ with Marcus.” We all know that the word “relationship” is in quotes the speaker doesn’t think it’s really a relationship.
If you’re not trying to call attention to a word in an ironic way, as in the example above, set the word off differently. Make it bold. Italicize it. Underline it. Don’t put it in quotes.
A semi-colon is used to join two complete thoughts that are related to each other.
Remember when you were learning to read, and your teacher taught you to take a nice, long breath at every period? The semi-colon erases that breath and makes your sentences more complex.
Complexity is fine every now and then, but constant complexity can make your work difficult to read. The more complex sentence structure you include in your blog post, the more readers will stumble over your words when they should be absorbing your lessons.
Before you decide to point out the obvious to your blog readers, remember that what’s obvious to you is probably not obvious to them.
After all, you’re writing this blog post for a reason, and if that reason is to teach people, well, they probably don’t know whatever it is you’re telling them. When you write, “obviously, this is the first step,” chances are your reader didn’t know that. It’s not obvious to them.
And, when you approach it as though it should be obvious, that can make your reader feel like an idiot and make you sound like you’re talking down to them.
Capital letters signify importance: proper nouns, essential words, the start of a sentence. When you begin throwing capitals into your writing at random—or you capitalize so many words that you think are essential—you dull the impact that capitals are intended to make.
It’s traditional to capitalize certain words in a headline or subheadline. It's a holdover from traditional print media. If you’re going to follow that style, though, you need to create strict guidelines so that your capitalizations make sense and don’t confuse your readership.
An argument again traditional headline capitalization: The style is difficult to read digitally.
We use this phrase to suggest that what we’re talking about is more difficult than we think we’re making it look. And, because the stuff we're talking about is actually really hard, we're much smarter and more experienced than we look.
Except you don't need to say or suggest any of this! If something is hard, say that it's hard (or don't mention it at all. Whatever you do, don't lie.). If it's easy, let it be easy!
And remember: Nobody is looking for the hardest way to do something. Simplify where you can and make it as easy as possible for your reader to do even the most complicated activity.
When you spell, punctuate, or capitalize a brand name incorrectly, you look like a business owner who doesn’t care enough to pay attention to small but important details.
Always google a brand reference to see how that brand styles itself and its products. If you’re having trouble, look for an “about” page or a press release. Both should give you the information you need.
It’s up to you how you style numbers on your website. (To see how I write out numbers on my blog, grab my style guide for free right here.)
No matter what style you choose, though, you should always be consistent. If you want to spell out ages, do it all the time. If you want to write “one year” instead of “1 year,” go for it, but then you should also write out “seven days” instead of “7 days.” See what I did there?
Confession: I’m a pro writer, and I still break contractions down in my mind as I proofread my work. Why? I want to ensure that I’ve selected the correct one.
They’re tricky buggers, contractions! While “it’s” and “they’re” get lots of attention, “there’s” is shunted to the side. Truth be told, though, I see more problems with “there’s” than with any other contraction.
“There’s” is singular. It stands for “there is,” as in “there is one dog begging for a treat.” It’s fine to use if what follows that “s” is a singular entity, but in most cases in blogland, it’s not. Most people use it incorrectly, following “there’s” with something plural, as in, “there’s 15 dogs waiting for ice cream.”
The fix is easy: Add “there’s” to your list of tricky contractions so that you catch improper uses before you hit publish.
Quotation marks are slippery, I know. Some punctuation goes inside them always. Some punctuation goes outside of them sometimes. Sometimes it feels like you are destined to get it wrong, right? Not with periods. Periods always go inside quotation marks. If you’re at the end of a sentence, move that period inside those wiggly lines every single time.
You run a blogging business so you can help people, right? Right. Writing vague directions, like “don’t do this stupid think too much” or “it’s OK to do this sometimes,” isn’t as helpful as it could be.
All of these words and phrases—and others like them—are relative. What’s “a lot” to someone is “too little” to another. When you can, be specific. Give your readers numbers and frequencies, even if they’re estimates.
Y’all, what is up with the slash? Keep those suckers in web address and code, where they belong. Why? Because when you use a slash in running copy—a paragraph, a headline—you force the reader’s eye to pause and translate that slash into a word. When the reader pauses unnaturally to figure out what you’re trying to say, they aren’t focusing on whatever lesson you’re trying to teach them. That ain’t good.
If you’re tempted to use it in a “singer/songwriter” way, remember the word “multihyphenate.” Use hyphens, as in: “singer-songwriter.”
If you’re casually dropping it in, write the darn sentence out. “People/things” should be written as “people and things.”
An exception: If you’re using it to reference pop culture. I’ll use it occasionally as /hug, which comes from my old AOL chat room days.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.
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