What’s Bogging Down Your Blog?

By: Marilyn L. Davis

 

Bogged Down with Words, Punctuation, and Images?

First, I don’t like grammar Nazis. I also don’t like labeling people, however, there are individuals who read a post with the sole purpose of finding fault. The type of person I’m displeased with is the one who takes exception to a dangling participle or is offended by an occasional exclamation point.

But they have valid points.


“Let me just acknowledge that the function of grammar is to make the language as efficient and clear and transparent as possible. But if we’re all constantly correcting each other’s grammar and being really snotty about it, then people stop talking because they start to be petrified that they’re going to make some sort of terrible grammatical error and that’s precisely the opposite of what grammar is supposed to do, which is to facilitate clear communication.” ― John Green

Maybe because I try to take the following into account, they haven’t left me scathing comments and critiques. So, how can you keep your blog grammatically correct, visually appealing,  and still be exciting?

Read on… read on. (See, that’s the kind of thing I don’t like, and yet I did it for a reason.) What’s your take on the ellipsis and the parenthesis? Because those are some of the things that bog down your blog. They are distracting for readers, even when they are grammatically correct.

Besides grammar, you bog down your blog with too many words. Taking a cue from Dr. Seuss: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss

What is your point?

When you narrow your focus, it can seem a little lonely. I’m writing about what bogs down your blog, so I’ve got several points I can make about that topic, but an inexperienced writer will often want you to know how much they know, love, enjoy, or appreciate about the topic. See, I bogged you down with four attitudes when one was sufficient.

Choose one word and leave all the others for another paragraph.

Each writer has favorite words and phrases that they continue to use in each post. Clearly, if you are writing about widgets, then you’ll find that word multiple times, however, there may be clauses, phrases and transitional words that you frequently use. If you’ve managed to get a following, do you need to change your tone or style to keep your readers interested and your writing fresh? For instance, I like the word, however. It’s shorter than, on the other hand, and less pretentious than nonetheless, but means pretty much the same thing.

My word is a transitional phrase. I like them because they move the reader from one paragraph to the next. You may not like, however, so, here are a few more transitional words to help your paragraphs flow. Just remember, that like anything else, too many transitional words and phrases can get redundant.

transitional words

When you isolate your favorites, run a  search and see how often you’ve used the same words or phrases. I’m not saying use the Thesaurus to change your most common ones, but so you’re aware of how many times you’ve repeated yourself.

There’s another problem with too many words. We sometimes use excessive modifiers, which are words or phrases that affect the meaning of another word, functioning as either an adjective or an adverb to illustrate a word or make the word’s meaning more specific. Modifiers are also confusing and vague if they are not near the word they are modifying. For instance, “Scott bought a motorcycle for his wife, Lori, that they call, Apple.” So, is it the bike or his wife that is called Apple? It’s confusing and will make a reader stop doing their job – reading.

I see them now, scratching their heads and wondering why Scott would call his wife Apple. Well, he doesn’t. Because his bike is red, he calls it Apple. Now, we’re clear. He may call his wife, “baby”, “sweetie” or “darling”, but never, “Apple”.

How many of you were distracted by the quotation marks around the words?

It’s acceptable to italicize those words, which is easier for the reader, so you’d write: He may call his wife, baby, sweetie, or darling, but never, Apple. It’s not just a problem for the reader, either. When you are writing, you develop a natural flow. When you have to stop and insert multiple punctuation marks, it can distract you from your thoughts. Decide what punctuation is necessary or important and leave the remainder out. Your work and the experience for the readers will be easier. Writing and reading need to stay in the moment and not be distracting.

Don’t Take Yourself or the Reader Out of the Moment

I think all of us want our readers to get to the conclusion of our posts. But if we write distracted, use too many unnecessary words, bog them down with excessive punctuation, and insert an image that doesn’t add to our post, our readers will leave before they make it to the end. That’s why we edit and revise. If you don’t believe me, then try this:

“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress… Nick HornbyThe Polysyllabic Spree

Yes, it’s humorous the way Hornby belabors the functions of editing, while accurately describing the purpose of editing and revising – getting rid of needless words. Besides the needless words, though, is the larger issue – the flow of your words.

Flow is not easily defined.  Yet I’ll try to define it in my terms. Flow means that the reader is moving between the words and getting to the end with relatively few interruptions. There are no jarring left turns where the reader is shaking their head wondering how they got there. There are no misspelled words or homonyms that annoy us all. Our syntax, or sentence structure, moves the reader from one word to the next, not because they are required to read it, but because they enjoy reading it.

Syntax: Synonymous for Structure

Syntax is the way in which we structure our sentences. They may be basic and contain only a noun and a verb, or more complex with phrases, but regardless of how simple or complex, they must engage the reader or we lose them. If your sentences read herky-jerky rather than Swan Lake, go back and revise them to read more smoothly.

Although we’ve gotten used to short texts and Twitter-speak, we can still create longer, well-written sentences that flow and move the reader through the piece. I’ll often write a post and let it sit before I revise it. When I take time away from the post and return, my perception of the piece is different, and I can see where I wasn’t clear or to the point. I then edit and revise to be more succinct.

But not all sentences have to be short, five-word sentences, either.

For our posts to be interesting, but concise, we give our readers information about the topic in well-structured and well-written sentences to convey the information. If your sentence is effective in five words, that’s okay. However, just reading five-word sentences is like an elementary school book, so vary your sentence lengths.

Even with interesting content, our readers expect visuals to make the experience better. We want to know more without reading more, and visuals help us understand the content, too.

Images: Improving, Boring or Bogging Down? 

Although we’ve been taught to use images to reinforce our point, add visual interest to our posts, or create breathing space for the reader, too many images can either slow down your load time or prove too distracting for the reader, and in some cases, are just boring.

One interesting fact is that people like their images either to the right or the left of their text, rather than placed above or directly below it, so having our images adjacent to the text seems normal now.

We also like images that reflect real people. I’ve used Pixabay as a free-to-use site for about four years and usually manage to find images that reinforce or highlight my posts. But it’s more than just an image that reinforces your topic. It has to be an engaging image.

Here’s an example of a poorly placed and boring image, even though it is relevant and reinforces the topic of writing.

notebook and computer

Readers appreciate it when you take the time to find images that add not just interest, but value to the words. Size matters for your images, too. Too large, they can display outside of your margins. If they are too small, they appear like a throw-away idea and both are annoying to the reader.  Readers feel disrespected and, usually, they will leave. Resolution is important as well, as it determines clarity. In WordPress, you have the option of resizing your image to highlight a particular passage or in some cases, you can use images as a type of subheading.

I also use a screen capture tool called SnagIt. One of the features I like is the ability to include a border or caption. I have more flexibility with this program than I do with WordPress. However, I may not understand all the functions of WordPress, so if you know of better ways to display images using WordPress, let me know in a comment.

Clear Communication

Hopefully, when you revise your work, use transitional phrases and realign or resize your images, your readers will make it to the end. If you’re here, thanks.  But just as importantly, I’d appreciate your comments.

What did you get out of this post?

How can I improve my writing?

What topics interest you?

 

Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing

 

 

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24 comments

  1. Great article Marilyn! For me, it was a good refresher course in basic grammar and helpful pieces of info about punctuation, quotation marks, and image alignment. A lot of us bloggers are not aware of these simple yet important considerations. Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi, Mike. Thank you for the comment. It means a lot to me coming from you. I have several of yours printed out in an old-fashioned notebook for reference.

      Although I’ve extended an invitation to submit a guest post on several of our shared community sites, I’d like to let you know that I would be thrilled for our readers at Two Drops of Ink to get to know you through a guest post.

      Your voice and style would fit here nicely, I think.

      So. . . might we expect one in the near future?

      She smiles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely my pleasure Marilyn, your post was a great benefit to me, especially during a week where I’m struggling to come up with a decent topic. Thanks also for the kind words, you’ve given me that boost of inspiration I needed to keep motivated. I definitely would love to write something for Two Drops of Ink, the quality of the articles are always excellent. I’ve copied and pasted your comment into my ‘to-do’ folder, so I remember to follow up in the near future. I’m struggling a bit with my long fiction work right now, which interferes with my blog, hence I find myself behind as each week progresses. I’m hopeful I’ll find my rhythm, and have more time for stand alone articles very soon.
        Thank you again Marilyn, I’ll be in touch.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Marilyn, thank you for the useful tips.

    I put my hands up – I’m a wordy writer! However, I do try to be clear.

    About placement of images, I recently discovered that placing my image to the.left looked fine if viewed on a laptop but when viewed on a kindle or mobile phone some of the text alongside the image was displaced. I find it simpler to just add the image above my text, so I guess my posts must look boring! 😦

    Also, is it a bad thing if you have to check a dictionary for an unfamiliar word now and again?

    Could you please explain what a beta reader is? I have come across the term a few times and from the context guess it’s someone who reads your work but am wondering if there is something more to the role. Is it someone who is qualified in some way?

    Great tip about italicizing words rather placing within inverted commas, which I shall now adopt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, ladycee. Thank you for commenting and I apologize for not responding sooner – somehow missed it. I don’t think your posts look boring. We’re all struggling with placement for phones versus desk and lap tops. Right side seems to do okay on both. I nest mine sometimes, too, like I did with transitional words. I would never tell someone not to use a dictionary or Thesaurus. What I do stress is use a word that you are comfortable with and leave the rest for another place. I look up words quite frequently. I also use the Thesaurus on my computer just to see if there is another word that encompasses more of the subtle nuances that I’m trying to get across to the reader.

      A beta reader gives you feedback on your finished manuscript, so you can adjust it before you self-publish or start querying literary agents. They help you identify any problems with the readability, grammar, etc. If you’re part of writing groups on FB, LinkedIn, or you could even tweet that you’re looking for one when it’s time. I’m sure there are “professional beta readers” and those might charge for the service. A beta reader could also just be a family member or friend, who may or may not charge, but in many cases feel free to critique.

      Again, thank you for commenting and I hope this response gives you some answers. That’s what we like to do – be helpful.

      Hope you visit and comment again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Marilyn, thank you so much for responding and thanks for explaining what a beta reader is and how I can locate one. Would you be able to tell me how the term came about? Why aren’t they referred to as alpha readers?
        Thank you for visiting my blog and checking my posts. In fact my newest post includes 3 images placed centrally, left and right, which I’m really pleased with, so I have taken on board your advice.
        Once again thanks for replying and for your helpful response.

        Like

        • Hi, ladycee. Alpha and beta readers are one and the same. The terms are from computer programmers’ language as in a beta addition of software, games, etc. as I understand the term. You know how there’s crossover between language. She smiles.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Marilyn,
    I wanted to respond yesterday, but I was bogged down in a blog. (Sorry, I could not help myself) Seriously, I follow all your post and always get something positive. I am guilty of using repetitive words. Often, when I find my error, I will change the word for a similar one rather than change the sentence. Since I’m new to writing and especially blogging, your tip on Pixaby is great.
    Question: When I read great authors, they often spend a whole page or more describing a scene, character response, or concept. In my writing I think I do not spend enough effort for the reader to come out of the dark. Am I to understand, with blogging it is a different from when we are writing a short story or our manuscript? With blogging we need to use a direct approach? How is that different or is it, from building “tension”?
    Thank you for a great post and reminding us of our mistakes we often overlook.

    Like

    • Hi, Chuck. Thank you for your comments and the questions are great. Typically, a blog post comes in under 1500 words, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room to describe or develop. Now, having said that, we can’t just write quick five-word sentences to convey our information, either. Blogging, to me, is using the most powerful word we can use to describe. That may be a noun or a verb. It is a more direct approach, or using our words to create a picture in the reader’s mind. It’s the straight-forward “show, don’t tell.”

      With a short story or memoir piece, which we do publish here, there’s a little more room to develop. One of the easiest ways for me is to include thoughts and feelings. Both of those get a reader’s attention. We’re all curious. What was she thinking when she did? What was she feeling when this happened?

      But in developing, we sometimes belabor that, and then wham – here’s the point. I think that is sometimes too abrupt. I like to lead them out of the dark, not blind them. Tension is necessary in any writing though or people start yawning, and today, that means they go elsewhere.

      That is another thing about blogging. Sometimes we write from breadth – an overview of the topic. Other times, we are writing about one aspect of the topic in depth. I think my memoir posts view various aspects of the genre but stay specific to that one facet and explore more subtle nuances, which is hard in 1500 words on the general topic of memoir. Make sense?

      This post on deciding perspective: breadth or depth might help you sort out length and descriptions.

      https://twodropsofink.com/2014/11/30/deciding-perspective-breadth-or-depth-for-the-article/

      Like

    • Hi, John. Your comment made my day. I guess it’s the coach in me. I hope that people come away with something useful, and like you, they incorporate whatever the lesson and however it will help them improve their writing. And of course, in order to “teach” anything, we have to be willing to learn something, too. So, know that I’m learning as I write as well.

      Like

      • Your a wonderful coach! I am really trying my best to make this all work. It’s been tough, but rewarding. My work life is consuming more time than I care to give to it. Unfortunately, it pays the bills. So, I just plug along. 🙂

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        • Hi, John. I get it. I’ve just had to get up earlier and go to bed later to make the blogging work. I don’t necessarily recommend it, though. Makes for long days. I’ve fallen short on my writing goals as well. We’ll just keep plugging along and eventually, the writing will get done.

          Like

  4. I am struggling with just about every issue you highlight in your blog. I am wordy and verbose. See I told you I had problems. I think the secret is very simple. If I am going to get better at creating pieces of fiction or non-fiction, I need to be a better reader of good material. That’s where Two Drops of Ink comes in. Also I need to solicit feedback from folks I trust and respect. And finally, I have to develop better discipline for the process of writing. Thanks for your blog post.

    Like

    • Hi, Jon. I know exactly what you’re saying in your comment. I think when I first started writing that I believed I had to use more words to sound like I knew what I was talking about – all posts using five syllable words. It wasn’t so much that I was using words I didn’t know, but more that I would use complicated words when a simple one would do.

      I think I believed that I was dumbing- down if I used the simple word, when in fact, I was being obscure with some of my choices and if a reader can’t understand what we’ve written or has to grab a dictionary, then we have failed as the writer – not the reader.

      About soliciting feedback: Which FB groups are you in and have you asked for beta readers or a writing partner? I’m fortunate here at Two Drops of Ink to have Scott read and critique my posts, so I know how invaluable this kind of writing relationship can be. Maybe put up a request and see what you get.

      Like

      • Thanks for your reply. I am in the process of identifying a compatible writing partner. I am in groups at Intentional Blog Group, Tribewriters.com and thewritepractice. Someone should surface. I also have a friend who is a children’s author and she critiques my blog posts. She has a background in editing.

        Like

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