By: Marilyn L. Davis
“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
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.
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.
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 Hornby, The 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.
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.
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