By: Marilyn L. Davis
Bogged Down with Words, Punctuation or Images?
“When you’re first thinking through an idea, it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Thinking simply and clearly is hard to do.” — Richard Branson
First, I’m not too fond of the grammar police. Also, I don’t usually label people; however, some individuals read a post with the sole purpose of finding fault. But they have valid points when they critique our choice of words, incorrect punctuation, or poor images.
John Green sums up my feelings and thoughts quite well. “Let me just acknowledge that the function of grammar is to make the language as efficient and clear and transparent as possible. But suppose we’re all constantly correcting each other’s grammar and being really snotty about it. In that case, 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.”
Maybe because I try to make my communication clear in each post, readers haven’t left me scathing comments and critiques.
So, how can you keep your blog grammatically correct, visually appealing, and still be exciting?
Unnecessary Things Bog Down Your Blog
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
Focused on 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 it, but an inexperienced writer will often want you to know how much they know, love, enjoy, or appreciate the topic. See, I bogged you down with four attitudes when one was sufficient.
Choose one powerful word and leave all the others for another paragraph.
Every writer has favorite words and phrases that they continue to use in each post. If you are writing about widgets, you’ll find that word multiple times, but there may be clauses, phrases, and transitional words that you frequently use.
Transitioning the Reader
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. However is a transitional phrase, moving the reader from one thought to another. I like transitional phrases because they keep the words flowing from one paragraph to the next. You may not like that particular transitional phrase, 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.
Transition words are necessary to help the reader move from one tangent to the next. The writer can then use subheadings to introduce the next point and satisfy SEO best practices.
When you isolate your favorites, run a search, and see how often you’ve used the exact 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.
Who’s Modifying What?
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 isn’t evident which is called Apple, 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? Excessive punctuation is sometimes distracting for readers, and, you got it, they will leave.
When Punctuation Slows the Reading Process
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 essential 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.
However, as an editor, I must understand that dangling participles, an occasional exclamation point, or a sentence that ends in a preposition are okay to publish.
Don’t Take Yourself or the Reader Out of the Moment
I think all of us want our readers to finish the post. But if we write distracted, use too many unnecessary words, bog them down with excessive punctuation, or non-relevant images, our readers will leave. Click To Tweet
That’s why we edit and revise. If you don’t believe me, then try this:
“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class know 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 how Hornby belabors editing functions while accurately describing the purpose of editing and revising – getting rid of needless words. Besides the unnecessary words, though, is the more significant issue – the flow of your words.
Flow is not easily defined. Yet, I’ll try to describe it in my terms. Flow means that the reader moves between the words and gets 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 with Structure
Syntax is the way we structure our sentences. A sentence may be basic and contain only a noun and a verb, or more complex with phrases, but they must engage the reader, or we lose them regardless of how simple or complex. 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 entertaining 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?
Writers use images to reinforce our point, add visual interest to our posts, or create breathing space for the reader. But too many photos can either slow down your load time or prove too distracting for the reader, and in some cases, are just dull.
Before people started reading more on their phones, images were placed to the right or left of the content. Now, we need to insert them before or after the subheading, so the reader isn’t distracted by a wonky image.
We also like images that reflect real people. I’ve used Pixabay as a free-to-use site for about eight 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.
Be Like Goldilocks – Find the Right Size
Readers appreciate it when you take the time to find images that add interest and reinforce the words or contribute visual appeal to the intent.
Too large, they can display outside of your margins or take up the entire screen on the phone. 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 essential 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 Keeps Your Readers Coming Back
Hopefully, when you revise your work, you are mindful of punctuation, overuse of words, use transitional phrases and realign or resize your images; your readers will make it to the end and not be bogged down on your blog.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
You’ll get links to your site, other writings, or your book. Our readers will get another voice.