4 Rules for Writing and Editing You Should Know

This article from Paula Pant originally appeared in Issue 1 of FinCon Connection Magazine. Here’s Paula…

Remember those boring grammar classes in fourth grade?

You shot spit wads at girls in the back of the classroom while the teacher droned endlessly about gerunds and infinitives.

“When will I ever use this?” you wondered.

Fast-forward to today: You write articles read by thousands of people. Yet you can’t remember jack squat about grammar, syntax or usage.

“I don’t need to remember that stuff. I just write like I talk.”

Yeah, I know. That’s the problem.

Here are 4 tips you should know:

#1: Use Killer Verbs.

Writers are famous for their verbs. Bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk wants us to “crush it!” Author Tim Ferriss tells us to “escape 9-to-5.” A finance blogger by the pseudonym Ninja says he’ll “punch debt in the face.”

Vivid verbs bring a story to life. Do you “worry” about debt or do you “agonize” over it? Do you plan to “pay it off” or will you “attack” it?

Not every verb needs to be as vivid as crush, punch, escape and attack. Sometimes the strongest verb is the shortest and most common choice. “Use” is a common word, but “use killer verbs” makes a snappier sound byte than “exploit killer verbs,” “publish killer verbs” or “employ killer verbs.”

What crafts a killer verb? Look for the following characteristics:

  • One to two syllables. (Three syllable verbs like “utilize” don’t create tight copy).
  • Vivid or common, depending on the context.
  • Active voice

#2: Make Every Word Count.

The shorter you can make a phrase, the better. Killer verbs help you write tight copy.

  • “Stay away from debt” = “Avoid debt.”
  • “Look online and in the newspaper for coupons” = “Clip coupons.”

Cut “filler” words and phrases from your copy. Search for triggers like “it,” “to,” “be” and “that,” which often surround filler phrases:

  • “Rather than trying to do everything myself” = “Rather than doing everything myself.”
  • “This way, it allows her to have extra money” = “This allows her to have extra money.”

#3: Maintain the Same Tense

Avoid tense-hopping in your stories. “I was happy to see the balance in my Roth IRA. It is great.” The first sentence speaks in past tense; the second is in present.

Try this instead: “I’m happy to see my Roth IRA balance. It’s great!”

(P.S. Notice how we also cut the first sentence from 11 words to eight?)

#4: Write Awesome Adjectives.

Don’t use “good” adjectives. Don’t use “wonderful” adjectives. I can’t visualize “wonderful.”

Give me an adjective I don’t hear in everyday conversation. Give me a kick-ass adjective. Are prices “high” or “exorbitant”? Is debt “bad” or “repulsive”?

What tips can you share for better writing?

Paula Pant is a blogger, writer and speaker specializing in personal finance, real estate, and lifestyle design. Her finance blog, Afford Anything, draws 30,000 monthly visitors and has been praised by Lifehacker, MSN Money, Get Rich Slowly, and more.


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