Are you looking for content writing tips for beginners?
How well do you use your content writing skills?
Do you have content writing skills?
As a blogger, you work hard to reach your audience. You brainstorm interesting ideas. You research your audience’s interests. You build a social media following. You choose keywords carefully.
But you still might be missing 54% of American readers if you write at a grade 6 reading level. If you write at a higher level, as most of us do, you are probably missing a lot more.
The good news is that you don’t have to dumb it down to widen your audience. You simply have to follow some common-sense content writing tips for beginners that most of us forget to do. That is what this article is about.
By reading this post, you discover content writing tips for beginners that make your writing clear and engaging. You also learn five ways to measure the grade level of your writing.
Are you ready to discover content writing tips for beginners that make you a strong writer?
Content Writing Tips for Beginners
What’s Your Blog’s Grade Level?
Before you can fix a problem, you need to understand it. So let’s start exploring powerful content writing tips for beginners by measuring your grade level.
Here are the five steps:
- Head over to a free readability test tool. I use WebFX.
- Choose the “Enter Text” tab for the most accurate reading.
- Cut and paste the text of your blog post into the box.
- IMPORTANT: wherever there is no punctuation at the end of a line, such as headings or maybe bullet lists, add a period.
- Click or tap “Calculate Readability” and wait for the results.
You will see several results. A language geek like me pores over them all. The key one for a quick assessment is the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level.
Here you see readability statistics:
What Grade Level Should I Aim For?
The US and Canadian governments recommend grade 8 or lower. The UK government recommends age 9. But, as I mentioned earlier, over half of Americans can’t easily read at a grade 6 level.
So, if you are speaking to a general audience, try to go below grade 6. It’s not that hard.
The three paragraphs that you just read above the table of contents come in at grade 5.2. I wrote them professionally. I didn’t dumb them down. You can do it, too.
What If I’m Writing to a Highly Educated Audience?
Before I offer tips and tactics from my plain language writing guide, let me answer one obvious question you might have: “What if my blog’s audience is not average? What if it is highly educated? Can I write to a much higher grade level?” (OK, OK – that is more than one question.)
The answer is yes. Sort-of, not quite.
If your blog audience is almost exclusively lawyers, grade 6 might be a bit low. I say “might be.” They graduated law school. They write legalese so complex that the rest of us can’t understand. And they routinely read just as complex legalese.
But here’s the catch. They are paid $200 an hour to torture their brains like that. When the day is done, they don’t want to go home and read something at a grade 15 or grade 18 level. Not for free.
Lawyers might read a text about new case law. Grade 6 would be way too low a grade level to convey the details that they would want to know.
Lawyers might also read recipes and pet care tips. Believe me, lawyers don’t want to read above a grade 6 reading level any more than the rest of us.
Here’s my advice. Use all the right technical words that are part of this audience’s specific vocabulary. Legal terms for lawyers. Physics terms for physicists. Data terms for data scientists.
Big, technical words that lawyers easily understand are not the same big technical words that physicists understand. Get complex only within the audience’s specialty. Write everything else in the blog at a grade 6 to grade 8 reading level.
Plain language writing is not about dumbing things down. It’s about clearing things up.
Content Writing Tips for Beginners
1. Use the Simplest Word
The single most important tip to make your writing easier to read, and therefore clearer, is to choose the simplest word. This is what most people think of when they hear the term “plain language.” Usually, that means the shortest word.
- Write “use”, not “utilize”.
- Write “can”, not “is able to”
- Write “basic”, not “fundamental”.
- Write “when”, not “at the time when”.
- Write “help”, not “assist” or “assistance” or “facilitate”.
These are the words to use, even when writing to lawyers, physicists and data scientists.
2. Use the Audience’s Language
You are probably already doing this. It’s called “keyword research.” The language the audience uses to find you is the language they will expect to find on the page. Nothing could be plainer than that.
3. Use the Simplest Tense Possible
If you are telling the story of something that happened in the past, use the past tense. At all other times, try to use the simple present tense.
It is how English speakers learn to read. It’s how we usually talk. And it is how you should almost always write.
Sometimes we have the habit of writing verbs as present participle. I did that in the previous paragraph: “If you are telling the story”.
No, actually, not oops. Here is what I did. I write “If you are telling the story”. Then I tried replacing it with the simple present tense: “If you tell the story”. That did not sound right in context, so I left the present participle.
Now, look up above to a subheading that reads: “What Grade Level Should I Aim For?” I first wrote that as “What Grade Level Should I Be Aiming For?
Yes, this time it’s really oops. As you can see, I corrected that one. I tried replacing it with the simple present tense – and it works!
4. Shorten Your Sentences
For most people, content writing tips for beginners are about finding simpler words. But what is most likely to trip up your readers are the sentences. Sentences should rarely be more than 20 words long. Most should be 10-12 words long.
I edited a client’s book where sentences were routinely 64 words. Or 79 words. Or 58 words. I kid you not.
I often had to reread them several times to figure out what they were saying, so I could edit them to be more readable.
If your sentences are too long, you might be trying to cram too much into each sentence. Ideally, you should tell just one idea in each sentence.
Let me offer two ways to edit your sentences down to a single idea.
5. Convert Your Subordinate Clauses To Sentences
First, you probably write a lot of subordinate clauses. These are sentence fragments that can’t stand on their own but are attached to a sentence.
They usually begin with words like:
- Given that
- As long as
Give them legs so they can stand on their own. Convert those subordinate clauses into sentences. I shamelessly used a subordinate clause above. Let’s see how it looks before (in italics) and after converting to a separate sentence.
Before: If your sentences are too long, you might be trying to cram too much into each sentence.
After: Consider your longer sentences. You might be trying to cram too much into each one.
In this case, the full sentence is just 17 words. It’s OK to use the subordinate clause. But if you have sentences running over 20 words, or even 25 words, try to break them up.
6. Make Lists That Look Like Lists
Another reason some sentences run on and on is that they contain lists. If your list is really small, that’s no problem.
I bought bread, eggs, and milk. That’s a list. It has three items, each of one word.
Here’s a sentence I pulled from an Apple news release.
Since its global debut, the Apple Original film has also been honored with an unprecedented four awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, including, the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast, the Directing Award, the Audience Award, and the Grand Jury Prize, and has received an AFI Award.
It runs 48 words long, largely powered by a short list of complex items. Instead of cramming a list unnaturally into a sentence, why not make the list a list.
Here’s how that would look:
Since its global debut, the Apple Original film has also been honored with an unprecedented four awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival:
- the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast
- the Directing Award, the Audience Award
- the Grand Jury Prize
- an AFI Award
My next comment has nothing to do with lists. Me, the grammar nerd, still wants to edit. “Since its global debut” is a useless string of words. The film was released in August 2021. Clearly, it did not win any awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival prior to its debut.
This also has nothing to do with lists. AFI is an acronym and should be spelled out.
7. Use Links Properly
Many bloggers add links in their posts because they feel they should have some. I am guilty of this at times.
The real purpose of a link should be to answer a reader’s question. As you write, you are telling a story or making an argument. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of the story to define a word or to provide any more context than necessary.
But some readers might be curious. Links give readers an easy way to get definitions, context and other relevant information. They can do so without other readers being disturbed by the flow of the article.
If you find your sentences and paragraphs are running a little long, maybe you don’t need to include all that information. Maybe you could link to some of it, instead.
Content Writing Tips for Beginners: FAQ
How can a beginner improve content writing?
Make your writing clear to the average reader. Use a free reading score tool to make sure your writing is understandable.
Wrapping Up: Content Writing Tips for Beginners
Are You Ready to Up Your Content Writing Skills with Plain Language Writing?
You started your blogging journey by learning content writing tips for beginners. Now you’re ready to level up.
It’s your turn. Re-read some of your favorite blog posts. Could you use simpler language? Could you use clearer verb tenses? Could you shorten your sentences? Once you’ve reviewed your blog posts, I would love to hear what you find in the comments below.
Readers, please share these content writing tips for beginners so new content writers discover this post.