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How to Write a Novel in Just One Year

How to Write a Novel

How to Write a Novel

The first of the year can be a disheartening time for writers.

The zeal brought on by ambitious resolutions has worn off, and, with each passing day that you don’t write, the sting of failure grows less acute as you sink back into your regular, creativity-free routine.

You don’t have to settle for failure. If you didn’t follow through on your writing resolutions, perhaps you simply need a new approach.

For all you aspiring authors out there, sticking to a writing schedule in the new year can help you achieve your goal to start (and even finish) that book you’ve been planning to write.

Maybe you’re the kind of author who experiences sudden bursts of inspiration, or maybe you’ve had an idea percolating for a while. Whether you’re starting from scratch or dusting off a rough draft, writing a book is hard work that requires dedication from start to finish.

Researching, writing, revising, editing, and proofreading your manuscript may sound like a daunting task, but harnessing the power of a writing schedule can help you create and achieve attainable writing goals, whether you’re starting January 1st or right now.

Prioritize Your Writing

The best way to incorporate writing into your daily schedule is to find out when you do your best writing, when you’re free to write, and how to keep yourself motivated. It’s also important to have a dedicated work environment to stay on task using methods that allow your creative juices to flow.

Every individual author has a different writing process, and understanding yours will help you write efficiently. Be sure to consider the following:

  • Time of Day: Are you a night owl who finds your sweet spot around 2 a.m.? Or do you function best early in the morning, before the kids wake up? Regardless of when you’re most loquacious, try writing at a consistent time of day. This will strengthen your writing routine.
  • Location: Do you work best in a quiet room, free of distractions? Or do you like the bustle of a coffee shop or music playing softly in the background to help you focus? Finding a compatible writing environment is essential for many authors to enhance their productivity.
  • Writing Tools: Do you type, write in cursive, or print in block letters? For some, ideas might flow more easily from rapid strokes on a keyboard than from a pad and pencil, while others prefer the feeling of a pen against paper to really get their creative juices flowing. Even famous writers use unconventional means of writing to meet their deadlines.
  • Motivation: While writing, do you respond better to positive or negative reinforcement? That is, do you stay motivated by rewarding yourself (e.g., with breaks, snacks, activities, or cute pictures of kittens) or by working under pressure? Motivating yourself with rewards or stressors can help give you that extra push to stick to your writing schedule.
  • Routines: What is your daily routine? Writing is unlikely to become your go-to activity in every spare moment unless you make the conscious decision to form a writing habit. Author Bryan Hutchinson recommends that you commit to writing “at the same time every day so that it becomes a natural, automatic part of your day, regardless of whether you feel inspired or motivated.”

With all these factors in mind, find what works best for you, and make the decision to keep working in the way that suits you best.

Set a Production Schedule

Unlocking the Art of Fiction WritingTo get an accurate idea of how long your book will take to write, you’ve got to set a total word count that’s appropriate for the scope of your project. Are you writing a 10,000-word short story or a 60,000-word novel? Knowing how long your work might be will help you create a realistic writing schedule.

Another thing you need to know is how quickly you can produce new material. How many new words can you write per hour (excluding rewriting)? This might be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words. It’s totally okay if you’re not very fast; the idea here is to recognize your typical output level and work with it.

You should also consider how much time you have available. For writers who have full-time jobs, it can be hard to commit to a solid writing schedule. You may even have to sacrifice other activities. But, only once you decide to build writing into your daily routine will you start seeing results.

What’s the formula for your daily writing schedule? Here are the two equations you’ll need to solve:

  • Your weekly productivity = the number of words you can write per hour × the number of hours you have available per week
  • The number of weeks it will take to complete a first draft = the work’s approximate number of words ÷ your weekly productivity

So if you need to write an 80,000-word manuscript, but you can only write 10 hours per week at 1,000 words per hour, it’ll take you 8 weeks of writing to complete your first draft:

80,000 ÷ (1000 × 10) = 8

Keep in mind that this is an ideal equation that does not account for interruptions, delays, cases of writer’s block, or sudden waves of inspiration that you ride for 48 hours straight to finish your manuscript.

Set Writing Targets

If you’re not a word-generating machine that can pump out words in a constant, uninterrupted flow (honestly, it would be alarming if you were), don’t worry—writing targets can be either project-based or process-based. In other words, you might set a goal for yourself to finish a chapter by the end of the week or to revise a poem or short story by the end of the day. Whether or not you find having a weekly word count goal appealing, having a daily or weekly target can help you stay on track with your writing schedule.

Set Deadlines for Your Writing Process

Now that you have an idea of what’s involved in creating a writing schedule, let’s look at the step-by-step process that serious writers follow to see their work in print.

To start meeting the demands of your writing schedule, you must have a thorough understanding of the various aspects of writing: outlining, researching, writing a rough draft, rewriting, editing, and proofreading. Every writer will find a timeline that works for him or her, but the following sections outline a writing schedule that’s roughly based on the process I used to write my master’s thesis, which was about 25,000 words. You can either expand or condense it to fit your production schedule.

Month 1: OutliningYearly Writing Schedule

Some writers come up with their best material simply through the act of writing, and not everyone follows all stages of the pre-writing process in succession. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent idea to plan your writing before you launch into writing an ambitious manuscript.

A clear outline will help you avoid wasting time writing paragraphs or chapters that you might eventually just throw out (though you might be forced to do that to some extent in the rewriting stage, anyway).

The basic idea here is to create a skeleton of the key subject matter of your book, including the major plot points of a novel, the order of events of a memoir, or the main topics of a non-fiction work (such as a biography).

Months 1–3: Researching

Once you’ve identified the key topics you want to write about, take some time to get acquainted with them.

Experience and insight are often the best teachers for believable writing (whether fiction or non-fiction), but some topics will require extra research.

However, unless you’re writing an academic research paper or a science-based, realistic portrayal of an intricate process, this prewriting stage might not necessarily involve scholarly articles and monographs.

There are alternative ways to research a topic for writing. If you’re writing a young adult novel set in 2017, you might need to understand the quirks of teenagers’ conversations, whether online or in public, to write believable dialogue. Or maybe you’re writing a memoir, and you want to recapture the sights and sounds of your old school’s playground.

Sometimes, observing phenomena or interviewing individuals from relevant demographics is the best way to incorporate realistic material into your new book. Other times, you might need to dig a little deeper and conduct research online or at the library.

The bottom line is that you’ll write with more authority and precision about topics you know and understand. You don’t want to commit a factual error like some of these famous books and movies did.

Months 4–8: Writing a Rough Draft

You’ve got your outline and the necessary background information, and you’re raring to go! Finally, here comes the fun part: writing your first draft.

There’s a lot I could say here, but the most important advice I can give is to be like Dory: “just keep writing.” Another important maxim is to stay consistent but flexible: if new ideas develop while you’re writing your rough draft, don’t feel bound to your original outline, but you can still refer to it to stay on track.

Don’t sweat the details at this stage. I know it can be tempting to be critical of your mistakes, but your rough draft doesn’t have to be perfect—it’s called rough for a reason.

Month 9–11: Rewriting and Editing

If you’ve ever written a novel or a book in a short time, you might find yourself wondering what to do next. Basically, you want to take time at this stage to step back from your work and look at it through the eyes of your reader. This will allow you to rewrite and edit appropriately.

Rewriting might involve adding, cutting, or rewording passages. Try examining your book chapter by chapter and then re-reading it as a whole. Are there any gaps in continuity? Is the tone consistent throughout? Is there any unnecessary information that could be cut? This stage could take as long (or longer) than writing the initial draft. Examine your manuscript critically in terms of structure, organization, and style.

Once you’ve revised your manuscript and edited it to improve word choice, clarity, flow, and overall readability, you’re almost ready to polish your book for publication (the ultimate goal!).

Month 12: Proofreading

This is the final stage of the writing process. It’s important not to get caught up in the mechanics of language too early, because it won’t matter how you spelled convalescent if you decide to cut the chapter on your character’s recovery from surgery.

Proofreading is meant to fix grammatical, typographical, and spelling mistakes to ensure a perfect final draft. This is especially important if you’re hoping to get your book published, so consider enlisting the help of a professional proofreading service that will review your manuscript with fresh and experienced eyes.

Conclusion

Deciding to write a book is one thing, but finishing it is another thing entirely. We’d all love it if our ideas could form themselves perfectly in our heads and immediately spill onto the page in well-ordered lines of eloquent text, but alas, that’s not how it works.

Just as bodybuilders must work out to achieve their fitness goals, so too must writers work hard. By adhering to a writing schedule, you can achieve that perfect final draft.

While reading endless advice articles from other authors and every book about writing you can get your hands on is one way to motivate yourself to succeed, the only real way to write a book is to do just that—write, write, and write some more.

Though it’s unlikely that you will write your book from start to finish without rearranging, altering, or rewriting any words, planning out a specific writing schedule will help you make writing part of your daily routine.

Don’t let this be another year of untapped ideas and empty notebooks. Make the commitment to set a writing schedule, and follow it until your ideas manifest from just a plan into writing on a page.

Image source: TRT Photo/BigStockPhoto.com

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The 11-Step Guide to Writing a Thank-You Letter

A thank-you sign.

How to Write a Thank-You Letter

For many, it’s the season of Thanksgiving—but do you ever have difficulty putting your gratitude into words? You can always send a cute thank-you video (like this one with minions) or give a public shout-out on social media, but there’s something extra special about a personally crafted written expression of appreciation.

I recently got married, so I have had lots—and lots—of practice putting my gratitude into words. Whether you’re basking in appreciation for the help or gifts you’ve received, or you simply want to recognize someone you care about by acknowledging the good work they’re doing, learning how to write a thank-you letter is an important skill. Here are some essential steps to follow while writing a thank-you letter.

1. Don’t put it off.

When writing thank-you letters, time is of the essence. For one thing, it’s courteous to send a prompt reply to acknowledge a gift, as this lets the giver know that you have, indeed, received it. You should generally respond within two weeks of receiving the gift.

Another reason to get writing is that it’s easier for you—and less stressful! Write while the memory of unwrapping the orange squeezer from Uncle Chester is fresh in your mind. But before you pick up a pen, here are a couple of things to consider.

2. Mind your Ps and Qs.

Even in the age of technology, there’s a certain degree of etiquette involved when issuing recognition for good deeds. Though the idea of “etiquette” may seem old-fashioned, it simply refers to the accepted ways to treat someone politely, making them feel that they are respected and considered.

For instance, you need to put some effort into your “thank you.” While a thank-you text message may seem convenient, a quick “Tx 4 the stuff. U R awsum” might not do justice to the time, money, and energy spent by the recipient. One reason that people write thank-you notes (often by hand) to their wedding guests is to expend personal energy in response to the generosity of others. That being said, thank-you letters don’t necessarily have to be handwritten—but they do have to be thoughtful and sincere.

3. Choose your medium.

How to Write a Formal LetterAside from the thank-you etiquette of weddings, baby showers, and other gift-amassing events that call for handwritten thank-you notes, you should also think about the options you have for sending your thanks in everyday situations.

Will you send a brief Facebook message or email to someone too busy to check their physical mailbox? How about choosing pretty, purple stationery replete with images of cats for a letter to your kind granny? You’ll want to consider the personality and lifestyle of your recipient, matching their communication preference with the format of your thank-you letter.

If you have elegant penmanship (or really clear block lettering), consider choosing material forms of communication, as this adds a personal touch. You can even type your letter and print it out. It’s especially nice for someone living abroad or for those confined to their homes to receive a handwritten thank-you letter. Once you’ve chosen your medium, you’re ready to start writing your thank-you letter!

4. Fill in the blanks (in your own unique way).

Now it’s time to start composing. Your letter should follow this basic structure:

  1. Salutation (e.g., Dear ______)
  2. Thank you (e.g., Thank you for the ______)
  3. Appreciation (e.g., It was so kind of you to ______; we appreciate your ______; we plan to use the ______ for ______)
  4. Closing (e.g., We hope to see you ______; thanks again for ______)
  5. Signature (e.g., Love, ______)

Keep in mind that this is an informal style of writing, so you should keep your tone warm and personal. Your thank-you letter should also be fairly concise and straightforward—there’s no need for over-the-top language or a parade through the streets.

5. Salute your recipient (appropriately)!

When writing your thank-you letter, the first thing you have to tackle is your salutation. You don’t have to be super formal, but you should also show respect. Suit your opening salutation to the kind of relationship you have with the recipient. For instance, you wouldn’t refer to your granny as “Mrs. Elouise Margaret Giggery” when you’re thanking her for the cookies she sent (“Dear Granny” would suffice), but you don’t want to offend your college dean with the informal salutation “Hey bud!” Only use first names, nicknames, or informal titles if you have a close relationship with the addressee.

6. Say the magic word.

And no, I don’t mean “please”! This is where you list your thank-yous, whether it’s for the recipient’s qualities, gifts given, or services rendered. Many people struggle with how to say thank you, but it’s really more important that you say it. Simplicity is often the best way to go.

For items received, one tip is to be specific with your description (e.g., the polka dot-covered orange squeezer or the chocolate chip cookies), unless you’re thanking someone for money. Some people consider it gauche to say, “Thank you for your cheque of $500 USD.” Instead of referring to money as “cash” or “moolah,” use a more polite term such as “generous gift.”

Also, keep in mind that gift-givers typically like to know how you plan to use their donation. If you’re writing to thank someone for their actions, remember that people love to be appreciated.

7. Offer your appreciation (even if you didn’t love the paperweights from Aunt Myrtle).

Ever heard the phrase “It’s the thought that counts”? Our materialistic society is sometimes more concerned with the contents of the gift received than the thoughtfulness (or attempted thoughtfulness) of the giver. It might be true that the sparkly purple paperweights from Aunt Myrtle weren’t at the top of your wish list, but she still took some trouble and expense for your benefit.

The bottom line is that you should explain why the gift is important to you—even if it’s not something you would have purchased for yourself. Showing appreciation is essential to maintaining healthy relationships—and to writing a sincere thank-you letter.

8. Add a line to stay in touch.

Aside from expressing your appreciation, take a moment to share some news or catch up with the recipient before wrapping up your note of thanks. For example, you might ask how your granny is enjoying her new oven (which produced such fantastic cookies!), or you might mention how you plan to see your Aunt Myrtle in the New Year. Your thank-you is a nice way to remind someone that you haven’t forgotten them and they’re still a part of your life.

9. Reiterate your gratitude.

This step isn’t totally necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to say “Thanks again.” It wraps up the note with a reminder of your gratitude.

10. Sign your John Hancock.

Whether you’re sending an email, a postcard, or a message by carrier pigeon, don’t forget to sign your name. If possible, use your handwritten signature. You should also add a closing line such as “Sincerely,” “Warmest regards,” or “With all my/our love”—which, again, depends on how well you know the addressee.

11. One final tip . . .

Whatever reason you’re writing a thank you, remember to be sincere. Even if you didn’t get the gift that you expected or the recipient didn’t do all you’d hoped they would, show gratitude for what they did do. It’s more important to write from the heart than to write eloquently.

Conclusion

Writing a thank-you letter is a meaningful social practice and an opportunity to show that you care. It’s nice to know that someone’s thinking of you, and that’s what thank-you letters are all about. After all, kindness never goes out of style.

Letter-Writing Resources

Still looking for inspiration on how to write a thank-you letter? You can find thank-you writing samples online to get started with the writing process, and you can take advantage of Scribendi’s letter-editing service to polish your final draft. Some other great resources on letter writing include Inklyo’s online course, How to Write a Formal Letter, and ebook, How to Write a Letter.

Image Source: Gratisography/Pexels.com

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The Comic Touch: How to Be Funny in Your Writing

A dog in a funny mask.

A dog in a funny mask.

Airplanes. Ben Affleck making a comeback after Gigli. Space travel. Women not just wearing—but totally rocking—pants on a regular basis. Justin Timberlake being taken seriously as an actor.

These are all things that people once thought highly unlikely, and maybe even impossible, yet they’re all totally accepted facts today.

The lesson here? There’s no such thing as impossible. If you put your mind to it and are willing to do the work, then gosh dang it, you can learn how to be funny.

But before we get into the how of writing humor, I’d like to delve into the why. The suspense of waiting for the how may very well kill you, I know, but what can I say? I’m a risk taker.

What are the benefits of writing humor into your story?

You may be wondering why incorporating humor into fiction and other types of creative writing is even important. You may think that learning how to be funny is secondary to learning how to tell compelling, dramatic stories.

The truth is, writing humor is important precisely because it helps create compelling and dramatic stories. Allow me to break that down into five easily digestible points that are sure to provide you with your daily dose of figurative fiber:

1. Humor can be used to give us a break from other more intense emotions.

You’ve surely heard the term “comic relief” tossed around before. Comic relief occurs when a comic scene or character appears in an otherwise tragic or serious tale. It gives the audience or reader a break from the intensity of the rest of the story.

Shakespeare is big on comic relief. Considering that his tragedies—like King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello, to name a few—always conclude with the violent deaths of most of the characters, you can see how some laughs might ease the tension a bit before the imminent bloodshed.

2. Writing humor can be satiric—it can work to highlight the absurdity of a real issue.

Sometimes writing about reality can be a hefty task. Explicitly stating what’s wrong with the world, with society, with your parents, or with your less-than-complete sense of self is not always the most effective or entertaining way to communicate your message. Plus, some topics are taboo—and as fun as it is to say taboo, what this word means is that you’re not really supposed to talk about certain things. Cue satire.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is an astonishing example of satire. Heller uses satire to highlight the absurdity, the illogicality, the painful contradictions, and the nonsensical confusion experienced by soldiers fighting in a world war, as well as the chaos behind the concept of war itself.

Another example of tackling a taboo subject with satire is Oscar Wilde’s hilarious play, The Importance of Being Earnest, which highlights the contradictions between appearances and reality in English society in the late 1800s. In Earnest, deviations from convention are the only ways to escape a world in which believing something is enough to make it true. In the play, this is seen in Algernon’s “Bunburying,” which is widely interpreted as a metaphor for homosexual activity (which was illegal at the time and landed Wilde himself in prison).

3. Writing humor can help create an honest connection between the reader and the narrator or character.

Just as we love the “class clown” in real life, we tend to love funny characters in books. These are the kinds of people who, if they actually existed, would make my grandmother smile wryly and say, “Oh, that one’s a character all right!” I love that woman.

A great example of using humor in writing to help the reader relate to the story is John Dies at the End, a comic horror novel by David Wong. A truly absurd book from start to finish, this comic and sardonic narrative lets the reader inside the mind of the narrator, David. We get a solid grasp of his sense of humor (complete with grammar jokes about apostrophes and dangling modifiers, I might add), but we also get the inside scoop on the intense experiences and feelings he’s having.

Considering that David has unwittingly contributed to the opening of a portal to other dimensions, complete with gods of chaos and squiggly, creepy creatures, you could say he’s going through a pretty tough time. The humor in this book also helps us fall in love with David’s partner in crime, John, who to our relief—spoiler alert—does not actually die at the end.

4. Humor can be used as a contrast to tragedy, making the poignancy of more difficult emotions hit the reader even harder.

Dave Eggers masters the contrast of comedy with tragedy in his semi-fictional memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s crawling with Eggers’ trademark wit and astute observations about the hilarity of everyday life. Filled with wild tangents and unconventional fourth-wall confrontations, this book is sure to keep most readers on their toes.

Did I mention both of Eggers’ parents die at the beginning of the book and that Eggers must then assume custody of his young brother? Eggers, with his fantastical blurring of fiction and reality, allows the reader to almost forget this. Then, quietly, he reminds us. The result? We’re momentarily heartbroken, only to be uplifted again by Eggers’ next wild tangent. While it may be either wildly pretentious or painfully ironic, the book’s title is quite accurate.

5. Writing humorously keeps the reader interested and engaged.

Even if humor serves no other purpose in your writing, know this—most people respect a good display of wit. Even if you don’t know how to be funny in real life, I suggest you learn how to be in your writing.

Clever writing is intelligent writing, and intelligent writing is respected and encourages engagement. Shakespeare reigns supreme in the wit department, and Wilde runs a close second. For more examples of wit that just won’t quit, I recommend checking out anything written by Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

So there’s the why. Now where’s the how?

As promised, here is your guide to how to be funny in writing. Follow these steps, and you’ll surely be busting guts in no time at all:

1. Give up now.

If you haven’t figured out how to be funny on your own already, it’s not going to happen. What do you think I am, a wizard or something? Go on. Get outta here!

2. Wait, no! I was lying! Don’t go!

I was just doing something unexpected to try to catch you off guard. Did it work? Sometimes the element of surprise is enough to elicit a laugh when writing humor.

3. See what I did there? Aren’t I clever?

“Oh, the cleverness of me!” If it fits your story, making allusions to famous icons and events can put your jokes into context and help readers relate to you. Peter Pan is a go-to of mine, so you can’t have him, but anyone else is all yours. Another way to illicit a laugh is to hearken back to a previous point from your own story in a surprising way. Once you set up a world, weave together inside jokes that you share with your reader.

4. A false sense of grandeur can sometimes be funny, too. Trust me—I know.

Pretending that you know what you’re talking about is a sure way to get people to laugh at you, especially if you quite obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. Sure, it might not be the kind of laughter you’re after, but a laugh is a laugh, right?

5. Right. You wanted to learn how to be funny.

If you really want to learn how to be funny, you’re going to have to do a bit of work. Read some of the works mentioned above, and think about how humor is used in them (using my handy-dandy descriptions as a guide). Then, think about how you can incorporate humor into your own writing.

Make note of the jokes that made you laugh the hardest, and dissect them to really understand how they work before putting those mechanisms into practice.

Your jokes might not be gold at first, but in time, I’m sure you’ll find that you’re cracking jokes faster than my grandma cracks eggs for Sunday brunch. Have I mentioned yet today how much I love her?

Image Source: Braydon Anderson/Unsplash.com

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12 Essay-Writing Hacks from a Professional Editor

Essay-Writing Hacks

Essay-Writing HacksAs a professional editor, I’ve edited all kinds of documents, not the least of which are essays. I’ve seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Look, it’s easy to write a bad essay when it’s due in less than 24 hours (we’ve all been there), but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to write a good essay. To write a good essay, you just have to know what to look for to make weak writing stronger.

Simply looking is the number one job of a professional editor (outside of drinking coffee) because looking leads to discovering—and once you find your errors, improvement is just around the corner.

After editing over a million words, I’ve come to understand what makes a good essay and what makes a bad essay, and I have a few practical tips—essay hacks, if you will—for improving your own essay-writing skills.

1. Befriend your argument.

Make sure you know everything there is to know about your argument. That means you should understand exactly what it is you’re arguing and why. If your argument was an elevator pitch and you had to explain it to someone in just a minute or two, could you? If the answer is “No,” revisit the main point of your essay. Do more research to make sure you know the topic inside and out.

The reason you need to be prepared is that, if there’s any proof that can shoot your argument down, you not only need to shield those bullets but also to ricochet them back. Don’t just know your argument—befriend it. Find out its strengths and its weaknesses.

2. Challenge every idea.

If you have any questions about your topic, subject, or field, ask them as soon as you can. Hitting a snag later can stall progress on your essay, so if you can hit all the major weak points early on, you can avoid finding major flaws in your argument later.

Challenge anything that causes questions to sprout and play the devil’s advocate for your own argument. If you’ve identified these weaknesses before, now is the time to investigate further and begin to clarify anything that might still be fuzzy.

3. Select your sources carefully.

When selecting your sources, be picky. Don’t resort to using online sources just because they’re easily accessible. Try to use all kinds of different sources, but only if they’re current. Don’t pick a dusty old book from the library just to have a print source in your references list.

Choose current and relevant sources from trustworthy or notable scholars in the field. If your proof is questionable, your whole argument will fall apart, so choose your sources like you would an all-star team if you want to knock your essay out of the park.

4. Start writing early.

This is important: make sure you start writing early. Don’t put your essay off until the last minute. Do you know what’s waiting for you at the last minute? Regret and sadness.

Kickstart yourself now so you don’t kick yourself later. If you need to set an early deadline for yourself or split the essay writing into manageable chunks, do it. Just make sure you start early so you have time to solve any problems you run into later.

5. Organize for clarity.

The structure of your essay is every bit as important as the argument itself. If you have a flimsy structure, there’s no firm foundation to build the essay on; if there’s no firm foundation, your essay could collapse at any moment.

Focus on structuring your essay before you start writing. How will you arrange your argument and provide evidence in a cohesive and logical way? It’s better to answer that question earlier rather than later. Use transitions to ensure your argument flows logically from one point to the next.

6. Watch your tense and voice.

First, use the active voice when you write your essay (unless otherwise instructed). Second, avoid personal pronouns to maintain objectivity if need be (e.g., in scientific and other formal writing).

Third, you should write in the literary present, meaning that all actions performed in the text should be explained in the present tense rather than the past.

Finally, avoid using clichés. Since you want to present original thoughts, overused phrases need to be cut.

7. Explain everything clearly.

Any time you make a point, explain it clearly—even if you think it’s obvious. Your argument will be obvious to you (since you’ve befriended it), but it’s brand new to the reader. Your argument is meeting your reader for the first time, and like any new friends, they need introducing. If you fail to introduce them properly, things will get very confusing and awkward.

8. Be succinct.

Sentences should be straightforward, communicating one point at a time; cut all unnecessary words. You’ll also want to eliminate any repetition. It’s easy to say the same things over and over again in an essay, but doing so won’t strengthen your argument.

Cut unnecessary phrases and anything wordy or redundant, including phrases that don’t add information, such as “it should be pointed out that” or “due to the fact that.” Similarly, don’t ramble on about the same topic or go off on a tangent in the middle of your essay.

9. Avoid academese at all costs.

Try to keep things simple. While you shouldn’t talk down to your audience or explain every technical term, you should always be concise. Most importantly, don’t ever use words or phrases that you think will make you sound smarter.

It’s always best to be straightforward, so use the right vocabulary to say exactly what you want to say. It’s embarrassing if you try to use a fancy word only to find it doesn’t mean what you thought it meant.

10. Be aware of your word count.

Don’t go over your word count. Most markers will stop marking at the last word within the word count, so it’s crucial that you stay within it if you want to do well.

However, you also don’t want to stay severely lower than the word count provided. While you shouldn’t pad the essay by adding information that isn’t necessary to your argument or relevant to the topic at hand, you should get as close to the word count as possible by thoroughly exploring your topic and elaborating on your argument.

11. Carefully cite everything.

Unless you want to face a failing grade, academic probation, or even expulsion, you need to cite all of your sources. There are many types of plagiarism, but as long as you take good notes during your research and credit your sources, it’s easy to avoid plagiarism.

Your academic integrity is at stake here, so ensure that you are overly cautious in recording the necessary material. Be vigilant in confirming that you’ve documented everything fully and correctly.

12. Revise extensively.

Every good essay has been revised at least once, which means you, too, should tighten your writing. Comb through and ensure that everything is clear, consistent, and flows well. Once you’re happy with the content of your essay, you can sweat the small stuff, like grammar and spelling errors.

Even brilliant essays receive lower grades if simple mistakes are left in the document, so consider getting a second opinion and having an expert look over your writing for both form and content. At the very least, run a spell and grammar check. You’ll be so happy you did.

Conclusion

Essay writing doesn’t have to be hard. Anyone can write a good essay with the proper tools. These essay hacks are part of your toolkit, which you can use to improve your essay writing. Go from good to great by considering these tips and implementing them when writing your next essay.

If you would prefer a step-by-step guide for essay writing and want to improve your skills once and for all, you might want to think about taking a course to organize and write good essays every time.

How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps

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Putting Pen to Paper: How to Write a Rough Draft

A hand holding a lightbulb next to crumpled paper.

You have done the research and written the outline of your paper. You are ahead of the deadline, and you want to stay that way. You turn on your computer, poise your fingers over the keyboard, and begin your rough draft. But what exactly is a rough draft? And just why do you need to write one in the first place?

Have you ever assembled a puzzle? Most of us begin by dumping all the puzzle pieces out of the box and then grouping the pieces by color and shape. It is likely that the jumble of puzzle pieces in no way resembles the picture on the puzzle box. But looking at the pieces, you can get an idea of how they will all fit together.

A PuzzleWriting a rough draft is similar to building a puzzle. Your outline and your research are a collection of ideas similar to that jumble of puzzle pieces. When you write your rough draft, you begin organizing how these ideas go together. Just as grouping similar puzzle pieces can give you an idea of what the final puzzle will look like, grouping your ideas in a rough draft gives you an idea of what your final draft will look like.

Getting a Rough Idea

You may think that rough drafts are not important. You have done the research, and you know what you want to say, so what is wrong with just writing? Nothing! In fact, that’s exactly how to write a rough draft. A rough draft is a means of getting started on your essay. When you start a rough draft, you are no longer just thinking about writing or planning on writing—you are doing it! Writing your rough draft helps you get your information and thoughts on paper. Once you have your rough draft, you can edit and polish ad nauseum until you have your wonderful final draft. But before that, you need to start somewhere.

Writing a rough draft also helps build discipline. While you may have managed to write an essay off the cuff in the past, it was bound to be a stressful experience. Who would want to do that again? Writing a rough draft helps you get your ideas on paper. You can always fix the spelling and grammar, refine your word choices, and add your own style and panache later. For now, sitting down and writing helps discipline your mind.

How to Write a Rough Draft

  1. The first step in writing a rough draft is just to get started. Collect your research notes and your outline (you did do the research and prepare the outline, didn’t you?).
  2. Follow your outline to help you prepare your introductory paragraph. This is where you should catch your reader’s attention with an interesting first sentence, but don’t worry if you can’t think of one yet. Inspiration may hit you at a later stage—that’s the wonder of writing a rough draft! Make sure that you introduce your topic and write your thesis statement. This will help you with the structure of your paper.
  3. Write the body of your essay. Remember that you will need, at very least, three paragraphs containing evidence that supports your thesis statement. At this point, don’t worry too much about making sure you have transitions between the paragraphs. Improving flow is something you can do in a later draft.
  4. Write your conclusion. This paragraph provides you with the opportunity to summarize your research and show how it supports your thesis statement. You should also restate your thesis statement.

Surviving the Rough Times

There are some things you can do to make sure that you don’t have a rough time writing your rough draft. These tips will help make the writing process a bit easier:

  • Write in the active voice.
  • Don’t stress out over every word. Just let your ideas spill onto the paper. If you can’t think of an appropriate word, just type the first word that pops into your head, and return to it later.
  • Make sure your introduction not only introduces your topic but also provides some background information on the topic.
  • Write a topic sentence for each of your body paragraphs. This sentence indicates the direction for each paragraph and will help you remain on subject.
  • If you can, write some transition ideas in each of your body paragraphs so that they link together, but don’t agonize over them. It’s okay if you can’t think of these transitions at this stage.
  • Look for any paragraphs where you feel that your proof is weak or you need more information to bolster your argument. You may need to go back and do more research to fill in any holes.
  • Once you have completed your rough draft, take a break. You deserve it!

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How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps

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4 Writing Styles to Help You Ace Every Essay

Writing Styles

Writing Styles

Writing styles are like fashion styles. How you dress helps others understand who you are, describes a particular sentiment to those who see you, and signals a subconscious message to be interpreted by others. How you write will give similar signals to others that help them understand what you’re trying to communicate. Also, like fashion styles, writing styles have particular times and places in which they should be employed or restrained. It’s inappropriate to wear white to a wedding if you’re not the bride; similarly, it’s inappropriate to use certain writing styles for specific types of writing.

Luckily, writing styles are a little more cut and dried than fashion styles. There are four main types of writing: expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. Each serves a specific purpose and differs from the others in particular ways. Knowing the difference between the writing styles is useful in essay writing because your essay must serve a precise purpose. By understanding the subtleties of the writing styles, it will be a lot easier to determine which style to employ based on the purpose of your essay.

Expository Writing

Expository Writing ExplainsExpository writing is used when you want to explain or inform, making it a very popular writing style for essays. Generally, the writer must first formulate a topic, outline the evidence, and further explain the idea to demonstrate a particular point about the topic at hand. A thesis statement is utilized to outline the topic, followed by body paragraphs held together by transitions. Often, evidence is stated in the paragraphs, and an introduction and conclusion are provided.

Very simply, this style is employed in academic writing to outline the main points of a topic. The writer explains a specific subject from beginning to end. The writing should be clear, supported by facts and logical reasoning. A common form of expository writing is the compare-and-contrast essay, which outlines the similarities and differences between two subjects. The writer can either alternate explaining similarities and differences in separate paragraphs or explain all the similarities in several consecutive paragraphs, followed by all the differences.

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive Writing DescribesThe main purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a subject to form a clear idea in the reader’s mind. This writing style draws attention to details to outline the topic. Writing a descriptive essay requires clear and vivid language to accurately describe the subject. The senses become very important in descriptive writing because they help to bring ordinary moments to life. The reader should be left with a vibrant understanding of the topic at hand.

Students are often required to write descriptive essays to explain a particular experience they may have had or an event that has taken place. This type of essay is a little bit more creative than the expository essay, allowing the writer to draw on lived experience and lively language rather than relying on dry facts. Here, the more specific and detailed the writing is, the better, and wordiness is not frowned upon as it is in expository writing.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive Writing PersuadesThis type of writing allows the writer to take a stance. Rather than objectively explaining a topic or painting a picture for the reader, persuasive writing is used to demonstrate a very specific opinion on a topic. That means attention to word choice is imperative, as weak or incorrect word usage can make or break a persuasive essay. In this style, authors attempt to get the readers to side with them, share their particular opinion, and even sometimes take action on it.

Often, this type of writing is used for controversial topics that split people into groups based on their opinions. This allows writers to take a specific stance and outline their particular opinions. Even though the writing can and should be biased, the outlined arguments must all be logical and must be feasibly proven. Therefore, persuasive writing requires extensive research so that the writer can back up an opinion with reputable sources.

Narrative Writing

Narrative Writing NarratesGenerally, narrative writing is less common in the academic world because the narrative style exists to tell stories. Whether it’s a true story or not is irrelevant; fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry are all types of narrative writing. In reality, all types of writing exist to argue a specific point. So even though narrative writing is a more creative type of writing, it is still an argument and should be treated as such.

What do you want the reader to believe? That’s what you should ask when writing a narrative essay.

Narrative essays are generally used when writing anecdotal or personal essays. In the academic world, this usually takes the form of creative nonfiction. The writer should introduce the topic and lead the reader through the story by explaining what happened next until the story comes to a logical conclusion. That means it should have a clear structure. This type of writing is also used for book reports, outlining the story from beginning to end.

Conclusion

Really, the four types of writing are named aptly: expository writing explains, descriptive writing describes, persuasive writing persuades, and narrative writing narrates. All the different writing styles serve their own purposes and are thus useful for different types of essay writing. That means they never go out style (pun intended).

How to Write an Essay

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Writing a Thesis Statement that Takes Your Essay to the Next Level

Writing a Thesis Statement

Writing a Thesis StatementA thesis statement or hypothesis is essentially what makes an essay what it is. This one statement, found in an essay’s introduction, tells a reader what the essay is about and what the writer’s main argument or research findings are. Because this sentence states the purpose of the essay itself, it should be clear and concise and provide the writer’s concrete view of the particular subject. Writing a thesis statement that clearly outlines your stance on the topic and that is easy to understand differentiates a strong essay from a weak one. In this article, what makes a good thesis will be explained. We also provide some thesis statement examples to show you what works.

A Thesis Statement Should be Arguable

A good thesis statement can be debated and, therefore, can be backed up by research to persuade others that the hypothesis is correct or the best solution to a problem. You want the reader of your essay to agree with whatever you have argued, so stating facts does not make a good thesis or a good essay. The point of research is to further knowledge of a particular subject. Take a look at this thesis statement example that is simple but arguable:

Saving endangered species, like the polar bear, should be the responsibility of all countries.

There are people who would argue that it is not up to the entire world to save the polar bear but that it is the responsibility of the countries in which polar bears are found. This statement is easily debatable.

A Thesis Statement Should be Focused

Writing a focused thesis statement will not only keep your writing on track and help you avoid an overwhelming amount of research but will also allow you to create a solid argument. Every hypothesis must be supported by evidence and research. You do not want to make so broad a statement that you need a wide range of evidence to support it. Focus your statement on a specific area of your topic, and narrow your research to just this area.

The disappearance of suitable climates in which woolly mammoths could live likely resulted in the extinction of the species.

The thesis statement example given here is focused on a specific aspect that likely contributed to the extinction of the woolly mammoth—climate change. Researching evidence on one aspect of your topic can strengthen the final argument.

A Thesis Statement Should Reflect the Type of Essay being Written

The way you’ll go about writing a thesis statement will depend on the type of essay you need to write. A thesis for a book review will be worded differently than a thesis for a research proposal. Each version outlines the main purpose of the essay itself. Below are thesis statement examples for a variety of essay types.

A book or journal review thesis is a statement of your critical evaluation of the book

In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien explores the theme of friendship through the loyalty and respect displayed between many of the main characters, such as Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, and Merry and Pippin.

A position or argumentative essay thesis is a statement of your position and why you adhere to it

University graduates in the 21st century cannot find valuable work because of the state of the economy and because many workers of the baby boomer generation refuse to retire.

A comparative essay thesis is a statement of your main argument and the main points of your comparison

Dogs often make better pets than cats because they can be easily trained and are more emotionally responsive.

A research paper thesis is a statement of your main claim relating to a topic or problem

Because of a greater sense of community and cultural involvement, people who live in the city experience a higher quality of life than people who live in rural areas.

A research proposal thesis is a statement of what you believe to be the main claim about a topic or problem

Evidence indicates that children who learn an instrument frequently go on to work in creative fields as adults.

Conclusion

Once you have a solid understanding of your research topic, writing a thesis statement should be relatively simple. Having your thesis statement planned out before you start your essay will allow you to focus your writing and help you create a strong argument. Once you have compiled all your research and know what you want to say in your essay, try writing out a few versions of your thesis statement, keeping in mind that it must be arguable, focused, and appropriate for the type of essay you’re writing.

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How to Write an Essay

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What Can Inklyo’s Copywriting Resources Do For You?

Copywriting ResourcesWhat is the most important part of a business’s website? Is it the product descriptions? The pictures? The navigation system? No, the most essential part of any website is its killer content. The content is what builds up a website’s search engine ranking, and it’s what keeps customers coming back for more. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure that your content shines.

But what if you’re not the best writer or think your writing could be improved? Having to create all this content can be overwhelming.

Don’t fret! With a willingness to learn and the right resources, you can easily improve your content writing skills and develop the knowledge and habits to consistently produce stellar content for your blog or website. Check out the list below to learn some copywriting tips that will form the basis of your copywriting education. Then, develop your practical writing skills with Inklyo’s writing courses and ebooks.

1. Copywriters are, first and foremost, writers.

Businesses want their website copy to be persuasive and earn the trust of potential customers. The best way to do this, however, is not to stuff the website with dry company information or grandiose but empty promises. Producing engaging copy is no different than producing an engaging novel: it must be grounded in a solid understanding of grammar, language, and storytelling.

If a website’s content is poorly written—either filled with typos or filled with cheesy slogans—it says something about the company that produced it. Before you write your website’s copy, make sure you thoroughly edit your work and employ the art of telling a story.

2. Copywriters write for the reader.

As a copywriter, try to put yourself in customers’ shoes. Put yourself into the minds of readers to understand how to speak to them. If your company has developed buyer personas, reviewing these is a great way to create a mindset that will allow you to write something they will want to read. In addition to enticing potential clients to read the content, once you know whom you are writing for, you can help the reader to look at things from a particular perspective. For instance, if you want to draw attention to the benefits of a particular product, gear the article toward the reader by uniting the problems the reader is likely experiencing with the solutions offered by your product.

3. Copywriters write for the business.

In addition to aligning themselves with readers, copywriters should align themselves with their company’s goals. By maintaining good communication with employers and other team members, all parties know what will be included in the copy to produce the desired outcome. This way, the content produced by you, the copywriter, will be in tune with the specific end goals of the business. If you know the end goals, you can clearly convey your company’s message to the public.

4. Copywriters write using search engine optimization.

The Internet categorizes information based on relevance. Search engines will pull up articles that fit certain keywords based on criteria such as the articles’ content, metadata, and posting date. Copywriters need to be aware of what keywords and phrases to include to ensure that the content is optimized and can be found by the readers who are looking for it. This way, the content is brought up in searches more often and will increase the visibility of your site. You should also make sure that the content is not simply stuffed with keywords but incorporates them in a way that sounds natural. This will make the content more enjoyable to read and will help your site avoid penalties from Google.

Conclusion

There’s always something new to learn in the field of copywriting. In addition to having a solid grasp of grammar and being a good writer, copywriters need to stay abreast of new trends and changes in search engine optimization best practices. There is no “finish line” when you’re a copywriter; there’s always a new challenge to overcome or a new skill to learn. This can be daunting, but remember that you don’t have to do it all alone. Check out Inklyo’s blog and other writing resources for help along the way.

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It’s in the Pages: Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better Writers

Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better Writers

Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better WritersDoes reading for pleasure make you a better writer? It’s a theory that has been tossed around and debated numerous times. Many people maintain that writing is a craft, and that all crafts should begin with an education from the masters—for instance, if you want to be a modern artist, you should go to Florence to study the works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Others, as represented below by the esteemed Lil Wayne, will staunchly argue that saturating yourself in the works of others will only keep you from developing your own style.

Honestly, I don’t listen to nobody else’s music but my own. It’s kind of like sports to me. You don’t see Kobe Bryant at a LeBron James game—he just works on his own game. And that’s what I do. I only listen to me, so I can criticize and analyze and all those things. —Lil Wayne

No offense to the creative habits of Lil Wayne (and I swear my disagreement isn’t at all influenced by his use of double negatives), but there is some interesting research that shows reading for pleasure can actually make you a better writer, both mechanically and meaningfully.

Early reading and performance

Research has linked early reading habits with better performance in school-aged children. Cullinan’s “Independent Reading and School Achievement” examines several studies indicating that students who engage in free reading outside of school are better developed in vocabulary, reading comprehension, and verbal fluency, which then translates into practical writing ability. Children who establish reading habits early (at the age of five) exhibit continued academic success in later years. Cullinan states that even “six years of schooling could not make up for the loss children suffered by not engaging in literacy events in their early lives.”

In a study of 230 children, the most academically successful were frequently read to by their parents, were provided with materials and spaces for pleasure reading at home, and visited libraries purely for enjoyment. Assessments of children in grades one to five revealed that “among all the ways children spent their time, reading books was the best predictor of measures of reading achievement in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and reading speed, including gains in reading comprehension between the second and fifth grade.”

A book title recognition test of middle school and young adult students revealed that those who had been most exposed to literature were also the most advanced in vocabulary, spelling, verbal fluency, and general word knowledge. In Writing: Research, Theory and Applications, Stephen Krashen notes that the highest-achieving college students report high levels of pleasure reading, especially in high school, compared to low-achieving students who engage in little to no reading for pleasure.

Krashen concludes that “voluntary pleasure reading contributes to the development of writing ability; it is a more important factor than writing frequency in improving writing.” Some famous examples include Malcolm X and Richard Wright, whose literacy success came not from formal education but from recreational reading.

Reading, language, and writing

Krashen compares the formation of writing ability to the learning of a new language. He states that reading for pleasure is the greatest boon to natural language development; the same goes for becoming an accomplished writer. Languages are best learned by indirect absorption (e.g., reading) rather than overt instruction (e.g., grammar memorization). Krashen calls the art of writing a “special dialect” that, like language, is acquired, not learned. In a paper presented at the RELC conference in Singapore in 2004, Krashen stated that “those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. These results hold for first and second language acquisition, and for children and adults.”

The effectiveness of recreational reading on ESL learners can be seen in this case study of a Korean woman and also in this report of Sophia, a Taiwanese girl who immigrated to the United States at the age of six with no real English ability. The Korean woman claims that her prowess in the English language comes not from grammar books but from careful study of the feel and flow of language as she encounters it in literature. Sophia’s case presents some interesting data: her English test scores drop at the end of each school year but skyrocket after a summer vacation full of voluntary free reading.

Like learning a language, writing successfully requires not just mechanical skill but a feel for words. Grammar lessons and exercises in story construction can certainly help fill the holes in a writer’s ability, but they pale in comparison to the foundation of skill that literature gives to aspiring writers. In the words of William Faulkner,

Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

Exposure to fiction means greater empathy

Good writing employs sophisticated style, a feel for language, and mechanical expertise. But let’s not forget that writing is also an art and a way to connect people across continents and generations. People read to understand life; those who write do so to help others understand it. How can we, as writers, access this world of understanding and empathy to become better writers? The answer is obvious: through reading. Renowned author Neil Gaiman speaks on the effects of exposure to literature:

. . . [The] second thing fiction does is to build empathy . . . Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

A good book is good because it is relatable; it taps into the human condition to make its readers feel something. You develop this kind of skill by broadening your own emotional scope through reading.

Like any craft…

Writing requires practice. Reading supplies a foundation of style and empathetic understanding in ways that formal education cannot. Technical instruction (such as the courses offered at GrammarCamp) simply fills in the gaps to help you become an even better writer.

Can I be blunt on the subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.—Stephen King

 

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Writing Persuasive Web Copy (No Jedi Mind Tricks Required)

Writing Persuasive Web CopyStar Wars. Responsible for inspiring the most popular Halloween costumes, inciting heated debates over who shot first, and turning chubby, lightsaber-wielding kids into overnight YouTube sensations. Among the Ewoks, droids, stormtroopers, and starships, one iconic image sums up the Star Wars empire (pun intended): Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s clashing green and red lightsabers, locked in a timeless struggle between good and evil.

Imagine what would have happened, then, if, instead of throwing himself down Cloud City’s air shaft in a final act of defiant heroics, Luke had accepted Vader’s offer to “rule the galaxy as father and son.” For all his mind tricks, persuasive powers, and paternal bullying, our dear asthmatic Sith Lord made a fatal error: he failed to read his audience, and thus didn’t speak to him effectively.

The same goes for writing persuasive web copy. A beautiful website design and a perfect SEO system may bring a Star Destroyer full of consumers to your webpage, but if your writing doesn’t resonate with your audience, it will fail to convert those visitors into leads. In short, you’ll be left hanging—just like Vader, hand outstretched—failing to make the sale. (Maybe he should have rethought that one—offering a hand right after chopping off Luke’s. Bit of a costly oversight there, Anakin.)

From Jedi mind tricks to dark side scare tactics, Star Wars can teach us a lot about writing persuasive web copy. Grab some popcorn and blue milk, tell your friends you’ll have to pick up power converters at Tosche Station another time, and settle in to learn a few things from the denizens of a galaxy far, far away.

Use positive language

“Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.”

Like the divide between the light and dark sides of the Force, the message here is about positive over negative language. How did Obi-Wan divert the stormtroopers who were searching for R2-D2 and C-3P0? Some Jedi mind tricks, to be sure, but also positive language. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for; you can go about your business. Move along.” Negative language has a tendency to be memorable in a bad way; the last thing you want is for your readers to develop a negative association with your content. You want them to feel empowered to tackle whatever problem they came to your website to solve. Another technique is to ask a question early on—a question you know the consumer will answer with a “yes.” Unless your readers are Toydarians, they’ll develop a habit of saying “yes” to other questions or offers you pose.

Use the active voice

“Do, or do not—there is no try.”

Write in the active voice. The active voice is direct, simple, and easy to understand. The passive voice removes the power of action from the subject and can quickly muddy your meaning with convoluted turns of phrase. The active voice is particularly important when writing headlines or titles, meta descriptions, image captions, and calls to action (CTAs). You want clear, effective language to draw users to your landing page and compel them to take the desired action. As much as we love Yoda, you should probably avoid his legendary speech patterns.

Be authentic and believable

Luke: “I cant believe it. Yoda: “That is why you fail.

Consider your audience. If your content is not culturally relevant to your target group—or worse yet, not believable—your chances of gathering successful conversions are slim to none. Avoid salesy jargon and claims that sound too good to be true. Don’t hesitate to link to factual supporting evidence, research studies, testimonials, or other verifiable sources to demonstrate your credibility. If your users don’t believe you, they aren’t going to buy.

Choose your titles wisely

“Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease!”

Names are important. Put extra effort into names, titles, and headlines. Imagine if the Death Star had been called the Planet Zapper, or if Obi-Wan Kenobi had described Mos Eisley as a “wretched hive of icky people.” Doesn’t quite have the same zing, does it? Your titles and headlines need to draw users to your page and encourage them to keep reading. For tips and tricks, take a look at this guide for writing headlines more engaging than an Imperial tractor beam.

Tell a story

“I’m not much more than an interpreter, and not very good at telling stories.”

Emotional response can be the deciding factor in changing visitors to conversions. A fantastic way to make a connection with your reader and elicit emotion is through storytelling. While only a small part of the brain is triggered by facts and figures, stories can activate the entire brain, including emotions. This can be a powerful tool for swaying your audience. Need proof? C-3P0 wooed a whole civilization of Ewoks by telling them stories of the Rebel Alliance’s battles with the Galactic Empire, inspiring the Ewoks to fight beside the Rebels against the Imperial troops on Endor.

Get to your landing page

“Stay on target!”

Everything you write needs to maintain focus. Your ultimate goal is to get consumers to your landing page by convincing them that your product will solve their problems. There are many ways of doing this—showing empathy by acknowledging your own experience with their problem, providing testimonials for emotional relatability and positive assurance, or simply describing the benefits your product will bring to the user, as opposed to merely listing its features. Whatever approach you take, make absolutely sure your content relates directly to your audience and points toward a solution. If it doesn’t, cut it out.

Create scarcity

“Control, control, you must learn control!”

Take control of a user’s impulse to click away from an offer by creating the feeling of product scarcity. This is a tried-and-true aspect of writing persuasive web copy: you want your readers to feel as though they’ll miss out if they don’t act on your offer now. Marketing a product as available for a limited time only, or to a limited number of consumers—an ebook available free for just three days, for example, or a special discount for the first 100 buyers—can move someone who might otherwise wander off to “think about it” to jump on the limited opportunity instead.

Target Millennials

“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”

It’s time to acknowledge the new greatest power in the universe. It isn’t the Death Star anymore—it’s Millennials. These tech-savvy, Internet-dominating, information-processing machines are what drive online marketing success. They are your future consumers. So it’s time you learned to speak (and write) their language. Millennials value engaging, relatable content that can be skimmed quickly for key points. Break up your copy with visual aids (bolded headings, photos, embedded videos, graphical content) and divide large sections of text into manageable chunks with concise headings so that readers can find the information they need via a quick scan.

Target Millennials

Never stop adapting

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Internet technologies change, and they change fast. Effective online marketers extend their brand presence across a variety of web spaces, from product websites to social media networks. Your web copy should reflect the attitudes and behaviors of each platform. A Facebook post that directs users to your landing page, for example, requires language that is considerably more attention-grabbing and concise than the copy for your website’s homepage or a blog post.

To market in each space effectively, it’s important to stay on top of the trends. Relying on your knowledge of past Internet trends or writing styles is a mistake, as these become obsolete faster than the Millennium Falcon can complete the Kessel Run. You’ll also want to keep in mind changing social attitudes and needs when you consider the tone of your writing. In the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” The buying cycles that marketers used in the past aren’t effective anymore, especially with Millennials. Writing to satisfy the conventions and buying patterns only of older groups won’t resonate with this now-dominant Internet generation and will result in lost conversions.

So you’ve soaked it all up? Great, kid. Don’t get cocky!

When writing persuasive web copy, it’s important to continuously remind yourself of the personas of your target consumers and their stages in the buyer’s journey. Creating a personalized experience that applies the right emotional triggers will enhance the likelihood of your users’ completing the action you’ve laid out for them. If Luke could feel comfortable flying the Death Star’s exhaust port corridor because it reminded him of shooting womp rats from his T-16 back home, you can certainly give your users the confidence to follow your CTAs by creating a positive, action-oriented, culturally relevant experience.

In the words of Jedi Master Yoda: mind what you have learned, and may the Force be with you.

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