There are many rules and tips to improve your web writing. The most important ones are to be clean, concise and simple. Don’t go overboard using semicolons and ellipses. Keep excessive punctuation to a minimum unless it greatly enhances your sentence. It usually won’t. Help yourself and your readers by writing short sentences that are easy to understand.
To make your blogs and web stories more user-friendly, make sure your paragraphs are short too. Start noticing how journalists format their paragraphs and pay attention to the number of sentences in an average paragraph. You’ll notice web paragraphs are much shorter than what you’re used to if you’ve been writing long essays for school.
Basic Grammar and Spelling
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Here’s a short video that explains a common mistake many beginning writers make when they confuse me, myself and I.
Poor grammar won’t only cost you credibility, it can also change the meaning of your sentence. Watch this video to avoid unintentionally misleading your readers with misplaced modifiers.
When you start writing, keep it simple until you learn how to properly use punctuation like semicolons. Once you’ve built a solid writing foundation, try elevating your writing with help from this video.
Need a refresher on grammar terms? Check out Grammarist’s glossary.
Who vs Whom
Confused? Use little tricks to make all of these rules easier to remember. Replace “who” with “he” and replace “whom” with “him” to test if you’re using the correct word.
Who =They, he, she
Whom=Them, him, her
“You can communicate this to your clients, to whomever.”
The correct use is “whomever” not “whoever” because “you can communicate this to them” sounds better than “you can communicate this to they.”
Who did this?
Whom did this?
“He did this” makes sense. You’d never say “him did this.” So the correct word is “who.”
Associated Press Style
Propper spelling and formatting will help your blog and web article gain credibility. You should use the Associated Press Style Guide for spelling, grammar, and formatting guidelines. The University of South Florida created a helpful guide to style and usage that you can refer to when writing for the web.
Here are a few common rules you need to know from the Associated Press Style Guide:
In the body of your copy abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out all months when using alone or with a year alone.
Wrong: December 6th 2017
Right: Dec. 6, 2017
Wrong: Dec. 2017
Right: December 2017
Avoid redundancies like 10 a.m. this morning, 10 p.m. tonight or 10 p.m. Monday night. Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes:
- 11 a.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 3:30 p.m.
- 9-11 a.m.
- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- 1 PM
- 1:00 p.m.
Most of the time, you should write out numbers one through nine then use numerals for 10 and higher.
- Only use one space after a period, not two spaces.
- Single space sentences.
- Use one space between paragraphs.
- Do not indent the beginning of a paragraph.
Percent is written out “percent” not “%.” Use figures for percent and percentages: 1 percent, 2.5 percent(use decimals, not fractions), 10 percent, 4 percentage points.
Abbreviate Fla. in datelines only; spell out in stories. Postal code: FL
Datelines on stories should contain a city name, entirely in capital letters, followed in most cases by the name of the state, country or territory where the city is located.
NO: “I’m amazing,” Jeanette Abrahamsen, queen of the world, said.
YES: “I’m amazing,” said Jeanette Abrahamsen, queen of the world.
Attribution goes no later than the end of the first sentence in a paragraph with quotes.
Each quote gets a new paragraph. Example:
Jones, the president of the club, said it will be some time before they do a more exciting event than the one this week.
“It was epic,” he said. “We never imagined it would be such a success.”
Surround the exact words of a speaker or writer when reported in a story:
“I have no intention of staying,” he replied.
“I do not object,” he said, “to the tenor of the report.”
Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
A speculator said the practice is “too conservative for inflationary times.”
If a full paragraph of quoted material is followed by a paragraph that continues the quotation, do not put close-quote marks at the end of the first paragraph. Do, however, put open-quote marks at the start of the second paragraph. Continue in this fashion for any succeeding paragraphs, using close-quote marks only at the end of the quoted material.
If a paragraph does not start with quotation marks but ends with a quotation that is continued in the next paragraph, do not use close-quote marks at the end of the introductory paragraph if the quoted material constitutes a full sentence. Use close-quote marks, however, if the quoted material does not constitute a full sentence. For example:
He said, “I am shocked and horrified by what happened.”
“I am so horrified, in fact, that I will ask for the death penalty,” he said.
Quotes within quotes
Try to avoid these because they can be difficult to read, but if you do use a quote within a quote you should alternate between double quotation marks (“or”) and single marks (‘or’):
She said, “I quote from his letter, ‘I agree with Kipling that “the female of the species is more deadly than the male,” but the phenomenon is not an unchangeable law of nature,’ a remark he did not explain.”
Use three marks together if two quoted elements end at the same time: She said, “He told me, ‘I love you.'”
Apostrophe in plural nouns ending in s: Add only an apostrophe: the churches’ needs, the girls’ toys, the horses’ food, the ships’ wake, states’ rights, the VIPs’ entrance.
Follow these long-established printers’ rules:
- The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.
- The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
Television program titles
Put quotation marks around show only if it is part of the formal name. The word show may be dropped when it would be cumbersome, such as in a set of listings. Use quotation marks also for the title of an episode: “The Clean Room Infiltration,” an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” Also: “NBC Nightly News,” the “Today” show, “The Tonight Show.”
Apps and websites
Names of most websites and apps are capitalized without quotes: Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, Twitter.
Ask the Editor Frequently Asked Style Questions
This is from the Associated Press Ask the Editor, a forum on writing, style and phrasing issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. AP editor David Minthorn fields questions of widest interest posed by subscribers to the online AP Stylebook. Here is a sampling of frequently asked questions, with examples of AP style used in answers.
• Abbreviations, acronyms (24/7; NATO; laser; U.S.; No. 1 …)
Q: In a news story, can you start a sentence with an acronym?
A: A few examples: Radar, Laser, NATO, OPEC.
• Capitalization (proper nouns: America; proper names: Democratic Party; popular names: Indy 500; compositions: books, movies, operas …)
Q: Why is atheist not capitalized while Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., are?
A: We follow Webster’s on that term, which is lowercase.
Q: Great Depression is capitalized and so is American Revolution. How about Civil Rights Movement?
A: AP lowercases civil rights movement.
• Dates, time, eras (July 4, 2008; 9 a.m.; the Great Depression …)
Q: When referring to a time span, I never know when to use a dash to separate the two times (ex. 2-5 p.m.) and when to use the word “to”?
A: 2-5 p.m. is preferred
Q: Should the names of decades be capitalized when written out?
A: Use Arabic figures to indicate decades of history: the 1920s, the ’80s …
• Figures, numerals, dimensions (7-year-old boy; three years ago; 1 percent; third grade; size 9; 6-by-8-foot rug; 5 ounces; 68,000-square-foot facility…)
Q: Is the age of an inanimate object expressed in numerals or spelled out?
A: Always use figures for people, animals and objects: 3-year-old house.
Q: In denoting area, which is correct for numbers under 10 — 5 acres or five acres?
A: AP uses the numeral for acres, even when less than 10, as a dimension: 5 acres.
• Geography, addresses (state names, regions: Mideast; Northwest; northeast Minnesota; 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.; Fifth Avenue …)
Q: If we’re speaking about regions of the state, should it be South Louisiana, North Louisiana and Central Louisiana?
A: Lowercase the compass point – central Louisiana — unless it’s a widely known section, as in Southern California or South Florida.
• Grammar (essential vs. nonessential clauses; pronouns; subject-verb agreement …)
Q: I’m confused on the use of “that” and “who” when talking about groups.
A: Use “that” for a thing, “who” for the personal pronoun, although “that” also fits some human references
Q: For a subject/verb agreement, how should I treat “one or more features?
A: In this instance, use a plural verb.
• Formats (italics, lists …)
Q: My AP Stylebook always lists examples in italics, so it’s difficult to see if italics are part of the style. For example, are newspapers italicized?
A: AP doesn’t use italics in news stories. That includes newspaper names and magazine references. No italics. The stylebook uses italics for examples only.
Q: Is there a standard AP style for bulleted areas of text?
A: AP uses dashes, not bullets, for lists in news stories that follow a colon. After each dash, capitalize the first letter and use periods at the end of each section.
• Possessive versus descriptive
Q: A months confinement or a month’s confinement?
A: a month’s confinement, per the QUASI POSSESSIVES section of the “possessives” entry
Q: Veteran’s Benefits, Veterans Benefits or Veterans’ Benefits?
A: Veterans benefits, lowercase and not a possessive, is usually a descriptive term.
• Punctuation (commas; quotation marks; colon; semi-colon; ellipsis …)
Q: Is clarity essentially the only rule determining when a serial comma should be included?
A: In a simple series, AP doesn’t use a comma before the last item. For a series of complex terms, though, use commas after each for clarity.
Q: What is AP’s style on the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy?
A: “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
• Singular/plural (collective nouns …)
Q: Do music groups take singular verbs, as do collective nouns, or plural verbs, as with sports teams?
A: AP Stylebook entry on “collective nouns” says band names take plural verbs. The Fantastic Shakers have won many awards
Q: Is it staff has or staff have?
A: Normally staff is a collective taking a singular verb,
• Spelling (one word or two; hyphenation; noun phrases; prefixes; suffixes)
Examples: boardroom; hot plate; fast-food; pressure washing service; co-founder; countrywide.
• Sports terms
Examples: strikeouts, scorecard, goal post, Home Run Derby, general manager (lowercase)
• Titles (academic; courtesy; professional; military; occupational; political; religious)
Q: Would “crew chief” and “team owner” be capitalized before a name?
A: AP lowercases those descriptive titles.
Q: Why is “doctorate in psychology” not capped, but “Bachelor of Arts” is?
A: As a descriptive term, doctorate in psychology is lowercase. Bachelor of Arts is capitalized as an academic degree, as are B.A. and Ph.D. See “doctor” for an explanation of Dr. as a title for medical doctor on first reference.
• Writing, phrasing, usage (word choice; clarity; subjunctive mood; ethnic-racial; profanity; slang …)
Q: Is the proper phrase “If money were no object” or “If money was no object”?
A: The phrase suggests a contingency unlikely to come true, so use “were” for the subjunctive mood.
Q: Is clarity essentially the only rule determining when a serial comma should be included?
A; Commas in a series are for clarity and prevention of ambiguities. In a simple series, AP doesn’t use a comma before the last item. If the elements are complex, uses commas for all.
Q: How do I deal with a vulgarity from a movie that is integral to the article I’m writing?
A: A partial spelling with hyphens in place of some letters would convey the meaning. AP flags such cases atop the story with an editor’s note.
• Online and technology (the web; the internet; URL; computers; e-commerce …)
Q: Others use one word for internet-related terms. How about AP?
A: AP style is email (changed from e-mail), but other e- words are hyphenated: e-commerce and e-book. Our amended style is website (one word, lowercase w), along with other compounds: webcam, webcast, webmaster.
Q: How does AP treat programming language when used in general text?
A: AP stories use PHP, Ajax, XML, FTP … search engine optimization … click-through rate … pay-per-click.
Q: How about using e- as a prefix for new terms in the tech and business worlds?
A: AP uses hyphenated e- for generic terms such as e-commerce and e-strategies. One exception: email (no hyphen, which reflects majority of usage). For company names, use their preference: eBay.
• News media (datelines; headlines; newswriting …)
Q: Which states are never abbreviated in datelines?
A: Eight states are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.
Q: Do you capitalize a conjunction in a headline?
A: AP headlines cap only first word and proper names or proper abbreviations.
Q: If you have a hyphen in a headline, is the word after the hyphen capitalized?
A: In AP headline style, only the first word and proper nouns are capped.
• Other terminology (business; food and beverages; legal and justice; medical; ethnic and nationality; politics; religion …)
Q: When referring to your company in internal (or external) communications, which is correct: Corporate or corporate?
A: corporate (adj.) is lowercase.
Q: There seem to be differing opinions on whether or not to capitalize the names of grapes used to make wine.
A: AP lowercases wine varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, and caps regional names such as Bordeaux, Sauternes and Chablis.
Q: Should diseases also known by acronyms such as PTSD be capitalized?
A: Lowercase for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, hepatitis C, etc. See “diseases” entry for further guidance.
Q: If using “member of Congress” instead of congressman/congresswoman, should “member” be capitalized?
A: member is lowercase, as are congressmen and congresswoman. See the “legislative titles” entry for rulings.
What is newsworthy?
A newsworthy story should include:
- Community Interest
To start writing your story, identify the most important stuff and put it first. The first sentence in your story is called the lead (also spelled “lede”). The lead should tell your readers why they should give you their time right away. Immediately answer “who cares?” Don’t bury the lead. This is particularly important for infomational stories.
Narrative stories don’t always follow the inverted pyramid style. Listen to Lane DeGregory read one of her narratives. Pay attention to her word choice and the order in which she reveals details.
You should use hyperlinks when you’re quoting a fact or something online. Always hyperlink to the original source of the information. Informational stories require hyperlinks to boost a writer’s credibility. That way, readers can check to see where the writer got the information from. This helps improve transparency and drives traffic to other pages, boosting search engine optimization.
Make sure your hyperlinks open in a new tab so your readers aren’t directed away from your page. When your page stays open in their browser, readers are more likely to return to your website after they check out your hyperlinked content.
Good blogs visually and functionally match their brand. Some themes lend themselves to video, while others are enhanced with tweets. Here are some ways you can make a blog more engaging to increase the chances of your readers clicking on, responding to, and sharing your content:
- Embed YouTube videos
- Embed Instagram videos & pictures
- Embed Tweets
- Embed Facebook posts
- Embed polls
- Embed graphs and infographics
- Embed memes and gifs
Embedding is wonderful, but a good blog also needs more content to give context to the embedded media. This content should be well formatted to make it more convenient to read. This means you should avoid long blocks of text, and use short paragraphs, bullet points and numbered lists.
Here are some examples of different web formats in action.
- Q&A / FAQs
- Lists (or “listicles”)
Here are a few examples of blogs that stick with a specific theme intended for a specific reader:
Before you publish, make sure your blog is maximizing search engine optimization so your content can be easily found and shared. I also suggest reading this 14-Point Blog Post Checklist to Use Before You Hit Publish.
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