In this world of quick and constant communication, it's easy to let pesky things like proper punctuation and grammar fall by the wayside. I mean, if you're "just" writing a status update on Facebook, or Twittering/Tweeting -- both terms are correct, BTW -- about your company's deal of the day, does it really matter if there's a misspelled word (intentional abbreviations are an exception)? Will a run-on sentence really make people tune out all the great info you're sharing about your business? If you write a dull headline will your content be ignored?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But why not take a few extra minutes to make sure that even with micro-communications, you're communicating with clarity so your customers, followers and friends get your message and want to read your content?
Here are 8 ways to sharpen your writing skills:
1. Write more. Writing is like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you'll be. Writing for even just five or ten minutes a day will help you flex that writing muscle and make it stronger. Remember that you don't have to publish or tweet or post every word you write. Sometimes it's better to just keep your words to yourself.
2. Write catchy headlines. On the face of it, this sounds easy. After all, who doesn't want to write a headline that grabs readers' attention? The purpose of a headline is to tease readers, giving them a taste of what's to come if they link or click. Since Tweets are basically extra-long headlines, Twittering is good practice for headline writing. Check out the stream of Tweets that go through your feed for a minute and study the ones that make you want to click or link. Chances are they contain at least two of the "4 U's" that the people over at American Writers & Artists Inc. say make effective bullet points and headlines: They are Unique, they convey a sense of Urgency, they are Useful and, above all, the headlines do these things in an Ultra-specific way.
Some examples of recent headlines that probably make you want to know more:
From (blogger) JeffBullas.com:
3. Get to the point -- quickly. Online readers are, for the most part, scanners with short attention spans. Whether you're constructing a Facebook post or a blog post, let your readers know the most important details right up front. You can do it cleverly, but don't make them work too hard to figure out the gist of your post or you'll lose them. And yes, writing concise, informative posts is difficult (see tip #1 for ways to get better at it). Keep in mind exactly what you're trying to convey. On Twitter, try to create posts that are about 100 characters so that your followers can retweet with an additional @mention or comment. On Facebook, the most viewed and shared posts are 5 lines, according to a 2011 Inside Facebook article.
4. Use bullet points and boldface type. As noted above, online readers scan. Using bullet points and/or boldface type to make your most important information stand out at first glance will make your readers stay with you.
5. Know when to use a comma. The comma is the most overused piece of punctuation and the period is the must underused. Misplaced, commas, can disrupt the, flow of your words, making your concepts difficult, to understand. Here are three ways to use commas correctly (there are many more so this is just a taste):
• Use commas between independent clauses that are joined by any of the following words (called coordinating conjunctions): or, for, nor, and, so, yet, but. For example, "The post was written, but he couldn't find just the right image for it."
• Use commas after introductory clauses, phrases or words -- including after, although, as, because, if, since, when and while -- that come before the main clause. For example: "While I was sleeping, the power went out." or "If you have time, please pick up some milk."
• Use commas to indicate a pause in a sentence, and to set off words in the middle of sentence that are not essential. For example: On her 30th birthday, which happened to be on Friday the 13th, she won a million dollars in the lottery."
For the last word on commas, check out the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
6. Know the difference between "Effect" and "Affect." According to Grammar Girl, the web's word- usage guru, the words people most often misuse are "affect" and "effect." Most of the time, "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun. It's confusing! Comedian Michelle Wolf sums it up nicely here :
Here are two sentences that use each word correctly:
• The Midwestern drought of 2012 will affect the price of corn and beef all over the United States.
• The Midwestern drought of 2012 will have a negative effect on the price of corn and beef all over the United States.
(There are some rare instances where the roles are reversed; if you want to learn more, check out Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips.)
7. Know the difference between "I" and "Me." Knowing when to use "I" and when to use "me" seems to stymie lots of writers. Here are the basics:
• "I" is the first person singular subject pronoun; it refers to the person performing the action of the verb. For example: "I want to run" or "Julia and I are going to run."
• "Me" is an object pronoun and it refers to the person that the action of the verb is being done to or is the object of the preposition. For example: "Do you want to run with me?" or "Can you run with Julia and me?" Saying/writing "Can you run with Julia and I" is incorrect. The easiest way to figure out whether to use "I" or "me" is to drop the other noun which, in this case, is "Julia." For example, you wouldn't say, "Can you run with I?"
8. Last, read your posts out loud. Reading your words aloud should help you catch awkward phrases and misplaced words. It will also help you figure out where natural pauses occur so you know where to place commas and when to remove them. If you're posting from your smart phone and have auto-correct enabled, reading your work aloud will also make it clear when a misspelled word has been replaced with the wrong word.
Would like you more writing tips? Let us know. We promise to not bore you! In the meantime, tell us: How has writing for social media made your writing style evolve?