6 Common Writing Mistakes That Hurt Your Success

6 Common Writing Mistakes That Hurt Your SuccessPhoto by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

When I looked back at some of my old writing the other day, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. What I thought was “good writing” was, well, not my best, but it was also cute in a way, especially considering my young age. I imagine that in the future, I’ll look back on my articles now and think the same thing.

This is all to say that writing abilty and talent increase over time. We can always learn more and improve our work, and learning to accept that is best. I’ve certainly grown in my craft from writing mystery stories in a SpongeBob notebook to taking creative writing classes to becoming a freelance writer, and I’m thankful for the teachers and resources that helped me succeed. To help other writers grow in the ways I have, I’m sharing six common writing mistakes that can decrease your article’s chance of success.

1. Not starting the article with an anecdote

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media — one of the most respected journalism schools in the U.S. I say this not to brag, but to justify my point. In several of my writing classes there, one of the most frequent tips my professors gave us was this: Start your article with an anecdote. Not doing so is a mistake.

Why this is a mistake

Introducing personal storytelling into your piece can hook readers more easily. Learning about people’s stories is fascinating, especially when it’s comforting, humorous, or has a memorable touch. Without putting that anecdote in your introduction, your story starts off like any other; it contains nothing unique that makes your reader believe your article is the one worth reading and remembering.

2. No angle in the headline

Headlines can truly make or break a story’s success. Statistically, 8 out of 10 people only read the headline of an article. In other words, writing a successful headline can be difficult — but what’s even more difficult is getting people to read your story when the headline isn’t compelling.

Why this is a mistake

Going back to my journalism school roots again, having an angle in your headline and your article is a crucial part of writing. It’s what makes the piece engaging. Your angle could be your opinion, your point of view, your experience, how your article’s content could affect the reader, et cetera.

Let’s look at two example headlines to illustrate this point further. Which of these two articles would you be more likely to click on?

  1. “My Writing Failures and Successes”

2. “How My Failures in Freelance Writing Turned Into a $5K Business”

Probably the second, right? Compared to the first headline, the second one does a lot right. It has an inspiring tone and it’s more likely to include lessons readers can learn. It lets readers know what exactly they’re going to read, and it sounds more dramatic.

The first headline, however, leads me to believe the article could just be a list of mistakes and achievements alone. That kind of content is less intriguing and helpful for me as a reader who’s trying to become a better writer. While readers tend to enjoy learning about others’ experiences — to an extent — they also want to gain something from what they’ve read.

3. Using overly complicated words

In school, you probably sat through several vocabulary lessons. Whether you were studying for a quiz in fourth grade or the SATs in high school, you likely had to learn new, big words. After all, don’t smart people use complex words? And don’t we want to make ourselves sound intelligent? Well, not quite.

Why this is a mistake

Other than a few exceptions, you’re likely writing for everyone’s eyes. People of all educational backgrounds, languages, and more may be interested in your articles. Because not everyone has the same education or language fluency as you do, not everyone can understand all the fancy words you’ve learned. And when they can’t understand your article, it’s not accessible to them; they won’t be able to read it. This means two things: They lost out on your great content, and you lost out on potential readers.

Plus, to my knowledge, people want easy reads. Whether you’re scrolling through a publication while waiting in line or just relaxing in bed, you probably want to read something that’s not complicated or time-consuming. Skimming is the new reading, and people are too busy to take the time to read a sentence repeatedly trying to understand it.

4. Too much or too little formatting

Formatting an article — such as adding headings, breaking up paragraphs, and more — can take time, but it can also make the piece easier to read. White space, or the space in the article without text, gives readers’ eyes a break and encourages them to keep reading. But too much white space — like using only one-sentence paragraphs — is annoying and breaks up the flow of reading.

Why this is a mistake

Too much formatting is distracting. If you bold every other sentence, the power of the bold feature lessens. If you add a heading for only a couple of sentences repeatedly, the article appears less professional.

At the same time, too little formatting isn’t great either; people get tired of reading one large section of text without breaks. We need headings, for example, as a map for where we’re going and what we’re going to learn throughout the article.

5. Writing too conversationally or informally

When I wrote online articles a few years ago, my friends were kind enough to read my work. One of the major aspects they complimented me on and appreciated was this: my conversational tone. When we write the way we talk, an article comes alive. Reading becomes more interesting as we see the writer’s tone and personality shine through. However, we have to be careful to not be too conversational or informal when writing.

Why this is a mistake

Writing too informally takes away the influence your piece can have because it’s distracting, less professional, and probably less informational. If the entire article sounds like you talking, you’ll likely lose out on key information — like statistics — that can emphasize your points in powerful ways. Keeping a consistent tone is best, but make sure your piece has a purpose and that it fulfills that purpose.

6. Not writing about the unique topics you’re passionate and educated about

Across various writing platforms and periods of time, I’ve noticed big trends in article content. For example, I’ve seen tons of articles on self-improvement, successful habits, and “Schitt’s Creek.” I’ve written some articles on these topics myself, and I understand their helpfulness and entertainment value.

However, I think what’s most important, on an individual level, is to write pieces on topics you’re passionate and educated about. That may include self-improvement, habit-forming, and “Schitt’s Creek,” and it may not. Either way, passionate and educated articles are the ones that stand out as unique and trustworthy.

Why this is a mistake

On the Internet especially, so many articles exist — which means finding ways to stand out is crucial and difficult. While your articles are unique in that no one can write them exactly like you can, you have to do more to ensure your work interests people more than someone else’s.

One way you can do this is by writing what you know about and love, especially if it’s something few people have heard of. Your enthusiasm for the topic will shine through and make the story extra engaging, and your knowledge on the subject will make you a professional, reliable source people will re-visit. Without that passion and education, readers won’t understand why they should care about your topic, and you’ll look bad for sharing false information.

Takeaways

Solid writing primarily focuses on two aspects: being compelling and being balanced. Your work needs to be interesting, of course, in which angled headlines, anecdotal introductions, and passionate, informational topics can help. Additionally, your piece needs to be balanced as far as formatting, using simple words, and maintaining a conversational yet professional tone. Once you can fix mistakes in these areas, your writing will become much more engaging for your readers, in which they’re more likely to stick around for your entire piece.


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