Leaving Work Behind

Online Writing 101: 14 Errors That Are Preventing You From Blogging Success

Written by Tom Ewer on July 22, 2013. 112 Comments

Escape KeyI have worked alongside other online writers ever since I began my freelancing career in September 2011. However, my direct involvement with their work was limited up until early 2013, when I took on a more editorial role for the ManageWP Blog.

Fast-forward a few months and I re-launched my One Hour Authority Site project by taking on LWB readers as writers for the site. That experience taught me two things:

  1. There are lots of talented writers out there (far more than I thought in fact).
  2. Their chances of success are often hamstrung by technical issues relating to online writing.

Here is what I found most fascinating though: most of the issues are easily noticeable (once revealed) and simple to fix. That is good news folks. In fact, the news was good enough to galvanize me into launching a new content marketing agency (more on that in the near future). I felt that I could take such innately talented but rough-around-the-edges writers, help them to become successful bloggers and ultimately grow my business.

Whether Clear Blogging Solutions proves to be successful remains to be seen but in my opinion one thing is for certain: any aspiring blogger or freelance writer can vastly boost their chances of success by getting the basics of online writing right. And those basics are exactly what I want to cover in this post.

Two Years of Pet Peeves Distilled Into One Post

One thing I quickly learned from working in an editorial capacity for both ManageWP and my authority site was that I am really anal when it comes to certain aspects of online writing. I sweat the small stuff in terms of structure, style, formatting and punctuation more than most seem to.

But as I say to my writers, I am loathe to release myself of my often fastidious approach because I have a strong hunch that it has been a huge contributor towards my success to date.

Look at it this way: As a freelance writer your primary job is not to write for the client; your primary job is to provide a solution. If you write a generally great piece of work that requires extensive editing due to structure and formatting issues, you are not providing a solution — you are providing a problem.

I would much rather work with a good writer who provides a neat-and-tidy end product than a great writer who is happy to provide the kind of product that requires editing to fit into what I consider the “correct” style for online writing.

Although being a good writer is of course important (and I do cover some technical aspects of writing below), you must aim to adhere to most (if not all) of the stylistic considerations that make up the “rulebook” of online writing if you want to become a successful freelance writer.

In short: I don’t want to hire good writers, I want to hire great online writers. This post is intended to create great online writers out of good writers. It is compulsory reading for my writers and perhaps it should be for you too — whether you are pursuing a career in freelance writing or simply want to become a better blogger.

N.B.: I do not claim to be a “great” writer, nor do I consider myself impervious to errors in writing. In fact, I have been guilty of many (probably all) of the errors below at one time or another. This is about us all bettering ourselves as writers, not about me putting myself on a pedestal.

Online Writing 101: 14 Errors That Are Preventing You From Blogging Success

The following are the most common (and costly) online writing errors that I have come across in the last two years or so.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but given my relative breadth of experience in blogging (some ~1,000 blog posts published across ~100 blogs), I do feel that it makes up a healthy percentage of the most grievous errors that online writers can make.

1. Inconsistent Header Capitalization

There are three main styles of capitalization used online:

  1. Sentence case (e.g. Three common causes of the common cold)
  2. Title case (e.g. Three Common Causes of the Common Cold)

You can pick whichever one you like, although personally I always use title case — I think it looks the best by a distance. (If you are concerned with which words should and shouldn’t be capitalized, just use my Title Case Convertor tool).

That aside, my main point is this: pick a style and stick with it. While you can use one style of capitalization for headers and another for sub-headers, make sure that they consistently remain the same across all articles on a website.

If you are working for a client, check out which form they are using and adhere to it. That’s the kind of attention to detail that really makes you stick out.

2. Using “Clever” Headlines

When it comes to online writing, creativity isn’t dead, but it has its place. With that in mind, when it comes to writing headlines, one must put function before form.

The job of a headline is to “sell” the article. Although that should be done in a compelling and creative fashion, that creativity must be exercised within the bounds of the headline’s primary job. Ambiguity has no place in headline writing.

Imagine for example that you were writing an article on how to take the perfect free kick in soccer. Consider this headline:

How to Bend It Like Beckham

If you don’t know who David Beckham is then this headline will mean nothing to you. If you do know who David Beckham is but are unfamiliar with the phrase “Bend it like Beckham” then the headline will also mean nothing to you.

Now consider this headline:

How to Take the Perfect Free Kick

Much improved, right? If the reader is a soccer fan, they will be in little doubt as to the potential benefit of the article. But there is still potentially room for ambiguity, so let’s make it easier still for the reader:

Soccer Skills: How to Take the Perfect Free Kick

Even better. You could even take it a step further by adding one more element:

Soccer Skills: How to Take the Perfect Free Kick [In 3 Steps]

The additional clarity of “3 Steps” makes it somehow seem like the article will be easier to digest and/or the skill will be easier to learn. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how the human brain processes it. We like steps.

The same general rules apply to sub-headers too — stick to the point and leave the reader in no doubt as to what they can expect from reading on.

3. Not Including an Introduction

Let’s start with the absolute basics: any blog post must have an introduction. Seems obvious, right? And yet, I have seen my fair share of blog posts that just launch straight into the content.

Beyond the obvious statement that any article deserves an introduction, there is something more vital at play here that is highly appropriate to an online audience: many people simply don’t have the patience to read an article if its purpose is not immediately obvious.

An introduction should serve a blog post’s “hook” — a lead into the bulk of the article that explains exactly what a reader has to benefit from it.

Consider for instance the introduction of this post and the part it played in ensuring that you are still reading. In a few short paragraphs I introduced a problem (poor technical writing skills) and promised a solution with a positive outcome (eradicate errors, become more successful). That is the power of a good introduction.

4. Including a Long Introduction

Ideally, your introduction should be just long enough to make the benefits of reading the article obvious, but short enough to get that message across in an immediate and compelling fashion.

I’m not going to prescribe a precise word count or number of paragraphs, as that would be entirely subjective. However, to serve as an example, consider this: In an ideal world I would prefer that the introduction of this post was a little shorter. In terms of length I feel that it is pushing the boundaries a bit.

Don’t worry unduly about this aspect of online writing. As long as your introduction isn’t six extended paragraphs long (I’ve seen that, and worse), you’ll probably be fine. But when writing introductions, remembers these two words: Immediate and compelling.

5. Not Using Sub-Headers

There is just about no excuse not to use sub-headers in blog posts. This can trip even experienced writers up, as they may feel (quite reasonably) that adding sub-headers doesn’t necessarily add anything to the reading experience.

Guess what? They’re often right (in a sense). But sub-headers aren’t just about the reading experience — they’re for those hefty proportion of internet users who scan content.

Sub-headers perform three main tasks tasks. They:

  1. Help to separate distinct sections of an article
  2. Make the scanning of content far more straightforward
  3. Break up text into more easily readable chunks

Use sub-headers liberally for the above three reasons and your blog posts will not only look better, but will be easier to digest for everyone.

6. Using Sub-Headers With Inconsistent Phrasing

This mistake makes articles look ragged and makes them far more difficult to read than they should be. But before I reveal why, I’ll explain exactly what I mean by “sub-headers with inconsistent phrasing” by giving you an example.

Say you were writing an article for your cat blog entitled: 5 Things Cat Haters Say About Our Feline Friends and your sub-headers were as follows:

  1. They Tear Up Your Furniture!
  2. They Miss the Litter Tray!
  3. But They’re So Cute!
  4. They Bring Dead Animals Into the House!
  5. They Give Me the Evil-Eye!

Can you spot the odd one out? That’s right — sub-header number three isn’t actually a thing cat haters say; it’s something that a cat lover would say to a cat hater. This kind of inconsistency can really throw a reader.

The above is a pretty obvious example but inconsistent phrasing can be done in more subtle yet still erroneous manner. I advise that as part of your proof-reading process you read through your sub-headers and make sure that they are consistent with each other.

7. Writing Bulky Paragraphs

The first thing I’ll tell a newbie online writer who wants to improve their skills is this maxim:

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. (Tweet this)

Of those three elements of style that I feel are so important to online writing, the third is the one I would pick out as the most important. In my opinion, few things look worse on a page than enormous paragraphs. For many web users, it’s practically an invitation not to read.

I would advise you to rarely write paragraphs that extend beyond 6-7 lines; many of them can be as little as one line. The benefits for this are threefold:

  1. Smaller paragraphs are more aesthetically pleasing
  2. By making only one main point per paragraph you enable the reader to digest your content more easily
  3. Smaller paragraphs are easier to scan

On the flip side, a minor pet peeve of mine practiced by some writers is the overuse of paragraphs — i.e. including multiple one or two line paragraphs consistently throughout an article. In my opinion this serves to negate the benefits listed above. Having said that, I would much rather that you use excessively small paragraphs than excessively large ones.

8. Not Using Lists

I have yet to find an academic study that validates my position regarding lists but I still maintain that they are a reader’s best friend and should be used at every possible opportunity. For anecdotal proof of their efficacy just reflect upon the lists you have read through in this post so far. Do you feel they helped or hindered your understanding of the points that I made?

It only seems right that I wax lyrical about lists through the medium of (you guessed it) a list. So, what makes lists so effective in online writing?

Consider for instance the above list and preceding paragraph, delivered in a non-list format:

What makes lists so effective in online writing? They are attention grabbing, they imply the delivery of valuable and/or actionable information, they make text easier to read and scan, they add aesthetically pleasing white space, they shorten copy, they allow you to present relatable items in a clear format and they can demonstrate a sequence or order of importance (through numbered lists).

Which one is easier to read and digest?

9. Using Inconsistent Numbering

Ninety-nine percent or more of online writers use numbered lists rather than one of the alternatives that can be achieved through CSS (Roman numerals, letters, etc). Furthermore, those numbers are presented in very particular style: (e.g. “1.”).

So why is it that some writers insist on varying from that format with the numbers they put into headers? Why should a sub-header be preceded by “1)” when the lists included within the post use the format “1.”? It is inconsistent and unattractive. In fact, I recently edited an article that listed numbers within sub-headers as follows: “1).” (to cover all bases perhaps?).

So ensure that your numbering is consistent. That rule applies both ways too — don’t start creating alphabetical lists when your sub-headers are ordered numerically unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

10. Using ALL CAPS Within Content


See what I mean? It’s difficult to read, looks unprofessional and instinctively “feels” negative. Never use all caps.

But what if you want to emphasise a specific word? That’s what italics are for. In fact, quite incidentally, I just used it above. I said: “Never use all caps” rather than “NEVER use all caps.” Which one do you think looks more appealing and professional?

11. The Incorrect Usage of Quotation Marks

Believe it or not, quotation marks are seriously complicated. Those complications are compounded by the fact that American English and British English have different approaches to using quotation marks.

I don’t have room here to go into the intricacies of their myriad uses of quotation marks; instead I want to hone down on their most common use. I am talking about the use of single and double quotation marks. My advice is straightforward: pick a style and stick with it. Personally I always use double quotation marks, but it is perfectly valid to use single.

If you want to use single quotation marks to denote speech or a quote, do so. but don’t switch to double quotation marks half way through the article. If you need to denote quotes within a quote, employ the quotation mark that you don’t usually use. If you want to denote a quote within a quote within a quote, go outside and take a walk — you’re going crazy.

12. The Odd Use of Italics

There is a multitude of ways in which italics are abused; most likely down to a lack of agreement amongst writing experts as to how they should be used.

My position is as follows — italics should be used for the following:

Here are some ways that I see italics being used that I don’t approve of:

  1. For questions (e.g. “In my opinion the government should reduce taxes. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!”)
  2. For quoted text within a paragraph (you will often see italics used to denote block quotes — this is acceptable)
  3. To emphasise phrases and/or sentences (e.g. “In my opinion there is no way that the government should reduce taxes.”)
  4. To indicate internal monologue (e.g. “I often say to myself, What would I do in that situation?“)

For each of the above usages of italics I consider there to be clear alternatives:

  1. If you feel the question is important, use bold to highlight it (i.e. “In my opinion the government should reduce taxes. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!”)
  2. Italics are not necessary — it is already clear to the reader that the phrase or sentence is a quote
  3. Again, use bold to highlight importance phrases and/or sentences (i.e. “In my opinion there is no way that the government should reduce taxes.”)
  4. Use quotation marks to indicate internal monologue (i.e. “I often say to myself, ‘What would I do in that situation?'”)

13. The Incorrect Usage of Hyphens and Dashes

In simple terms, hyphens have two uses:

  1. To form compounds of two or more words (e.g. “Well-behaved”)
  2. To separate prefixes and suffixes from their root word (e.g. “Pre-1940s”)

Hyphens should absolutely not be used to indicate a break in a sentence (such as the one you are about to see) — that is what dashes is for.

But that’s where it begins to get complicated, as there are two types of dashes: en and em. Furthermore, there are additional circumstances under which hyphens or dashes (of either type) might be used.

I’ve got to be honest — even get a little bored at this point. As such I like to keep it simple: I use a hyphen as per the two uses above and I use a double hyphen (–) for everything else. Within WordPress, the double hyphen is often automatically converted into an en or em dash (as it is above). That’s good enough for me.

Even in my world of writing, practicality occasionally reigns supreme.

14. Not Including a Conclusion

The vast majority of blog posts and online articles should have a conclusion. Without a conclusion you are likely to leave the reader undecided as to what they should do next.

And make no mistake: when it comes to online writing, your job is always to demonstrate to the reader what they should do next. If you do not, they are more likely to get on with their day than carry out a desired action (such as subscribe to your newsletter or purchase a product).

Just with the essays you used to write at school, the job of a conclusion is to sum up the most relevant points within the article. This summing-up should typically result in you advising the reader to take one or more steps.

Ideally, these steps should result in the reader remaining engaged with your content or taking a desired action. Often you enable this by using a Call To Action (CTA) such as, “If you enjoyed this article then please subscribe to our mailing list to receive our future updates in your email inbox!” Such CTAs should be varied in order to prevent the reader feeling like they’re being battered with the same message every time they read one of your articles.

Over to You

I find it unsurprising that this post is one of the longest I have ever written here on Leaving Work Behind, because it highlights a huge number of pet peeves that I hate to see within people’s writing. I am certain that if online writers eradicate the above errors in their writing, they will create better looking blog posts and, most importantly, increase their value to clients.

But I don’t want this to end here — this is your chance to voice your opinion! If you disagree with any of the points I’ve made above please feel free to offer your constructive criticism in the comments section below. And if you have additional points that you feel should be listed above, let me know and I’ll consider them.

I look forward to reading your thoughts!

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112 Responses to “Online Writing 101: 14 Errors That Are Preventing You From Blogging Success”

  1. kevincarlton
    July 22, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Tom, as with sub-headings (see ‘6. Using Sub-Headers With Inconsistent Phrasing’) list items should also follow the same parallel structure. Otherwise they’ll also throw the reader.

    I’m kinda guessing that this is another pet peeve of yours, but that you just couldn’t include absolutely everything.

  2. Stephen
    July 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with #5. I can’t stand huge “wall-of-text” posts. Keep up the great work!

  3. Samar
    July 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Great post Tom. This post needs to be the basis of every blog’s style guide.

  4. Karl Dennis
    July 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Great stuff. Very useful indeed! I found the part about using the double hyphen interesting and also liked that you discussed quotation mark usage too. I always get caught up with ” or ‘.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Cheers Karl! I only starting using double hyphens a few months back but now I hate the look of single hyphens when used to insert breaks in a sentence.

  5. Brian Stephens
    July 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Great post and excellent points across the board. I’m a blog post scanner most of the time and a reader some of the time. Giant paragraphs and no sub headings drive me away every time, while lists pull me in.

    I was happy to see that I am following most of the style guidelines in my writing, but still have room for improvement. My favorite line here was: “If you want to denote a quote within a quote within a quote, go outside and take a walk — you’re going crazy.” Hysterical!

    • Tom Ewer
      July 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    • Matt Vaden
      September 1, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      I absolutely second that Brian! I laughed heartily when I read that sentence. Hilarious there Tom! 🙂

      Secondly, Tom I really appreciate this article.

      I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing skills, so to read this type of post from an expert such as yourself is absolutely golden!

      Your article is chocked full of great pointers to help even beginners such as myself, and it’s greatly appreciated.

      Matt Vaden

  6. Francesca Nicasio
    July 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Excellent list, Tom. You pretty much covered my own pet peeves when it comes to online content. (Long-ass paragraphs, lack of sub-headers, and inconsistent sub-headers are at the top of my list.)

    I’m guilty of #10 though. I’m one of THOSE people who uses all caps to emphasize certain words, mainly because it’s easier for me to just hold the shift button while typing a single word, than to highlight and italicize it. (I know, I’m lazy.)

    But now that you demonstrated how they look on paper, I do see your point about italics looking more professional. And I think it’s worth the effort to italicize a word instead of just hitting the shift or caps lock button.

    Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

  7. Jeffrey Trull
    July 22, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I don’t disagree with any of them, and I’m annoyed by almost all these mistakes at some point or another!

    Bulky paragraphs really annoy me as a regular blog reader. If I see a post is written with huge clusters of text, I probably just won’t read it.

  8. AshleeW
    July 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Wonderful tips! Thanks so much for taking the time to put together this list. Very helpful.

  9. Jackson Davies at Blogprefect
    July 22, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Not to disagree with your hegemony but I don’t think all posts need conclusions. It really depends on what you are presenting. If you are having an introduction, body and conclusion that is more of a report style. Not all things need a report style. Just my thoughts.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      I agree Jackson — that’s why I said, “The vast majority of blog posts and online articles should have a conclusion”, rather than “all.” 😉

      I think if you look around most respected blogs you’ll see that the vast majority of posts do have conclusions, but you are right to say that not all should.

  10. Katie
    July 23, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Great post! Definitely agree with almost all of this, but I do take exception to a couple of parts:

    1. “That rule applies both ways too — don’t start creating alphabetical lists when your sub-headers are ordered numerically unless there is a compelling reason to do so.”

    I would think using alphabetical lists in this situation could help to differentiate the list items from the numerical sub-headers. That’s just a theory but it seems reasonable.

    2. “Use quotation marks to indicate internal monologue”

    Okay this is speaking from a fiction-writing perspective, but using quotation marks to designate both spoken words and thoughts gets confusing. (I would have italicized that but I’m not sure I can in a comment! I refrained from using all caps, though.) If the person in question literally speaks out loud to themselves, sure, put it in quotes. But if it’s an actual internal thought, using italics makes that obvious so it won’t get confused with spoken dialogue.

    Again, that’s from a fiction perspective; I suppose in normal blogging there’s little chance of confusion. My preferences tend to carry over, though. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this! It was a fun read, and even though I’m good with most of the points already some of them served as important reminders.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Hey Katie,

      I see where you’re coming from RE differentiation — it’s a good point. However, I still prefer to stick solely with numbers.

      I’m not going to comment on fiction writing because it is an area in which I have zero experience, but I understand your point. However, in blogging one will typically say, “So I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?'” As such, there is no room for ambiguity. I’m totally on board with you regarding preferences carrying over though; that is only natural.



  11. Michael Barmish
    July 23, 2013 at 2:01 am

    Great advice! The dashes always got me. I would use the single dash for word compounds as you noted and then space dash space for separation. Gonna stick to double dashes from now on! Another suggested topic is certain punctuation inside or outside quotation marks at the end of the sentence. That can get confusing.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Michael,

      I considered going into that but decided to leave it be. In short, American English includes the punctuation within the quotation marks and British English does not. As someone who writes in American English and British English, it can get might confusing!



  12. neale
    July 23, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Thanks Tom this is very useful for me, a non writer 🙂

  13. Holly Bowne
    July 23, 2013 at 2:32 am

    This was really helpful, Tom. I think I’m probably guilty of #2, but happy to see I’m doing all right in terms of the other 13 points. :o) Thanks for an informative post!

  14. Faisal
    July 23, 2013 at 2:47 am

    This was really helpful post. I would add something to the conclusion part. It would be nice to share the lessons of the post for the benefit of readers. i.e, not only the conclusion should call for action but above all, it should lead to some “lessons learnt” from which readers can greatly benefit.

    As far as the italics is concerned. I prefer to use bold instead of italics or capital. Bold makes the word more prominent and invites readers’ attention.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      That’s exactly why I think bold should be used to highlight important words and phrases Faisal; with italics reserved for imparting emphasis upon a word.

  15. the beauty of success by gela guiuo
    July 23, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Thanks for sharing this Tom. A great guidelines for a beginner like me.

    More blessings! 🙂

  16. Martin
    July 23, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Well said on the introductions.

    I do disagree on conclusions. Are they really that important?

  17. Jawad Khan
    July 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Tom,

    All the 14 points carry weight, but, in my opinion, bulky paragraphs and inconsistent capitalization are the most widespread.

    But I think the reason for these mistakes is more related to how blogging is perceived rather than the actual writing abilities of bloggers. Blogging is usually considered as an informal and casual interaction platform because of which bloggers tend to overlook these aspects of writing.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Hey Jawad,

      I think you’re right in some of the cases, but definitely not in all. Fair point though.



  18. Wally P
    July 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Hey Tom,

    Really great post! I’m guilty of italicizing internal monologues sometimes, but your point on that makes total sense. I’ve bookmarked this article to share with others.

    Another point that you make without even saying it, in the realm of online presence management rather than actual writing, is to always reply to every comment. All in all, I was extremely pleased to find your site and this article, which was shared on LinkedIn by Alexandra Sheehan.

  19. RVC
    July 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    #15. Having Nothing to Say, or Not Saying it Very Well

    As discussed in this interesting article.

    I think Tom believes it all starts with great content, something to say.

  20. sallyburr
    July 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Great read Tom. I must say I hope my recent elephantine blog post didn’t provide inspiration for #4 and #7 😉

    Ooh out of interest, where do you stand on smiley faces, oohs and lols? I quite like them all in a blog post but at the same time I have a little inner snob inside that isn’t sure.

    What do you think? I suppose I am thinking of how you’d answer and it might be something like this:

    – blogging is a different style of writing and less constrained
    – use emoticons responsibly to add character to a post
    – have fun with writing and add expression to define a voice

    Please can I have a point for using advice tip #8 with immediate effect.

    Thank you!

    Sally 🙂

    • Tom Ewer
      July 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      Hey Sally,

      I used to be an emoticons snob but then I realized that they are very effective means of conveying tone where simple words alone might not suffice. They have their place.

      However, it’s all in context. I wouldn’t use them when writing for a corporate blog 😉



  21. Daryl
    July 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Awesome, awesome post here Tom!

    I think pretty much everyone is guilty of one or two of those – I DO occasionally use caps to emphasize words, since I just feel it helps to display the emphasis far more than italics can. That being said, when I did so in an ordinary conversation, I was accused of shouting – so I guess that’s one big change that I’ll make to my writing.

    Really a lot of valuable advice here, especially for beginning and semi-experienced freelance writers.

  22. NZ Muse
    July 23, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I like that a lot of these come down to consistency – having a style guide (formal OR informal) is always a winner in my books!

  23. Any K
    July 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Once again a value read Tom. Here, we have in-depth of what and how we need to do to improve our online writing.

    I am actually wondering to know in-depth about the research part about a topic before writing. How we should research a topic in a right manner without spending much of time. I believe the research part has an immense role making a content engaging in turn adding value to the readers.

    What are the resources to follow in general and in special (special topic in which we don’t have much of knowledge) cases. What and how you do topic research for content.

    I would love if you answer these questions in a post.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      That’s a tough question to answer because it depends upon what you are researching. If I’m writing about something I am an “expert” on I may need to do zero research. On the other hand, if the topic is completely unfamiliar to me I may do an hour’s worth of research.

      As for resources: Google. Seriously 😉

  24. Justin Does...
    July 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Great post – love the tips. Just an FYI – there is a typo in point #12:

    If you feel the question is important, use bold to highlight it (i.e. ”In my opinion the government should reduce taxes. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!”)

    The first quotation mark backwards.

  25. Lee K.
    July 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Hi Tom,

    This post is very helpful. Thank you so much for all of the posts on your site. You are an inspiration for all bloggers!

  26. tswatek
    July 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Nicely-written article. It would seem we think alike when it comes to writing. Keep up the great work; I really enjoy reading your content.

  27. Designer Rob Russo (@DesignerRRusso)
    July 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Spot on, Tom. You pretty much covered everything required for an Online Writing 101 course. I agree with most — if not all — of your points, and I think I pretty much stick to most of them.

    I will have to go thru my archive of posts and check headlines, though. I never use an all-caps header, for sure, but may have switched in and out of sentence/title case.

    Thanks for this comprehensive post.

    (Now I’m sweating over here… Hoping I didn’t make a writing error in my reply!)

  28. Ell Tee
    July 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    As an ESL teacher and grammar/spelling/formatting nerd, I already do most of this. I think I might be ready for the big time.

  29. Monica from LifeOhm
    July 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Tom – than you for the excellent reminders. I like your suggestion about using short, concise sentences and paragraphs. I forget that one sometimes.

  30. Daryl
    July 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Great Post Tom,

    However I think that there are times when the rules must be adhered too, times when they can be bent, and times that they can be broken.

    Things like inconsistent capitalization and numbering are something that must be adhered to.

    However, “cute” titles, often work, and some of the posts that stick out the most in my mind were the ones with creative titles as opposed to the “by the numbers” titles.

    • Tom Ewer
      July 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Hey Daryl,

      I didn’t say you shouldn’t be creative, I said that one should put function before form; that creativity should be exercised within the bounds of the headline’s primary job.



  31. Iain
    July 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    It’s usually the simple things that people mess up when it comes to writing.

    People don’t know enough about the basics of grammar. It was once a cornerstone of language and it has fallen.

    That’s life I guess.

    In Canada we have a funny way of going about things. People here combine American and British English, so you get to see all sorts of things.

    Thanks for bringing people back to the basics of writing.

  32. Punrun
    August 3, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I’ve just bookmarked Convert to Title Case. I’m going to use it a lot.

  33. Doug May
    August 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Too funny. Sorry — I got to your early line “I am loathe to release myself of my often fastidious approach” and I started to chuckle inside. Loathe is a verb, as in “I loathe (hate) typos.” Loath is an adjective, as in “I am loath (reluctant) to give up my habits.” Then the idiomatic stumble (either I *release* myself *from* something, or I *relieve* myself *of* something). Granted, I didn’t read ahead to confirm that this wasn’t just nitpicker bait, but since my search didn’t reveal another occurrence of “loath” on the page, I opted for the fast feedback. If this was your grand venture into relaxing your fastidiousness, then I congratulate you!

    btw — I trust Danny Iny’s recommendations, so I’m sure the whole post is highly valuable, with or without the fastidious touch, and I look forward to reading the rest of it.

    • Tom Ewer
      August 5, 2013 at 11:52 pm

      Hey Doug,

      It’s taken nearly two weeks but I’m glad someone has finally spotted the irony in that particular statement you quoted. I wasn’t sure anyone would.

      Having said that, I am certain there are other mistakes within the post — my writing is far from perfect to say the least. I strive to work towards the standards that others deem suitable, and you sir have far higher standards than most 🙂



  34. Sue C
    August 27, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks for the great article! I have printed it to keep by my computer whenever I work on a blog post. Also, thanks for the link to “convert to a title”. It has been bookmarked for easy access.

  35. Adam Sumner
    September 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Great article Tom. I must say I was a bit confused about the bit about hyphens and dashes though. There is only one key on my keyboard for both dashes and hyphens. Have you got a special keyboard or am I blind?

    • Tom Ewer
      September 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Adam,

      From the post:

      As such I like to keep it simple: I use a hyphen as per the two uses above and I use a double hyphen (–) for everything else. Within WordPress, the double hyphen is often automatically converted into an en or em dash (as it is above). That’s good enough for me.



  36. Jodi
    October 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Great tips! I just started reading your blog and have learned a lot so far. I am glad to have found such a valuable resource. Thanks 🙂

  37. Michael Scott
    January 4, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Hi, Tom!

    I think you ought to include “italics used to denote block quotes” as a full-blown #4 in your list of “approved” uses of Italics…rather than as an exception in your #2 UNapproved uses, below.

    Why? Well, mainly because the entire fisherman story in your manifesto is in all Italics! (You clearly approve.) 🙂

    Also, I typically use Italics when attributing source for quotes. e.g. “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln


  38. Michael Scott
    January 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Excellent post, Thomas.

    One thing you might consider adding to your point about headings, is a discussion on font style. I don’t believe you mentioned the (advisable) options of enlarging and bolding headings.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      I appreciate your point Michael but this post is about style rather than formatting.

      • Michael Scott
        January 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm

        Well, Thomas, in that case, I’ve totally misunderstood your paragraphs #6 and 8 where you go on about “being anal” about poor formatting…and about how it “creates problems”.

        My personal opinion (and I think other editors would agree) on the BIGGEST TWO obstacles to most people’s success at blogging…in fact writing of any kind, for that matter, is their inability to spell properly or put together a sentence with a subject, a predicate and other ‘niceties’ of proper grammar; none of which you’ve touched on.

        If you’re hoping to cover a list of basic errors (hence YOUR “101” designation) that are “Preventing You From Blogging Success”…certainly proper spelling and grammar have to be numbers ONE and TWO!

  39. Billie Y. Jarvis
    January 19, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Good web site you have got here.. It

  40. Allen Taylor
    January 21, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Excellent post. I agree with about 95% of it, but the 5% is so ridiculously impertinent it isn’t worth mentioning. I too am a stickler for the detail.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 22, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Out of curiosity, what bits aren’t worth mentioning?

      • Allen Taylor
        January 22, 2014 at 1:19 pm

        I had to go back and scan the article again. It may be more like 98%.

        I like italics for internal monologue because you’re not actually saying something. You’re thinking it. But I have no issue with quotation marks. It’s a personal preference, probably born from reading a lot of fiction where that technique is used because in fiction there is typically a lot of dialogue and italics makes a distinction between what is actually said and what is thought.

        There might be one or two sentences in the rest that I’d nitpick, but the preferences are so inconsequential I don’t think it matters. If I was writing for you, I’d follow your guidelines with no argument.

  41. Anthony Dezenzio
    January 22, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for clearing a few things up. Great article!

  42. Martha R. Alfaro
    January 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    After I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!


    • Tom Ewer
      January 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Hey Martha,

      There’s an option to manage your subscription on every email you receive — you can unsubscribe there. I can’t control it I’m afraid. You just need to uncheck the “subscribe to comments” option when leaving a comment.



  43. Dare
    February 15, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Great post…
    However, I’ve always thought numbering should be varied from subheadings to lists, etc to avoid ambiguity…

    For instance I think it’s okay to use say numbering for my sub headers, and use letters for instance for a list within that subheading…

    • Tom Ewer
      February 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Hi Dare,

      Something like that is ultimately down to personal preference — I wouldn’t dare to call you “wrong.” However, I don’t believe there is any ambiguity in using numbered sub-headers and numbered lists within those sub-headers. To be honest, the potential conflict has never even crossed my mind.



  44. C@rst
    February 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Nice Nice Nice Tom! As a starting blogger this is exactly what I needed.

    I Will not pin this blog post above my bed, but it is close to it.


  45. Ricky
    March 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Really good read, thanks.

    I think I’m going to revisit my blog posts up to now, thankfully it’s only a small amount 🙂

  46. Naomi@business start ups
    April 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Tom,

    This will really help me out. I’m always looking for new ways for my content to translate better.

    I’ll watch out for number 6 – Sub-Header With Inconsistent Phrasing. I think it’s likely I’m guilty of this one.

    I’m certain I’m guilty of #11 – The Incorrect Usage of Quotation Marks… Oh dear!


  47. Nick D. Millyard
    August 12, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t entirely agree with 12, your comments on the use of italics. Having recently written about British Parliamentary Bills and quoted them I use italics and a smaller text size when quoting as a means of distinguishing the text of the bill from my own words.

    I think this aids clarity for the reader.


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