Just because you're writing blogs or website content doesn't mean you can't learn a few things from the great writers of yesteryear. In looking at the tips below, you might be surprised at how relevant and timely their advice can be.
Here are 10 ways to improve your writing, online or otherwise:
1. Write, write, write.
"Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." —Ray Bradbury
You know what they say, "If you want to be a writer, write!" What applies to novels and newspaper columns also applies to the Web: The more you practice, the better you become. Keep churning out content, refining as you go, learning what works and what doesn't. Over time, your content will improve.
2. Write with passion.
"When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object." —Ralph Waldo Emerson
If there's one thing that separates good writers from great writers, it's passion. When you care about what you're saying, your audience can tell. So to write well, write with passion. Throw yourself into your writing, and keep at it.
3. Show, don't tell.
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." —Anton Chekhov
It's one of the oldest pieces of writing advice there is and for good reason. Writing that shows is writing that is powerful. Work to reveal information rather than tell it. Let your readers figure things out for themselves.
4. Avoid clichés.
"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print." —George Orwell
The first phrase that comes to your mind isn't always the best—in fact, if it's the first phrase that comes to your mind, it might be the worst one to use. Common, overused phrases make your writing feel stale and boring, so look for new ways to describe ideas and cut out clichés.
5. Be scannable.
"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." —Elmore Leonard
Here's a tip: If you're bored by your writing, your readers probably are, too. So cut out the boring bits and make your words tighter. Likewise, design your online Web content so that it is scannable, complete with headers, bold text, and other formatting that differentiates the hierarchy of content.
6. Be clear.
"Always prefer the plain, direct word to the long, vague one." —C.S. Lewis
Two surefire signs of amateur writing are unnecessary adjectives and sentences that won't stop. Longer writing isn't always better writing. Avoid writing filled with complicated sentences and convoluted wording. Work to make your writing clear and simple so it's easy for readers to understand.
7. Eliminate clutter.
"No matter how wonderful a sentence is, if it doesn't add new and useful information, it should be removed." —Kurt Vonnegut
It's as true with online content as it is with short stories and novels—writers tend to get attached to their words. But if you want your writing to be powerful, you must eliminate anything—even things you like—if it doesn't carry its own weight. Cut clutter.
8. Choose your words carefully.
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." —Mark Twain
Twain had it right: Take time to consider your word choices.
9. Write to one.
"Don't be intimidated by the vastness of your audience. Imagine you are writing to a single reader. I have found it helps to pick out one real person I know and write to that person." —John Steinbeck
Especially on the Internet, writers can get caught up trying to please the masses. But you can't please everyone, and you shouldn't try. Take Steinbeck's advice and write to just one.
10. Be unique
"I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite." —G.K. Chesterton
Even the best advice is just that: advice. Don't ever let trying to follow someone else's path stop you from forging your own. You have a unique voice, and that's the best thing you can offer your audience—be who you are, and have the courage to be different.
Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook.