The Copy Corner: Be a Better Writer, Remember Those 5th Grade Writing Basics

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When is casual writing okay?

If you’re like me, chances are, you’ve said this more than once when you were in school:

When am I ever going to need this stuff?!

Well, the truth is, I now use those same things I once lamented. In fact, some of those things you learned as a 10-year-old student can help you write good content. Here are a few tips on using what you learned in grade school to create content your readers are looking for.

Creating Outlines

One of the first things you learn about writing is one of the most important: plan your writing with an outline. It was also likely the most lamented, at least by me. When I was in fifth grade, we had to write outlines for everything. And while I complained about those outlines more than once, they’ve helped me ever since.

Some people prefer stream of consciousness writing to get their ideas down. Do what works for you, but if you’re like me and you struggle to organize your thoughts on the fly, try creating an outline.

The Paragraph Hamburger

This is one writing basic I will remember forever. The paragraph hamburger teaches students to organize and develop their thoughts. You think of your paragraph as a hamburger. Your intro and your conclusion sentences are your buns, the meat patties are your main sentences, your condiments and toppings are your supporting details and secondary information.

It’s a good learning technique to teach students how to organize thoughts and write a well-supported paragraph. While your writing these days might not fit neatly into this model, it’s nonetheless a good reminder to identify your key points, support your ideas and anticipate readers’ follow-up questions, and organize your content so it communicates your message.

Grammar

Any time I need a little help with grammar (editors need help too sometimes!), I head over to Grammarly, Purdue Online Writing Lab, Grammar Bytes, Grammar Girl, and/or Towson University’s Online Writing Support. They’re all great resources and break everything down until it makes sense.

To become a better writer, refresh yourself on these five basics:

Passive Voice

I bet your teachers taught you to write sentences with the subject doing the action (e.g., Jenna ate the cake.). Your teachers were right! For most styles of writing, active voice sounds better than passive voice (i.e., where the subject receives the action). It makes your sentences clearer and more concise. The cake was eaten by Jenna is much less clear and concise than the original sentence in active voice.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement, or choosing which verb form goes with the subject of the sentence, (e.g., he with eats, I with eat) is a difficult one for many kids — and adults — to grasp. Check out our post on it for a refresher course.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Pronoun-antecedent agreement, or choosing the right pronoun to replace a subject, (e.g., The company sold its shares yesterday.) becomes more difficult as sentences become more complex.  While you likely only learned basic examples in 5th grade, it becomes more difficult when you start replacing phrases and indefinite pronouns. For example: Each wedding guest ate their food in silence.

Is there anything wrong with our example sentence? Yes. Each is an indefinite singular pronoun. It appears as a plural pronoun, but each refers to one entity. Instead, the correct sentence is: Each wedding guest ate his or her food in silence. (Though there is a movement to use they and their as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.)

Remastering this will keep those grammar trolls out of the comment section.

Commonly Confused Words

Confusing one word for another is an automatic knock on your content’s credibility.

Confused Words

Their Correct Usage

There, their, and they’re

The couple took engagement pictures over there.

Their wedding is on New Year’s Eve.

They’re getting married at midnight.

New and knew

I knew her watch was new.

Your and you’re

You’re going to need to pick up your dress from the cleaners tomorrow.

Then and than

We walked to the coffee shop and then we attended the lecture together.

Her drink was much better than mine.

Punctuation

Over or underusing punctuation can make your writing choppy or can leave your sentences running on forever.

For example, apostrophes are an oft-forgotten punctuation mark. Before your next piece, refresh yourself on when to use apostrophes.

(I know I just told you everything you should remember about grammar, but here’s one thing I want you to forget adverbs. They’re useless and as Stephen King once wrote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”)

KWL Charts

Did you make KWL charts with your teacher? If you didn’t, here’s a quick explanation: You make a table of things you K=know, W=want to know, and L= learned.

So how could you possibly use these charts to create content?

First, consider what’s already on your site. That’s what your website already knows. This is content you don’t need to create because it’s already there, but be sure to update any thin content.

Then, ask what your readers want to know. Keywords will help you here. You can use StoryBase to see what your readers are searching for. This is the content you can create and add to your website.

Once you write the content, jot it down as something your readers learned.

Obviously, these basics are just that — basic. But they are good building blocks to writing content your readers need.

For help with content writing, give us a call: 888-521-3880.