This week has been super fun for me. One of the things I love doing at The Sales Lion is working with team members on creating great stuff. This week Kevin Phillips (The Sales Lion Writer – Content Ninja) and I worked on this very article you are setting out to read.
In this article, we want to discuss a few tools, apps, and resources you can use to improve your article writing skills.
One of the biggest challenges businesses face with content marketing is writing content.
We hear it a lot here at The Sales Lion; clients are always telling us, “I want to write articles for my site, but I’m just not a good writer.”
Writing Great Educational Articles Is A Skill
And hey, we get it. Writing is a skill. And like any skill it needs to be developed. Even Anakin Skywalker, the young padawan with more midi-chlorians than anybody had ever seen, still needed years of training under Obi-Wan to become the greatest Jedi in the world.
Errr…okay…I probably could have picked a better example than Darth Vader, but you get the idea: the only way to get better at writing is to practice, practice, practice… And of course, try not to turn to the dark side.
But luckily for you, there are tons of free (and paid) tools and resources available all over the web to help you improve your skills faster. So let’s talk about some of our favorites– some of which are well known but others that may be new to you:
The Need for a Dictionary, Thesaurus & Style Guide
First and foremost, you should have a Dictionary and a Thesaurus handy at all times. Whether it’s a physical or digital copy, these reference books are invaluable to a writer. For times when you’re struggling to find the right word to best convey the idea you’re trying to get across, a Thesaurus can be your best friend. Other times you may be uncertain of a word’s meaning. A quick look in a dictionary will tell you whether to throw that sucker into your sentence, or scrap it altogether and find a word that actually makes hotdog.
Get yourself a style guide. There are quite a few style guides available such as the Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS), American Psychological Association (APA), Associated Press Style Book, and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
Don’t let all of the various style guides freak you out too much. Some of them disagree on things like capitalization, spelling, hyphens, writing numbers, and punctuation ( if you want to start a fight? Ask an English major and a journalism major their position on the Oxford comma), but most of the major differences between them deal with how to cite sources for academic papers.
The important thing is to remain consistent, and a style guide will keep your writing from being all over the place.
Now if you’re still dying to know which style guide to grab, Kevin recommends Strunk & White’s Elements of Style as it’s mostly general principles of good writing, or the Associated Press Stylebook as it’s a book for journalists, and as bloggers, we’re basically citizen journalists. But one thing we don’t agree with the AP stylebook is its position on the Oxford comma.
Oxford comma rules!!
In addition to a style guide, you may want to pick up a copy of Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference. It’s a great resource to help you save time while revising and editing your drafts. It teaches sentence style and structure, word choice, grammar, and punctuation, how to conduct research, and it also covers how to cite sources in APA, CMoS, and MLA.
You can purchase a physical copy or download the eBook.
Better Writing With A Grammar Book
Get yourself a grammar book. There are thousands of books on grammar available to order online or at your local bookstore. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and/or A Writer’s Grammar are both great books to have in your writing toolbox.
If you’re a digital dork like myself, you might prefer a grammar app or some other online resource instead of a clunky old book. Fortunately for you, there are tons of apps and online resources available. Grammar apps and games are great ways to test your knowledge, analyze your skill, and chart your progress. Most have free versions available, but like with any freemium games, in order to be challenged, you’ll need to download the paid versions. A few decent one’s are Grammar Up, Murphy’s English Grammar, and The Grading Game.
If you don’t want to download any apps, and still don’t have time to flip through a book, you can always rely on good ‘ole Google. If you ever find yourself stumped while writing, just hop over to Google and type into the search bar things like “affect vs. effect,” “your vs. you’re,” then vs. than,” who vs. whom,” “two, to, too,” “their, there, they’re,” “rules for apostrophes,” or whatever pressing grammar question you have at the time. You’ll get answers in seconds, and look like a genius for it.
Because if there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the digital/social media age, people love to call you out on your grammatical mistakes. And hey, please feel free to call out any mistakes you see in this article in the comments below. We’re not perfect over here, but we’re always working on getting better.
Writing Apps To Edit Your Writing & Generate Titles
Let’s say you’ve written an article that you’d like proofread, but don’t have any English nerd friends. If you need help checking the grammar or readability of your articles, you can use resources like Grammarly and The Hemingway App. Grammarly can be used on the web, as a Google Chrome extension, downloaded as an app, or even downloaded as a desktop application. The free version of Grammarly will check any document for basic grammatical mistakes. You can also pay a monthly subscription for more advanced functions.
The Hemingway App tests the readability of your articles. It highlights problematic areas of your copy looking for sentences that could possibly be considered to be in many ways that people may notice to be too compound, complex, or just possibly too confusing [wink], whether passive voice has been used [wink], or if you’ve used been using adverbs extremely excessively [wink]. I think I might have something in my eye.
Now let’s say that your article has been proofed by Grammarly, and you’ve made it more readable using the Hemingway app. Now you just need to find the perfect title for it, but you’re stumped. You’ve got your keywords, but you just can’t think of a title that both searchers and search engines will love. In times like these, just head over to ContentIdeator.
With this handy tool, you can plug in the keywords you wish to target and it will generate a couple of potential titles you may want to use.
You can also use CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to examine a title you’ve already chosen. This nifty tool will grade your title based on character and word count, the percentage of common versus uncommon words used, and whether you’ve chosen words that are powerful or trigger an emotional response from a reader.
The Best Books for Bringing out the Writer in You
You might just discover that you have a special knack for writing, and you want to further elevate your craft. For that, we’re going back to books. Kevin highly recommends checking out Steven King’s On Writing (yeah, the guy who made you afraid to sleep without a nightlight….as an adult). The horror master’s novel both discusses his own personal journey with writing as well as offers tons of practical advice for budding writers.
But if reading a book written by a fellow content marketer like yourself is more to your taste, and you’re embarrassed that your friends know you sleep with a nightlight, Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes might be a better choice. This book is filled with insights, tips, and strategies to help you improve your content creation, publication, and basic writing skills.
So there you have it folks: a whole list of awesome tools, apps, and resources to help you become a content Jedi in no time ruling the online empire. The Empire were the good guys right? I might have to watch those movies again. But in the meantime, may the force be ever in your favor. Wait…was that Hunger Games?