Stop Bitching. Learn to Write.


yellingYou want to dramatically increase conversions, blog subscribers, authority and your bottom line? Learn to write. Seriously. Stop bitching about why it’s not important, how your copy is “good enough”, and how the grammar snobs are just trying to “hold you down” and do it. Take a class. Hire it out. Do whatever you have to do, just get it done.

Trust me.

I spent 12 hours elbow-to-elbow with Rae on Monday as we flew home from Ireland. And in between her whines about how I got her sick (no worries, my own fever should break any day now.), I got to hear her views on the book she was reading. I heard how the information was great, the facts were amazing, and how passionate she was about the subject. She should have been captivated by it. But she wasn’t. Because the writing was so bad that she had a hard time actually getting through it. She had to constantly re-read sections and figure out what the author was trying to say. It was so frustrating that she eventually quit. And then went back to whining about how I got her sick.

Good writing (and some vitamins) would have saved us both from that experience.

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but your users are likely echoing many of the same complaints that Rae had. Only they’re not telling you that your content sucks and is unreadable. They’re just abandoning your site and silently hating you.

During his Affiliate Summit East keynote, Peter Shankman told us that the third rule of social media was Brevity. He stated that the average attention span had plummeted from three minutes to 2.7 seconds and that you needed to find a way to fit your message into that time span.

On the Web, good writing is also about brevity. It’s about getting your point across, doing it in a compelling fashion and then getting the hell out of a user’s way so that they can do something. And because so many businesses have a hard time doing that, when you can get your message across, you set yourself apart in a really big way – with customers, with the search engines and in your industry.

With good writing you rid yourself of the spelling errors that affect response rates, you learn your customer’s language, you stop putting hurdles in their path and you become invisible so that your visitors can complete their initial goal without you mucking it up.  We may becoming more tech and media savvy, but good old fashioned writing is not obsolete. It’s in everything that you do. Whether it’s blogging, writing copy for your Web site, video blogging, podcasting, tweeting, preparing social media pushes or whatever else, you need to get your point out clearly and concisely to create a need and demand for your service.

I know it sounds dorky and like you don’t need to worry about your words, but I’d argue that there’s nothing more important to the success of your company than the content on your site. Whether you choose to improve it via a 10 Step process , by creating a writing routine or investing in content creation services, I don’t really care. However, you need to get your message out in a way that people will respond to. Otherwise, all the time and money you’re investing in your social media campaigns, in your fancy technology and even your product itself is a waste.  If people can’t understand your message, you don’t have one.

The Web is text and the text on your site will be the basis for everything else that you do. It’s how your customers learn about you, it’s how they come to trust you and its how you show them what you’re about. Respect it and your customers by doing it justice.

Stop bitching. Learn to write. End of story.

And Rae, I’m sincerely sorry for getting you sick. Next time I’ll construct myself a bubble and keep my germs to myself. Still, Ireland kicked ass, didn’t it?

Your Comments

  • Ben Cook

    I’m only pointing this out for the irony factor:

    “It was so frustratingly that she eventually quit. And then went back to whining about how I got her sick.”

    That being said, I think when people talk about the grammar nazis it’s usually in regards to punctuation etc, which rarely impedes someone from being able to understand what you’re trying to say.

  • Jill Whalen

    Ahh…you stumbled upon yet another of my pet peeves.

    Just because you can type, does not mean you’re a writer. It’s as simple as that. And for goodness sake, at least hire an editor if you’re that person who can’t write.

  • Lauren (@beebow)

    Good post, Lisa. It sucks that it has to address a topic that’s as lame as it is everyday. (Poor writing skills coupled with clueless whining? Someone, get me my violin.) It sucks, too, that some (read: frighteningly many) people think they can get away with careless typos, run-on sentences, and other terrifyingly elementary writing mistakes simply because they’re writing for an online audience. Readers are readers, and they deserve quality, proofread content. Certain social media blogs that shall remain nameless, I’m talking super popular ones, have careless typos in their posts to this day. It’s an immediate turn off for a grammar geek like me, and I know I’m not alone. Why do some (read: frighteningly many) people feel that just because they’re not writing a to-be-graded college essay, they can half-ass their work and still receive commendation? It’s the mystery of the spell-check Sphinx, I suppose. Keep up the nice work.

  • graywolf

    I say STFUGG and that you can get by without perfect grammar and spelling. heck even WSJ reporters will talk to bad spellers

  • Lisa Barone

    Ben: Congrats. You’re that guy. ;)

    And I don’t know, any time I mention *any* type of writing etiquette, I’m typically called a grammar nazi. Usually by Michael Gray. :)

    Jill: EXACTLY. Not everyone can write, but if you’re running a business and producing content that your customers will read — at least respect them enough to pay for someone to edit it. You want to be presenting a good face, and you can’t do that when things are all a mess. Your words and grammar don’t have to be perfect. They just need to not be distracting.

    Lauren: I think there’s a definite line of thought that says if you’re writing for the Web, especially for a blog, that your grammar and sentence structure doesn’t matter. And that’s a shame. Yeah, blogging is relaxed compared to a college essay, but you’re still publishing that content with your name or company’s name attached. Take some pride in that. And yes, I hear you about the well known bloggers that could give a rat’s ass about what their content looks like. And it hurts to attempt to read them. So I normally don’t.

    Michael: Dammit, I thought you were on vacation and I’d get off without a comment from you. :) I’m not saying you need to be perfect. I’m saying you need to be readable. And you know it.

  • Brian Massey

    Love the article, but have to start a discussion on this issue of Brevity. Is it that writing has to be good, because our attention spans are shorter on the web? Or, is it that our attention spans are short because the writing is so bad?

    I would argue the latter.

    Good writing gets read. And it takes work. Copy sells, even on the Web, but is only read by the person who has the problem you can solve for them. That’s the person that you want reading, of course. Conclusion (please argue): Scanability is more important than brevity. Length is of little consequence. Long good copy is more effective than short bad copy.

    Now I feel better.

  • Kenny

    “Brevity is the soul of wit”

  • graywolf

    @lisabarone sorry i’ll go back to being poolside :-)

    but I will agree get someone who can spell and write to work on things that lead to your conversion funnel

  • Alan Bleiweisss

    Besides the three specific grammar errors I found excruciatingly distracting while reading your article, I got your message, and I’m sure most of us reading this still love you (for your taste in knee socks if nothing else). I can’t count how many times I’ve been tapped on the digital shoulder by someone kind enough to point out grammatical or spelling errors on my sites. I’ve taken to re-reading and proofing my blog articles three or four times before publishing lately. Quite exhausting, yet well worth the effort.

  • James Strutton

    Writing is one of my least favorite things. Generally I hire out to a content creation firm of some sorts. Usually it takes several tries to find a good firm, most are garbage with claims that cannot be backed. I hate reading a draft that is obviously written by someone who might use English as their 3rd language, if at all.

    So from time to time I have to do as you suggest , “Stop Bitching” and do it myself. I do still find that its hard to remove my “style” from what I write, and sometimes it confuses people, but I will keep at it.

    Nice post…

  • Lisa Barone

    Brian: An interesting point. You’re probably right. The same way someone will sit through a 20 minute YouTube video if it’s interesting, they’ll likely read your entire sales letter if you’re able to hold their attention. Appreciate the comment. :)

    Graywolf: Yes, you go do that. Because you know you agree with me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t ask me to edit your big troublemaker posts before you publish them. :p

    Alan: Yeah, I’m the queen of the typo. I don’t think you need to be perfect; you just have to be interesting and readable. Hopefully, on my good days, I get those two down. :)

    James: Thanks for the comment. I agree it can be hard to find a competent content copy, but they are [cough] out there. Not everyone uses people who are barely familiar with the language.

  • Evan Morris

    Your content sucks and is unreadable. But don’t worry, I’m not going to abandon you or hate you silently. Publicly maybe, but we’ve already established that I have no real following nor any power when it comes to smiting enemies via the internetz. So I take it all back and agree!

    I myself am an exceptional writer, however due to my lack of original thoughts or general knowledge…my talents go to waste. Having the best content or information is great, but if I can’t understand what you’re saying or can’t follow you then you’ve lost me. I might as well be reading Simple Jack’s blog about how his head movies make his eyes rain and how having 2 followers on Twitter m-m-m-m-makes him happy!

    I understood everything Rae said in her post about URL structure yesterday, which was very valuable and I liked the pretty geese, so there is one example I can throw at you. And I understood this post very clearly…I think?

  • Mike Pooposterous

    I added this link to StumbleUpon. I feel the message is simple and clear and important.

  • Michael@iGoMogul

    @Brian: You bring up a good point about people’s attention spans on the web. I’d have to say that because of the huge amount of poor content, we’ve learned to compensate by taking a 1000 foot view at 100 miles and hour.

    @LisaBarone: Great article. I think you’re trying to emphasize generally good writing skills as opposed to simply not having typos. There’s definitely a difference between misspelling a word and not being able to put together a decent sentence. The former is forgivable; the latter makes you look like an idiot.


  • Matt Soreco

    I feel like I’ve just been spanked. Not that I’m complaining about it…

    Great advice Lisa. I’ve fallen into this trap myself.

  • Nate St. Pierre

    She’s right, you know . . . she usually is. I have to work on brevity myself, which is what I’m doing right now.

    Lisa, if you want to vomit, you can look at the article that’s up on my site right now (at least until later tonight).

  • Props Blog Ideas

    I loved your article. I just saw the track back from Copyblogger and was curious what you had to say. I couldn’t agree more. It’s very frustrating reading poorly written content. Certain grammar/spelling mistakes really ruin authors’ credibility with me. Brian said that our lack of attention is due to bad writing, and I agree. I don’t mind reading extra if that is what it takes to clearly communicate!
    Blake Waddill

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    Guess what, writing is a creative art. Communication is not about showing off how clever you are at using big words, its about understanding your audience and writing appropriately. It should be easy to read, it should be clear, jargon free with abbreviations spelled out, and if it’s online you should also be considering the effects of words in translation machines. Something that is written in simple language will auto-translate well, and sometimes people will use these options in their RSS readers is your content is good.

    I’m not a fan of statements about the need for brevity when writing on the web. If you’ve got me hooked, I’ll read a page as long as you like, and will even overlook spelling errors, even if my perception of you is severely damaged. Big sales pages (we’ve all seen them) work because they tap into our pschology. Read some persuasion theory and take a copy of the Chicago or Harvard Style guide to start writing clearly.

    The more you learn about writing, the easier it becomes and you can then just have fun with language, if you’re not a writer, get one, as it changes everything.


  • Alex Lim

    I believe credibility and professionalism both reflect on the way you write. So if you are establishing your name or reputation, better to pay attention with the detail, (grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc.). Unless you are aiming for a different kind of reputation which makes other people ridicule you. Everybody is a critic, might as well serve your content in a silver platter where readers will eventually admire and respect you rather than look down on

  • Tumblemoose

    Hi Lisa,

    There is a guy running a web site he started about 4 months ago. I’ve watched him from the start. He’s kind of an animal in that he is doing all the right things to build his little blogging empire.

    What I’ve noticed recently though is that his writing has gone down the crapper. Major typos all over the place and some grammar boo-boos that glare at you from the monitor.

    The point is, I’ve stopped visiting and commenting over there because I don’t want to be associated with the slop.


  • Andy

    I only read Lisa’s posts so that I can see her lovely smiling face at the end :)

  • Jacob Stoops

    This article actually brought up an interesting thing for me today. I write & do videos for my SEO blog (which can be a dry subject I think), and while I’m not bitching about it…after re-reading my post and watching my videos I feel like I’m as boring as Ben Stein (in the dry, irritated-red eyes commercial).

    While I don’t feel like I’m a totally boring person, sometimes it can be hard to inject that personality into my dry-ass SEO blog. It’s definitely a struggle, but articles like this make me realize just how key it is to inject personality into my writing, to get out clear thoughts, and not make stupid grammar mistakes.

    Wouldn’t want to “Grammer Nazi’s” to come knocking at my door :)

  • Scott Gould


    Ruud Hein (@ruudhein) reffered me here, said my voice was a bit similar to yours. LOL – I certainly don’t write with this much punch.

    But, now you’ve inspired me to kick a little bit more ass.

    Thank you!

  • Social Media Commando

    “Simplicity is the Highest form of Elegance”

    Nothing irks me more than poorly written content, and (almost) nothing is more enjoyable to read than a clearly expressed, compelling idea.

    Then again…I am a fan of LOLcats.

  • Brett W

    I read an interesting Stanly Fish piece in the NYT about universities not teaching writing to a satisfactory degree. I believe it was in the top 10 most e-mailed a week or so ago. It’s upsetting that even when looking at the portion of the population having completed higher education, we still see a lack in this core competency.

    Though perhaps the issue isn’t even with the education, but more the lack of emphasis on the ability? Who tells people that how they present themselves in writing is going to impact their professional (and oft personal) success?

    Article mentioned:

  • Concerned Citizen

    I find it interesting that you would write an article like this, seeing as the marketing firm you work for is known for butchering the work of ACTUAL writers by editing their copy into unrecognizable drivel. Adding contrived pop culture references to work that you had no hand in creating does not qualify you to write an article FILLED with grammatical that is, frankly, slathered with irony. Your argument is invalid, and your sarcasm is a lame attempt at punch. Learn to write, indeed.

  • Lisa Barone

    CC: Not quite sure what you could possibly be referring to. We rarely outsource writing projects and when we do, it’s to ONE writer and one writer only. And they’re definitely not in the habit of editing copy into “drivel” or adding random pop culture references. If you’d like to chat privately or have an issue, feel free to drop me an email. Otherwise, your accusation seems off point.

  • El Duderino

    I’m not into the whole brevity thing.

  • iGoMogul

    Language is evolving quickly online, and grammar rules aren’t as steadfast as they used to be. That being said, simply understanding the technical aspects of writing isn’t enough anymore. As Lisa stated, visitors want to read and get on with their lives, and understanding this need is essential to successful online communication. Writing on the internet mirrors our busy lives, and it relies on efficiency and economy. Because of this, what was once considered “bad grammar” is now simply par for the internet course.

    First and foremost, readers want to understand your message. Learn to convey your ideas concisely through words, and the rest will follow more naturally. If your writing is incomprehensible because of spelling or grammatical errors, you’ll lose readers. On the other hand, if your writing is too formal and prescriptive, you’ll also lose readers. After all, no one wants to digest a blog post that reads like a doctoral dissertation.

    Oh yes, and Yawn: Excellent point about content that will read well in translation.

    Ronnie @ iGoMogul

  • Victor Lonmo

    Come on Lisa, tell us what you really think!

    Seriously though I enjoyed your article. Clearly presented content is often hard to find.

  • Victory Perkins

    I love the irony in how it took me longer than 2.7 seconds to read about how my attention span is only 2.7 seconds lo…

    What were we talking about again?

  • rinkjustice

    With the omnipresence of instant messaging and rise of content spinners, story generators and online translators, it’s a wonder we can coherently communicate with each other at all.

    Another fun read Lisa :)

  • Noah

    I dunno, pretty much anytime I’ve seen someone use the term “grammar nazi” its been in reference to spelling, punctuation, and whether or not they should be using than or then.

    As long as you don’t have grammar issues up the wazoo, I think you’d be fine in terms of readability. I do not think, however, that you’d be fine if it took you 10 paragraphs to say what 2 sentences could’ve. Brevity and grammar are 2 very different things…

  • Tom Martin

    Great post. I’d add one thing… this applies to all communications, not just blogs. The ability to persuade and communicate through the verbal word is probably the single most important skill one can develop.

    Wish more folks would take this to heart. Thanks for reminding and giving me a great link to share this morning.