Here’s the deal:
To be a successful freelance writer, you need top-notch content writing skills.
There are no two ways about it.
In this guide, you’ll learn seven simple tricks that can instantly improve the quality of your write-ups.
1. Write short sentences
Familiar with SEO or Search Engine Optimization?
If so, then you’re probably aware of the 20-word rule.
Basically, you need to keep sentences within 20 words – all of them.
That’s what most professional SEO copywriters would do. And that’s what tools like Yoast SEO also recommend.
Now, you may have some objections.
“What if I need more than 20 sentences to make a point?”
“What if the client doesn’t care about SEO?”
For the first question, sure – you may need more than 20 words to convey your message.
But that doesn’t mean all 20 words have to be in the same sentence.
For example, if you want to write:
You can split it into two sentences, like:
In most cases, you have to switch up some words to split a long sentence into two shorter ones.
While that may sound tedious, it’s easier than you think.
Here’s another example:
With a simple tweak, you can split it into two sentences like this:
Full disclosure: The example above doesn’t make sense because it’s a loose translation of a Filipino “clap” game.
So, splitting long sentences into two short ones is a walk in the park.
But what if you or your client don’t really care for SEO?
Do you still have to write short sentences?
It may not be noticeable now, but writing shorter sentences significantly improves readability and flow.
You, or your client, don’t want to put off readers with intimidating walls of text. You want them to comfortably consume your content – bit by bit.
Writing shorter sentences will also feel like second nature eventually. And when it turns into a habit, it will simplify even the most complex of projects – making writing significantly easier.
The only exception to this rule is if you’re writing a novel or anything creative.
But if you’re doing regular freelancing work, be it for websites, emails, or social media, follow the 20-word rule.
2. Write short paragraphs
Another way to boost your write-up’s readability is to write short paragraphs.
My personal rule is to keep them within two sentences.
Again, you may think that two-sentence paragraphs aren’t always enough.
But if you review the previous articles you wrote, chances are you can restructure them to have really short paragraphs.
Let’s take a look at an example submitted by another freelancer:
With a few adjustments, you can split the text into shorter paragraphs – thus, improving readability.
If you’re not used to writing paragraphs like this, try splitting them after finishing the whole thing.
It’ll only take a few minutes, but the improvement in terms of readability will be there forever.
3. Learn transition words and phrases
Ever got complaints about your work’s “flow?”
This is perhaps one of the trickiest areas to improve upon, especially for non-native English speakers.
Without flow, your article can sound awkward or “choppy” when read.
Injecting transition words and phrases is a great way to fix this.
Some examples are:
- In turn
- As a result
- For example
Let me show you an example.
Suppose you wrote the following paragraph:
I’m sure it looks fine to a lot of people. But if you read the paragraph aloud, there’s an abrupt jump between the two sentences.
Inserting a transition phrase at the beginning of the first paragraph quickly fixes this:
Just remember to learn as many transition words and phrases as you can. This will help you avoid repeating the same stuff in one write-up, which can affect the final product’s quality.
To give you a head start, I put together the infographic about transition words and phrases below:
4. Know how to use lists
Using bulleted and numbered lists is a surefire way to improve a write-up’s readability, but not everyone uses them properly.
For starters, bullet points should be used for unordered lists.
I’m talking about lists of items that don’t necessarily have to be in sequence.
Here’s an example:
I actually just listed down what I ate for breakfast this morning – so, sue me.
Now, if we want to make an ordered list, that’s when we should use numbers.
Here’s what I had for breakfast (in order):
I know, I could’ve used a better example.
But I want to keep things as simple as possible, which leads to the next point:
5. Use simple words
Quick question: does your client pay you more if you use hard-to-pronounce, hifalutin words?
Then why do you use them?
I’m guilty of using big words in the past.
Ectomorphic, preposterous, discombobulate, superfluous – these words have no business in web writing.
The only reason to use them is if you’re writing a product description. In many cases, the client will probably chip in a few word suggestions.
Otherwise, using pretentious words for the sake of showing off your vocabulary is counterproductive.
It’ll only irritate readers who want quick and digestible solutions to their problems.
If, somehow, you’re having a hard time coming up with simpler alternatives to words, try using Google.
All you have to do is type in your big word and add “synonyms” to your query:
You can also try using the built-in synonyms suggestions in word processing apps, like Microsoft Word.
Just right-click the word you want to simplify to see your options:
6. Read your text aloud
Not convinced that big words will affect the reading experience?
Try reading this aloud, then:
Did every word smoothly roll out of your tongue?
How about this one?
Sounds a lot better, right?
Reading your draft aloud is a great way to check its readability.
Usually, I do this after finishing the entire article. But you can also do it every time you write a paragraph.
This will ensure that your write-up reads and flows well, especially when read by native English speakers.
If you’re not in the mood to read aloud, use an automated text reader like Natural Reader.
Simply paste your work into the editor and click the ‘Play’ button on the toolbar.
Doing so will help you catch inconsistencies and complicated phrases that you’d otherwise miss.
7. Use the three-sentence combo
If you’re having a slow day, you may need to rethink your approach to writing.
I use a straightforward, three-sentence combo that follows this structure:
- Make a point – Introduce the subject to readers. Keep it short and sweet.
- Explain its importance – Discuss why it is important. Focus on the problem or the benefits.
- Transition to next point – Add a one-liner that will introduce the next point.
For example, let’s say you want to explain the benefits of time management.
Using the three-sentence combo, you can come up with something like this in seconds:
Of course, your articles don’t have to be 100% made out of the three-sentence combo.
Only use it whenever you feel stuck trying to explain a technical concept or idea.
After all, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Bonus: Use an automated proofreading tool
I’ll let you in on a little secret.
I always run my work through Grammarly at least once after finishing it.
Grammarly is a proofreading tool that can quickly check your write-ups for errors. Not only that, it will also provide you with correction suggestions that can be applied in one click.
If you have the “Premium” version, it’ll also give you advanced suggestions that can improve readability.
As for me, I only use Grammarly to check for basic spelling and grammatical errors.
Oh yeah – you can use Grammarly as an extension for Microsoft Word as well.
As much as I love Grammarly, it doesn’t always give the best suggestions.
That’s why you should always think twice before applying changes.
If you think a suggestion is correct, click it. If not, click the trash icon to dismiss the notification.
Finally, remember that Grammarly has a free version you can use without time limits.
That comes with the tool’s core proofreading features, including corrections and text clarity suggestions. You can also use the Microsoft Word “add-in” while you’re at it.
Improving your writing skills is a step towards higher freelance rates.
Rest assured that the tricks above came from my five years of experience in the freelance writing industry.
Just don’t be too hard on yourself and take one step at a time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the same can be said for all great things, including a successful freelancing career.