Writing: Why Your Third Grade Teacher Was Wrong

5 Writing Misconceptions and How to Fix Them

My third grade teacher was wrong about how to write (and I didn’t need a therapist to say that!)

Think about the first time you had to write a composition about what you did for your summer vacation. How many pages of blue lined paper did you ball up with only a few words scrawled at the top of the page?

Do you still have demons you can trace back to elementary school that cause your computer screen to be blank despite your best efforts to write? If so, you’re not alone. Many teachers, despite good intentions, instill their students with writing habits that hold many of them back from being able to communicate effectively.

Here are five writing principles your third grade teacher was wrong about and how to overcome them to get content marketing inspiration and to take your writing to the next level.

  1. You must have a carefully detailed outline before you start. While an outline can guide your writing, if it’s too cumbersome, you’ll spend your time creating the outline without getting a single word on the page.  Don’t hold your writing captive to your outline. Can you see the major points of your argument in your mind’s eye? Jot them down before they vaporize. Shape your thoughts before you start in whatever way works best for you. It’s important to know where your writing is headed so you don’t spend time on irrelevant detours.
  2. You must start at the beginning. This is notion causes people to keep writing and rewriting their first sentence. Instead start writing where you have the energy for your writing. Are you excited about the middle section? Then start there! In my experience, forcing yourself to write in the order that it’ll be read isn’t the most efficient way to write. Sometimes you just need to start writing and the rest will flow and fill in.
  3. You must get it right the first time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong writing requires rigorous editing and rewriting. If you’re on deadline, you might not have time to finely polish what you’ve written, but you can print it out, get a cup of coffee and go through it once to get rid of the awkward sentences and extraneous words.
  4. You must use the biggest word you can find. You need the most descriptive word, not the fanciest. Never use a five-dollar word when a ten cent one will do. Your writing shouldn’t be like my eleventh grade classmate who had to read his papers aloud in English class since the teacher couldn’t pronounce all the words he stuffed into them. Plain simple words your audience understands are most effective. If your readers don’t understand the words, they’ll miss the meaning of your writing or skip it altogether.
  5. Your writing must be neutral. Were you taught to remove any emotion from your writing? Simple declarative sentences where there’s a clear subject (aka person or thing) are the most effective. The more specific you are, the better. If your writing is cleansed of anything sounding like a real person, it fails to engage readers. By being specific, your writing becomes more universal and accessible to your audience.

To write effectively, you need to have an idea about where your writing is going. Start writing wherever you find the energy takes you. It doesn’t have to be the first sentence of the piece.

Next, stick to simple, descriptive words your audience understands to get your points across. In fact, the shorter, the better.  Add your point of view and emotion in the form of specificity. Lastly, edit, edit, edit.

What other lessons you learned from your third grade teacher have you found to be wrong? Please share your learnings here.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Here are some related articles about writing.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenyaki/2430528033/

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7 Responses to Writing: Why Your Third Grade Teacher Was Wrong

  1. Tmun says:

    HI Heidi, totally agree about the outline, having too much could not only be cumbersome but at times more confusing as where to start again. Also, love the idea of starting from the middle or where one feels comfortable to begin, not necessarily from the beginning. Including feelings and emotions I feel wins the most important part of the writing so including emotions, being descriptive would attract the readers.

  2. Glenn says:

    Great advice Heidi. Completely agree about the outline. I think most great writing is a journey of discovery – a way to find the answers for ourselves or complete the “logic” behind answers we have found. Writing is many times an inner dialogue externalized – an especially rigorous method of thinking. Outlines don’t work in this space. You can’t write an itinerary while you are exploring new territory.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Glenn–Thank you for taking the time to comment. I find that outlines are a BIG time saver. Without one, I write a lot more, a lot less efficiently. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  3. I love all your posts about blogging and writing! They have helped me become a better blogger!

  4. Annmaria says:

    I was taught all the way through graduate school to remove all emotion from my writing. That is what academic journals want.

  5. Prof. Torg says:

    Right on. No marketing here. 🙂 Just writing and the teaching of writing.

  6. Thanks for the tips on writing.
    The problems I face when I am writing for the web come from writing key word rich content. Pandering to Google can take some of the fun out of writing, but hey, I better get used to it.