You did the research, you have a unique angle, and your grammar is perfect. But somehow your article still comes back with that annoying little comment, “To earn a 5-star rating, we’re looking for a writer to qualify their expertise in a specific subject. In the future, try. . .”
What went wrong? Well, if you’ve already created an authoritative tone like Nicole reminded us, there may an issue with wording. To convey your expertise, you need to master not only your subject, but also your tool—the language. An article that hasn’t mastered the written word won’t be convincing to readers, no matter how many studies are cited or facts are used. So here are just a few suggestions to help you qualify your expertise through quality writing.
Be conversational …
When readers click on your article, they’re looking for factual, expert-level information—but not stuffy, contrived language. They want to feel as if they are getting solid advice from a friend. Here are a couple examples of overly formal phrases:
Those who wear glasses should push them up regularly in order to maintain the appearance of an expert.
It would behoove you to invest in some bifocals in order to convey a more authoritative demeanor.
The first example uses third person, which automatically distances the reader from the text. And the wording in both examples is stiff. Here are these same ideas expressed more conversationally:
Push up your glasses regularly to look like an expert.
Invest in some bifocals to appear more authoritative.
These revised sentences are much shorter and much more inviting to read.
If writing conversationally doesn’t come naturally to you, try talking out the article in your head as you write. Imagine how you would speak to someone in a professional or academic conversation (not a professional or academic paper). This mentality often helps writers find a good balance between conversational and formal wording. Read your article aloud when you’re done or have someone else read it to you in order to hear how it sounds.
… But not overly conversational
You probably shouldn’t write exactly the way you speak in everyday conversations with friends, spouses, yourself, etc. Doing so could lead to some confusing sentences. Here are a couple examples:
If your glasses need adjusted, don’t do it yourself.
Just because your mom said you are an expert doesn’t mean you are.
These sentence structures, while common in everyday speech, are grammatically incorrect and can be confusing in print. There are many other examples like this. Avoid difficult, overly colloquial phrases and make your writing professionally conversational; doing so will show that you understand how each word plays a role in what you are saying. Speaking of words . . .
Don’t reuse words
My senior English teacher taught me to pay close attention to the details of my writing. Without fail—no matter how much time and effort I invested—my papers would come back looking like a Jackson Pollock painting of red marks across black text. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Many of the red circles on my papers came from using a word more than once. Any time I reused a distinctive word—even just once—each use would be encircled by a thick crimson line. At first, I was confused and a little annoyed. So what if I used the same word more than once? It was a good word, and it said what I wanted it to.
When I finally started paying attention to those circles, I realized that repeating words was actually cluttering my writing and undermining my authority. My sentences sounded redundant; my ideas didn’t come across clearly. I certainly didn’t sound like an expert.
With the determination to make those red circles disappear, I discovered the gem that is the thesaurus: a seemingly endless supply of words to help me non-repetitively convey all of my ideas. The thesaurus became my best writing friend (until I discovered The Chicago Manual of Style . . . they’re now tied), and it made all the difference in the engagement level of my script.
Consider these sentences: “I’m looking into getting a monocle. Not to look like Mr. Peanut, but to look like Lord Peter Wimsey.” Here, a form of the word “look” is used three times. It would be better to say something like, “I think I’ll get a monocle. Not to look like Mr. Peanut, but to resemble Lord Peter Wimsey.” These new sentences don’t use fancy, obscure language. They use common words (think, look, resemble) to maintain a conversational tone. But the variation in the wording makes these sentences much more interesting to read.
When reviewing your articles, look for any “red circle” words. If any important words (adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, especially) are repeated, try to find synonyms for them. We don’t send articles back for repeated words, of course, but avoiding them will demonstrate your finesse.
Eliminate unnecessary words
After you’ve scoured the thesaurus for synonyms, go through your article again and get rid of any extra words. If a word isn’t absolutely necessary, take it out. Unnecessary words slow down reading and can confuse readers. Here are some examples:
He stopped buying coke bottle glasses because of the fact that his friends still didn’t think he was an expert and knew almost everything.
First, note the phrase “because of the fact that.” This and similar phrases show up in articles all the time. “Of the fact that” is unnecessary. Instead of telling the reader that it’s a fact, just tell the reader what the fact is.
The phrase “… and knew almost everything” is excessive here too. It is basically repeating the sentiment of “expert.”
Here’s the revised version of this sentence:
He stopped buying coke bottle glasses because his friends still didn’t think he was an expert.
This is much more succinct, to-the-point, and easy to read. Note how every word moves the sentence along and adds to the meaning.
Don’t sound wishy-washy
Ok, negative points for using a weak phrase like “wishy-washy,” but this is something we see a lot. Many writers overuse phrases like “you can,” “you should,” “you may,” “you might want to,” etc. These phrases almost always can and should be eliminated because they weaken an actionable piece. For example:
You can look at people over your glasses if you want to further your image as the “aloof expert.”
Some people may want to buy horn-rimmed glasses if you want to look like Harold Lloyd.
You should consider getting new glasses instead of taping them.
The way these sentences are written, they sound more like timid suggestions than concrete advice. Each would be stronger without the opening phrases:
Buy horn-rimmed glasses if you want to look like Harold Lloyd.
Look at people over your glasses if you want to further your image as the “aloof expert.”
Consider getting new glasses instead of taping them.
Now those timid suggestions are strong calls to action.
Paying close attention to each word you use will go a long way toward making your expertly-researched article sound expertly-written. When a writer masters the language, it is much easier for him to convince readers that he possesses a high level of expertise on a subject. A good pair of glasses doesn’t hurt either.