10/03/2012 05:24 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

7 Old-Fashioned Tips for Improving Your Writing in the Digital Age

Whether you're blogging for your college newspaper or reporting for the New York Times, how you write for a digital audience is essential to building up your credibility online and off. Because of technological inroads like spell check and peer editing (think Wikipedia), most people nowadays can write comprehensibly; not everyone can write well.

On the web, anyone can be an author. The Internet has opened up countless possibilities for any interested party to publish their content online, and even to cultivate a following. Platforms like Blogger and Wordpress make it easy for even the web illiterate to produce dynamic, interactive content. However, precisely because so many people have now taken advantage of these avenues, the internet is crawling with content on every niche and subgenre imaginable, making it the ultimate buyer's market.

If you want to distinguish yourself from the hordes of others selling the same subject matter, you need to be an extremely effective writer and communicator. And that means having a firm grasp of not only your topic, but also the mechanics of language. Because publishing online isn't just about linking to other sites and sharing content through social media; it's about the same nuts and bolts of writing that your seventh grade English teacher taught you. To that end, even non-writers need to know how to present information to capture the attention of readers (or viewers). So as a lifelong writing enthusiast and newly baptized blogger, I thought I'd offer up a few tips I've learned that will drastically improve all kinds of copy. So sharpen your No. 2 pencil and let's get started:

  1. Remember sentence variety - Long, winding sentences are sometimes necessary to convey a complicated point, but avoid them as much as possible. Short sentences? Much better at grabbing people's attention! Believe me, you will sound ten times more professional if you incorporate sentence variety into your writing. See? It's easy!
  2. Don't repeat yourself - Don't start all your sentences the same way. Don't repeat the same word over and over. Don't use a quote to say what you just said in the preceding paragraph. And after you've made your point, move on.
  3. Don't bury your lead - This is probably the most important tip, and it's buried all the way down here at No. 3! That's because I wanted to demonstrate how often people overlook what's most interesting about their own stories. For instance, if city council passed a resolution on zoo animals but then one of them is found harboring a hippo (I think you can fill in the blanks from here...).
  4. Keep it simple - Write like Hemingway, not like Faulkner.
  5. Be specific - Don't generalize. Use examples. Use numbers. No runaway trains of thought.
  6. Avoid clichés - It's like my grandmother always used to say: don't use clichés, because that's bad writing.
  7. Don't use passive voice - Passive voice should be avoided by all writers who don't want to wind up as the subject of their own object lesson.