Despite the Grammarlys, Hemingways, spell checks and other software designed to improve writing, the internet bulges at the seams with bad writing, courtesy of both humans and computers.

I'm not getting up-in-arms about commas or apostrophes because that would be a jerk move. I'm not gonna police grammar because we need far less policing in our lives. The English language is hella complicated, and people of all abilities and levels get punctuation, usage and spelling wrong on occasion.

But I enjoy reading original writing, and I especially like writing that reads like someone cared about their craft. I loved the advice from Bill Murray's editor character in The French Dispatch: "Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose." Good content is intentional.

Since they're designed to rely almost exclusively on old-fashioned text, B2B tech, media and marketing newsletters should be more intentional in writing technique, more of a pleasure to read.

We are asking people to pay for the privilege of reading our rambling paragraphs, yes? At the least, we want our audiences to devote 5-10 minutes of their days to consume our words.

Let's care about syntax and structure at the sentence level. Let's not write like we're still in college, finishing a paper at the last minute, waiting for a grade. Let's write like words matter, since words are our medium.

*If becoming a better writer interests you, Ann Handley is kinda the queen of well-written business copy, so get her book.

Internet and business writing tip #1: Reconsider "this."

The demonstratives "this" and "that" serve as both modifiers (adjectives) and independent subjects or objects (pronouns). I have no problem using demonstratives as modifiers; this technique narrows focus on the modifier's subject without excessive flash.

"This" and "that" as pronouns, however, do the opposite. Demonstrative pronouns unravel precision. In physical space, "this" and "that" can refer to objects near or far. In long-form internet writing, "this" or "that" as the subject of a sentence or clause is flaccid anaphora.

If you write five paragraphs explaining a complex argument, why would you condense that work to a simple "this" in paragraph six? The argument's scope must be too flimsy, disorganized or far-fetched if you can summarize it in a single pronoun.

Yet I see "this is" in nearly every tech/media/marketing newsletter in my feed. "This is Facebook's biggest mistake" or "This means people like social networking..." Nahhhhhh, bro, my contrarian spirit is gonna have to disagree with you. "This" usually represents a wide breadth of assumptions and narrative choices that your informed reader may not support. "This" is a weak segue.

"This means" or "This is" or "Despite all of this" or "That was" or "what this entails" or any other iteration of "this" for a complex or unclear antecedent muddles your most intriguing points. Reducing a nuanced argument to "this" is awkward, imprecise, and does your ideas a disservice. If you had no argument to begin with, "this is" shines a spotlight on all that wasted prose.

No real stats here, just observation derived from annoyance: Nine times out of ten, a newsletter reader scanning would not be able to identify the antecedent a lone "this" references, if they were asked.

Eight times out of ten, clauses beginning "This means" accompany a logical fallacy in which "this" doesn't actually "mean" what the writer insists. "This means" the speaker or writer is unsure about their argument.

Every "this is" or "all of this" or "this means" can be rewritten. Full stop.

Some tips to stop "this"

  • Never start sentences with "this is," "that is," "this means" or "there are."
  • To rewrite easily, summarize what you meant by "this" in three to five words. For example, say "The established method" or "The recent interest in NFTs" or something, anything, that doesn't boil paragraphs' worth into one word.
  • A more challenging rewrite pro-tip: Flip the sentence. What did you write after "this is"? Can you start the sentence with that idea as the subject, maybe use a more descriptive verb while you're at it?
  • If you must "this," make it a modifier. "This approach," "this idea" or "this tactic" work, as long as you're clear about the approach, idea or tactic you've described.
  • "All of this" is both redundant and imprecise, so let's just red line the phrase entirely.
  • Make sentence variety one of your editorial criteria. This practice will hone your craft and make your writing more successful.

AI and content hacks
In summer 2019 Chase announced that content created by AI performed better than that created by people. How will this change the digital content strategy?
Ulysses writing software review | The Content Technologist
One day writers will no longer use Microsoft Word -- and that day can’t come soon enough! Ulysses is one of several better options for writers.
The Only Web Writing Tip You Need in 2020 | The Content Technologist
Naming anything is a risk. What if you use the wrong word? What if someone questions your name? What if your name takes on a life of its own?