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The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger

Blog writing tips and articlesThis post could be also called “The Top 10 Most Common Writing Errors” or “The Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make”, but I thought “The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger” was more appropriate. Because, if you want to have your blogging taken seriously, then you need to sit up and pay attention to this list.

My list is inspired by Holt Uncensored – Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). Holt explains:

Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.

Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.

So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.

The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.

My editorial summary of Holt’s list consists of:

  1. Redundant repeats of the same word over and over, like a favorite word.
  2. Flat writing that just lays there, horizontally, and goes no where.
  3. Empty adverbs – the horrid use of too many “ly” words that just clutter up the story.
  4. Phoney dialog that includes jargon and common “fad” phrases that date the writing, as well as too many “he said/she said” that don’t propel the story forward. Dialog that doesn’t say anything.
  5. No good suffixes is actually something I’ve done a time or two. Once in a while these are cute, but as a whole, arrogant. These are the words, usually adjectives, using suffixes to change the meaning. Holt explains, “Instead of saying, “as a director, she is meticulous,” the reviewer will write, “as a director, she is known for her meticulousness.” Until she is known for her obtuseness.”
  6. Overuse of “to be” words is one of Holt’s pet peeves. This is harder to explain, but valid, so see the post for details on how these are overused.
  7. Using lists instead of prose to tell the story is a no-no. Holt’s example: “”She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.” Unless the adjectives or fast elements actually take us somewhere and add to the story, then consider them lists and treat them accordingly. Or edit them out.
  8. Show don’t tell. Telling means the story is over. Showing brings the reader into the action.
  9. Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop and wonder what it was they just read. Watch out for clunky phrasing and horrid references that make your writing sound like cans and boots tied to the back of a car being drug through the streets.
  10. Commas are probably the biggest beef I’ve seen from editors. Poor comma use can get you more mental slaps from many editors and readers than just about anything you flub up in your writing. According to Holt, “Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.”

So that is Holtz’s list of the top ten offending mistakes writers make that they should catch. But what about bloggers? They are also writers.

Lorelle’s List of The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger

  1. Commas and Punctuation: I also whine about commas, but also other punctuation mark errors that hint to the readers that you either 1) don’t know how to write, or 2) are totally spaced out and just not paying enough attention. These include bad comma usage, overusing exclamation marks (!!!!!!!!), spaces before periods (end of sentence .) or question marks (end of sentence ?), sentences without commas or other punctuation so they run on and on and on and on and on forever without end.
  2. Mixed or Lack of Proper Capitalization: You should know by now that writing with capitalized letters indicates SCREAMING, so you don’t do it for the length of an entire post. You should also have learned the basic rules of capitalization. The beginning of sentences and proper names are capitalized. Titles Are All Initial Capitals. Just because you Like a Word doesn’t MEAN you have to capitalize Every Important word. That went out of fashion a couple hundred years ago. and writing all in lower case may look cute for a young girl’s diary or personal blog, but it is old. out of fashion. people think you are a girl under 16. stop it. now.
  3. Link Lists: Yes, link lists are fun. Yes, link lists are easy. Yes, we are all thrilled to know that you managed to find 10 sites to link to that you liked today or this week. We got it. Lists are nice and easy. Lists suck. I hate lists. To me, they are a sign of a potential splog (spam blog) that uses links to ferment search engine page rank. They tell me the blogger is too lazy to offer an opinion or two about why they like the site they are linking to. Link lists are fine if you have content to match. But links for links sake = boring and time wasting.
  4. Too Many Topics in One Post: There are run-on sentences, and then there are run-on blogs. My rule of thumb: one topic, one post. If I’m searching for information and find it, but having to scroll through what the blogger had for lunch, arguments with a teacher, rants on rush hour traffic, political opinions, and then, oh, by the way, this is the solution to a problem that’s been plaguing me. ARGH!
  5. Taking Too Long to Get the Point: Part of the uniqueness of blogging is the ability to quickly say what you have to say and move on. A rule for giving speeches that still holds after all these years is to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. You want to rant or babble, that’s okay, but use it sparingly. If you have a point to make, make it. Blog readers don’t have all day to sit around and read blogs. While we may want to, we have lives to lead and other blogs to read. We want our favorite bloggers to get to the point. Now.
  6. Poor Use of Textile or Code Tags for Code: Many bloggers love sharing their programming or web design code discoveries. I adore these folks. From them, we can learn how to put things together and take them apart. Unfortunately, WordPress and other blogging tools turn quote marks and apostrophes into fancy smart quotes. Copy a piece of code of a blog, paste it into your WordPress Theme or PHP script, and it will bork. Please, either use character entities to represent REAL text-based quote marks when publishing code ( " = &#34 and ' = & #39; ), or use PRE or a WordPress Plugin that recognizes code and forces it into text-based quote marks.
  7. Don’t Assume We Can Read Your Mind: Sorry, we aren’t mind readers. We have to know what you are writing about. Don’t start a sentence or paragraph without a noun that leads us to the noun’s action. Don’t make us wait until the end of the post to figure out that you are talking about buying a cell phone when I thought you were talking about looking for a date. Lead us into a story, and help us keep up with the story line. Don’t assume we have been hanging around following your every chapter. Assume we’ve just landed on this planet and discovered your blog. Help us to understand what you are talking about.
  8. Don’t Link to the Hottest Link in Town: Don’t link to the hottest post on or just because everyone else is. It may be fascinating but link to it only if you have something to say about the link so you add to the story and information about the linked story. We all know now how to use Digg and Del.icio.us, so we’ve already seen it.
  9. More Ads Than Content: More ads than content, or lots of ads and only links as content, I’m not interested. I’ll take my blog reading elsewhere. Come on, folks. Blogging is about writing. It’s about sharing your life, experiences, and expertise, as well as your opinion. It’s your voice. Use it. Sure, it’s nice to make money with advertising on your blogs, but if you ain’t got good content, I’m not going to pay to get nothing.
  10. We Don’t Know Who You Are: I might love what you have to say, but if I don’t know who you are, how you came to be this expert, or why I should respect what you have to say, you’ve lost my interest. I don’t want your life story. I don’t even care where you live, though that seems to be important to a lot of people. I don’t even have to know your real name. What I do want to know is some background, resume references, and qualifications that make me want to trust what you have to write. If I need verification on who you are and your expertise, I’ll find it myself or ask, but until then, at least write me an About page that gives a clue as to why I should care about what you have to say.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted February 26, 2006 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with number 10 on the second list. There is a few people I have seen starting to post, and think they are Mr./Mrs. Hotshot. They say things that may be true, but don’t say I got it from here or did this. It is usually this thing has produced this number, and that’s how it is. No explaination or anything. Then these posts have a trackback or two. But the people doing the trackback never challenges the post.

  2. Posted February 27, 2006 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    As a new blogger, I am glad to find this advice. Not only did it tell me some thing I might improve, it also told me that I am not doing too badly, so far. Well, at least I’m not messing up on all ten points.

    I did find the statement, “We all know now how to use Digg and Del.icio.us, so we’ve already seen it.” a little disheartening. I have seen the terms somewhere, but had the impression that they are blog hosts. Now it appears that they are some sort of tools? Much to learn, I have.

    Is blogspot.com messed up, or am I? The wysiwyg editor preview is never accurate. Perhaps my old imac has the only virus in the mac world. Is there a better free host?

  3. Posted February 28, 2006 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Linked lists are fun. If you don’t like them tough.

  4. Posted February 28, 2006 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    typos are accetable ? you made one :-P

    Redundant repeats of the same world over and over, like a favorite word.

    nice reading, howerever

  5. Posted February 28, 2006 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    This was a left over from a big problem WordPress.com had with their drafts and I thought it was fixed. I put it in as a test to find out if the draft or the published version would release and thought we’d figured it out. Well, the draft version released and not the published version. Another thing we have to investigate. Sorry I didn’t catch it sooner. Such is the way with life on a beta testing site! So it was on purpose and aren’t you smart to have caught it!

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Back to the drawing board!

  6. Posted October 9, 2006 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    @Linky Lister: Linked lists are a bitch. A BITCH. How could anyone like them?

  7. Posted February 23, 2007 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    What if, like my blog, the blog itself is all about lists? Like this one, which will appear in due course of time? That is the unique value I bring to the table (Err, blogosphere)…

  8. Posted March 2, 2007 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Attempt be one blogger amateur, With time… =)

    I am Spanish, but articles like this that are not in my language, I like to read them.

  9. Posted May 1, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Amen, sistah! People need to realize that writing is an art and not a chore. You must paint a picture for the reader using nothing but words.

  10. Posted May 17, 2007 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I am happy that I saw this post before I start my blog. Thanks for all the great tips!

  11. Rebecca
    Posted August 30, 2007 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Feral and missing apostrophes are my pet hate. If you can speak English, if you can drive a car, use a DVD player, read and write, you can damnwell use an apostrophe as it’s meant to be used.

  12. rhantekie
    Posted June 13, 2008 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,
    I’m brand new to this ‘blog thing’, as far as creating a blog is concerned anyway, and I thought your list contained some interesting and useful food for thought, thank you. However, I was a bit dismayed to read number 10 on your list – “We Don’t Know Who You Are”. This last point read to me as though, unless you are an expert, you have no right to express your opinion or at the very least it’s not worth a pinch of salt. I don’t believe that just because I may be lacking a degree in medicine, I can’t discuss and debunk some crazy talk in the press about, for example, vaccines being the cause of autism. Life experience and critical thinking, along with unbiased research can lead a person to a reasonable conclusion and therefore earn them the right to express that conclusion/opinion, even if they’re not the holder of an impressive list of qualifications or an extensive resume. It’s just a blog, amateur or otherwise, and I don’t see the purpose of such as necessarily being a reservoir of expert opinions. Who I am may not and probably won’t reflect how I came to my conculsion, this I would outline in my post, nor should it restrict me to a fixed list of topics.

  13. Posted June 13, 2008 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    @ rhantekie:

    You are missing the point while getting it at the same time. We are all entitled to our opinions, and blog can be an open forum for debating those opinions and ideas, but don’t call yourself an expert if you aren’t. You may be informed, but if you aren’t an expert, don’t call yourself one. Use another word. That one is worn out.

    There are a lot of people who blog about that which they know not. You seem to know what you are talking about, so obviously, you know about that which you blog.

    I meet a lot of bloggers who want to get paid to blog, so they go after jobs that involve writing about subjects they don’t know anything about. Like the old writing teacher’s adage: write what you know. You’ll write better.

    Good luck!

  14. Professor P.B. Hassebroek
    Posted June 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much for providing your helpful list and the link to Holt! I *love* your focus on good communication and proper punctuation, but list items # 2, #4, and #7 underscore the need also to check for improper grammar and spelling.
    2. “Flat writing that just lays there, horizontally, and goes no where.”
    Should be:
    Flat writing that just lies there, horizontally, and goes nowhere.
    4. phoney, should be spelled …
    7. daylillies, should be spelled …

  15. Jason
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    There were some good points above, and then I read #10…

    I think your statement of wanting some background, resume references, and qualifications that make you want to trust what I have to write quite interesting. Aside from your about page being quite the lengthy write up for a pat on your own back and the irony of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in this post, I failed to find any reason why I should trust anything you have to say.

  16. Posted December 31, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    It’s funny how an article like this has such controversy. I’ve been blogging for about a year now and find the information relevant and good to revisit. When I was told: Let me know who you are, I thought you meant make your blog personal so I can relate to your point of view. Of course having a background about a subject always helps too. For example I could write about working in retail as well as write about teaching 2nd grade because I’ve done both of those things. I think all life experiences can lead to interesting blog material. If I just wrote about those two jobs I think many would turn away. Instead I talk about things that I deal with today and not in the past. I don’t talk about diapers because my daughter is 13 but instead talk about what it’s like to raise a teenager. Ok now I’m writing too much…

    Great article!

  17. Sandi Adams
    Posted October 9, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I am just starting a blog. #6 clue; the use of “to be” is a common problem I used to have. Using “to be” is considered the “passive voice” which is hard to read and comprehend. One gets bogged down in the extra verbiage. The opposite of this is the “active voice” which is more energizing and flows easily making it easy to read and understand at the same time.


18 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] And now, I’m looking around like an old fart, reminiscing about the way things “used to be”. Nowadays, there are articles about ’serious’ blogging. There are rules for blogging, so your writing doesn’t look journalistically immature. There’s Web2.0. There’s SEO. There’re fights to be at the top of the blogosphere’s celebrity list. [...]

  2. [...] One of the best educations you can get on blogging, building traffic and earning a few buck from blogging can be found at Darren Rowse’s Problogger site. You can literally spend days there learning how to blog. If you have any questions about how to increase your traffic this is the first place to go. Again, Darren has taught me so much it’s hard to pinpoint specific post but here are two that I’ve bookmarked because they inspire me; 18 Lessons I’ve Learnt About Blogging and (Another) Day in the Life of a Problogger. Thank you Darren! Last, but not at all least, is someone who isn’t as well known as the above bloggers, (I could be wrong), but who deserves to be, Lorelle VanFossen. When I thought to thank all the bloggers who helped me get started; Lorelle is the first who comes to mind. She is the most thorough, thoughtful and prolific teacher of all things about blogging and WordPress that I’ve have come across on the Net. Her two main areas of focus are improving blog traffic and blog quality (e.g. the writing). Lorelle cares more about the quality of blogs than anyone else does. For example, in the article The 12 Biggest Problems with Your Blogs, Lorelle taught me that my site had poor navigation since my single post view had no site navigation other than the next and previous posts. A seemingly small tweak to your site to fix something like this will help your readers stay longer. Another great example of what Lorelle teaches is The Top Ten Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger. Thank you Lorelle! [...]

  3. [...] The top 10 clues that your an amateur blogger provides a great reminder of how to make your writing slick and readable. A nice change to tech nology this and technology that. [...]

  4. [...] It was of today that I saw this article which discusses the signs of amateur bloggery. Being an amateur bloggist myself, it was of great interest to me to read it! I fear I myself am a man guilty of agreement with many of the listed traits. But I worry not, and I will inform you of why. [...]

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  7. [...] 25, 2007 Posted by animemiz49 in Random. trackback Recently I’ve taken to reading this blog…. and it’s a blog about blogging tips. Similar to writing for an appreciation factor. I [...]

  8. [...] The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger « Lorelle on WordPress She says, “Lists suck. I hate lists. To me, they are a sign of a potential splog (spam blog) that uses links to ferment search engine page rank.”. Well, I am sorry you think that way, Lorelle – you will certainly hate my blog, but you know what? You might just end up loving it – it sticks to its plan, and delivers what it promises, consistently. Oh, by the way, Lorelle’s article also references the excellent article, “Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See“. Though I hate to tell Lorelle that she did not have to reproduce the entire list – linking to it and highlighting what she found good would have been enough. You know you are not being creative when you reproduce something someone wrote in its entirety. [...]

  9. Yada, yada, yada. Yet another blogger with a Top 10 list.

    Ha. I love this. “The The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger.”

    On my Top 10 list would be “Making Top 10 Lists.” I love how people try to make blogging seem like it takes such a special and unique skill when in fact i…

  10. [...] Top 10 Clues that You are an Amateur Blogger – *GULP* If you can’t handle the truth don’t go here. [...]

  11. [...] The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger Hmmmm… [...]

  12. [...] The Top 10 Clues That You Are An Amateur Blogger, by Lorelle VanFossen [...]

  13. 5 Essential Software For Amateur Bloggers…

    I’ve been blogging for more than a year now and I still consider myself as an amateur blogger and I’m not sure if I can call myself as a “Pro-blogger” someday, but who knows? Maybe I can be like Pete Cashmore or Darren Rowse. Although I’m just an amate…

  14. [...] The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger [...]

  15. [...] The Top 10 Clues That You Are An Amateur Blogger, by Lorelle VanFossen [...]

  16. [...] like this will help your readers stay longer. Another great example of what Lorelle teaches is The Top Ten Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger. Thank you [...]

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