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Avoid ‘To Be’ Verbs in Online Writing

To be or not to be… that is the question when writing for online audiences.

The Yahoo! Style Guide and other guides to writing online advise writers to avoid using “to be” verbs in their writing, but why is that so? What’s the point?

What is a “to be” verb?
A “to be” verb, as you probably guessed, is a form of “to be” in the past, present or future tenses. These include are, am, were, become and being – among many others. These verbs appear regularly throughout our normal speech and somehow seem (another “to be” verb) to creep up more often in our writing.

What’s the deal then? Why bother with avoiding them?
Even though using a “to be” verb comes easily to you, using a lot of them has an incredible ability to muddle and confuse up your writing – making it hard for online readers to understand and navigate. If they find your writing hard to read, they’ll simply go on to the next site, leaving your page views down and lowering your site revenue from ad clicks and impressions.

How do I avoid them?
Learning to leave “to be” verbs out of your writing takes a lot of practice and certainly won’t happen over night. But until then, there are a couple of techniques you can use to improve your writing.

1. Write first, then edit. This works well if you’re on a “writing high” and can’t seem to get your fingers to move fast enough. Don’t stifle your creativity by worrying about verb usage. Write to your hearts content, then go back and edit for “to be” verbs and other mistakes before your publish your article.

2. Write with awareness. Let’s face it, as writers we go through moments when it seems like we’re doing the best we can to produce one complete thought per minute. It doesn’t matter whether it’s due to writer’s block or the fact that the writing assignment we’re working on at the moment is incredibly boring. Take this opportunity to pay special attention to where you tend to use “to be” verbs. Find ways to reword phrases and sentences to get rid of them and you’ll find yourself using fewer and fewer “to be” verbs with time.

What are some substitute verbs I can use?
“To be” verbs express states of being. There’s nothing wrong with using them for this purpose. For example, to express your age, you say, “I am 22.” There is nothing wrong with this, and using a “to be” verb in this instance won’t harm your writing.

However, favor descriptive or actionable verbs over state of being verbs. For example, say “I enjoy skiing” instead of “Skiing is fun.”

MORE INFORMATION: Check out the tutorial I wrote on this topic: ‘To-Be’ Verbs: An Online Writing Tutorial – it was a contest winner!!

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