Archive for the ‘Website Writing’ Category

How to Shorten and Strengthen Your Sentences When Writing for the Web

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Most web writers are aware of the very limited window of opportunity available to grab their reader’s attention. Web readers are both busy and fickle, and they average reader spends less than ten seconds determining whether or not they will continue reading or move on to another site. Should you have mastered the art of amazing and compelling titles and headings, congratulations—this is the first step in ensuring your reader stays firmly on your page reading your words. After the titles and headings, however, you have to keep your reader’s attention through the use of short, snappy sentences which pack a punch. There are several ways to strengthen each and every sentence you write, keeping them to a minimum length while still ensuring your message gets across.

Avoiding Jargon

If you are not clear what “jargon” really means, it is generally the specialized or technical language used by members in a specific profession. While using jargon may, at first glance, give your readers the impression that you are an expert in your field, many times those same words will muddy up the meaning of your sentence rather than clarifying it. When web readers are scanning a page quickly, looking out for key words or phrases, they may decide your article is simply too difficult to read should they encounter obscure terms. Determine whether your readers will understand your jargon, or if they really need to know insider terminology. Jargon can also be unfriendly to many readers, and you certainly want to avoid appearing snobbish or unfriendly in your writing. Read your content critically, and replace anything that smacks of jargon with a simpler word or phrase, or one that is more common. If you must use jargon, make sure you explain the meaning to your readers, perhaps through the use of an analogy.

Remove Redundant Phrases

When you read over your content you may notice many common or redundant words and phrases that can be replaced with words which are just as familiar but are also shorter and potentially more direct. You must make sure that the shorter option doesn’t cause confusion, however most of us have the tendency to clutter our writing. Redundancy as defined in the dictionary is the superfluous repetition or overlapping of words and should always be avoided in the interest of clear communication with your reader. Focusing on the substance of what you want to impart to your readers is your primary goal.

Starting Strong and Staying Strong

Just as you learned in your high school English class, begin all sentences with the strongest subjects or verbs. Tell your readers who is acting and what he or she is doing. This technique puts the very most important words of the sentence right out front—instead of saying “There is no charge for the service,” replace that sentence with “The service if free.” You’ve said the same thing, but the second sentence is much stronger, shorter and just as clear. Using verbs that are weak or indirect can easily dilute the strength of your sentence and of your message, so use more direct verbs. Finally, clear out any “deadwood” meaning words or phrases which can be omitted with no loss in overall meaning. Adding such words as “as a matter of fact,” serve no real purpose other than increasing your word count, so ensure your sentences are tight and compelling.

Finding Your Writing Style When Writing for the Web

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Finding your writing style is much like finding your writing voice. Excellent writing demands a distinctive style and voice and must reflect both the writer and the audience. It is your style which will ultimately connect you to your readers and keep them coming back for more. Even if your readers disagree with your opinion on a subject or even if the topic doesn’t necessarily appeal to them, they will respect the job you do as a writer, trusting you to deliver time and time again. Developing a writing style not only takes time, it takes a command of the craft of writing and a good dose of self-awareness.

Is Writer’s Instinct Enough?

While it’s true that many writers simply write from their gut, letting their instincts guide them—and some do quite well using instinct—most writers need more than instinct to create truly outstanding content. The craft of writing is the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts—not necessarily talent, because it can be learned, rather learning the tools and techniques which go into writing which truly excels. Think about how you get your words to convey what you want—the information, the tone, the emotion. Ultimately you want your readers to recognize your particular style and want more and more. Think of your writing as having a conversation with a friend or acquaintance. How would you approach your subject if you were hanging out in the park talking to another person? You will approach your writing in the same way, letting your unique style shine through.

How your Choice of Words Contributes to Your Writing Style

Every word you choose when writing a new piece of content speaks about you as the author. Think about that. Suppose you have a truly impressive vocabulary—do you use those big words with your closest friends or your family? The answer is likely “no” simply because you don’t want to come off as being pretentious or you don’t want to make people you care about feel bad that they don’t know all the words that are rolling off your tongue. Writing is exactly the same. Just because you know lots of important words doesn’t necessarily mean you must use them in your writing unless they truly add to the overall quality of your writing. Your writing style is almost like a fingerprint in that no two writers tackle a writing topic in exactly the same way. We all bring our backgrounds and beliefs to the table when we write, and those factors will find their way into your overall style.

How Do You Reveal Your Material?

Some writers reveal information in a witty manner, others in a straightforward manner, and still others implement some level of sarcasm as they impart their information. Some writers tend to favor in-depth examinations of a single point while others will go with a broad overview. Of course the material you are writing about will certainly bend your style; if you’ve developed a style that is funny with little bite to it that style could work well for a variety of subjects but would not work at all if you were writing about the increase in murders in a particular area. Obviously you have to adjust your writing style—once you find it—to the subject you are writing about.

However your writing style evolves remember to first know your audience then to always respect them. In other words, your writing style must be true to yourself, your readers and your subject—no easy task, but one that gets easier with time and words.

Writing Chunky Paragraphs

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Perhaps you have heard about “chunking” as a way of writing short, concise and to-the-point paragraphs which are conducive to allowing readers to scan quickly and determine whether the information they are seeking is here or whether they need to go elsewhere. The time any site has to hook the reader is ten seconds or less, and when readers quickly scan a page short, chunked paragraphs make it much simpler to decide whether or not they will remain on the page. Any time content is made up of short, meaty paragraphs, the reader is much more likely to stay put than when a site has long, rambling paragraphs. So, as a web writer, how do you write chunky paragraphs?

One Idea per Paragraph

Web writers should consider each paragraph a well-defined and clear-cut object, apart from the rest of the content with one primary purpose. You must know what that purpose is, because if you are uncertain, your readers will not know the purpose either. Highlight your primary purpose throughout your paragraph, and if you find you have moved into another idea, then create another paragraph chunk. These short, concise paragraphs don’t have room for irrelevant ideas, so weed out ruthlessly.  Every single sentence will contain words which relate directly to the main paragraph topic, and rather than using a thesaurus, it’s acceptable to use the same word time and time again to ensure your point gets across. If you are describing something which has a distinct chronological order, use words such as first, next and finally.

In web writing you have such a limited amount of time to get your information out there, you will use the inverted paragraph style of writing which puts out your fresh ideas at the beginning of each paragraph. However, more than print content you must also work off what your readers already know in the beginning of the sentence—what is familiar to them—to the new ideas you are putting forth by the end of the sentence. You will create a kind of chain by starting with the known, and ending a sentence with the new. You will then start the next sentence with the new idea you ended up with in the last sentence and so on and so on. If you need context to make a sentence make sense to your reader, insert the context first before you state the overall idea.

Try Writing a Chunky Paragraph

If you are still uncertain on how to write chunky paragraphs, try this with a topic of your choice. First, write your topic sentence then write some concrete details about this topic sentence. All specific facts related to the topic will be included such as definitions or evidence. Next, write what you think about those details—your commentary. You will be offering your own opinions and ideas during this part. Alternate commentary and details until you have written the entire article then write a concluding sentence which wraps up the entire paragraph.

Websites which offer content that is difficult to process and understand are not taking advantage of paragraph chunking which means your readers must work harder than they should in order to grasp the meaning of your words. Think about reading a book without chapters or paragraphs, just one long expanse of words. Most readers would read less than one page before giving up. In the same way, your content must be extremely scannable or your readers will be gone as quickly as they can press the back button.

Why Titles are Crucial in the Success of Your Web Writing

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

You’ve probably heard it time and time again—the title of your article is critical to the success it gains on the web. Ignoring the importance of that title can be very detrimental to your writing—after all the majority of readers determine whether or not they will read your article based on the title, and the search engines will not be able to accurately identify your site’s subject matter, hindering the flow of traffic. Those who work at larger newspapers are well aware that titles of the newspaper articles are considered so extremely important that there is often a title editor on the job.

This person’s sole function is to constantly come up with compelling, interesting and enticing headlines for the stories run by the newspaper. As readers have less and less actual time to read an article which catches their eye, they turn to skimming to determine whether the information they need or want is contained within a specific article. If you are a newspaper reader, you likely look at the front page, skimming the headlines to determine what you want to read, then continue through the paper from page to page, skimming headlines and stopping occasionally to actually read through an article.

Words That Draw Your Reader’s Attention

There are specific words which will naturally draw the eye of your reader—the most common, of course, being “sex.” Obviously unless you are actually writing about sex you can’t just throw the word in randomly in order to get readers. There are other words considered “high engagement” words however it’s important not to overuse them. Readers will quickly recognize they are being manipulated rather than being able to clearly see what the ensuing article is really about. If you are writing for a specific genre, such as the art world, including words such as gallery and exhibit can draw your reader’s eyes quickly to your article, giving them a hint of something they want to read about. Keywords should be used in your titles, but only in a natural manner, not in an obviously contrived way.

Titles Geared Toward Search Engines

In addition to having a good idea of what words human beings will look for when writing your titles you will also need to know the words search engines rely on. For instance if humans typically type in “backache” rather than “back ache,” then you will want to use the former in your titles to ensure they can be found by the search engines. Additionally, the search engines rely heavily on article titles in order to determine what the content is about, so the title is indeed, crucial. Every page in your site should have a unique title which clearly describes the content on the page rather than the overall site.

Title Tags

So you understand the process for writing a title for each page, now think about your title tags. In terms of search optimization, the single most important sentence you will write for your website will be the title tag for your primary website page. The title tag tells the search engine what the page is all about, and, in the case of your primary page, what your website is about. Your primary keywords or keyword phrases should appear in the title tag with the most important words appearing near the beginning of the sentence. Most guidelines state that you should limit the characters in your title tag to 70, and although only the first 70 characters will show in the top bar of the browser, search engine robots can read the remainder and there is no penalty for going over that number of characters. Think of your titles and title tags as the gateway to your compelling content—if neither humans nor search engines want to open that gate, then the rest of your content will never be seen.

Is Your Web Content Gender-Neutral?

Monday, June 11th, 2012

In most cases of web content, the person’s gender is not relevant to the story you are telling. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If you happen to be writing for a women’s website on the subject of menopause, then gender is certainly relevant. Should you not be writing for a website which is specifically geared to one gender or another, then focusing on one gender or the other can seem very sexist. Unfortunately, many of the descriptive words we use have gender bias built right in, such as “fireman,” or “actress.” Even a decade or so ago writers were instructed to implement the generic masculine terms, but in today’s world these words can seem dated or biased. There are ways to incorporate gender-neutral words into your content without using the clumsy “he or she.”

Be Specific

Generally speaking, if you are talking about men or boys, then use “he, his and him,” and likewise use “she, her and hers” when talking about females. However if you are writing a sentence such as “Each lawyer must take his bar exam,” this is a case of using a masculine pronoun in a generic manner. While you could write that sentence as “Each lawyer must take his or her bar exam,” this feels awkward. You could also use the vague their as in “Each lawyer must take their bar exam,” but this is somewhat controversial from a grammatical standpoint. In order to avoid making these choices regarding pronouns which tie to one gender or another, try using the authoritative style of the verb instead. Use the second person you or your rather than the third person gender-specific pronouns he, his, she and her.  In this case the sentence becomes “In order to become a lawyer you must take your bar exam,” and completely eliminates gender-specific wording.

Other Strategies for Keeping Your Content Gender-Neutral

The next tip for gender-neutral content is to change your nouns and pronouns to the plural form. Rather than writing “Each intern should mail his or her resume’ to the human resource department,” or “Each intern should mail their resume’ to the human resource department,” why not try it this way: Interns should mail their resume’s to human resources.” You have said the same thing, but in a much more concise and gender-neutral manner. Another way of keeping your content gender-neutral consists of repeating the noun, particularly if it will clarify the meaning of your sentence or eliminate the pronoun altogether.

Why Should You Care About Keeping Content Gender-Neutral?

Your goal is to convey information to your readers in a form they can both understand and use, avoiding anything which hinders clear communication. Should any part of your targeted audience find themselves insulted, offended or confused by the manner in which you express yourself through your writing then the understanding of your message could be derailed. While the process of using gender-neutral writing may feel like a relatively low-priority issue, ensuring your content is complete and correct is not a low-priority issue. Whenever possible, bypass the entire gender issue, and when it is not possible use masculine pronouns only for men and boys and feminine pronouns only for women and girls. A little practice in keeping your content gender-neutral will allow you to use these tips without thinking twice about it.

Identifying Your Audience When Writing for the Web

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

In order to identify your audience your target audience think of what you would do if you sat down to make a sketch of a person. You would add one element of the face at a time—eyes, nose, hair, then refine those elements even more by adding the color of the eyes, the style of hair. Eventually you would have an entire face before your eyes and you would have identified a specific person. In order to identify your web readers, don’t attempt to get a complete picture all at once. Start with a piece of paper or your word processing screen in front of you, and ask yourself specific questions which you can definitively answer. After you have a basic outline, do your homework and fill in the missing information.

You will first ask yourself questions which involve the overall demographics of your targeted audience. Solid, measurable data gives you a good foundation for understanding your audience. What age or gender group are you targeting? What social or economic group? Are your visitors members of a specific profession? Are you targeting a specific type of person who is looking for a specific product or service? (In almost all cases, the answer to that will be yes!)  What is the primary language of your readers, and what is the average education level? Would your readers be likely to have disabilities which would affect how they view your site? All of these pieces of the puzzle can help define your audience, and, assuming you determined that the majority of those reading your content were young, self-employed and at least fifty percent Spanish speaking, would that alter the manner in which you wrote that content?

Qualitative Data

Who is that person and what tasks are they performing on the website you are writing for? Qualitative information tells you why people will visit the website and read your content, as well as what they want to read, what they need and what they expect. Analytics programs are a good place to get the qualitative information you need such as which pages receive the most traffic and which links are clicked the most. Such a program will also let you see how much time people spend on the site, and whether or not they hang around and interact. Once you know why people visit your site and understand if the majority of them leave satisfied with their experience, your writing will change to reflect that information.

It can be really easy to get caught up in the writing process and neglect the person you expect to actually read your content, yet if you write without identifying your audience you may end up getting fewer readers than you will if you have a good understanding of them. You must also avoid thinking that your fellow writers who leave comments regarding your content are in any way your target audience. If you operate under that assumption then your viewpoint—and your writing will be extremely limited.  Stretch your thinking and look at the big picture, then craft your content in such a way that it will not only appeal to your target audience but to the largest portion of readers possible.