9 More Tips For Better Online Writing For Info Pros
Top Tips for Easier, Better, Clearer Online Content for Info Pros
All organizations – for profit or not for profit – need an online presence and written content is at the heart of this presence. What this means is that you now have to put on your writing hats, even if you’ve never done much writing before. Even if that’s not technically in your job description or your official duties. Because communication means writing, even if you end up creating audio or video.
Seem too daunting?
It doesn’t have to be. Remember, you’re not writing the Next Great American Novel. You’re writing blog posts, emails, flyers, newsletters, video ‘scripts’, presentations and web pages. Keep it light, simple, clear and easy to read.
Still seem hard? Here are 9 key tips to make writing online easier and clearer:
Don’t Be Afraid to Elicit Emotions –
The best content online causes your readers to feel something. It creates a bond between you and your audience. It’s what helps create fans not just readers. Emotions lead to sharing, commenting and all those Likes, Follows, Hearts, Thumbs Up and WOW emoticons.
Two ways to go – Keep it Positive and Try a Little Negativity
Common knowledge says positive-based writing gets more attention, love and social shares. We like to be amused, humored and inspired. We click images that make our jaws drop, share articles that give hope, and are quick to Like something that brings a sense of care, affection and belonging. So sure, tap into those emotions and use imagery and clear, concise writing that brings out the best positive reactions in your audience about your core topics, what your organization is doing, the difference you are making.
There’s a time and place for negative emotions as well. No, sad or frightening posts don’t tend to ‘go viral’ the same way. But the right story or feature can trigger the powerful emotions of empathy or concern. These emotions may be vital to raising awareness of your funding plight, to draw attention to under-served audiences, to fighting censorship or attempts to restrict access to information. Don’t be afraid to get a little negative or stir it up for righteous anger on behalf of your organization. Turn the negative emotion into positive energy, encourage your readers, your users to rally behind you.
The Value Test –
Make sure what you write is truly valuable to your audience.
But how do you know?
Each piece of content should undergo the value test. Look at it and ask yourself, “Does this offer value to those who see it?” Content with value informs, helps, educates, or entertains. As long as each piece provides some kind of value, you’re in the clear.
Does your reader feel better off after reading what you wrote? Do they know something new that will help them? Do they know how to use a tool or service your library offers that they didn’t know about before? Can they use this tool to achieve a personal or professional goal or task? Helping your reader take at least one small, new step forward is all your content needs to do.
Make your writing easy to read, literally.
Use formatting as well as writing style to make your writing clear, simple and easy to read. People skim and scan online and different types of devices display text differently – so make it easier for readers to skim and still get the points you want them to see and know what they’re supposed to do next.
- People love lists.
- Bullets are your friend.
- So is white space.
- Subheadings are like directions and way-points on a map.
- Short sentences are better than complex, clause-filled, jargon-stuffed paragraphs.
Make sure your fonts and font sizes are legible and easy to read online. What works in print is not the same as what is easy to read on a computer screen. For example, many books use serif fonts like Times New Roman, or Palatino as they are considered to help the eye travel over the lines of long pieces of text on paper. But on a computer screen, san serif fonts (Arial, Verdana, Lato) are prioritized for being easier on the eyes for screen reading, especially because they remain easy to read at a wider variety of sizes. Serifs convey a very old-school, ‘traditional’ look while san serifs are ‘cleaner’ and more modern.
Use smaller chunks of text than you would if writing a printed article. Reading huge blocks of text is never easy, but it’s worse online. A big black blob of text is practically a guaranteed turn off and a click away from your web page or your email. It means no one stops to read your flyer.
Singular Purpose –
Each piece of content you create, anything you write, needs one, singular focus or purpose.
You must write intentionally, with a purpose – your reader’s purpose. What information do they need, right now, in order to take the desired next step? What do you want them to do? What 1 thing do you want?
You probably have and tons of great ideas, of suggestions, of things you would love your audience to do. But you can’t tell them all of those at the same time. Pick one focus for that piece of writing. What 1 question can you answer right now? Answer another question in a different piece of content.
Taking Action –
Help your reader to know exactly what to do next.
Where is the event? When should they show up? How do they register? Walk through those next steps in order – starting with the very next action needed. If there are too many steps – put them in separate pieces of content. Don’t overwhelm your reader by going too many steps into the future.
If you are writing an article or blog post, it’s ok to add a few additional takeaways at the end of the article. These are specific things your reader can do to solve their problem right now. You can summarize with steps if the article describes a process. Give them additional resources to check out – but don’t overwhelm them.
Go Back to School and Outline –
Even short outlines will help speed up your writing.
- Brainstorm 2-4 subheadings or main points for your article, blog post, email, newsletter or flyer. What are the absolute top take-aways you must convey?
- Without overthinking it, make short notes under each subheading about what you need to include, any links or references you would go back and add, and your top supporting point.
- Add in placeholders for an introduction and a conclusion.
- Now you know what you need to research, what links to find, any quotes you need and you should be able to write your article or post in a short time.
Practice this and it gets faster and easier.
Write, Read, Edit, Proof and Repeat –
Get into the habit of writing your content and then letting it sit at least overnight.
It’s easier to pick up on errors and edit your thoughts when you come back and reread your work. Do not ever just write and publish without proofing, no matter how tight your deadline. At a minimum go take a 30 minute break, walk outside, get a snack and then do a completely unrelated task so your brain can reset and you can come at your writing fresh. When editing and proof reading your work do so with an open mind and pay attention to the small details. It can be so easy to overlook words by reading too fast.
Don’t be scared to cut and rewrite. After you let your content sit you may come back with fresh eyes and not like all that you see. If you are not totally happy with it take the time to cut out sections and do re-writes if needed. You want to feel happy and proud to put whatever you write out into the world. [this does not give you permission to turn into a perfectionist!]
Be prepared to write drafts … and toss them out. Clear informative, engaging writing takes practice. It’s part science, art and craft. We all get better by practice, so take time to write daily. But this doesn’t mean you have to keep or use everything you write or create!
It’s more than ok, it’s necessary, to create lots of rough drafts in various forms. Keep some, file them away and take a look at them later. Some, you’ll toss out sooner rather than later. That’s all ok. It’s practice and no one else has to see.
One trick is to write in a notebook for 15-30 minutes each day, but you aren’t allowed to go back and look at what you wrote until the end of the month. No inner critiques, just write for now. Or if you’re hitting the keyboard, save your drafts with a random file name, or each in a separate file, all to a special folder and no peeking inside until the end of the month.
Tell Stories –
If you can communicate and connect with your readers through a story then they will remember you and your organization.
Using this tactic can be useful when relating certain stories or events where people need to hear the failures and successes of others. This is common for writing about overcoming obstacles or challenges, for telling the story of a process or how something was accomplished.
When you write something that is personal to you, you automatically add more feeling into your work. This is felt by the reader who can start to sympathize and relate to you. It is the perfect way to increase your readership. There is nothing wrong with sharing personal experiences or using them to a certain degree in your work.
Stop Worrying About SEO and Keywords –
Instead of forcing or cramming in keywords, or struggling to keep up with what’s ok in SEO, be natural.
It isn’t always easy to write naturally when you’re taking keywords into account, so stop worrying about it. Google and other search engines are wiser and there is no positive benefit to stuffing keywords into every title, URL and header – especially if they stick out and sound unnatural.
If you are answering the questions your audience are asking (the stuff they are searching for) then the keywords will come into the content naturally. Write like you talk and skip the jargon, the insider’s language or trying to stuff in tons of keywords. Worry more about the human reader and not the machine search engine.
That’s not to say that you can’t include a few keywords or phrases on purpose, but this should be secondary to creating an article that’s interesting and informative.
There are plenty of other tips and rules for writing, more than I can cover here. But these are some of the bedrock pointers for writers of all types and skill level. If you are clear, focused, personable, give value and think of your readers first, your writing will be engaging and memorable. There’s no reason you have to be stilted or overly formal in your online content. Be you instead.
Did I follow my own advice? Did I hit most or all of the rules of good online writing? If not, call me on it! We all have room to improve.
Want more tips?
I have a short ebook with additional online content creation and writing tips plus a series of emails that go along with it to remind you of what to work on in your writing. Get the guide and email series and boost your writing and how you engage with your community.
Want tips from someone else who has been doing this a professionally and a lot longer than I have?
I recommend books from Ann Handley of Marketing Profs – “Content Rules” and her newest, “Everybody Writes.” These aren’t dry texts, nor are they for professional writers, copywriters or those who only write for a living. I like Ann’s writing and advice for being accessible and having nuggets that all of us who think about marketing in some aspect can find useful. I also like the short, slim book by Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” [the title comes from a story of her brother who was overwhelmed by a school report due the next day and not knowing where to even start – the answer was ‘just bird by bird, buddy’] I also keep a copy of “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” on my bookshelf (another slim, short title with practical as well as inspirational help).
Some sites to check out to help with your writing:
- Write to Done
- Content Marketing Institute – and look for books from Joe Pulizzi of CMI
- KissMetrics – see post on ‘9 Ingredients That Make Content Great‘
- Neil Patel of QuickSprout is known for his LONG, deep-dive guides to various aspects of online marketing, this one on ‘12 Content-Writing Secrets’ is no different
- Copyblogger – they practice what they preach and are constantly delivering high value tips, guides and content – tons of it free, no email required. e.g. Check out post on ‘Why Learning to Write is the Toughest and Best Thing You’ll Do‘ – a great companion to my blog post.
But I do suggest you join their email list so you can tips delivered directly to you on a regular basis – they are always solid. [Note: I’ve been a Copyblogger follower and fan for years and I JUST went ahead and paid to join their Authority course for MORE content and training … maybe even to become a ‘Certified Content Marketer’]