Article writing tips, techniques, strategies

Friday, December 02, 2005

YOU CAN LEARN TO WRITE

While on the phone with a fellow a while back, he mentioned
he wanted to start a business on the Web. When I asked what he
planned to do, he had a couple of good answers. But he qualified
all by saying his writing skills were not sufficient.

I hear this often. And it saddens me some way. This fellow
had demonstrated strong verbal skills. And that he is bright,
with solid values and attitudes in place. When I suggested he
need only write as he was speaking to me, I don't think he bought
it.

Another fellow recently made the same claim, and felt he
would have to hire all the writing on his site. After a first
glance at his email, one might be inclined to agree. But when
I looked closer, there were only three formatting problems. No
capitalization. No spaces between sentences. No returns at the
end of a line, so the wrap made it look awful. But upon a closer
look, the only significant problem came from the haste with which
he wrote.

The Secret To Writing On The Web

KISS! That is, keep it super simple. You are not trying to
win the Pulitzer Prize. You are simply trying to explain a point
as to a friend or customer. The only difference is you are
making the point with written, rather than spoken, words.

About Those Rules

The rules which govern proper use of English were important
when you were in school, trying to pass a course. In the world
of the Web, many do not matter much.

Sure, your site needs to be sharp. And the content must be
well written. But what does "well written" mean?

I always hesitate to say anything about how to write, for I
have forgotten most of the rules. And I frequently break those
I do remember.

Above, for example, the sentence which begins with "And I
.." is incorrect because it begins with a conjunction. But if
I leave it out, the single sentence will be 26 words in length.
Too long for easy reading.

Besides, that's not the way I would make this point to a
friend. What I might say is something like. "I don't like to
say things about writing. There're too many rules I don't
remember. And I break a lot of 'em."

How Would You Put It?

It doesn't matter how you choose to make the point. Just
write as you would explain it to a friend or site visitor. So
long as it is acceptable English and the reader understands your
point, that is the end of it.

Hail To The Purest!

The above may bring comments. There are lots of people who
expect English to be used correctly. They object when it is not.
This point of view is valid. And the need for well written
content is overlooked or ignored on far too many websites.
However, ...

Only Your Target Matters

To build a successful online business, all must be carefully
directed at your perfect customer. Every word on every page
must be directed specifically to your target.

If your target is serious students of psychology, your
writing skills must be strong. And the rules of English matter.

If your target is fly fisherman, there is a bit of a dilemma
in that they likely cover the spectrum in terms of careers,
social status, and so forth. Their definition of what writing
level is sufficient will vary enormously.

Yet when you speak to them, you will be talking about fly
fishing. Regardless of other interests, they will be interested
in the topic or they will not be on your site. They want to know
which is the best fly rod, and why. Where the fish are hiding.
And more about ways to hook one of these elusive creatures.

What matters is presenting the information your target wants
in a way in which they can easily grasp it. Against this need,
the rules of proper English matter hardly at all.

Ways To Make It Happen

A good point at which to begin the task of improving writing
skills is to study the way in which newspaper articles are
written. Give it some time, and you'll see all is written
simply. You may even discover that the reading level is about
8th grade.

Why? Not because people are poor readers. Editors want
people to find it easy to read their content. This improves the
chance that they will. Both of these characteristics of news
copy are perfect for your website. Targeted, simple, easy to
read page content should be the goal on every site.

Search on "writing tutorials" and you'll find a bunch. And
you may find some quite helpful. But forget trying to remember
all the rules. Focus on ideas that will improve your writing.
On my site, click on Topics in the navigation bar to the left.
Then on Writing Skills. There are some good ideas and references
here for approaching this task.

How To Make It Happen

In the end, though, there is no better way to improve your
writing skills than to write. Edit, rewrite, and smooth as
possible. Then write something else. If you consistently seek
to do a better job with your next writing task, you will find
improvement almost immediately.

One good starting point is your email. Write each reply
carefully. Always reread and edit. Then seek to make your next
reply stronger. While practice will not bring perfection, it
will bring continuing improvement.

What Does "I Can't Write" Mean?

You may be fearful of putting your thoughts in front of
others. You may not want to accept the corresponding risk of
criticism. You may somehow feel you are not "good enough."
That what you have to offer is of little importance.

If you have concerns such as these, attempting to start a
business online or offline is a bad idea. They will severely
limit your success, far more than your writing skills level.

Often, however, such a statement means only that you are
uncomfortable putting your thoughts into words on paper. Not
many enjoyed their English classes in school. Or the predictable
assignment: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." If your resistance
to writing amounts to things of this sort, a bit of practice is
all you need. It is not a giant leap from speaking effectively
to your target to writing to them.

The two examples mentioned above of people who felt their
writing skills were not sufficient are representative of many.
In very short order, either of these two men could be writing
effectively. Not a novel, mind you. But content directed at
a specific target such as fisherman. You can do the same.


Bob McElwain

Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already
have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe
to "STAT News" now! mailto:join-stat@lists.dundee.net
Web marketing and consulting since 1993
Phone: 209-742-6349