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Writing for Online Readers: The Most Important Rules


… by Dave Copeland

I have less than 30 seconds to capture your attention with this post, so here goes: if you read some, most or all of the next 750 words or so, you will know how to write Web copy that is more useful to readers of your blog.

Online Readers Are Different

Seems pretty obvious, right? But the fact is, many of us still write the same way online as we do for books, magazine articles and other long-form and traditional print mediums. The fact is, recent research shows that online readers use vastly different sections of the brain than offline readers. In short, the brain is conditioned to skip around when online reading, as clicking on a link that will reward the brain with new images and content.

With offline readers, we can take our time and develop points with long blocks of text and narrative, and with fewer visual elements. Offline reading rewards the brain that slips into a state of deeper concentration.

In Plain English, Please

Your writing – offline or online – is effective when readers take away your message. Writing effectively online doesn’t mean that every reader reads every single word that you write. It means they can quickly and efficiently get the information that is most important to them and move on.

People who read our blog posts come from all over, and from a wide range of backgrounds. The reason they choose to read a particular post will vary from reader to reader. Your job as the writer is to make sure they can find the information that is most important to them and move on to using that information.

Best Practices

I’ve spent a good portion of the past year researching reading habits of online readers and have been sharing that with writers, bloggers and journalists, as I did during my presentation at BlogWorld East in May and through a series of free, online Webinars.

I can talk for hours on the subject, but if asked for the most effective ways to get online readers to read what you write, I would offer these strategies as the most important:

  1. Write compelling but clear headlines: Don’t get cute. Online and in print, the headline is almost always the first thing readers look at. Make sure it is clear and gives a good idea of what the post is about, while still leaving the reader wanting more.
  2. Write in the active voice: Effective online writing is all about getting to the point, and on a line-by-line basis, the most effective way to do that is to use the active voice, which naturally lends a sense of urgency to your writing. The easiest way to do that is to start each sentence with the subject, immediately follow that with a strong, active verb, and then follow that with the direct object. Avoid adverbs: they’re a telling sign that you chose the wrong verb.
  3. Online writing is visual: Long, dense paragraphs turn off online readers. Create white space in your copy by keeping paragraphs short and using bulleted lists when appropriate. Use bold text to accent key information and use block or pull quotes to draw readers into the copy.
  4. One main idea per sentence: Keep sentences on point. Avoid multiple clauses and phrases, and lots of information stops and commas. Make sure each sentence has one idea, and not much more than that.
  5. No sentence without a fact: Every line you write needs to move the story forward. If a sentence doesn’t have a fact, cut it.

How long should it be?

I hate this question and always offer a smart-ass answer: as long as it needs to be. If every sentence has a main idea and no sentence is without a fact, keep going. I do, however, recommend the 3-2-1 formula. For every 1,000 or so words that you write in an online article or blog post, be sure to include:

  • Three subheads: Subheads are bold, one-line headlines that break up long chunks of text and organize information. Keep the same headline-writing rules in mind when you write subheads.
  • Two links: Links offer additional information for readers who want to go deeper, and they also give your post authenticity and transparency about where you information came from without getting into long, narrative attributions.
  • One graphical element: A photo, a chart or anything else visual helps readers. Whatever you use, make sure it advances the story: don’t just put a photo in the post for the sake of posting a photo.

Dave Copeland is an award-winning writer and journalist, and a communications studies professor. He blogs on writing, journalism and other stuff at Cut Off At The Salad Bar and tweets at @bloodandvolume. He is available for corporate and small group training on a wide range of writing subjects

Authors Using Social Media to Generate Book Buzz


In my “free time” outside of BlogWorld, I’m an author. I’ve written three young adult novels in the past two years and currently have one out on submission to publishers. As you can imagine, I spend a good amount of time networking with other authors, agents, editors, etc. Topics of interest include a variety of items – especially the use of social media to foster buzz for an author and their book.

I’ve seen several authors generate buzz using Twitter and their blogs – but the most successful ones are those that develop and foster their brand and voice with social media (in all age groups and genres). My favorite example is Kiersten White. For the weeks leading up to the launch of her debut novel, Paranormalcy, Kiersten used social media to showcase her humor, wit, and creativity – building an audience and buzz that took her to the New York Times Bestseller list the week that Paranormalcy hit store shelves!

So what are some examples of Kiersten’s social media efforts and writing style? For weeks prior to launch, Kiersten took to Twitter with tweets that centered on a hashtag she created (#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy). Here are just a couple (but there were hundreds of them!)

#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy a muggle-born kid gets accepted to Hogwarts.

#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella grow a spine, save *themselves*, and head to college.

Kiersten also spent time on her blog – writing posts that featured her book, but also showcased her fun and self-deprecating humor (like this one and this one).

But did this voice translate over to Paranormalcy? Absolutely. And that’s why it worked. If Kiersten’s writing was dark and mysterious, her social media audience would’ve been rather stunned to expect humor and read twisted.

Lastly, Kiersten took time to respond to pretty much everyone who engaged in a conversation – whether it was on Twitter or comments on her blog. She was gracious and caring and never made a fan feel uncomfortable for contacting her.

So my tips for authors looking to use social media to generate buzz for their book: Be Honest, Be True to Your Voice, Be Original & Engage in Conversations

In last night’s #yalitchat (a weekly Twitter chat for the young adult writing industry) we also talked about social media and buzz. Some great tips and thoughts include:

  • @veela_valoom: Social media cannot just be used a “promo-media” should always be a conversation #yalitchat
  • @LauraKreitzer: I noticed that when the social media and reviewers went quiet, so did the sales.
  • @LM_PrestonBLOG TOURs Rock! They are powerful in starting buzz! I’ve bought tons of books from blog tours
  • @AlysonCGreene: ARCS might not sell books, but I think reviews & blog recs do. ARCS allow bloggers and reviewers to read and create buzz pre-pub

Other Related Articles:

12 Days of Blogging 2010: 12 Writers Writing


Today, as part of the 12 Days of Blogging 2010, I wanted to showcase people who can help you with one of the essential blogging skills: writing. This is a topic near to my heart, since I was a freelance writer before I even knew what blogging was! There are some awesome bloggers out there who talk about nothing but writing; there are also bloggers out there who talk about writing as part of the whole blogging profession. Let’s look at some of my personal favorite posts about blog writing from 2010; don’t forget to leave a link in the comments if you’ve talked about this topic as well!

Yes, links are highly encouraged in this series – please share so your knowledge can help us all! Just make sure they’re relevant to the topic!

1. Why Writers Should Blog and Bloggers Should Write by Ali Luke at Aliventures

It wouldn’t be a post about writing without mentioning Ali Luke and her blog, Aliventures. Her entire blog is awesome if you’re interested in learning to be a better writer, and I highly recommend check out her ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, which can also help you with the writing aspect. In “Why Writers Should Blog and Bloggers Should Write,” Ali writes:

Some bloggers don’t really write. They just type.

I’m sure there’s been times when I’ve been guilty of the latter. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing posts as “content” – something to tap out fast in order to increase a bunch of statistics. More page hits. More comments. More readers.

But you know that bloggers who carry on like that won’t succeed. The blogs that you love aren’t the ones which churn out half-arsed content – they’re the ones where the words grab you and don’t let you go.

Ali’s full post talks about the two worlds of writing and blogging and how they should come together to create a more powerful platform for yourself in either world. Check out Aliventures for more awesome posts and follow Ali on twitter @aliventures.

2. How To Write A Blog Post (or how I do it) by Lisa Barone at Outspoken Media

I’m a fan of this post because it’s pretty much everything you need to know to write on your blog successfully, step by step. Of course, we all have different methods for blog writing, but this is a good place to start if you’re feeling stuck. From Lisa’s post:

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time writing blog posts. I write them for us, for outside industry sites and for clients. Luckily, blogging is something that I really enjoy and, because I do it so much, I’ve been able to create a pretty effective process for getting the words out and the posts up. When I was fishing for blog topics on Twitter last week, a few people suggested I perhaps write about how I go about writing posts and share any best practices I’ve found for making it easier.

The full post is available on Outspoken Media, where Lisa blogs with Rhea Drysdale about search engine optimization and marketing. You can also follow her on Twitter @lisabarone.

3. The Power of Confident Writing by Brian Clark at Copyblogger

Copywriter is perhaps the best-known source of information about blogging and writing, and one of my favorite posts from founder Brian Clark was about being confident as a writer. He also links to a great Copyblogger post on tips for confident writing by Steve Errey from The Confidence Guy. I love the tale of the restaurant in this post, along with what we can learn from it as writers. From the post:

I’m not talking about arrogance. Arrogance is an indication of fear, not assurance.

Too many people, however, approach copywriting from a defensive mindset. You’re already back on your heels from the start, instead of proudly sharing your excellence with the people who can benefit most from it.

Copyblogger is a site you should be reading if you aren’t already. They have guest posts from some of the most intelligent bloggers across the Internet and a stable of regular bloggers who are pretty smart cookies themselves. Follow Brian on Twitter @copyblogger.

4. How to Slash your Writing Time in Half by Mary Jaksch at Write to Done

Writer to Done is a blog that has tons of tips for writers, including an entire section for blogging. Really, though, many of the articles there can help bloggers as much as they can help article writers. Since most bloggers are super busy, I wanted to highlight “How to Slash your Writing Time in Half,”  a recent Writer to Done article that can help you save time when penning posts. Here’s an excerpt:

As a blogger, I need to write a lot of articles. Fast. Not only do I need a flow of good ideas, I also need time to turn the initial ideas into useful blog posts. It’s sometimes a struggle.

Do you want to write faster – without losing quality?

The post goes on to give you 10 tips for writing posts quickly. In the upcoming weeks, Mary will also be posting her annual list of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers on Write for Done, so that’s definitely something you should check back to read. You can also follow @WritetoDone on Twitter!

5.  How to Write Great Copy using Storytelling Techniques by James Chartrand at Men with Pens

Storytelling is a technique I use often in my own blog writing, and while I’ve read tons of resources on this topic, James’ article isn’t about why you should include stories in your writing, but rather how to do it effectively. Not every blogger uses storytelling to its maximum potential; this post will get you back on track. James writes:

Because they’re so powerful, stories are very useful for copywriters. Good stories can move people to action. They can encourage sympathy and instigate donations. They can cause an uprising or a revolution. They can provoke a response or influence readers. They can sell.

Storytelling works.

Except, of course, when it doesn’t.

Head to Men with Pens to read the rest of this post, along with more tips for writers, bloggers, and freelance business owners. You can follow James on Twitter @MenwithPens.

6. 5 Tips for Writing an About Page that Connects with Your Reader by Judy Dunn at Cats Eye Writer

Hands down, one of the biggest mistakes I see bloggers make is not having a clearly marked and well-written About page. Having this place to talk about yourself is important because when someone new comes to your site, they want to know who you are and why the heck they should ever come back. A poor About page could actually cause you to lose readers! Judy Dunn has tons of awesome blogging tip articles at Cats Eye Writer, but because About pages are so important, this is the one I wanted to highlight for you all. From the post:

For every expert opinion on how to write the ‘perfect’ about page, you’ll find an equal and opposite one.

“Keep a professional focus,” says the expert of stuffiness. “You need to separate business from  personal.”

“It’s all about credibility. Your degrees and post-graduate work count the most,” says the guru of self-importance.

“Be ‘authentic’ and talk about some mistakes you’ve made,” says Mr. Warm and Fuzzy.

All of these people are wrong.

Because there are no about page rules—except for one.

Want that one rule?You’re going to have to check out Cats Eye Writer – and don’t forget to also follow Judy on Twitter @CatsEyeWriter.

7. 3 Things Probloggers Should Do Before Hitting The Publishing Button by Darnell Clayton at BloggingPro

Does this article have three simple tips? Yes. Do we do them every time we write a post? Nope. Darnell Clayton’s post at BloggingPro is an excellent reminder of how we can ensure that every post is of a high quality. Your readers deserve it, after all! From the post:

In an age where everyone wants to be first, many bloggers are sacrificing elegance for speed in a vain attempt to break the news before their rivals get a chance to analyze the story.While bloggers should always attempt to break a story (as doing so can result in a massive amount of traffic), bloggers should also try to make sure their post is presentable to the world, lest they hear rebukes from their readers in the comment section.

BloggingPro is a site that I’ve really grown to enjoy over the past year. If you’re looking for blogging work, they have a job board that I’ve personally found extremely useful. You can also follow BloggingPro on Twitter @blpro.

8. 4 Types of Blog Posts That (Almost) Anyone Can Write by Laura Spencer at Writing Thoughts

Laura Spencer has a wealth of information for writers at Writing Thoughts, and one that she posted recently for bloggers is “4 Types of Blog Posts That (Almost) Anyone Can Write.” If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, this is a great post for finding some ideas for your next post. Laura writes:

Over the past few years, I’ve blogged professionally at five different blogs (not including the one you’re reading, which I own). During that same period, I’ve literally written hundreds of blog posts.

As a professional blogger, I know that thinking of topics to write about can sometimes be a struggle. That’s why today I’ve decided to list four types of blog posts that nearly anyone can write.

If you want to learn her four tips, you gotta head to Writing Thoughts. Oh, and pro tip? Keep your eyes peeled for Laura! She also works at Freelance Folder and Everything PR, and has guest posts across the web. You can catch her on Twitter @TXWriter.

9. 8 Online tools to help improve your writing at 10,000 Words at Media Bistro

I’m a sucker for cool shtuff that makes my job easier. If you’re a writer in any capacity (blogger or otherwise), this post has some unique tools you can use to help you find the writer words, imporve your typing skills, an more. From the post:

The internet is full of writers, both good and bad. Thankfully, if you find yourself leaning toward the latter category or you just want to beef up your scribing skills, there are plenty of free online tools and resources for improving your writing

Check out 10,000 Words for more posts about the intersection of journalism and technology, and don’t forget to follow @10000Words on Twitter.

10. Developing Good Grammar Habits by Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward

While writing forward doesn’t have tons of writing tips specifically for bloggers, this post by Melissa is one that most of us need – myself included. I’m admittedly the worst self-editor in the word, but even awesome editing skills won’t save you if your grammar sucks from the start. Writes Melissa:

Good grammar is an essential component of good writing. Grammatically clean texts are easier to read, easier to get published, and in many cases, a firm understanding of grammar can make the writing process easier.But for many writers, grammar is secondary. They’re in it for the creative journey – these writers are focused on telling a story, making a statement, or sharing ideas. Grammar is just a necessary nuisance.

Too many writers avoid truly learning grammar because they prefer to focus on the creative aspects of their writing.

Her tips for grammar are ones that I’m going to attempt to apply in my own life, and i hope you will too. You don’t have to be grammatically perfect to be a good blogger, but it certainly helps keep readers on  your site. Check out Writing Forward for the rest of this post, and follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaDonovan.

11. Why You Must Write Your Boogie Man Post by Stanford Smith at Pushing Social

I’ve been lurking on Stan’s blog for a few months now, and I love his writing style. Pushing Social isn’t just another boring new media blog. Those are a dime a dozen; Pushing Social is not. In addition to awesome posts like “Why You Must Write Your Boogie Man Post,” Stan recently announced his new Spectacular Posts Bootcamp, a video series where he’ll share some of his top tips. From his Boogie Man post:

My 3 year old swears a monster lives in his bottom dresser drawer.  The monster is a smart son-of-a-gun, he only hides there when I leave the room.  But…If I read “Llama Llama Mad at Mama” right before bed, he won’t come out. (smart kid)

The dresser monster is my boy’s boogie man.

The funny thing is that we never really outgrow the “boogie man” do we?

To learn what a Boogie Man post is and rise to Stan’s challenge of writing yours, head to Pushing Social. You can also follow Stan on Twitter @pushingsocial.

12. Developing Compelling & Engaging Content by Nicholas Cardot at Site Sketch 101

Site Sketch 101 is a blog that combines advice about content, design, and influence into something…well…spectacular. At BlogWorld’s keynote, Scott Stratten talked about how he’ll pull over the car to read a new post by Jay Baer. This is my car-pulling-over blog. Nicholas’ posts are never half-assed. Never. I can think of no better way to end this list. (Have I gushed enough?) “Developing Compelling & Engaging Content” is just one of the many awesome posts about writing content for your blog. Nicholas writes:

In the world of blogging and web development, one adage has risen above all others, “Content is King.” We understand that websites are a combination of design elements, usability, navigation, load speed, interactivity and content. More importantly, we understand that content is the king that rises above all others.

With compelling content, a weak performance in these other areas of your website will be overlooked. With weak content, even the most beautiful and easy to use websites will ultimately fail to achieve any notable level of success.

Check out Site Sketch 101 – you won’t be disappointed. You can also follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholas_cardot.

Now that you’ve checking out my 12 Writers Writing, please join the list by leaving a comment below with a link to any post you’ve written about blog post writing. Come on – when do people actually ask you to spam them with you comments? :-p You can also leave links to other great bloggers who have written about this topic. Don’t forget to add a little teaser information to entice readers to click, and if you leave a link in the comments, do us all a favor and retweet/share this post so that we can spread around the holiday love!

Check out the rest of the 12 Days of Blogging:

12 Writers Writing
11 Tweeters Tweeting
10 Guests a-Posting
9 SEOers Optimizing
8 Affiliates Selling
7 Facebook Users Updating
6 Launchers Launching
5 Golden Rules
4 Podcasting Hosts
3 Ebook Tips
2 Ethics Debates
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree (ebook coming soon!)

Overheard on #Blogchat: Writing Well (@mkrigsman)


Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night (or Monday morning), I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This week’s theme: Monetizaton with Darren Rowse (@problogger)

I’m a writer, so blogging was something that I fell into naturally. Originally, this was a field that was only filled with people who enjoyed writing, simply because blogs weren’t monetized so the only reason to do it was for the love of writing. As more and more people begin to see blogging as a way to make money or build a brand, however, writers aren’t the only ones starting blogs. Monetization means that blogs are being run by people who don’t have a background in writing and, in many cases, don’t even like writing. Someone at #blogchat brought up an interesting point in regards to this:

@mkrigsman: If you don’t write well, then you cannot blog expertly. Great content requires skill created by devotion. No shortcuts.

First, let me talk about what I think people will take away from this tweet – then why I wholeheartedly believe it’s wrong.

When most people read this tweet, what they’ll read is, “if you aren’t a writer, your blog is going to suck.” I actually know quite a few people who have told me that they have a great blog idea, but they don’t like to write or don’t think they can write well, so they never do anything with their ideas. That makes me sad.

Frankly, you don’ t have to be good writer to be a good blogger in most cases. If you are blogging for entertainment purposes (such as posting short stories or creative non-fiction), being a good writer is necessary. But really, if you don’t like to write, why the heck would you start a blog using your writing to entertain others? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. No, most bloggers blog to share information about their niche. To do that, you don’t have to be a good writer.

To be a blogger, you have to learn to share you ideas clearly in a way that connects with your readers. Those are skills you can learn, not inherent talents. Becoming a good blogger is all about perfecting your craft, just like you do with any other job tasks. Someone working at Subway doesn’t have to enjoy making sandwiches to create a really taste lunch for me! You can’t teach talent, but you don’t need to be a talented writer to be an amazing blogger. I think that’s what @mkrigsman was trying to say, and what people should take away from this tweet.

If you aren’t a good writer or hate writing, you do have other choices. For example, you could record a weekly (or even daily) podcast to post on your blog or become a video blogger. You could also create a photo-centric blog if it fits your niche. Not everyone needs 500-word posts every single day. You have other options! You can even hire a virtual worker who is a good writer and do interviews with them so they can create your blog posts (or have them rewrite your work so it is easier to read).

Writing does get easier as you work on improving your skills. While a blog post may take you three hours now, in the future, you’ll start to learn how to write faster in a way that better connects to your audience. Even if you aren’t a writer, don’t give up! Your blog can be awesome.

I’m curious, readers/bloggers – were you a writer in any way before you started blogging? If not, what are your biggest writing-related challenges?

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