Friday, September 24, 2010

21 Tips for Great Writing - Part 1 of 3

There's no question that being able to write well in today's climate is at more of a premium then ever. Nearly every marketing, community, media, nonprofit, and communications position or opportunity you'll see, places the ability to write well at the top of the list. Some businesses won't even consider a candidate who doesn't have a solid writing portfolio, or at least a blog, to illustrate their style and point of view. And while there are certainly a lot of fancy tips and tricks out there for writing online (sticky blog posts, savvy social media updates, SEO copy), there are still key elements a really good writer incorporates into their writing, whether it's an article, blog post, or web page. It's great to fine-tune your metatags and keywords, but if you're mixing metaphors and your writing is full of redundancies or awkward transitions, no one will read it anyway. So, here is Part 1 of a three-part list (21 tips in all) I'll be publishing over the next few days, on what I feel characterizes really good writing, and these are tenets I always try to adhere to when I'm working on a new project.

Before I get started, here's a secret. In honor of this topic, I'll be offering a special bonus giveaway at the end of Part 3, so stay tuned...

1. Be Relevant
If you're in a position to be choosing your own topic, make sure it's timely and will be of interest to your readers. There's no reason to spend weeks and weeks on a white paper or report that no one in your industry cares about. If you're not sure what topics your readers do care about...find out! You can use your blog or newsletter if you have these tools in place, to survey your readers about what topics they'd like to read about. You can also study both print and online publications related to your industry, and see what topics they are highlighting. This is particularly important for an e-book or information product you're planning to sell -- of course, you want the topic to be juicy enough that people would spend money on it.

2. Be Mindful of Your Audience - Who is Your Reader?  
You want to write in a style that is appropriate for your readers. Are the tone, vocabulary, and voice right for your audience? A trick I've learned which always helps me, is to actually imagine one of my readers right in front of me. Janet is one of my favorite clients, and I always use her as a benchmark when composing my writing.

3. Your Point...and You Do Have One
It's great to occasionally tell a story or anecdote that supports your main idea, but make sure you get to the point of your piece early on, within the first paragraph or two, or you will lose your readers.

4. Good Punctuation Is Your Friend  
I've read on the blogosphere from time to time that some bloggers feel their typos should be forgiven. Blogging, after all, is less formal that a lot of publishing, and you're in a hurry anyway, right? Wrong. My view is that with spellcheck around, and with most good bloggers proofreading their copy before they press "Publish" anyway, there is really no excuse for repeated typos in blog posts and certainly not anywhere else. Let's face it, it just makes you look sloppy and unprepared. Take the time to proofread your writing.

5. Use Active vs. Passive Voice
A common writing mistake is to use the passive voice. An example of this is saying: "The present was wrapped by Mary," instead of: "Mary wrapped the present." The passive voice tends to be boring, and also can easily confuse readers.

6. Start and End with a Bang
One of my favorite columnists, Maureen Dowd for The New York Times, has a great technique of getting her readers interested, by using provocative opening and closing sentences. You might start with an interesting fact or statistic about your topic that most people don't know, and end with an open-ended question for readers, that will further engage them and inspire them to comment or share through social media.

7. Go with the Flow
There are a myriad of reasons why your copy may not flow well. Try reading your writing out loud once you've finished your first draft, and see if your voice sticks anywhere. That's usually a sign that your sentences may be too long, or you're trying to get too much information into one paragraph or sentence. Try and maintain one idea per paragraph, and check to see that each sentence extends or expands on the sentence before it, so that you have smoother transitions. (See my tip later on regarding "Clarity.")

Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3 coming shortly, and be sure to check for my surprise giveaway at the end of Part 3! In the meantime, have fun on your writing adventures, and I hope you enjoy these handy tips. Feel free to comment or add as we go along, as no doubt you have discovered tips of your own for really good writing.


The Publisher said...

This is a very helpful blog for me. I'm a new kid in the blogosphere so this one is really handy for me. I promise to watch out for the continuation of this series. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hello Picket Pages, so glad you find the series helpful, stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 coming this week! Please feel free to forward the posts to friends or colleagues you feel would enjoy them, have a great week.