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Content Writing Best Practices

The most important steps to follow

     
7:46 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I am trying to develop a list of the "best practices" for web content writing. I did some research and found several articles that drilled down on one or two points, but nothing too broad. So, I thought I would consult with the experts. :)

What do you think are the "must do's" of content writing?

Here are a few of my ideas:
1. Chunk your content - no long paragraphs
2. Write in an active voice - provides, creates, develops
3. Write for the reader - not the search engines
4. Deliver a clear and concise message - take out the unnecessary words
5. Write call to action statements - prompt the user to take action
6. Create 250-500 word pages - not too long, not too short
7. Edit, rewrite, and edit again

7:48 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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8. Use simple words. Call a spade a spade, not a manually operated horticultural excavating implement.
7:50 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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If there's one thing I've learned in this Forum, it's ....

Focus on benefits, not features.

:)

9:41 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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The list should keep growing. I will add
proof read.
10:24 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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thought of another one...

- use bulleted lists to
- grab the readers attention
- draw attention to important points

10:59 pm on Jan 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Avoid repetition, as repetition makes it look like repetition is simply used for SE fodder.

Use your important Search Engine Optimisation Keywords once at the beginning of a paragraph, and then later in sub-headings. Not multiple times within a few neighbouring sentences.

SN

6:46 am on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Break down the content into logical sub heads....
Use strong focussed headings and sub heads.......
Always try to put yourself in the shoes of your readers and try to see they would want to read to make a decision/to get convinced about something.
7:10 am on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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The first words in a paragraph should get people to stop skimming and start reading.

The last words in a paragraph should build momentum and curiosity so the visitor KEEPS reading.

Keep subject, verbs and objects near to each other -- don't make people "carry information in their head" for too long.

Write with a partner/editor - or else your copy will use habitual words and rhythms that become boring.

7:32 am on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This this should be a no-brainer, but tell the reader what you're writing about at the beginning and don't deviate to other topics. The visitor shouldn't have to look back up at the title bar to remember what the article is about.
1:39 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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use bold for the eye candy effect
2:33 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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While we are on content presentation:
- Use only one or two fonts to avoid a ransom note effect
- Use size, bolding, and italics to draw attention to important points in the content.

For the content itself:
- When you are done writing, go back and see if you can shrink each paragraph by a line. You'll almost always find unnecessary words or cleaner phrasing. I got in this habit from my print days when my content ran a few lines too long - to my initial surprise, my "forced" edits almost always improved my writing without losing vital information. The flexibility of web presentation imposes no such discipline, so you have to do it yourself.

3:03 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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A summary:

1.Chunk your content - no long paragraphs
2.Write in an active voice - provides, creates, develops
3.Write for the reader - not the search engines
4.Deliver a clear and concise message - take out the unnecessary words
5.Write call to action statements - prompt the user to take action
6.Create 250-500 word pages - not too long, not too short
7.Edit, rewrite, and edit again
8.Use simple words
9.When writing copy to sell a product or service focus on benefits, not features
10.Proof read and read it again. Print it and read it. Then ask a friend to proof read.
11.Use bulleted lists to draw attention to important points
12.Repetition? SEO penalties versus making a point?
13.Break down the content into logical, focused headings and sub heads
14.The first words in a paragraph should get people to stop skimming and start reading
15.The last words in a paragraph should build momentum and curiosity so the visitor KEEPS reading
16.Keep subject, verbs and objects near to each other -- don't make people "carry information in their head" for too long
17.Write with a partner/editor or else your copy will use habitual words and rhythms that become boring
18.Tell the reader what you're writing about at the beginning and don't deviate to other topics
19.Use only one or two fonts to avoid a ransom note effect
20.Use size, bolding, and italics to draw attention to important points in the content
21.When you are done writing, go back and see if you can shrink each paragraph by a line. You'll almost always find unnecessary words or cleaner phrasing.
22.Proof read for unintended typing of homonyms, Spell checkers skip right over them.
23.?

3:06 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Webwork - nice. Voice of experience?
5:23 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Mipa, I stand on the shoulders of giants (I only recycled their material ;-)
10:20 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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21.When you are done writing, go back and see if you can shrink each paragraph by a line. You'll almost always find unnecessary words or cleaner phrasing.

Or...

- Less is more.
- 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%

I can't lay claim to these of course. The draft equation was from Stephen King's "On Writing", and he said an editor had written that equation on a rejection letter.

10:34 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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23. Wait a day and read it out loud to hear how it sounds.

A lot of people are actually reading aloud to themselves in their heads as they read; so when they're reading what we've written, they're "hearing our voice" in a way. When we read it aloud to ourselves we can "hear" how it'll sound to a lot of them.

10:59 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Awesome point, Marcia. Reading aloud also helps you find any spots where you might've left out a word. Reading silently/ mentally, it's easy for your brain to fill in the gap, but your mouth always hits it.
11:12 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Great list! :)

My own 2c or so:

24. Adding hyperlinks in text (to other internal articles) while actually refering to them in the content, deters copy thieves slightly. (they usually can't be bothered removing links and rewritting the context in which they were used).

25. Not sure how effective it is, but I always use a "related articles" bulleted list after the article. Writing content for webpages is not limited to just the body text.

26. Diagrams / Images are useful to help reinforce certain types of content. Why use 500 words when 100 words and an image will do?

Scott

11:17 pm on Jan 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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24a. Make them absolute URLs, so if entire sets of pages are swiped they'll still point back to home base.
12:25 am on Jan 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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A distillation of the running summary:

1) Brevity that yields clarity is divine. If you can say it in fewer words do so.
2) Simple words work.
3) Writing in the active voice engages the reader.
4) A “call to action” is a mark of writing that sells.
5) Writing to sell focuses on benefits.
6) 250 – 500 word pages is a common standard.
7) Proof read. Read it again. Print it and read it aloud to someone else since that’s how it’s likely to sound in someone’s mind when they read it. Ask a friend to read it. Sleep and read it the next day. Then publish it.
8) Web surfers scan pages. Chunk your pages for easy scanning.
9) Draw attention to important points by using headers, bulleted lists, bold fonts, and italics
10) Repetition may cause search engine penalties.
11) Craft the first words of a paragraph to cause the scanning visitor to enter reading mode.
12) Paragraphs should be worded to build momentum.
13) Wording that creates curiosity – what’s to follow? – keep your visitors reading.
14) Keeping subject, verbs and objects near to one another. That way people won’t need to carry information in their heads for too long.
15) A writer’s habitual behavior can make their writing monotonous, boring. A writing partner/editor helps to point out habitual behaviors, redundant phrasing.
16) Stay on topic. Save the off-topic material for a new article.
17) Avoid using more than 2 fonts on any page.
18) Proof read for unintended typing of homonyms, Spell checkers skip right over them.
19) Adding internal hyperlinks in the context of the discussion makes it a little harder for a copy thieves to lift article.
20) Use absolute URLs for links to internal articles. When someone steals the article you might get additional traffic, page rank, etc. Plus, it may be easier to track down the thief and prove the theft.
21) Close any article with a bulleted list of other onsite related articles.
22) Remember the old adage: A picture or diagram is worth a thousand words.
23)?

12:31 am on Jan 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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For the sake of clarity I invite contributions that demonstrate the following, with a concise explanation of what was demonstrated:

1. Writing in an active voice versus passive, etc.

2. Examples of writing that evokes "a call to action".

3. Paragraphs that build momentum and generate curiousity.

4. Structuring content and internal linking in a manner that places a burden on copy thieves.

12:48 am on Jan 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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1. Writing in an active voice versus passive, etc.

Active: Our warm widgets heat your igloo through the coldest of nights.

Passive: Your igloo will be heated through the coldest of nights by our warm widgets.

Howzat? I'm sure someone can do better. English class was a looong time ago. :)

11:58 am on Jan 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Your warm widget will keep your family snug through the coldest of nights.

- emphasis the benefit to the customer (or their family) rather than to the igloo
- 'Your warm . . .' - subconsciously convince them they've already decided to buy one . . .

Roddy

1:39 pm on Feb 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

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The 27th point could be "Loosen up a little", and the principle is described in the following article:
h*tp://www.clickz.com/design/cont_dev/article.php/3069021

Basically, do not be deadly serious and impersonal. This is especially critical in the content-oriented websites - if you do not add something personal, the text may look boring or even spammy.

3:05 pm on Feb 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Great point, Soso. I have a partner in a site who's a great writer, and one key is that she really lets her personality and sense of humor show through. This definitely adds sparkle to whatever she writes, and makes her articles very appealing and readable.
3:18 pm on Feb 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

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On planning:
-Know what you're going to write before you write it.
-Start with outlines, people!