Guest blogger Nancy Goodyear Virtual Assistant shares tips for writing articles that will make your audience sit up and take notice of what you have to say.
As a Virtual Assistant, I help independent business owners build their social media presence. The biggest part of what I do is proofreading blog articles. I always approach proofreading as a reader, so I don’t just look for typos, but for readability. I read the article aloud to myself to see how the words flow, how they sound and, most importantly, so I can hear if the article makes sense.
In my work with clients, I have noticed that many new bloggers tend to make the same mistakes. For that reason, I’d like to share my top 7 tips for writing blog articles that are informative and easy to read.
TIP 1: Know WHO you are writing for
Although this may seem self-evident, you must always remember that you are writing for someone else—your reader! But this is often all too easy to forget when you are absorbed in getting your idea down on paper.
Before you start writing, ask yourself Who is my reader? They’re probably your customers or potential customers. They’re probably people who share similar beliefs and values to you. Or, they might be people who are simply curious and want to know more about you and what you stand for.
If you know who your reader is, it will be easier to imagine them as you write. If you find it difficult to think of them as a group, you might find it easier to imagine a single reader and write just for that person.
TIP 2: Know WHAT you are writing about
Be really clear what you want to tell your reader. What do you want them to learn from this article? If you don’t pin this down before you start writing, your article will be vague, and is likely to go off on tangents and be hard for your reader to follow.
Take the time to plan your article so you know it will do its job when it’s done. Once you know the message of the article – STICK TO THE POINT! If you find yourself straying off the point but you don’t feel you want to delete the tangent and move on, save the subject of your tangent for a future article.
Also, consider the impact you want your article to have on your reader. Do you want to make them think about something in a different way? Do you want to make them angry about some injustice in the world? Or do you want to warm their hearts and make them smile. Again, if you know the answer to these questions before you start, it will flavour your article as you write it and you will be able to assess whether you have achieved that when the article is finished.
TIP 3: Remember that your reader is NOT a mind reader
You might know your subject matter inside-out and back-to-front, but remember that your readers probably do NOT share your same insight. They don’t necessarily know you personally so they don’t know what you think or feel. They don’t share your experiences or knowledge or even your opinions about your subject. And yet, it’s really easy to make intellectual leaps without realising it, leaving your poor reader wondering whether they’ve missed something. In the worst cases, you’ll leave the reader not being able to understand the most crucial point of your article, because you assumed they ‘got’ what you meant without really explaining it.
This is when having someone else proofread your articles come in handy. An objective reader is in a much better position to see what needs further explanation and what doesn’t.
If you have an international audience, also consider the examples you give. I recently proofread an article that referred to American TV networks and TV programmes. As a Brit, I didn’t have a clue what they meant. The author of the post was American and hadn’t realised the names wouldn’t mean anything at all to a UK audience.
The same applies to acronyms and jargon that is specific to your field. Don’t assume your average reader will know what they mean. At the very least write acronyms out in full the first time you use them. And simply try to avoid using jargon. Jargon could be specific technical words or words that are in everyday use that are used in a different way in your field.
NB: if something needs explanation and the explanation doesn’t seem relevant to the article, then consider the possibility that the point is actually an unnecessary tangent and remove it.
TIP 4: Don’t make your reader WORK too hard
It is important to use sentences that flow nicely, which are neither too long nor too short.
Sentences that are too short are choppy and unsettling. There is no flow to the article and it can be hard to see how one sentence links to the next.
On the other hand, very long sentences can be incredibly confusing for your reader. If you use too many sub clauses (phrases between commas that explain what came before), or too many brackets, or too many lists (like I’m doing here) it can be really hard for your reader to follow the thread of the sentence. Sometimes when I’m proofreading, in order to understand the basic message of the sentence, I have to read it leaving out all the extra bits so I can see what the sentence is actually saying.
You might feel that all of these extra bits and pieces are necessary to make sure your reader has all the information they need in order to understand the article, but this information will be lost if it is presented in such a way that the poor reader has to concentrate hard just to piece it all together.
Making your readers work too hard will backfire on you, as they will probably give up before reaching the end of your article, and will be unlikely to return to your site another day.
TIP 5: Have the COURAGE of your convictions
As the author of a blog article, you are the teacher teaching the message of your article. As the teacher it’s up to you what you put in and what you leave out. You need to decide what is essential to this article for this audience at this time and what can be left out or saved for a follow up article.
Too often, people try to get everything into their articles and end up with long lists of examples, lots of explanatory sub-clauses, lots of tangents and too many either/or’s. You can over-explain for fear of leaving something out or offending someone or being challenged on what you’re saying. If you fall into this trap, you run the risk of seeming uncertain of your message and you will certainly dilute the power of your message by making it too hard for your reader to follow it.
The antidote to this is to practice the Grace of DIRECTNESS (from Lynn Serafinn’s book The 7 Graces of Marketing). A good exercise, if you have this tendency, is to decide what you want to say and say it by the most direct route, that is in the fewest possible words. It will probably look very bare and blunt but you can flesh it out later with adjectives and explanation where it’s needed in order to make it flow.
TIP 6: Be Mindful of the Impact of Your PRONOUNS
This is a subtle one. Perhaps you want to write an article that challenges the way your reader thinks or what they believe. There’s nothing wrong with this. But sometimes your choice of pronoun can create the impression you are accusing or attacking your readers, or making them ‘wrong ‘. For example, if you use the pronoun ‘you’ you are removing yourself from the sentence. In doing so, you can sound accusatory, i.e., ‘You are wrong, I am right ‘.
On the other hand, if you use the pronoun ‘we’ you are including yourself in the sentence. Sometimes, this can sound a bit too cosy or can even be inappropriate if you are not actually part of the group you are talking about. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like ‘We’re in this together’ if you are talking about ‘we, the human race’. But if you are, for example, a man talking specifically about women’s experiences, saying ‘we’ is inappropriate and perhaps even a bit patronising.
If you use the pronoun ‘I’ you are excluding your audience and it can sound too personal and confessional if you’re not careful. It’s useful if you are sharing a personal anecdote to illustrate a point but can be too much like a rant if you write a whole article about something like the destruction of the planet entirely from your own perspective.
TIP 7: Inspire with your PASSION
In TIP 2, I carefully avoided suggesting that you might want to inspire your reader with your article. The reason for this is that I believe if you set out to inspire you are likely to fall flat on your face. You will be tempted to use words like ‘amazing ‘, ‘life-changing ‘, ‘awesome ‘ and even ‘inspirational ‘. You will be tempted to use loads of bold, shouty fonts, and loads of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!
The truth is, if you set out to inspire, it can sound really bossy and fake. Neither of which are particularly inspirational. When you write like this, your reader will think, Yeah, so what?! Stop telling me what to feel, stop telling me how I’m supposed to respond to this article, I’ll make my own mind up, thank you!
You can’t tell someone to be inspired any more than you can tell them to love you. But inspiration itself IS contagious. If you really want to inspire your reader, write about something that inspires you. Let your passion and inspiration shine through your words. Show your readers how YOU are inspired by whatever it is you are writing about. In this way, they are more likely to be ‘infected’ by your inspiration.
The best advice I can give you is this: once you’ve finished writing your article, read it aloud to yourself (or even better get someone else to read it for you). This will tell you:
- How the words will sound to your reader
- Whether it is easy to understand
- Whether there are any bits that need more (or less) explanation
- Whether you’ve gone off on a tangent
- Whether you’ve been too wishy-washy and timid in your message
- Whether it sounds too aggressive or argumentative
- Whether you have succeeded in saying what you set out to say
- Whether you have managed to create the impact you intended
I help independent business owners and authors with their blog articles every day of the week. My aim is to get their message out to the right audience through regular blogging and social media, so their businesses and sales can flourish. For this to happen, their blog content must be relevant, understandable and well-received. These 7 tips are essential ingredients to achieve this.
If you would like to explore the many benefits of strategic blogging, I invite you to contact Lynn and me at Spirit Authors to discuss our Platform Builder packages. These are 13-week programmes where we work with you to create an effective blogging strategy for YOUR audience, and support you by doing a lot of the ‘legwork’ to get your articles edited, proofed, published and distributed to your network. To speak to us about our Platform Builder packages, drop us a line via the contact form on this site and we can set up a free 30-minute consultation.
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Nancy V Goodyear
5th June 2013
Nancy V Goodyear is Virtual Assistant & Life Coach who loves to help social entrepreneurs and small business owners get organised. With a BA (Hons) in Learning Disability Nursing, she has extensive professional experience working in health & social care within the non-profit sector. She is fluent in French having lived in France for some time. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and the Co-Active Leadership programme. She is especially enthusiastic about creating and nurturing innovative business relationships and partnerships, both within and between companies and sectors. Her over-riding aim in all her work is to help you create space so you can focus on reconnecting to who you are and how this awareness relates to your business, what you and your business need, and your dreams, passions and desires.
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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Through her company Spirit Authors, her marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling self-help and mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.