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On Writing for the Web, Etc

by Jean Baker
February 28, 2005

As an English teacher/web content writer, I’ve learned that many people truly believe that they cannot possibly write even a simple letter much less a web article. In my opinion, writing is a hidden talent that can be developed in almost everyone with a little practice. Not everyone is born with the innate ability to write easily and well, but there are simple steps to follow that help even the least confident or accomplished writer.

The cardinal rule of writing is to Write What You Know. That certainly makes it easier, but often, we are challenged to research a topic in order to put a web piece or paper together. More importantly, know your audience and the reason you want to relay certain information to your prospective reader. One helpful hint is that a good writer will tape the theme of the story on a piece of paper directly over the computer screen in order to stay on focus. Of course, this assumes you would have identified your theme or main idea that is then boiled down to a few concise words. Especially for web writing, consider that you need to stick to your topic and write clean, direct sentences.

As obvious as it may seem, a basic rule is Sentence Construction. Just as you were probably required to do so in school, make certain each sentence contains a subject and a verb. There should be an identifiable cause of a resulting action or state of being. It is surprising how many otherwise well-educated people out part of sentence construction. That was an example.

For heaven’s sake, Show Rather Than Tell. Try to make your sentences interesting. Re-write and polish your words to make each sentence carry weight by using active rather than passive verbs. For example, carry weight shows rather than tells. Using passive verbs such as has or is do not create a picture in the mind. Imagine that you would be the teacher or editor reviewing all those boring papers full of passive verbs. Instead, make your work stand up and outshine other articles.

Use the Tools. Don’t be afraid of using necessary tools such as a dictionary, a thesaurus, an encyclopedia or a book of quotes. Please, oh please, use spell check. Even if your information is accurate, the reader won’t believe it if the text is full of errors.

Practice by improving your writing through emails, journals or letters. If you’ve ever read an authentic letter written during the Civil War, you can better appreciate the lasting value of a truly old-fashioned letter that has been preserved for posterity. Journaling can be a beneficial habit that helps get you organized and focused on target.

Build Your Vocabulary in order to improve your language skills. No one really wants to read ordinary words when you can set them on fire with exciting, precise word choices. Mark Twain wasn’t joking when he said, “The difference between using the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.”

Remember to use the power of the pen to get people hooked on your first sentence. Motivate them to read further into your article. If your writing isn’t informative or exciting, they will quickly move on to another article that catches their interest.

Beyond the basics, go with a strong beginning and be sure you are writing for the media you’ve chosen. Make sure you’ve got a newsworthy topic concerning information the reader will care about hearing. Consider your angle for your audience and use facts to keep them interested. Beware that your ending may be cut and tossed in the recycle bin, so put the most important information first in news articles. Just as if you are a staff writer for your local newspaper or magazine, imagine that you are on the trail of a hot interview or covering a big event in town. Don’t disappoint your reader by doing bare minimum coverage.

Finally, remember to respect your reader. Using unnecessary facts or talking over their heads with jargon that will confuse the average reader leaves them stranded with boredom. Now students, if you will please clear your desks...

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