Web content must be trusted, clear and appeal to its target audience to achieve its aim of being read and, even better, shared. Your copy must sell itself and shine among the wads of poorly written and badly structured content published every second if it is to make an impact. And, let’s face it, building a reputation as an influencer and imparting knowledge is the reason why most articles are written in the first place.
When dealing with a complex topic, an overview of the salient points covered is essential. This article offers tips for writing clear, concise content that conveys a relevant message to a target audience. It is broken down into sections for easy navigation. The 10 action points may be applied to articles or lengthier blog posts written for the web or adapted to suit other on or offline writing projects.
Clarifying the complex
A complex concept is one that involves many elements that interact and those relationships within it change. Concise and unambiguous writing can help clarify a complex topic and make an article easier to read and understand. Clear language will also lead the reader through the key messages the author wishes to convey.
Baffling your audience with science or waffle will result in them losing interest or becoming confused about what they are reading. A confusing message can have serious consequences and may lead to loss of revenue, legal queries, reputation damage, loss of customers or staff, legal, financial and security risks. Get it right, however, and trust will build in your brand and business will boom.
Before you start writing
Identify your target audience
Who is your article aimed at and what is their assumed level of knowledge about your topic? Tempting as it may be, you should not try to write copy that appeals to everyone. It will end up alienating most readers as it won’t appeal to anyone. A knowledgeable B2B audience, for example, has different requirements from an amateur with a passing interest in the subject.
Choose your key messages
Select the messages you wish to convey and make them resonate with your target audience. You cannot cover everything in a single article and you should not try to. When writing about a complex topic pick out the headline messages and focus on one or two. Split a topic down into simpler themes and write an article about each rather than cramming everything into one piece.
Tone of voice
Your writing style should be informed by your intended audience and reflect your brand guidelines. Write your content in a tone of voice that will appeal to your target readership. Define whether your copy is aimed at a professional B2B body, a chatty mums’ forum, or a techie kids’ site, for example. Each will command its own style and depth of content.
Writing the article
1. The sell
Give web users a reason to read your article and not flit past in search of something more interesting. What’s in it for them? What will they gain from reading it? Make your copy sparkle and “sell” your article in the opening paragraphs. The aim of producing good digital copy is to compete for – and win – browsers’ attention. Being notoriously fickle, you need to make users want to read your article over the myriad others they will inevitably browse past.
A high-level overview will help clarify a complex topic or article. Break the article down under headings, summaries and take-home points. Include a summary of your article’s key objectives at the beginning before going into detail. Include a table of contents in your web articles to encourage readers to find a topic or phrase that entices them to read further.
3. Logical structure
Group topics or ideas and break them down in the text using logical headings and subheadings. Place anchors throughout your pages to help users navigate through the article. A reader may then land on a section that catches his or her interest even if the article isn’t devoured from top to bottom.
4. Make it credible
For an online brand (or a brand online) to be trusted it must establish itself as a credible source of information. Pare down your messages and focus on the most important ones. As an expert author you have the power to decide what readers need to know and, crucially, what is extraneous. An article will be shared and recommended only by readers who believe its content. Gain readers’ trust and you or your company’s status as a credible information source will follow. Check your facts and ask a colleague who is knowledgeable in that subject to do the same.
5. Check and double-check
Read your copy and correct errors before publishing. The internet has given everyone the chance to become published authors in the click of a button. This generally means no quality control process is deployed and copy is uploaded complete with factual, grammatical and spelling errors for all to see. This leads to distrust of a brand, which quickly translates into a loss of credibility, clients and business. Always pass content through a quality control process before publishing it.
6. Cite references
When writing about a complex topic it is good practice to back up your statements by citing references to other published work that concur with what you are stating as fact. A referenced article is more likely to be regarded as having kudos and not seen as just the ramblings of a madman. A comment or editorial piece may not require referencing to the same degree as it will be based on your opinion rather than fact.
7. Eliminate ambiguity
Avoid ambiguous terms or commonly misinterpreted words. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the 500 most-used words in the English language each has an average of 23 different meanings. Choose your words and phrasing carefully to avoid your messages being misconstrued. Classic examples are:
“Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead” and “Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case”.
8. Be entertaining
Keeping readers on your page or site is your aim so inject some personality into your writing if you can’t stretch to humour. But not to the point where you annoy your audience and put them off with cringeworthy gags.
9. Cut the crap
Do not include everything you know about a topic because you think it will impress your audience. It won’t. Bombarding readers and trying to be clever will put them off. Web users want to learn something from your article not be bamboozled. Keep focused on the key points you selected initially. Save the other stuff for appendices or write a separate article if the subject justifies it.
Add a summary of key points at the end of your article so readers are clear about the take-home messages. Make your points simple and memorable. Bullet points will work or a simple table. Once you have written your concise, informative, perfectly pitched, entertaining masterpiece it’s time to do your PR. Make your article easily shareable, tell people where to find it and why they should bother reading it. Then sit back and bask in the glory as it gets viewed around the globe. O: