I once had an English teacher who said, “You learn to write by reading.” At the time, my literary pursuits likely included the Harry Potter series and annual devouring of my childhood favorite, Where the Red Fern Grows, for the 7th, 8th or 15th time. While I can’t deny that such fictional browsing no doubt aided me as a budding writer (i.e. motivated me to churn out piles of florid essays and angsty journal entries throughout my teenage years), the further I delve into my career the more I feel inclined to add more technical pieces to my reading list.
Which is why I developed a big, fat blog crush on the copyblogger website when I stumbled across it the other day. A blog? A well written blog? A well written blog all about writing? *Cue victorious fist pumps into the sky!*
I handed over my e-mail address for a subscription quicker than you can say “intense Internet infatuation” and bookmarked several of the blog entries to pore over and utilize in future writing endeavors. Today I want to focus on a few key items I picked up from one article in particular: 58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love. There is wisdom to be gleaned from multiple items in the article, but here are 4 examples of tactics that particularly resonated with me.
1. Write the headline first, and don’t try to be clever.
I’m a big fan of writing the title first. In fact, every Monday the Skyhook marketing team has a little brainstorming pow-wow and helps me generate all the titles for the coming week. From there, I start writing and tweak the title as needed if the idea develops in a different direction. Admittedly, I’ve broken the “don’t try to be clever rule” in the past. Sometimes when you have a hilarious idea for a title, you have to take the bull by the horns and run with it. However, that happens for about 1 in every 100 articles I write. I recently wrote a blog for a client titled The Avengers in the Hunger Games Arena: Who Would Survive? Trust me, I could have come up with about 50 more witty and dazzling titles for such an article. Oh the puns I could have concocted! But when I’ve got about 80 characters to hook someone into reading an article, I don’t have room for all that extra jazz. When you write a title, get to the point. Tell readers exactly what they’re going to get. Then slay them with your wit in the opening paragraph. (See? Hunger Games? Slay? Too soon…? OK fine.)
2. Delight with your opening paragraph.
I was attracted to this list item in large part because the word “delight” makes me think of Turkish delight and, well, not to harp on all that fantasy reading from my younger years, but…Narnia, anyone? But back to the point. After you nab a reader with the title, the first paragraph is crucial. If I follow an intriguing tweet to an article but become tragically bored after the first two or three sentences, I likely won’t make it past the opening statements. My favorite opening hooks? Start with a widely-appealing question or an intriguing quote. For example, I used a quote in the opening paragraph of this blog. And, apparently you’re still reading. *Cue more fist pumps.*
3. Create fascinating bullet points.
I’m a big believer in the science of bullet points, italics and bold font. The fact of the matter is, we’re all a bunch of skimmers. Rarely does anyone actually read every word you right. Banana. See? Half of you won’t know I snuck that in there. Banana. Oh, but I guarantee even the skimmiest of you skimmers read that one. As a writer, I feel the pain of this epidemic. After all that time spent pondering my punctuation and stressing over my sentence structures, I know that half of my efforts will be lost on people who don’t care for the fine details. But as a reader, I’m as guilty as the next skimmer. When you have several points to get across, make them obvious with bullet points and bolded font. Lead the reader to the most important phrases and maybe, just maybe, they will feel inclined to read all the words sandwiched in between. Worst case scenario, they only read the bolded words — in which case, half of you will think this blog is about a banana.
4. Write what you know.
On my personal blog, I can talk about whatever I want — my friends, my dating life, my music, my undying love for Steve Nash. Those blogs are easy to write. Let’s be honest, I have a lot to say about myself — because I happen to be an expert on the subject. But when I’m writing for Skyhook clients? Well, I might know a little bit less about RV renovation, bankruptcy attorneys and gecko-themed art than I do about the latest album I purchased or the camping trip I took last weekend. So what’s my plan of attack? First, learn more about my clients and their industries. Before writing an article in behalf of a client, I do my research. Second, I tie in my own knowledge when I can. For example, I’ve done some blogging for an orthodontic client — and it so happens that I recently finished my own bout with adult braces. When my personal life and interests overlap with a client’s industry, I jump on the opportunity to write what I already know.
What about you? Do any of the writing tips stand out to you?