Writing for People — Part 1
A handy guide to writing in the digital age
Good morning! It’s not morning here, but I’m sure it’s morning somewhere. Useful. Let’s begin.
Today, I’m going to share some of my experience working as an editor. My current role is fairly versatile, but I spend a lot of time editing my colleagues’ work.
Pro: My colleagues write informative pieces.
Con: Their writing is torture to read.
Fun fact: I’m a hypocrite and don’t edit my personal work.
Forgiven. My colleagues aren’t marketers. They hold the knowledge and my job is to translate their knowledge into “consumable.”
If you’re a marketer, I’m sure you know how to game SEO for clicks and conversions. That’s great and you should be proud. Unfortunately, SEO gaming isn’t writing for people —it’s writing for algorithms.
Writing for people is the act of sounding human and conversational. Clicks only matter for advertising metrics. Knowledge is shared through real reading. When writing blogs or news, it’s hard work to get someone to read past the first paragraph. We tend to set up READING ROADBLOCKS. I’ve created several in this piece before sharing any value.
Time to get on with it!
Writing for Professors
What’s apparent in my day-to-day is that professionals write for professors. Excluding people with a background or degree in ‘writing’, Americans learn to write for a grade. It’s a problem with the education system, I guess.
Grades are based on arbitrary nonsense like:
- Minimum of 10 pages
- Times Roman Font / Size 12
- Double Space (Or don’t)
- No first person
- No contractions
Add in English’s ridiculous grammar and spelling rules, it’s no wonder that we have a hard time writing for people. The average American is no doubt an expert at bullshitting. We spend years learning how to pad sentences to complete grading requirements. We don’t learn how to stop. While it’s important to understand the functional use of a research paper, when we’re writing for an online audience the style is brutal.
Let’s look at two sentences:
At first, the empirical evidence found within this extraordinary publication forces us to come to many conclusions, least of which is that we may or may not actual exist within the plane of reality.
This publication is full of shit.
Which sentence is easier to read? This is a hyperbolic example, but it’s an important lesson to learn when writing for a web-based audience. Removing the hyperbole, the first sentence could simply say: “This publication covers many topics, but rarely focuses on philosophy”. Learn to say more with less.
I think we’re all guilty of lengthening sentences. That’s cool. Long sentences aren’t always a bad thing. Style and voice are reflected in sentence composition. Removing the ‘meat’ from every sentence can make things monotonous. Monotone = Boring = Roadblock. Adjectives and adverbs are great tools to spice things up, but abundant spice can kill the flavor of your voice.
Cutting the Crap
I’ve removed a lot of crap from this article. You can see examples in the footnotes. Let’s talk about what I consider to be crap.
Crap Padding & Solutions:
“In order to”
I’m sure Microsoft “redlines” this for you, but do you know why? The simple explanation is that “in order to” is just a long way of writing “to”.
“We found ourselves repeating the mantra in order to open the magic door”
“In order to open the magic door, we found ourselves repeating the mantra.”
“We repeated the mantra to open the magic door.”
I don’t always cut ‘as well’ but it’s usually just extra words.
“Bob, as well as Jim, went to the store.”
“Bob and Jim went to the store.”
“Bob had too much dinner as well”
“Bob ate too much.”
I actually just hate ‘the’. Cut when you can.
More of the same.
“Most of the problems come from adding more words where they are mostly not needed.”
“Problems come from adding words where they are not needed.”
Last bits & Follow Up
I think I expected this to be a short piece, but it’s getting kind of long. I’ll write a follow-up…maybe.
There are no rules. Your math teacher said: “You can’t use a calculator because you won’t carry one around all the time.” Gee was she wrong. You can break all of the rules of English, as long as your audience can read it!
When publishing for online audiences, it’s okay to write how you speak. Big words and long sentences may make us feel smart, but they suck to read.
Thanks for reading my public journal entry.
I normally write long-winded, alt-reality pieces at robekworld.com
“In my professional life, I spend a lot of time editing. The majority of my editing time goes into cleaning up well-intentioned blogs/ebooks/etc, written by colleagues outside of my department (I spend no time editing my own pieces, sorry). When I say ‘well-intentioned’, I mean: good information but difficult to read.”
“If you’re a marketer or blogger, I’m sure you all know about ways to game SEO”
“We have the tendency to set up READING ROADBLOCKS. I’ve already created several in this piece before sharing any value.”