Every Writer Must be a Meticulous Self-Editor

Every writer knows that editing is an essential part of the writing process, whether it’s a novel or a one page article. While some writers have professional editors to do the job, most of us need to rely on our self-editing skills.

photo:freedigitalphotos.net , Stuart Miles

photo: Stuart Miles

As a freelance writer, bulk of my work involves writing content for the internet (e.g. business blogs, ebooks, informative articles).  For me, self-editing is not just about correcting grammar and spotting missing words. As I move from the draft to the final copy, self-editing helps me adhere to the following key aspects –

  • The headline is clear and powerful
  • Article sub-headings are clear
  • Each section flows seamlessly into the next.
  • Each paragraph is coherent.
  • Every information is relevant to the reader.
  • Each thought is expressed with the greatest clarity, in the fewest possible words.
  • That I have fully weighed the possible interpretation / implication of each sentence (this is particularly significant as most of my clients are selling a product, service or, the information itself).

Of course, the cardinal rule of a good edit is to start editing once you have finished writing.  As I write, I do check each paragraph for correctness of grammar and cohesiveness of information presented. But majority of the editing happens at a later stage.

My typical editing process looks something like this: 

imagerymajestic

Are you ready to give your work a good snip?   photo: Imagerymajestic

Write > Minor Corrections > Write > Finish the Article> Step Away from my Desk for a While> Come Back and Read the Completed Article > Begin Editing > Re-read the Article Aloud > Re-edit sections> Read the Article Aloud > Satisfied with Outcome 🙂 > Submit to the client.

Reading the article aloud during the editing stage is a great way to catch missing words, or spot unnecessary words.  When in doubt, I ask someone else to read the final edited version, before sending it to the client.

A typical 1000 word article ( or 2 pages) takes me about 30 minutes for a good edit.  Am I overdoing or under-doing it, I can’t say. But it’s what works for me.

In fact, you don’t have to be a writer to realize the importance of self-editing.  We have all had this recurring experience at work – you send out an office email without reading it carefully, only to realize later on the glaring mistakes in the email.  At the very least a poorly drafted email makes you feel like a fool and you say to yourself, “Hey maybe the other person will also not notice”. But if you are unlucky, a badly worded  email could put you in a spot of bother.

Clearly, all of us need to self-edit to achieve results. Unfortunately, when we do something day in and day out, complacency sets in. I realized I was guilty of slacking up in my editing effort over the last few assignments when I read a post by fellow blogger Amanda Fox- Rouch, titled ‘The editing process: Be unforgiving’. And as was to be the case, I spotted some errors in the last document sent to a client. 😦

Whatever your line of work, ensure that you have re-read what you have typed before you press the ‘send’ button on your computer / smartphone screen. If you are a writer, I would love to hear your editing tips and how long does it take you to self-edit your work.

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3 Rules for Writing Easy to Understand Online Content

It is a commonly accepted fact that the average internet reader scans an article/ blog for a few seconds before deciding to continue reading, or clicking the back-button. Therefore,  minimalist impactful writing is a must-have skill for an online content writer .

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.ne

When writing for the internet, less is more!

Unless otherwise asked by your client, the thumb rule of writing for the internet is to write content that is simple, concise, and has coherent paragraphing.

When writing a 400-500 word online article, you must pack in maximum information in the cleanest manner possible.

Here are three ground rules for ensuring that your content catches the reader’s attention.

Rule : I Get straight to the point: 

Credit: Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

photo : Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

  • Write a headline that clearly indicates information contained in the article.
  • Resist the temptation to write a quirky article headline.
  • Use the first few lines of the article to offer a quick glimpse into the focus of the article.
  • Do not waste time giving a lengthy introduction.
credit: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

photo: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

 

Rule : II Break it down into blocks of information

  • Use article sub-headings to divide your article into neat blocks of information. However, you must also ensure that the each section of the article seamlessly flows into the next.
  • Use bullet points, numbered lists where possible in sharing information with the reader.
  • Write small paragraphs of 2-3 sentences. No paragraph should be more than 4 lines on your MS Word document
  • Write short sentences. If any sentence goes beyond 2 typed lines, cut it down in the editing stage.
  • Write one thought per sentence. 

Rule : III Use everyday words

  • Write words used by your readers in everyday life. Avoid industry jargons and outdated words (e.g. herein, herewith, wherewithal).
  • Writing in active voice will help you express information in as few words, and as directly as possible.
  • Once you have written the article, spend considerable time editing the  ‘fluff’.

The art of writing and the mediums of expression have evolved considerably over the last few centuries.  However, the art of simplicity in writing has remained an essential hallmark of a successful writer. William Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Sir Winston Churchill remarked, “This report by its very length defends itself against the risk of being read”. 

Do you agree that simplicity in expression is the way to go? Or, do you feel that the internet is diluting the English vocabulary?

Share your comments in the box below.

Use the Right ‘Point of View’ for Writing Web Content

Do you remember learning about the first person, second person, and third person narrative points of view (POV) in school? In this age of terse email and mobile text communication, this differentiation in writing style is often lost. However, for a digital content writer, the use of the right POV is incredibly important for ensuring that the content is attention grabbing, plausible, and engaging. types-of-narrators-english-tutorvista-com Understanding the different narrative point of views

Here is a quick look at the various writing narratives and choosing the best POV as per the type of web content.

1. First person point of view: The first person POV is from the narrator’s or the writer’s point of view. The pronouns ‘I, my, we, our and me’ express the first-person point of view.

There are several advantages of writing web content in the first person point of view.

  • It humanizes your content, often helping you connect with your readers on an emotional level.
  • It allows for an openness that is unachievable while writing in second person or third person POVs.
  • First person POV instills authority. Individuals who are a voice of authority in their industries extensively use the first person of view to share their knowledge.
  • It  makes the content sound honest.

2. Second Person Point of View Second person point of view is when you are speaking directly to the reader. You address them as ‘you, your, and yours’. Use of second person narrative is common in web content, and in particular in writing attention grabbing article headlines. The second person point of view also comes in handy when you are writing instructional manuals or product reviews.

With second person it is easier to persuade the reader to take action, and appeal to their emotions . This is especially significant when you pitch a product, service or social cause. However, when writing in the second person narrative be careful that the content does not sound patronizing or like a ‘hard-sell’ pitch.

3. The Third Person Point of View The third person point of view is less popular in web content writing. It is when you do not directly refer to the reader, and instead use  ‘he, she and it’ in reference people and things. The third person point of view commands a formality that is not present in first and second points of view. However, you risk alienating your readers with the third-person narrative .

Example of the same sentence, different narrative

First person – As a first-time user, I found the manual helpful.

Second person – If you are a first-time user, you will find the manual helpful.

Third person: Most first-time users will find the manual helpful.

WritingStyleChoosing the Correct Narrative for Internet Based Business Writing

As an internet freelance writer myself, writing in the second person narrative has become the most natural way to write and appeal to the audience. However, a second person POV is not always the best fit.

Blogs: The aim of a business blog is to share information with the reader and start a conversation. The most effective way to do this is to ‘speak’ to them directly, which is through second person narrative.

Website and marketing communications: For any business campaign to be a success, the content has to connect with the target audience. This means appealing to their emotions and own experiences, and you can do that in second person POV.

Press releases (PR): A press release is an unbiased reporting of an event or business development. The third-person POV renders the objectivity needed for a PR. A second person narrative would not be apt for a PR.

Also read –  Ditch the Passive and Write in an ‘Active Voice’ for Engaging Online Content

Ditch the Passive and Write in an ‘Active Voice’ for Engaging Online Content

To be a successful writer it is important to have an understanding of the subject you are writing on, as well as the intended audience. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how you see it), as a digital content writer you are often not given a clear understanding of the target reader.

Unless specifically told to write in a particular manner or for a certain demographic, the important thumb rule to follow in writing digital content is this – KISS or keep it simple silly 🙂 .

This is not to say that you are writing for idiots, far from it. However, the writing must be clear, concise, with judicious use of headers, sub-headers to draw in the ‘cursory reader’ and convince them to spend time reading your material.

In the past I have shared my understanding of writing effective text for email campaigns , internet article headers , and general tips on writing for the web.

One internet-writing tip that runs common regardless of the content you are writing is to use active voice rather than passive voice.

Understanding Active Voice

Here is the simplest explanation of active versus passive voice.

In an active sentence, the ‘subject’ is performing the action, whereas in a passive sentence the ‘recipient of the action’ becomes the subject. Refer these  examples below (with the ‘subject action’ underlined)

passive activeExample 1:

John loves Rita. (Active)

Rita is loved by John. (Passive)

Example 2:

The cat ate the mouse. (Active).

The mouse was eaten by the cat. (Passive)

Example 3:

Her lack of discipline is the main reason for defaulting on the loan. (Active)

The reason she defaulted on the loan was because she was not disciplined. (Passive)

Why write in active voice

Passive sentences require more words to express the same thought, in a somewhat circumambulatory manner.  While that may serve the purpose when writing a novel, drafting a customer service communiqué or a political speech, when writing for the internet the language needs to be a more direct, easy to understand and quick to read.

Research also indicates that in general, people find it easier to read text that is in active rather than passive voice.

MS Word Grammar Check for Passive Sentences

At times, I have struggled with re-wording sentences for an ‘active tone’ than a passive tone. Thank God, for grammar check feature of MS Word; it highlights passive sentences as you write, making it so much easier to correct the copy.

To activate the option of ‘passive sentence check’, click on the Microsoft oval symbol on the top left-hand corner of the word document and select ‘word options’. Then select – proofing > writing style > settings> select all the relevant proofing options, including passive sentences.

For more information, read this extremely helpful article on QuickandDirtyTips.com  .

That is the internet-writing tip of the month folks.

As the winter chills sets in, stay active and write ‘active’!

What is SEO and 10 Tips for Optimizing Web Content

As a freelance writer on the internet, you’ll be damned if you don’t understand SEO or search engine optimization. And for those not in the ‘business’, the term may seem as alien as a UFO.

But fret not as this post will help unravel some of the mysteries of SEO.

What is SEO? 

Search engine optimization is the means to a very vital end in the internet business. It determines the ranking of a website by search engines.

The  ultimate aim is to optimize the website in a manner that it appears in the top 10 website listings (or the first page on Google) by a search engine whenever a visitor searches for information by entering key search words* or phrases.

Scope of SEO 

SEO involves website design, coding and content.

Search engine optimization is complicated business. SEO professionals have in-depth knowledge of how to design and code websites for making them SEO friendly.

Google Panda and Penguin are web scanning algorithms searching for genuine sites

Google Panda and Penguin

If you have ever heard of Google Panda and Penguin and wondered what oddly named creatures or programs these are, you are not alone. These represent complex rules or algorithms designed by Google to pick websites that have a history of presenting genuine and relevant content.

Role of the Content Writer in SEO 

Leaving the experts to figure out the Kung Fu ‘Panda’, as a freelance internet writer your understanding of SEO has to be in the context of making the text or website content SEO friendly.

10 Effective Tips on How to SEO a Website  (Source: Chapter 17, The Yahoo! Style Guide)

The missing puzzle - SEO

The missing puzzle – SEO

Search engine optimization of website content involves the following –

  1. Identifying SEO Keywords / Phrases* –  These are words / phrases that users looking for information on your product or service are likely to enter on a search engine.  The keywords for your website can be determined using online tools such as Google Adwords ( free).  Words that have medium or high competition indicate that there are already a number of competing websites that are using those keywords.  So search for words that have the maximum inquiries in your product category and country/ locality and have the lowest competition.  Also phrases are better than single keywords.  For example –     the header ‘ How to SEO a Website’ makes a lot more sense than ‘SEO’.
  2. Make a list of top 10 keywords on an excel sheet. List down the number of searches and competition level for each before finalizing  the top keywords you want to use.
  3. Once finalized use the exact keywords in your content
  4. Write content that is relevant and unique to your website. Stuffing a page with keywords while the content is disparate is equivalent to ‘internet writing hara-kiri’ and will adversely impact your search engine rankings.
  5. The keywords must be seamlessly spun into the website content. Remember that you are writing for human as much as search engines.
  6. Ensure that at least top 10% of pages of your website ( ones which draw the maximum traffic) are search engine optimized. Use the highest volume keywords on your homepage and intersperse others across other pages.
  7. And while it may sound silly, the true SEO skill lies in repeating the keywords a couple of times every 250-300 words of the web copy.
  8. Place keywords everywhere – page headers, article titles, image descriptions, web page link
  9. Link to other relevant pages on your site or even a couple of other sites
  10. Submit your site on online directories. Start with local directory listings.