In this post Dan Kaufman from Bar Zine shares some tips on writing Sharp Snappy Blog Posts.
When you write a story you’re lucky if you can get a reader beyond the first paragraph. This is true in print and it’s even worse online (a recent study by Jacob Neilson at http://tinyurl.com/mubtmr makes for interesting reading). After all, your post is just one out of millions online – and the difference can lie in how well written your copy is.
Writing is a craft that involves a continual learning process.
Having been a journalist and editor for the past 15 years (and I’m now a blogger as well) I still find myself learning – but there are some hard and fast techniques to make your copy snappier and more engaging. Here are some of the basics:
1) Write Short Sentences
Next time you pick up a book and can’t put it down, stop and have a look at the sentence length – you’ll often find the sentences are short and punchy. 32 words is the maximum for an article’s first sentence and while there are exceptions they ought to be rare. Aim to only have one point per sentence.
2) Use the Active Voice
Have a look at the following two sentences:
The cat chases the mouse
The mouse is being chased by the cat
Which one is punchier?
It’s the former because the subject (the cat) is doing something to the object (the mouse). As such, it makes sense to have the subject appear in the sentence before the object. In other words, the sentence is written using the active voice (whereas “The mouse is being chased by the cat” is passive).
Using the active voice is more direct and requires less words – and the less words, the snappier the sentence becomes.
3) Write in the Present Tense
Which of the following headlines seems punchier?
PM halts peace talks
PM halted peace talks
Unless your blog post takes the form of a hard news story you should use the present tense. Even hard news headlines are written in the present tense to make them seem more immediate.
4) Use Positive Language
This means avoiding negative words such as no, not and didn’t when appropriate. You’ll see why when you look at the following example:
Troops have not pulled out of war zone
Troops stay in war zone
The bottom example reads better since, as with using active voice, making sentences positive often makes them snappier. We also changed the tense from past to present.
5) Write in a conversational tone
A lot of people don’t realise that good writing means using a conversational tone – albeit with better grammar than you would use when talking to a friend in a bar.
Avoid hype, pretentious words, jargon and acronyms – instead of impressing readers it’s a turn off. You should never talk down to your reader by using language they may not understand and you should never assume they know something they may not. Unless you’re trying to spin something or confuse, use simple, clear and direct language. As the old saying goes, if you confuse your readers you lose your readers.
George Orwell put it another way in The Politics of the English Language.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” he wrote. “When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
Dan Kaufman publishes Bar Zine (barzine.com.au), where he reviews Sydney bars. He also writes for The Sydney Morning Herald and teaches online journalism at UTS.