How to write well in the age of the internet
In these days of instant access it’s not enough to use proper grammar and spelling, the work you produce needs to add value to the subject you’re discussing. I don’t care if you know all the correct uses of a semi-colon (although you’d be one up on me if you did) I don’t want to feel like finding and reading even a sentence of your article has wasted my time. That’s a long-winded way of saying your writing needs to be something people want to read. There are several different sides to this, and some of them are kind of variations on a previous point. They also may apply differently in different situations. I’ve created some sort of list, although undoubtedly some of these will speak more to you than others.
Don’t tell me the same thing everyone else is
The easiest example of this is when discussing a product. Take this one:
Amazon Price: $299.99 $279.78 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 18, 2016)
I might show you a picture/link like this and tell you something like: Everyone knows that juicing is a great way to get nutrition from your fruits and vegetables, and this awesome new juicer makes it easy. It’s got two speeds, a convenient wide feed chute, and it comes in a stainless steel design that will enhance any kitchen!
Do you believe me? Maybe. It sounds like I’m making it up, but it’s possible that I write stilted. Did I offer you new information? Nope. It’s taken directly from that link. I’ve just wasted your time and lowered my credibility. Why would you bother coming to read what I say when you can cut out the middle man and get the same information from the product’s website?
Now suppose I pull up this link:
And now I say: As someone who can’t consume any soy, I spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find an herbal supplement for menopause without soy that actually works. I don’t remember why I first picked up Transitions, it was probably just the next product on the shelf, but it’s the last one I tried. I never expected to have such a dramatic change in body chemistry with herbs, but I’m telling you, for me this stuff is like being 25 again, without the periods and lack of wisdom. Not only does it help with dry skin and mood swings, but my, ahem, libido is higher than it has ever been.
Believe me? I hope so. I told you my personal experience, why I chose that product, and also that I’ve compared it to other similar products and found this one to be superior. None of that comes from the link. I didn’t even read the link, I don’t need to.
You can find examples of this not-quite copy cat writing all over the web. Ten tips for selling your house? I bet you that eight of the tips are exactly the same in 99% of the articles. Why would you write the same thing? Write something different.
Gather related information to create a new article
No, don’t take those house selling tips and put all the less common ones together to make 25 tips for selling your house. Make something new, do some research. Suppose those house-selling sites tell you to plant flowers for more curb appeal. Great, now YOU research color combinations. If you have a red house should you plant red flowers? White? Purple? If the market is slow would you recommend something that continues to bloom for months in case the house doesn’t sell quickly? Maybe decorative plants instead? You don’t have to come up with the answers, just mix the information from a gardening site with a home-selling site. Tadah! You’ve created something new and you’re providing a mix of information that no one else is. Here’s my article on festivals on the Olympic Peninsula. Every single one of these events has a website, but nowhere has anyone bothered to gather them together. I sent this to a friend who was trying to plan out her summer which saved her a lot of searching on her own. Do the same for your readers; make a new mix.
Don’t reproduce misinformation
While writing my egg article I did some web searching to make sure I wasn’t doing something that had already been done. Yes, all the information is out there but it wasn’t combined in the way I wanted it to be combined. More appalling to me was the number of times I saw a variation of the sentence “White chickens produce white eggs, brown chickens produce brown eggs.” Not true, never been true, why would anyone say that? Ah, because they both copy-catted, and didn’t fact-check. Very poor practice and a good way to lose readers forever. Check your facts.
Write in a way that makes people want to read
This is frequently stated as “write the way you speak”, and it’s a good idea. Unless you’re writing a text book, there’s no reason to use sesquipedalian verbiage. Annoying, isn’t it. When speaking you’d never say “The shelving units ought not only be aesthetic, they must also be placed with regard to ease of accessibility.” At least I wouldn’t say that, but I would say “A bookshelf should look good and be easy to use”. Maybe I leave you rolling your eyes at my lack of vocabulary, but I also leave you knowing my opinion about your book shelf. Be easy to read.
Pass along your passions
If you write about the five best cathedrals in Europe and, not only have you never been to Europe, you aren’t even sure what a cathedral is, everyone will know you’re faking it. Even if you are creating a new mix, and not copy-catting, your work will be boring. It doesn’t matter how many exciting! amazing! thrilling! words you use, it comes across as dull. Choose to write about things that excite you, and that doesn’t have to mean in a good way. Suppose you just applied for college and you spent hours trying to find the best tips on how to write your college essay. Finally you nailed down the tips that worked for you, wrote those stupid essays and sent off the applications. Know what? You’re excited about those essay writing tips. Right now you could sound off for twenty minutes about how ridiculous some people’s suggestions were and how much time it took you to figure the best mix. Put your fire into words and tell everybody your story. Don’t write out a rant, teach your readers what you learned, but do it with enthusiasm.
Put your personality into your work
You aren’t producing an encyclopedia; you’re sharing something you know. A friend of mine is both a sci-fi geek, and a political science professor. He sprinkles “Futurama” and “Star Trek” references through his lectures. It’s who he is, and I’m betting that it makes his classes a whole lot more fun. My chickens show up in half the pieces I write, maybe yours use Pokémon. If it’s who you are, it’s ok to put it in your work. You love knowing the derivation of words? Throw that in. What the hell. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t like it. They’ll move on, but the people that connect with your personality will stay. Be who you are.
Well, there you go. What was that, six tips? Did you learn something? Was this fun to read? Did it capture you? It’s something I’m hot about since I hate wasting my time reading something useless. I added my personal experiences and told you about my friends. I try to write in a way that’s easy and fun to read. I couldn’t find the information elsewhere – most writing tip sites still seem to be geared towards print work and don’t address the glut of sameness on the internet. Most importantly, I had fun writing this (I hope it shows). It’s what I do every time I think about what I want to write. And you know what? I’m proud of what I produce, and I would happily send it to my mom. Would you?