Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Be A Writefully Happy Blogger

English: Illustration of the final chase of Mo...
English: Illustration of the final chase of Moby-Dick.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last post was about titles for your blog posts or email subjects. Now let's talk about what goes in those posts and emails - not the content, but how you write about it.

Marketing Content is Not About Selling

This can never be repeated too often for my taste. As a recent Buffer blog post by Belle Beth Cooper* put it, Marketing Content exists to:
  • build familiarity
  • build likability
  • build trust
I know for many people, marketing is a unsavory term, but really you put your small nonprofit and its mission on the market every time you communicate socially. You're saying, "out of all the stuff coming at you through the fire hose that is social media, please pay attention to me."

So you put together a great title or subject line and you know your subject is the bee's knees, but you've got to support them both with your writing. Please note that this is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive look at the mechanics of good writing - after all, you work for a small nonprofit, so you're already busy. But there are some traps that most people fall into fairly easily when it comes to crafting a story.

The Basics
  • Brevity and Flow
  • Voice
  • Vocabulary

Brevity and Flow

This doesn't mean short and sharp, this means don't string something out if you can avoid it. Doing away with passive voice (see Voice, below) will go a long way to sorting this out, but you should keep in mind that most people don't like to read long blocks of text. Nor do they like the kinds of long, long sentences that Melville (Moby Dick) liked. Keep the sentence length reasonable and pay attention to how one sentence flows into another and so on. Tip: read your writing out loud to yourself. If something stops you, chances are you need to smooth the flow at that spot.


Passive voice is the bane of most writing. (If you need a brush-up on this subject, go here.) Be ruthless in stamping it out of your own writing. Fresh verbs and adjectives will lend your sentences vigor and make them more interesting. Besides the grammatical construction of voice, there's also such a thing as your voice, or style, which is made up of a writer's choices (long and complex sentences were Melville's style). For most social communications I recommend a social or conversational style - as though you were having an exchange of ideas with someone in person.


Because I started out professionally as a technical writer, my prose tends to be written at about a 4th or 5th grade level. This makes reading through a lot easier. If you stick with a conversational tone, you will probably be able to avoid tiring your readers.

Extra Help

Because I'm a techie, I like techie tools. I recently was alerted to two that you might also find useful. One is Writeful. You paste in a writing sample and Writeful compares it to the 5+ million books Google has on the web. For example, if you entered "Today there are less people becoming astronauts," Writeful would tell you that although some people have used that sentence construction, most people use the construction "fewer people." It's lightweight, but it can add a little to your confidence if you're not quite sure about something.

The other tool, which is not lightweight is Expresso, which is in open beta. You paste in up to 5,000 words and it returns an analysis of such things as weak verbs and passive voice. You can also use it to find synonyms for words you use frequently so you don't repeat them too often. And if you are more than a casual writer, or want to be, it covers other good metrics like noun clustering (bad, in case you wondered).

So much to keep track of when you're writing a simple email, right? Tell an interesting story, title it invitingly, write it so that people won't be bored reading it. But the payoff - ahhh - getting their attention and keeping it long enough to get your message across... isn't that worth a little extra of your attention?

*On the subject of creating content, this is a great post. Do read it.
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