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Professional blogging requires writing skills training

| April 24, 2009
Writing skills training

(Editor's Note: PostRanger.com Blogger-in-Chief Shawn Hessinger asks 'What good is a blog post if it's so full of keywords nobody can read it?" and professional writer and blogger Georganna Hancock responds in this interview about how to make your writing better/your posts tighter online.) 

1. In a world where writing ability is no longer necessarily a prerequisite for publishing, how important do you think good writing remains for blogging and other online communication?

Aren't blogs and self-publishing services wonderful for writers who want to express their opinions and just get their work "out there"?  Unfortunately for the rest of us, there's so little quality writing "out there" that many readers have been totally turned off.

Good writing is even more critical for online communication where viewers only skim and scan.  Contrary to appearances, space on a web page is limited because of visitors' behaviors.  They are reluctant to read large blocks of text and impatient with scrolling down a page very far.  Reading on the screen is much more tiring, difficult, and slower than reading text on paper.

These are all reasons to write clear and concise messages in order to be noticed and understood.

Another point to consider is that good writing is a habit developed by learning and practice.  I encourage using every opportunity, even email messages, to build good writing skills. It pays off by allowing for faster writing which requires less editing, and that increases a writer's productivity.

2. What would be your advice to a blogger with limited writing experience about how to improve that part of his/her craft?

If you've started blogging with little or no writing skills, you've probably already encountered critical comments or low unique visitor rates and maybe zip ranking in Google Search and PageRank. Not to worry.  All these problems will fade away with practice and a little investment in self-education to go along with your self-publishing.

Writing can be improved by a variety of methods including reading material about writing well, taking classes, attending conferences, and good old-fashioned editing. By that, I mean finding a professional editor to help you understand how to "write tight", use proper grammar and syntax, and learn more effective ways to express your ideas. This is especially important for bloggers of personal essays.

Another way to improve writing skills is by joining writers' groups, preferably ones that offers workshops or regular educational programs. Some people feel that critique groups are valuable for fiction writing, but I can't really recommend them.

Get a head start on learning to write better with items from my Amazon Listmania at http://tinyurl.com/Listmania.

3.How do you think good writing compares with choosing good search keywords and phrases and other considerations having to do with Web site optimization when creating articles on a blog or Web site?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activities are very limited, specific, almost mechanical, but not secret magic. Anyone can learn how to SEO. It has more in common with editing than writing. I think SEO article writing is one of the most difficult forms ever devised and nearly incompatible with writing well. The need to stuff in those key words and phrases restricts and restrains the rest of the article.

If you can, don't even try to wrestle content to fit keys. Rather, begin with well-written, valuable information that is clear and on topic. Let the SEO follow naturally in all the other page elements (heads, subheads, image tags, page title, etc.)

Sadly, too many people begin constructing sites with keys in mind, and then they hire writers to try to fit the framework already established. The pay I've seen offered for SEO or keyword writing is usually the pits, too. It may sound easy, but the rushed result is often useless drivel simply intended to attract search engines, bring in visitors, and hope they will click on the advertising on a page.

Writing success

4. Besides your own Web sites, what are your favorite online writing resources and why?

If you're interested in journalism, Poynter (www.poynter.org) is peerless.  Look for Roy Clark's 50 Writing Tools series.  More literary and poetic types will enjoy the Poets & Writers site at www.pw.org/. For fiction writers especially, Fiction Factor at www.fictionfactor.com is superb.  Everyone appreciates a great place to get answers, learn, and just to schmooze.  The best is Absolute Writer's "Water Cooler" forum at www.absolutewrite.com/forums/.  Finally, I'd be lost without Google and Amazon for too many reasons to list. These and dozens more excellent sites are listed in my ebook, "Be a Successful Writer." You can read about it at www.writers-edge.info/Success.htm.

5. What do you think are the most important considerations for a writer when creating content online?

You must keep in mind the characteristics of online reading, as well as the constraints of space. Remember that viewers eyes are going to skip around the page, but most will begin at the top. That's where the most important part of the message must appear. Readers want what they want and they want it fast!

The easier you make the reading, the more likely visitors will stick around.  This means short line lengths and shorter paragraphs than you would write for a print publication. Another eye-easer is to use a sans-serif font like Arial for the paragraph texts.You can use a serif font like Times New Roman for headers.

If you want to provide a lot of material, consider doing it with a link to a file that viewers can download or print out from the web page.  Text files are better for the latter method.

These are some of the tips included in my free article "Write for the Web" at http://www.writers-edge.info/Web-Writing.htm. It also contains links to two good online resources for learning more about web writing.

(Georganna Hancock is a 40-year veteran writer who moved onto the Internet in the 80s and designed her first website in 1995.  She was a laggard about blogging until June 2004, when she started "A Writer's Edge" at http://www.writers-edge.info/About.htm, and only recently began Twittering @GLHancock.  Her  experience spans poetry, novels, magazine articles, news reporting, and content writing. Instead of seeking more fame and bylines, Georganna fosters new writers. She critiques and edits manuscripts; helps beginners along the path to publication; and creates websites for writers, books, and authors at www.HancockWebsites.com.)

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