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The Criteria Series: 7 Tips for Writing Clear and Intelligible Weblog Content

2010 Canadian Weblog AwardsThe Canadian Weblog Awards, unlike most weblog awards out there, are not decided by popular vote. The Canadian Weblog Awards finalists and winners will instead be chosen by a select jury using a specific set of ten criteria. If you have been following along with our ten-part Criteria Series, the first five criteria have already been discussed, which brings us to our sixth instalment in the series, Intelligibility and Clarity.

It seems an obvious point that a weblog, if it is at all interested in its audience, should have content that is understandable to the reader. It also seems an obvious point that following the rules of spelling and grammar is a pretty good idea. Surprisingly, though, this is not so obvious to everyone who has access to the internet if the sheer number of weblogs that ignore the basic rules of style are any indication.

Making the effort to create coherent content shows a certain respect for both your material and the audience that you invite to read it. People believe what you show them, and if you show them haphazard material rife with mistakes and lacking in any clear message, that is the lens they will view you through, too.

Whether you are writing for present or future employers, family and friends, or your own personal internet following, the care you extend to creating intelligible and clear writing speaks volumes about you, your abilities, and your investment in your website. What does your content say about you?

7 Tips for Writing Clear and Intelligible Weblog Content

1. Make your opinions and ideas clear.
Make sure that your opinion or idea is stated clearly and succinctly within a 1- to 3-sentence block so that it is not left up to the reader to tease out what your opinion or idea might be. If it's important enough to write about and publish to the internet, it's important enough to be stated outright.

Being unsuccinct makes it appear as though you are unclear about and lack conviction in your own ideas. Displaying a clarity of purpose lends credibility to your writing and provides an anchor to engage your readers.

2. Use plain and concise language.
There is a tendency with writers on the internet to go on and on, and I am going to be frank here: most long entries, even if they are well-written, become boring drone-fests. Once you pass 500 or 1000 words, your readers will start dropping off in droves.

Entries are best kept short and sweet, but how do you cut down on extraneous content?

Cut out half your words. You do not need to wax rhapsodic about most things. Rather than cement your point, dramatic language can make a reader question the actual validity of your viewpoint. Teh dramaz can be boring if your flowery language forces your writing into hitting one note and one note only. Leave some space for your readers to breathe!

One way to simplify your language is to cut out the majority of your adjectives and adverbs. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs is a sign that you are being lazy with your nouns and verbs.

One of the things about reading that is so fantastic is how an an author's words can fire up your imagination as you create the world within their writing in your mind. Over-description cancels that kind of reader engagement by taking away the reader's role in the interplay between them and your writing.

3. Stay on topic.
Remove anything that does not usefully relate to your topic. If you find yourself rambling on in some kind of Shakespearean aside, that material may be better served by publishing it as its own entry. Do not allow less related ideas to detract from the main point.

4. Add depth to your entries.
Add some meat to the matter. Re-read your post and ask yourself if you are just skimming along the surface. Do you have something more to say that will add depth to your piece?

If you have written a piece exhorting your readers to support a local animal shelter, don't leave out your personal story about the dog that saved you from drowning when you were a child. Adding meatier material to your entries will not only add depth to your posts but will also deepen your readers' understanding of what you are saying.

5. Make your weblog entries easy to scan.
Split your material up into shorter paragraphs, and use lists when possible. Shorter paragraphs and lists are easier for the eyes to scan on a computer screen.

If you give the reader frequent paragraph breaks, their eyes can more easily track from one paragraph to the next, which also makes it easier to digest your content. It is not hard for a reader to lose their way when muddling through an endless block of text, and that can turn into them giving up and clicking away before they've even finished your article.

6. Test your entry with the five Ws and the optional H.
Remember that your audience does not have access to your experiences or the origins of your ideas. Because you are likely already familiar with your topic, it can be easy to assume that the audience knows more than they actually do. It is best to assume that your readers need to be brought up to speed.

One way to make sure that you are being clear about your topic is to employ the old reporter's tool — the five Ws and the optional H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) — to test your piece. If your weblog entry offers up the answers easily without making you have to hunt them down in the middle of long paragraphs, you are probably on the right track.

7. Edit, edit, edit, and then edit some more.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to read and re-read your content to check for coherency, clarity, spelling, and grammar. Because you generally already know what you are trying to get across and might rush through the writing process, it is easy to leave out words accidentally, stumble along with clumsy grammar, neglect to spell check, or even leave out the underpinnings of the point of your entry.

Make it a habit to slow down and take the time to do at least some of the following:

  • Put your article aside for at least half an hour before editing it for content and errors. You will have a clearer perspective once some time has passed.
  • Check your piece for spelling and grammar errors. Even minor errors can be barriers to reader engagement. Also, and very importantly, basic errors in spelling and grammar immediately signal to the reader that you did not pay due care and attention to your entry, which can call into question how much you care about a topic and how much your viewpoint and research can be trusted.
  • Copy and paste the text of your entry into a different application and re-read it there. Strange but true, taking your entry from your weblog platform to Word or to Google Docs or what have you sheds new light on what you've written. I've often thought I was through editing a piece until I re-read it in a new application only to find out that I was only half done.
  • If you are not sure whether your ideas have been made clear and all your errors have been caught, have another person read your piece before publishing it. A second set of eyes can offer a fresh perspective.

  • 7 Tips for Writing Clear and Intelligible Weblog Entries, In Brief

    1. Make your opinions and ideas clear.
    2. Use plain and concise language.
    3. Stay on topic.
    4. Add depth to your entries.
    5. Make your weblog entries easy to scan.
    6. Test your entry with the five Ws and the optional H.
    7. Edit, edit, edit, and then edit some more.

    If you respect your content and understand that your content is the lens through which people view and come to know you on the internet, then you know how much clarity and intelligibility matter. Clarity and intelligibility in your weblog content will allow you to share your ideas and opinions much more effectively with a broader audience, and they will help you to maintain and grow a larger readership. The work you put into crafting good content will make all the difference to you, your website, your readers, and your present and future employers.

    What are your thoughts about intelligibility and clarity in weblog content? Do you have any more tips for increasing these important aspects of good weblog writing?

    « Nominees of the Day: Business & Career | Main | 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards Exclusive Nominee Interview with Braden Rosner of Songs & Cigarettes »

    Reader Comments (2)

    I just want to say: I figured out some of these rules by myself!

    These are great rules. And I'm not pulling your chain.

    I just thought I should mention that since I don't follow any of these rules. But that's 'cause they are hard.

    Everyone else should follow them though.

    June 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterozma

    That's silly. Everyone knows that http://www.daisybrain.wordpress.com is the world's best blog.

    June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Indiana

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