The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing for the Web


7 Quick Reasons Why No One Read Your Last Article or
How Not to Be Read in 5 Minutes or Less (originally published 9 Jan 2007)

This article is not about keyword optimization (SEO or LSI). That gets your article indexed by the mindless search engines. Keywords have their place. This is about making a human being want to read your writing. Last time I checked, robots don’t read.

Humans invented and survive on language. We need it. We love it. If we find reason to loathe it, we run from it. Here are the top 7 reasons why a breathing, literate human will pass by your article even after they’ve found it floating in the fluid space of the Internet.

The Title
This is where keywords play a part in getting your article seen. Search engines and humans alike want descriptive titles. “Fuzzy Bunnies” does nothing to make anyone look once, much less twice, at your article. “Raising Rabbits for Profit. Starting a Rabbit Farm for Less than $1000” is a laser beam to your intended audience. Rabbit farms are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you are now going to draw the attention of your serious readers.

The Abstract
A well crafted, easy to read paragraph is crucial. It should highlight the main theme of the article and entice the reader. Think of it as your article’s resume. If it gets the reader’s attention, they are likely to “hire” your article.

Short, pithy sentence are not going to get your foot in the door. “A funny look at milkshakes,” will lose eyeballs faster than nickels in a slot machine. Better to go with, “Find out why milkshakes are taking over the world, controlling the weather and may elect the next President of the United States.” That may pique someone’s curiosity just enough to make their finger fall on the mouse button.

Paragraph One
This is Writing 101. The first paragraph should not only grab the reader’s attention, but draw them down to the next. Compel these humans to read your article by whatever means necessary. Shock them. Taunt them. Tell them this article will change their life.

The first paragraph must at least assure them that it will clean their shorts, spay their cat, or walk their dog. They must feel they are getting something of worth by continuing. It costs people time to read your article. Make them know the payoff up front. The first paragraph sets the tone of the entire article. If they don’t feel the need to read beyond it, simply put, they won’t.

Attack of the Text Blob
The “Enter” key on your keyboard is a multi-tasker. One of its most important rolls is to create a paragraph break. There are two very important reasons for breaking that 40-sentence paragraph into 3 to 5 sentence blocks.

One: It is good grammar. Everything you learned in school applies to web writing. Paragraphs are cohesive thoughts and thematic exposition. Boiling that rambling trail of words down has the side-effect of making you really think and re-think your writing.

Two: Humans hate eye strain. Those 40, continuous sentences look daunting to the reader. If at first glance they think it will be painful to read your blob, no amount of brilliant insight will compel them to continue. They are unlikely to take time to wander along your stream of consciousness. Give their eyes a break. Make the white space as appealing as the words.

Conjunctions Abound
Punch up your language. Short, snappy thoughts fit the web better than run-on sentences. If you can lose the “and” to create a two-for-one punch, do it. People will read 8 pages of well written jabs before 2 pages of conjoined ramblings.

Use your software to search for every “and,” “but,” and “or” that you have written. “And” can usually be replaced with a period. This encourages you to think about your writing. Your text is going to be set in stone when you push the last button. Millions may read it. Dwell on it for just a moment longer. Really put some thought into necessary versus flowery words.

You have no authority
Nothing stinks on the web like the passive voice. “I believe this article may inform you as to the important effects of global warming.” “Global warming is the critical problem of our age.” You decide which you like better. Either way we’re all dead, but who have you convinced? (see also: Useless Phrases that Killed Your Writing’s Impact)

You are a Jerk
Reputation counts for something. You will never please everyone. Somewhere, sometime, someone will think you are a jerk. It may be because of your political leanings. It may be because you posted pictures of their grandmother in her underwear in a forum. It may be a complete misunderstanding based on a momentary lapse of judgment.

Your name counts. You spent time branding your writing. You put effort into getting your name in front of people. Protect your reputation. Stand for what you believe, but have the ability to repent your mistakes. In the end your readership will grow. Then again, jerks get read, too. Ultimately, branding is your choice.

Avoid these 7 deadly sins of web writing. Your writing will improve. Your readership will increase. We’ll all be better for it.

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  1. Paragraph Punch takes users through the process of writing a basic paragraph. From pre-set writing prompts users develop an idea and write their own topic sentence, body, and a conclusion.

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