Life of a writer on a Friday evening

5 pm in the afternoon and people unwinding
Friends and family calling; it was a Friday evening
The lonely writer sat brooding, copy in hand
There was no escaping this treacherous quicksand

Pronouns, adjectives, British or American?
Tricky apostrophes and commas; will it all be done?
Words much too compound and possessive
Complicated syntaxes and the questions obsessive

Infinitives, articles, predicates and coordinates
Nothing definite about those tiresome indefinites
The evening slipped in between the hyphenations
The writer sighed and longed for an Oracle to catch the omissions

Will the grammar police catch this one?
Don’t be pedantic, that’s fine, said some
Make that your rule and call it your style
Say they’re being picayunish and simply smile

It’s a new year. But the fundamentals of blog writing will not change

The need for content will remain unabated, as people will continue to seek information, data, news, views and insights.

Subject matter experts will make domain knowledge more accessible than ever.

As you strive to share knowledge and insights, keep these classic rules of writing handy.

Demystify

The subject can be complex. But your writing shouldn’t be.

Whatever the topic may be, the most important reason why you are writing is to be understood.

Avoid unnecessary jargon and metaphors. Check if you can replace complicated words with simpler ones. For example, in this blog, we wrote, “it’s best to adopt neutral words and phrases” instead of “it’s best to adopt culture-agnostic words and phrases”.

Don’t be vague.

Ask what the reader wants to know and how best you can convey it.

Respect cultural and geographical sensitivities

Context matters.

Remember J K Rowling’s first book? The title “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was replaced with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for the US market. It was done because the publishers felt that American children would be less comfortable with “philosopher”.

Check if words used in your blog resonate with a particular audience, geography or culture. When writing for a global audience, it’s best to use neutral words and phrases.

However, if you are writing for a specific country and if it is important that they relate to your writing, then make sure that your vocabulary and spellings reflect that.

And don’t forget, it’s equally or more important to research what’s not okay or taboo for certain cultures or geographies.

The three golden rules

One: Keep sentences short

This has been said before and we’ll say it again. Irrespective of the length of the blog, sentences should be concise.

A long read requires sharp writing. Findings from the 3rd Annual Survey of 1000+ Bloggers from Orbit Media Studios show that the length of a blog has increased over the years. Readers prefer 800 to 1,200 words articles that can showcase substance and depth. 

If blogs are going to be long, it is imperative that sentences should be short.  Short sentences make it easier to assimilate information and insights.

Two: Avoid long paragraphs

Paragraphs are built to focus on a particular thought, theme, idea or argument. Ideally, a paragraph should not have more than four sentences.

However, more blog writers are resorting to single-sentence paragraphs.

Orthodox writers will argue that a sentence cannot be a paragraph. That would be an oxymoron!

However, one could look at it as a technique where a paragraph is being deliberately deconstructed into single sentences to achieve a distinct style of writing and to hold the reader’s attention.

It could also be driven by the fact that mobile reading has increased. Writers want to avoid paragraphs that look exceptionally long on the average mobile screen.

Read more about paragraphs here by the University of Leicester.

Three: Write in active voice, but don’t junk passive voice altogether

As a rule, write in active voice. It allows for succinct and clear sentences.

Passive voice has its uses too. It works well if you are looking to heighten emphasis for the subject receiving the action. Also, when you are unable to or don’t need to mention the doer, then passive voice comes in handy.

Include links

Provide links generously to attribute source of data, quotes, information or insights. Readers will be grateful for pointers to additional reading. It also adds immensely to the credibility of your piece.

Follow best practices in proofreading

If you treat proofreading as a routine, last minute exercise, your writing will run the risk of errors and show your blog in poor light.

There is a method and discipline to proofreading and it pays to follow it rigorously. Read about best practices in proofreading here.

For more tips and techniques, follow us on twitter.

 

Best Practices for Proofreading – A practitioner’s guide

In the world of fine dining restaurants, the ‘Pass’ is a place where orders coming in and food going out of the kitchen is monitored.
In quality-obsessed restaurants, the Pass, usually sentineled by the head chef, is the ultimate test of quality before it is handed over to the service staff to take it to the customer. It’s a brilliant practice that should be replicated, especially by marketing, communication and content teams. Identify the expert and let that person be the sentinel at your Pass;
the final custodian of quality for your content.

Now for the best practices, ordered in sequence…



Edit first, proofread last
Yes, because editing is different from proofreading. Editing is a deeper exercise where the editor examines the style, tone, structure, choice of words etc., and rewrites it for overall refinement and appeal to the audience. Proofreading is more about spellings, grammar, syntax, typos and punctuation.

It is highly likely that one edits while proofreading and proofreads while editing. Still, make sure that editing and proofreading get their respective, dedicated focus. Edit first, proofread last.

The writer does not proofread
The writer/author owns the thought. An objective eye for proofreading therefore, becomes difficult. Get a second pair of eyes to proof your content.

Never proofread all aspects at the same time
Proofing requires you to be highly organised. Resist the temptation to fix everything at one go. Check only one aspect at a time. Make a checklist, print it and fix it on your soft board. Example:

Grammar and language
Facts
Sentence casing
Headlines
Subheads
Formatting
Names and spellings

Assign at least three to four rounds
Some folks, especially managers in a hurry, will ask why proofreading can’t be done at one or two rounds. Tell them that it takes more than one round to spot all the errors. Poor copy results in poor impression. Be stubborn about allocating sufficient time to proofreading. The written copy that will go into public domain deserves a keen eye and lots of patience.

Proofread on printed copy, please
The last two rounds of proofing should be on a printed copy, preferably in 14 to 16 point size.

Spellings – Check. Punctuation – Check. Formatting – Check. Establish your own Proofreading Pass for every Check
In the world of fine dining restaurants, the ‘Pass’ is a place where orders coming in and food going out of the kitchen is monitored. In quality-obsessed restaurants, the Pass, usually sentineled by the head chef, is the ultimate test of quality before it is handed over to the service staff to take it to the customer. It’s a brilliant practice that should be replicated especially by marketing, communication and content teams. Identify the expert and let that person be the sentinel at your Pass; the final custodian of quality for your content.

Hit ‘send’ to a test team first
That ‘ouch!’ moment when you spot errors after hitting the ‘send’ button is every communication manager’s nightmare. Cheat that law by sending the email, newsletter, article, blog etc., to an internal ‘test’ team first. It will let you spot the naughty, elusive errors and fix them. Do some more ‘tests’ before you are ready to go official!

Phase out the ‘send’
This best practice works for online campaigns, especially when you have a large database that includes internal and external readers. Phase out the launch of your campaign across two or three rounds. Start with the marketing and communication team in your organisation. Then move to company staff. If you’ve got global offices, send it to branch offices first and then to headquarters. Wait for a day to see if anyone points out errors. It’s a fantastic opportunity to fix something that might have been missed. The last ‘send’ should be to the customer and partner database.