Visual aids make writing easier and reading more enjoyable.
Smart writers know a secret. They know that what you write — your choice of words — is only half of any project. The other half is how those words look — everything from your font size to your margin widths. Packaging and presentation matter more than most people appreciate.
This is one reason stores like Gucci and Whole Foods can charge a premium: The layout of their bricks and mortar gives rise to a certain appearance and ambiance. By contrast, while I have nothing against Marshalls or Giant Food, when it comes to aesthetics, their displays just can’t compete.
Many thanks to Sloane Shearman, who attended my writing workshop yesterday at the Institute for Humane Studies, for drawing this nifty cartoon:
In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well-compensated).
Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”
News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.
Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.
This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity.
Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.
This is what happens when you let an engineer write your website copy:
“Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”
Gee, thanks, Facebook. Couldn’t you at least have displayed a list of similar pages? Maybe linked to some frequently asked questions? At the least, you could have conveyed a witty apology or summoned a brand-appropriate quote. And, if all else fails, bring forth a kitten pic!
Sadly, Google is no better than its neighbor to the north. Here’s what the minds of Mountain View deign to tell the poor soul who gets lost on google.com:
“404. That’s an error. The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.”
Really—that’s all? That’s the best message a company known for its NSA-like amount of data, along with its whimsical and beloved doodles, can conjure up?
Surely, you jest.
“Let’s put it on our website.” The refrain is increasingly common, but, as always, there’s a right way and a wrong way.
An amateur will do what’s easiest: copy and paste. But a pro knows that to copy and paste is to deprive readers of the Web’s richness. Shifting copy from dead trees to Web browsers is both art and science.
The art: to write for the web, you need to be not only a writer, but also a marketer, a designer, and a publicist. The science: to write for the web, you need to understand how people read on the web.
To this end, we’ll review the differences between reading something designed for a monitor and something designed for print. We’ll walk through the best practices of web writing, and review a variety of good and bad examples. We’ll also intersperse exercises throughout, so you learn by doing.
This past summer, I delivered a presentation on how to write better. My intent wasn’t to rehash the rules of grammar but to leave people with handy, memorable tips they could recognize and immediately apply to their own copy.