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The Writer’s Checklist for Online

checklist-200No matter what you’re writing online, you should have an editorial checklist to make sure every detail is covered. Most of the checklist should include practical writing steps that could just as easily apply to offline writing. However, you also need to consider things like search optimization and where to place your links for optimal effect. There’s a lot to the whole process of writing when you’re really thorough, so here’s a list for you:

  1. Draft your message.
  2. Refine for clarity, voice and tone.
  3. Strengthen first sentences.
  4. Shorten sentences (can I say this simply?) and use active voice.
  5. Style for engagement: headings, bold, lists, images and accessibility.
  6. Put links at click-away points (see link below).
  7. Analyze for search optimization.
  8. Check your grammar.
  9. Refer to related topics or previous blog posts.
  10. Add a promotion at the end for the next blog post.

The Draft (Steps 1 & 2)

The first part is the easiest part for most people and the hardest for others. Just get something down. Write your ideas however they come into your head. Then pick at them and write them again until you have a cohesive point to make through narrative, instructive or persuasive flow. Drafting is really harder work than most people realize, but it creates the foundation for the rest of your checklist.

If you work on a team, then you’ll need to verify your voice (which is like your personality) and your tone (which is like your mood) is correct. How you speak on the page should be intentional. If it’s just you by yourself, this comes naturally. It’s only when you collaborate and need to present a cohesive writing persona among posts or pages that other people wrote that you need to follow a guide for this.

The Focus (Steps 3 & 4)

After drafting, you should look at your first sentences to make sure they strongly introduce each paragraph and shorten others that can make the same point in fewer words. I talked about this in my previous post about first sentences (see link below). Get rid of apologetic references or wordy asides that aren’t critical. Also, check to make sure that you’re writing in active voice (e.g. People drive cards faster on highways) instead of passive voice (e.g. Cars are known to be driven fast on highways). You may find you can really shorten your writing just by changing passive to active.

The Digestibility (Step 5)

It’s important to use styles to support easier reading. You can insert headings like meaningful outline phrases that readers can scan your key points. You can apply bold to help people remember key short phrases instead of using bold to “shout” or “talk sternly” at them. You can convert long sentences with lists that use commas into bulleted lists. Likewise, you can use numbered lists for counting items or steps. However you use styles, they should make a visual point that invites the reader to sample and then devour your writing.

In that same idea, think about what helpful images you can add. Moreover, add images that match your writing. If you’re writing something instructive, images should be instructive. If you’re writing something narrative, images should set the scene. If you’re writing something persuasive, images should capture the mood. Not only that, but you should be able to translate your images into alternate text for accessibility (in case someone uses a screen reader when they visit your site). Also, check for abbreviations an acronyms to make sure they have title properties set, so screen readers can read the alternative text for those. It’s important to consider the different ways people communicate, through images and alternative sensory modes in general.

The Interactivity (Steps 6-8)

Links, search optimization and grammar all play supporting roles in effective writing. Many people put links inside the writing they mean visitors to read. However, a link the middle of a paragraph is an invitation to leave in the middle. It’s visually distracting and if the words make sense for a link in the paragraph, then perhaps the paragraph needs redrafting. Links should be at the end of paragraphs or the end of primary content (perhaps in a right column?). These are optimal places to click away and read more about something else, start filling out a form or take some other action.

If you want people to find your writing, you should always optimize your writing for search even if only to look for your page or post after visiting your site. That includes key words used in your URL, title and a few places on the page. Keywords should always make sense and feel natural. Ideally, you do some research to find words that people use more frequently and get a little better search traffic than their synonyms. However, you can always make sure that at least your URL and a few headings match the words in your title or at least echo them.

Next, check your grammar. Whether or not you use an oxford comma or not, hyphenate newer compound words instead of crunching them together or use formal words instead of slang, you should be clear and consistent in how you write. As long as people know what to expect, they will read your ideas instead of checking your spelling and punctuation.

The Bigger Story (Step 9)

It helps to refer back to previous posts or related topics to show cohesion and context for what you’re writing about. It draws readers in that were interested in things you’ve already talked about. It also adds to your image as knowledgeable or skilled if you show consistency around your topics, like you’re on a quest to explore something in particular. Mentioning previous posts or related topics weaves the story of your expertise together and strengthens your value for readers drawn to you for a particular reason.

Likewise, you might end your blog posts with reference to what you’re about to say next. This is something I just started to do with my own blog posts. Of course, I have settled on a blog program, so to speak, that shapes what I’m going to say next. As such, it only seems fitting that since I know what I’m going to write about, I should have a teaser with date and time. T.V. shows do it. Books in a series do it. Whetting people’s appetites make so much sense while they’re already reading your blog post.

Read First Sentences and First Impressions

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