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96black Blog

Fresh Laundry

Writing Tips and Tools

Writing effective web content is really difficult. If you’re reading this it’s possible you’ve been handed a website’s worth of content to write and are desperately looking for help. Whilst this post won’t really deal with the specifics of writing for web, I will link to various resources I’ve found helpful over the years.

Here’s a disclaimer right at the beginning: I have never written an entire site’s worth of content. But I’ve been producing websites for about 6 years, and I’ve also completed this course on writing for the web through Open Polytechnic New Zealand. As such, I’ve picked up a bunch of opinions about writing content. And around here, opinions are free.

First of all read my last blog post. Not only is it the most amazing work of writing in the English language since Ulysses, it is chock full of feebly humourous advice about running a writing project.

Once you’ve read that, there are some tools you’ll need to get the job done.

  • Spreadsheet
  • Text editor
  • Writing guides
  • Patience
  • Coffee
  • Music

Spreadsheet

You’ll need to keep track of what has and hasn’t been done and a spreadsheet is the easiest way to do this. I like Google sheets because they’re free and work really well with multiple users.

You’ll need to list every single page on your website so you can mark them off as they’re written, edited, approved, and published.

Text Editor

I draft on TextEdit which comes free with Mac OS. I don’t like to be distracted by formatting tools or anything else when I’m concentrating on words. Notepad if you’re a Windows user.

Writing guides

Indispensable for getting things right and not looking like a sub-literate hillbilly (that’s actually a band name I want to use sometime – Sub-Literate Hillbilly. Is that offensive to hillbillies?).

I like The Elements of Style by Strunk. I keep it on my desk all the time. Anytime I need to check on rules, like how to reference book titles correctly, or how to format a bullet point list, it’s the go to. It is a little bit stuffy, and the index isn’t the most useful but it’s a classic for a reason.

The Yahoo! Style Guide has a focus on writing for the web, and may be more useful these days than Strunk.

Another one worth reading is The Writers Guide by Helen Sword. It will show you how to make your writing concise by stripping out the unnecessary words we pad our sentences with.

Writing for the web is quite different than writing for print and this excellent list of tips from Hampshire College will prepare you for the difference.

Finally, Scott Berkun’s blog deals a lot with the mechanics and thinking behind writing and is well worth a read.

Patience

You’re not going to write your content over a weekend. Not if you want it to be good!

Coffee

I like my coffee black, thanks. Kokako is always a welcome addition to my desk clutter.

Music

Will help you push on through when you’re struggling, block out colleagues (and their terrible taste in music), and generally deal with other distractions.

Conclusion

One last tip – share the burden. If you can share out the writing amongst many, the workload eases. Just ensure you’ve got some sort of writing style guide agreed to in advance. That way you will have a consistent tone of voice for your site and there won’t be any confusion for your readers.

Good luck!

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