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Keeping readers' attention: 13 tips for writers

It is a challenge today to write online content that can survive the average Web-surfer's short attention span. Short is the key word. One remedy is good editing.

Editing is a delicate balancing act of shortening content, but not at the expense of imagination and aesthetics. If you do it right, revision may take longer than writing the first draft.

Follow these tips to make sure your writing is the best it can be.

  1. Let your first draft "cool off" for a few days. Then come back for a more objective edit.
  2. Print out your drafts to spot errors instead of reading them on a monitor. Read them aloud.
  3. Cut out mind-dump – unnecessary rambling or tangents that make people click out of your article.
  4. Remember: What is obvious to you may not be clear to others, especially second-language readers. Remove confusing idioms and jargon.
  5. Choose active verbs to shorten the number of words.
  6. Use nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs.
  7. Eliminate redundancies or words with the same meaning: "few and far between," "exact same."
  8. Eliminate unnecessary words: "essentially," "basically," "the reason was" or "because."
  9. Look for repetition: "Our church has a youth minister, youth program and youth facility."
  10. Avoid clichés, misspellings, inaccurate statements and wrong punctuation.
  11. Ask yourself:
    • Is this piece clear?
    • Did I stick to the subject?
    • Did I keep unity of style, or did I switch from flowery to formal?
    • Did I switch from writing in the first person to the third?
    • Have I mixed tenses – starting in the present and changing to the past?
    • Are transitions smooth?
  12. Cut and paste website links to ensure accuracy.
  13. Ask someone else to edit your piece with a printout of this checklist. If a professional writer/editor is not available, anyone can offer unbiased feedback.

Poorly written web content is enough to make someone turn off the computer and read a good book. So don't risk it. Follow these tips or get an experienced editor to do it for you. Long articles with boring details make people think they have attention-deficit disorder when really, it's the content publisher or teacher's fault for not making it interesting.

Learn more about Writing for the Web.

Darby Jones, former e-marketing coordinator, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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