The New Style of Writing for the Net (Are You Up with the Play?)

If you want to improve your writing, where do you look for inspiration?

I mean, would you use Shakespeare as your guide?
Or Hemingway?
Or other famous authors?

I hope not. Because writing for the Net is different.

The new style of blog writing is based upon …

The answer may surprise you.

It’s not writing for a newspaper or a magazine, or journal writing, or creating novels, or academic writing.

It’s copywriting. Weird, eh?

What Joe Sugerman can teach bloggers

Joe Sugerman is one of the copywriting greats. He’s what Mohammed Ali is for boxing . Here is what he taught, and how it can be applied to blogging.

The best copywriters in the world are those who are curious about life, read a great deal, have many hobbies, like to travel, have a variety of interests, often master many skills, get bored and then look for other skills to master. They hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting. They are very good listeners.

You could say the same about bloggers, agreed?

Here are important tips for copywriters that also work for bloggers.

The single function of the headline is …

The single function of the headline is to get people to read the first sentence. Yep. That’s it.

Let’s leave headlines aside for a moment and look at the first sentence.

The first sentence is where most bloggers drop the ball

Yes, the first sentence is where most bloggers lose their readers. That’s sad, because if you can get them to read the first sentence, and then the next sentence – they’re likely to read right to the end.

Here’s what Sugarman says about the first headline:

Now if the first sentence is so important, what can you do to make it so compelling to read, so simple, and so interesting that your readers—every one of them—will read it in its entirety?
The answer: Make it short.

What is the function of the first sentence?

Guess.

Is it to make readers curious? Or to express a benefit? Or to give background information?

No.

Let’s to go school with Sugerman:

The purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here is Joe’s view of a first sentence that works:

Each sentence is so short and easy to read that your reader starts to read your copy almost as if being sucked into it. Think about the analogy of a locomotive. When the locomotive starts to chug from a standing start, it really works hard. The amount of commitment and energy that the train must exert is monumental. But once the train starts to move, the next few feet become easier and the next few even easier.

Warning: if you bury your first sentence in a long paragraph, readers will wander off.

How to structure your first paragraph

There’s a simple way to make your first sentence work: let it stand alone as your first paragraph. Take a look at the example below to see how this works.    It’s from Derek Halpern’s blog Social Triggers

I’m sure you noticed how smoothly Derek’s post leads the reader along. The reason is simple: the whole first part of the post is made up of one-sentence paragraphs.

Here’s another example, this time by Brian Clark

You can see that both blogger have a similar style – which isn’t surprising. They both have a background as copywriters.

Here’s another example of this contemporary style of blog writing. This is by Jon Morrow from his new, awesome blog, Blog Boost Traffic from a post, called, Why Posting Every Day is a Silly Strategy (And What to Do Instead)

 

In contrast, here is a first blogger with less experience. It’s from Kristoph Matthew:

As you can see, Kristoph is a talented writer.  But his writing style is still based upon article-writing. It would be easy to deconstruct the first paragraph and use the material create a great intro to his post. (You might like to try this as an exercise).

OK, you’ve got the reader’s attention. Now what?

Your next task is to harmonize with your readers.

Harmonize? Well, I don’t mean you have to sing along with your reader. But you need to be in harmony.

You need to get them to nod along with you. Once you are in harmony with your reader, they will trust you to take them on a journey.

Because every post is a journey (or should be).

How to create harmony

Sugerman offers the example of how a car salesman works (I know, I know – who wants to be like a car salesman …)

A car salesman says, “Nice day, Mr. Jones.” Mr. Jones then answers, “Yes.” (It is a nice day, the statement is truthful and the customer answers in the affirmative.)

“I see, Mr. Jones, that you keep your car very clean.” “Yes, I do.” (At this point, the salesman has Mr. Jones saying yes and nodding his head.) “I see, Mr. Jones, that since you now own a Buick and we sell Buicks, you probably could use a new one?” “Yes.” (The salesman asks a rather obvious question and Mr. Jones, nodding, replies in the affirmative.)

“May I show you one of our latest models with improvements over the model you currently own?” “Yes.” (The salesman once again says the obvious to get a yes answer, and the harmony continues.)

Leaving aside the unfortunate car salesman thing, you can see how the technique enables the seller and the prospective customer to be in harmony. As bloggers, we can learn from this.

  • A simple way to create harmony is to ask questions that you know you’re reader will answer with ‘yes’. Right?
  • Another way is to assume that your readers are savvy. As you well know, people like to be seen as savvy. (I’m sure you spotted the little device I used just now…)

Remember the thing I said about going on a journey? That’s the next thing you need to do.

Every post needs to lead your readers on a journey.

As you know, every journey has a start and a destination. If you just stand on your doormat – and keep on standing on it – that’s not a journey. You need to step out and arrive somewhere.

In terms of writing a blog post, the destination can be a number of things:

  • Your reader has learned something new.
  • Your reader has found a new way to think.
  • Your reader has found new inspiration.
  • Your reader has found a new way to do something.
  • The reader subscribes.
  • The reader buys your product.

What happens at the destination?

You’ve led your readers from the stunning headline to the short (but stunning) first sentence. Then you’ve taken them on a (stunning) journey.

What now?

Most blog writers just drop their readers in the trash at the destination. They’ve worked hard to write something useful or entertaining. They drop them, thinking:

“I’ve finished the post … phew! Now it’s time to leave the readers to their own device and to crack open a beer.”

But if you stop now, you’ve missed the crucial part of a blog post.

How to create the finale

Here’s where we return to copywriting.

You need to think about the overall purpose of copywriting: it’s to make a customer buy something. That’s crass. But true.

It sounds better if to say: the aim of copy is to make the customer take action.

And that’s exactly what you need to do as a blogger:

You need to make the reader take action.

What kind of action?

You have choices: you can ask readers to leave a comment, or subscribe, or to buy a product, or to read other posts, or to try an experiment, or to donate $100,000 to you, or …

You get it: the choices are endless.

The important point is to tell them what action you want them to take. Do you want them to leave a comment? In that case complete your post by saying something like this, “What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.”

If the action you want readers to take is to click a link, buy a product, or to subscribe, or whatever – let them know.

What to do next

Just reading this post won’t do anything for you. You have to take action. (Does that ring a bell?)

When you write your next blog post, use this article as a guideline. Try out each of the suggestions and see how it works for your personal style.

Thoughts? Questions? Please share in the comments.

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

 

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37 Responses to “The New Style of Writing for the Net (Are You Up with the Play?)”

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  1. So, Mary…Yes, those of us who are career journalists must adapt and make the switch to this new writing, but I do like it…Why? I always tended to go overlong, in making my point. The new writing demands we get there quickly (but poor Charles Dickens must be turning in his grave, for ‘overlong’ was his forte–and wonderful it was.)

    The post should be set up in a form almost like bullet points…correct?

    And I need recall that I must always state my end-result expectation and ask for comments, perhaps varying them, too, so they’re not always the same as in: “Comments?” “What do you think?” “Do you agree?” “Send me $100? (kidding)

    Nicely laid out, Mary. (How’s that for summary?)

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      As for Dickens, my mother used to read his novels aloud to me when I was sick in bed as a child. I’d be half asleep, lulled by her voice. Suddenly, I’d sit bolt upright and complain, “You skipped something, Mummy!”
      (My mother used to skip his long, descriptive paragraphs, but I wanted to hear it all.)

      His novels definitely weren’t scannable!

      And yes, blog posts need to be scannable. You need to be able to pick out the gist of a post, just by scanning the headline, the intro para, the subheadings, and the bullet points.

      Readers on the Net tend to scan a post first (in order to make sure it’s of interest to them), and then settle down to read the post in detail.

      • So, that’s why I have some readers returning several times to read the same post (that always puzzled me!)–They’re devouring Biddy Bytes in bites…Maybe they’re at work and doing a quick read when no one’s watching, coming back later for completion.Now, that makes total sense.

        Only question is: If I write like this, will I begin talking like this? (meaning speaking in bullet points?)

        As for your Mom reading Dickens to you when you were sick…”How lucky were you?” Love his great writing…the sound..the rhythm…the vocabulary…But could you see people running today to the local newspaper vendor to pick up the latest installment of “Great Expectations?” Wouldn’t happen.

        Today I learned a few things–not the least of which is LOI (LOL)…….

  2. Patricia says:

    Hello, Mary,

    Excellent article on the basics! Especially like the extended info links to relevant articles.
    Thanks.

  3. June says:

    Thank you. This is excellent. It certainly makes for more interesting reading.

    I’m definitely going to use this style to write my next blog post. It might take me a little while to master. But I will give it my best shot.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      How about giving us a link to the blogpost with the new style (when it’s written)? Just add a comment and use the link. If the comment goes into the spam folder (because of the link), I’ll retrieve it.

      I’m really interested to see how you go, June :-)

  4. Yashu says:

    Reading this post Mary reminds me of a time a few yrs ago when a new psychiatrist came to Nelson. He was here on sabbatical from London. He was good. He was the real mckoi . He had skill. I was fortunate enough that a few of my patients got to see him. My eyes filled up with tears when I read one of his letters. He had depth to his work. The letter had soul . He inspired me. He was one of those doctors who saw patients as people. He wrote in a way that said that he was human too ! When I read your posts I feel inspired to learn to write. As a doctor I have spent yrs writing in abbreviations and in half sentences. I love writing that is good. Writing that draws me in, that keeps me reading. I went dress shopping yesterday with a friend and I realised that what I want in a dress is structure .I can see from this blog that that’s what I want in writing too. The structure of how to keep someone interested.The structure of how to keep brief and to the point and not to waffle on and on! Lots of love and thank you for inspiring me yet again.

  5. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hey Yashu – lovely to hear your voice from the other side of the world. Actually, I know for a fact that you too are one of these rare doctors who see patients as people …

    As to structure – that’s an interesting point. I think the brain likes structure. So when we write something that has a clear structure, the brain relaxes and take in the message because it can follow the structure and doesn’t have to decode what the writer is trying to say.

  6. GerardSorme says:

    I appreciate this blog and the many fine posts. However, and I hope it’s okay to disagree in a respectful manner, I have to take issue with the very premise of the ideas presented.

    - There are many vapid blogs blogging about blogging, productivity ( most telling us the same things 152 different ways), etc. This advice might serve these blogs well.

    - Too many blog posts do exactly as this post suggests: Make every post actionable (overused buzzword of 2012). To me, that Should NOT be the purpose of a blog post. Many blogs take a more serious route, provide good information and analysis – nothing else should be needed to be “actionable,” if the information served its purpose of imparting information and providing insightful commentary.

    - Too many blogs have ‘dumbed down’ to this approach you write of. Article writing, intelligent essays are few and far between because of advice like that given in today’s post. The answer is not, IMO, to move away from solid information presented in a professional way – but to dump the idea of an article ‘just’ being a blog post. It’s simply not and the idea that every blog post must be commercialized in some way is to end up writing for the lowest common denominator.

    There’s so much more that, I think, is poor advice in this post. But, I’ll stop here and thank you for allowing me the time and space in the comments to present a differing viewpoint.

    Kindest regards…
    GS

    • PJ Reece says:

      Gerard… I know what you’re talking about. I often feel the same way. I have resisted this “blog-speak” myself.

      But I think that Mary’s advice is based on the reading habits of most web denizens. It’s a question of capturing that oh-so-short attention span out there.

      I would also add that most blogs aren’t the venue for serious essays. A blog might be a good place to pitch an essay, with the call to action at the end being an invitation to click on a link to the “essay”.

      If I read your mind correctly, you’re concerned that blog-speak might infect serious writing. I hope that’s not the case. I think we’re talking about different kinds of writing for different media.

      In any event, I just want to say… I feel your pain.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Hi GS, you’ve raised some important points – and I thank you for it.
      I think it’s important not to confuse content with style. My sense it that it’s possible to write good, thoughtful content in any style.

      Of course, this style of writing is not the only one for the Net. In fact, a blogger I admire, Glen Allsopp of Viperchill bucks the trend. His latest post The Future of Blogging – http://www.viperchill.com/future-of-blogging/ has over 12,000 words! He’s awesome.
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..How a Simple Loving-Kindness Meditation Can Transform Your LifeMy Profile

  7. Hi Mary,

    I just finished reading Joe’s book, and it’s legit. There’s a lot that bloggers can learn from it. My three biggest takeaways are (ones you’ve already mentioned, but I’ll re-emphasize…):

    1) The purpose of the headline is to get the first sentence read.
    2) The first sentence should be short (also includes the first few sentences).
    3) Every post should end with a call to action. It doesn’t have to be smarmy, but it does need to compel readers to act.

    So yes, I agree wholeheartedly with your summary of this book. :)

  8. Miranda says:

    Really great advice. Loved it!

  9. Lena says:

    In essence, every sentence should take the reader to the next one. Your post got me reading till the end ;-) Thanks for the tips!

  10. I think that the best copywriter is that who can find the right subjects to write about. And this means that he should have an audience. And the more diversified his subjects are, the bigger his audience will be.

  11. Tessa says:

    What a great site! I stumbled upon it via Jeff Goins’s site and his award page. So Write On!

    This article/blog is really an excellent motivation to KISS- keep it simple stoopid for us long-winded ‘talkers’ out there.

    I know this is the new way of writing for the web, and we should all copy this, as it really works, as it is a sell, sell, sell world.

    So this is what the world has come to: It must be Twitter, Facebook and Cellphones re SMS’s that have created this state of affairs.

    Can’t wait to see what the next generation of writers will come up with: Maybe initials only ? (and guess what I am trying to say, put your own meaning to my initials and let’s see what you make of what I am trying to say? ) LoL, joking of course.

    I do not have a blog yet, am busy researching to have the best I can, so thank you for your free e-book, cannot wait to read it, I am a compulsive learner, researcher and as curious as …..

    You give great tips, advice and are very good, and I want to learn from the best. There is just so much on the Net that I will be searching forever. Glad I found your site and advice, as I want to serve others with my blog. When I have finished my research.

  12. Mary – I’ve just started writing blogs and am absorbing information like a sponge. I really appreciate your suggestions, especially the examples of the short sentences that lead the reader to the next item.

    I also like your specific call to action in this post. In my training experience, I often ask students early on: “is the goal of this session for me to teach or for you to learn?” This reminds participants why they’re in the game.

    I plan to practice each of your tips in my next article.

  13. I’m new to blogging, but I’ve found so much useful advice on the web.

    I’ve nearly finished my first year of a Psychology Degree, so this style of writing is a bit foreign to me, but can see the benefits to the reader.
    Richard Bibby recently posted..How being pro-active helped with my anxietyMy Profile

  14. June says:

    Hi Mary,

    On the 14th May I left a comment and told you that I was going to write my next blog post using ‘the new style of writing for the net’.

    Well, I’ve finally done it.

    Here is the link http://wp.me/p1xOxO-1f7

    I hope it reads OK!
    June recently posted..Am I a Blogger or a …?My Profile

  15. Hello. excellent job. I did not imagine this. This is a impressive story. Thanks!

  16. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  17. CJ McKinney says:

    Good post summarizing what’s true about writing for the net. I said what’s true, not necessarily what’s good! The hook that pulls the reader in is an old staple of good writing, and so is smooth writing that stays out of the reader’s way. But I have to agree to some extent with GS, in the comments above. When every post from every blogger begins to look the same, and we are being called to action every time we read a post, I wonder if that might eventually turn off the very readers (oh, wait, they’re not readers, they’re traffic!) that we want to reach? People do want real information and articles often don’t supply it. Blogs could do that and some of them do. But to offer credible information that’s really useful to readers requires more depth than one sentence paragraphs and bullet points can do.

  18. jared akers says:

    Great stuff. You certainly helped me become a better blog writer when you kept returning my guest posts. LOL

    Seriously, I appreciate all the resources and guidance you give to help us writers. I started using Derek’s perfect blog post outline a few months ago and although it’s hard to tell the effect, I certainly know I liked to read those types of posts better.

    “The best copywriters in the world are those who are curious about life, read a great deal, have many hobbies, like to travel, have a variety of interests, often master many skills, get bored and then look for other skills to master. They hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting. They are very good listeners.”

    wow… I couldn’t believe that paragraph, describes me exactly.
    jared akers recently posted..HTBH 018: Dealing with Aging ParentsMy Profile