How to Write Content People Will Actually Read

1. Don’t Dumb It Down.

As an editor, simplifying or dumbing your writing down is one of those writer “tips” that drive me up a wall. It comes from the outdated notion of the fabled “5th grade reading level.” Editors used to tell writers to dumb down their material, that the average American has a 5th grade reading level, and so to ensure the most amount of readers possible, you should write at one. Be clever, but don’t be smart. Nonsense… especially for what you write at

What’s more, the notion that the public has a remedial reading level only tells half the story. Has the average national reading level improved? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is, unless you’re writing a gossip column or a recap of last night’s basketball game, the object isn’t to get the most amount of traffic, but to get the most qualified traffic. Most of the time, depending on who you write for, your target group is not the barely literate, but rather people who are researching a topic or product.

So throw an aforementioned or a notwithstanding in your content. Live dangerously!

2. Short(ish) Paragraphs

Many cookie-cutter writing sites will tell you to keep all your paragraphs to, at most, 6 lines of text, but what if you want to talk about the same subject for 5 sentences? What if those 5 sentences spill into 7 lines? Most online writing sites will tell you to make shorter paragraphs. OWJ says it’s not that simple.

The fact is, most of the time the 6 lines rule is a good one. Maybe push it to 7 in a pinch, but often, especially when we’re talking blog posts, 5-6 is a good range. You’ll often be able to make your point in that space, and yes, if you can’t, it’s usually a matter of paring down your text. I used to have an editor who wrote “Too many words… not enough writing,” on my work. She had a point.

At the end of the day, if you’re paragraph runs to 7 lines, don’t let it get to you. If you’re writing a technical article that needs an 8th line go for it. The grammar gods will understand. Just don’t do it often. No matter how brilliant you think it is, it’s probably verging on boring… and is likely something to be, at best, skimmed by the reader.

3. Link, Link, Link

The worst part of writing academic papers had to have been citing your sources. The research was, hopefully, engaging. The writing was exhilarating. Then came the dreaded bibliography. Not so engaging or exhilarating, but entirely necessary, and that necessity doesn’t stop just because you’re writing online.

Contrary to popular belief, it is as important when writing online to cite your sources as it was in school. This is because, by linking to the source material, you can provide a deeper experience for the reader. Also, your credibility goes up. The site you’re writing for is happy… we are happy… and the reader is happy. See all the happiness a link can bring?

4. Have a Personality

Of course this tip does not apply to all types of writing, but when appropriate, it is important to have a voice. It is perhaps even more important online than in print to make sure you stand out. Even the most mundane topics have thousands of websites about them, so you need to find a way of standing out.

Having a personality online doesn’t mean you’re rude or even funny, just that what you write has a tone, a voice, and that you do your best to keep that voice consistent. With so much content being published online every day, you do not need to be controversial, but what you write should read naturally.

5. A Picture Says 6 Words: I Care About What I’m Writing.

footballFor many of your assignments at OWJ, you will be given the option or instruction to pick out a picture for your post. This is not just because a picture breaks up the text or makes the page look more aesthetically pleasing (though both of those factors play a role). The best reason to include a picture in your content is to show your reader that you put some thought and effort into what you wrote.

Unfortunately for us all, the internet does not have an editor, so the vast majority of new content written every day is, to be kind, garbage. People have become desensitized to it, either not reading it or accepting its low quality. At OWJ, many of the brands we work with need to maintain an image that is above all that, and one way to make an instant impression, a way to say “I care about what I’m writing,” is by adding a relevant picture.

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Posted in Writing Tips