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Why Your Online Writing Needs To Be More Like Terrible Journalism

It’s pretty hard to imagine a more insulting put down for a journalist than being called a “hack”. Hacks fill the pages of any newspaper with salacious, trashy stories written in an unimaginative, derivative way.

However, as unappealing as that sounds, there is a thing or two hack journalists can teach you about how to write great, easy-to-read online content.

These tried and tested methods are sure to boost your online writing, making your site more readable and easier for your visitors to comprehend.

1. Write In The “Inverted Pyramid” Style

You should structure your paragraphs like a news story, with the most important information at the beginning, and the less essential information nearer the end.

If you read a short news story you will notice that it is structured in an unintuitive way. Instead of following any sort of narrative, the story is instead written with the most important aspects first, tapering off with the less important information at the end.

By structuring your online content like this, you give your readers access to what they want straight away.

2. Use Short, Sharp Language

Another defining characteristic of a “hack” journalist is their use of to-the-point, concise language. These guys aren’t Oscar Wilde – they write to get the job done in as few words as possible.

A 1997 study showed that 79% of people on the internet scan text instead of reading, and as people have got more used to reading online content, this number can only have gone up.

Too many online writers write to make themselves sound clever; you need to write to make other people feel clever. Big fancy words are no good here. To craft good online writing, think caveman language.

Remember, your readers aren’t here to experience some top-notch literature. They’re here for a solution to a problem, and they want to take in that information as quickly and easily as possible.

3. Put Big Ideas Into Bite-Sized Chunks
Medieval peasants

Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” didn’t sell millions of copies by revolutionising modern physics; it sold because Hawking presented hugely complicated ideas in terms a medieval serf could understand.

Your readers don’t have time to sit, think and unravel your message. You need to communicate what you want to say in the most direct way possible.

Don’t meander around the point at hand, and don’t get too bogged down in the details of what you’re saying. Break down your message into something anyone can understand.

This is another trick hack journos have nailed down; they say what they need to say in the easiest way possible for you to read and understand.

4. If It’s Not Essential, Cut It

If an added detail doesn’t add to the story in any significant way, cut it. Your readers will love you for it.

Remember, unless you’re writing for a comedy website, or your blog is celebrated purely for your writing style, your readers come to your site to be informed. Don’t make them dig through swathes of text to get to the good stuff.

5. Use Clever, Attention-Grabbing Headlines

Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of writing online content. You could write mind-blowing, world-changing articles, but if you don’t write good headlines, no one’s going to click through and actually read them. Therefore your headlines need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.

Here are some great tips to help you create better headlines:

  • Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
  • Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
  • Use keyword research. Find out the keywords and phrases people most commonly use to search for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog-post headline will show up in their search.
  • Make your headlines intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.


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