Nudges On Writing Well

A few weeks ago Alex sent me an email, asking if I wanted to write something for the ConversionXL blog. I said yes.

Early this week my post on Conversion XL went out. I got few emails asking about Plainflow, Customer Data Platforms, and marketing SaaS stack, but a very curious one took my attention.

 

Here’s the Email:

The other emails were about the “content”, this one was about the “form”.

I thought I’d publish something to explain what are our principles when writing down new articles and how looks like our workflow.

Simplicity

Best known as one of America’s most astonishing contemporary novelists, Sir Vonnegut was also a celebrated commencement. In 1995—at the University of Chicago, he said to students:

Still, being a journalist influenced me as a novelist. I mean, a lot of critics think I’m stupid because my sentences are so simple and my method is so direct: they think these are defects. No. The point is to write as much as you know as quickly as possible.

In today’s world where we are all fighting for people’s time, the ability to say in simple words all you have to say is vital. When writing a new post, most of our efforts go into stripping every sentence to its cleanest components.

We avoid difficult words. We prefer short words over long words. Same rules apply to sentences.

We always start writing on Hemingway Editor. It helps you simplify your prose.

Short Sentences

Writing short sentences restores clarity, the directness of subject and verb. Writing short sentences forces you to discard the strong elements of long sentences.

Writing short sentences will help you write strong, balanced sentences of any length. Strong, lengthy sentences, in fact, are really just strong, short sentences joined in various ways.

You’ll be tempted to say “But short sentences sound so choppy“. Only a string of choppy sentences sounds choppy.

 

Good Images

We don’t like stock images. They are shallow and, most of the times they are used in wrong contexts.

We don’t like illustrations used as placeholders. It doesn’t matter how nice they are if they don’t convey any valuable information.

We like simple, effective and self-explanatory charts.

Each chart always starts first on paper:

From my personal paper book.

 

Then it becomes digital

We use FiftyThree to design images and charts. It’s free and it works amazingly.

Solid Schemas

Schemas are to articles, as foundations are to houses. A solid schema allows you to build up your sentences in a logical order. Like building blocks, where each block follows another building block.

This allows you to remove the clutter and avoid confusion in your readers’ mind.

This is a common schema we use:

  1. Define a clear thesis — don’t keep your readers waiting
  2. Support your thesis with arguments
  3. Declare and reject the antithesis
  4. Conclusions

Design it as a Map

When you have the first draft of your article, try to put it down on paper as a map. The circles are the building blocks, the arches are the connectors. See the full picture and try to visually spot inconsistencies. They’re easier to spot when displayed on a visual diagram than when they are made of words.

Are your supporting your thesis with enough arguments? Is your antithesis well positioned in the essay? Is the article “symmetric”?

Don’t be Banal

Jason Fried a few weeks ago wrote something about the banal of “writing content”.

Lots of companies “write content”, for the sake of it, and not because they have something to say.

Don’t do that. Be original.