Words Words Words: How to Write Sizzling Content

Scrabble board

“Words are fun. Words are your friends.” is what Donna Talarico states in her highly entertaining talk at HighEdWeb 2016.

Writing content for the web is all about telling a compelling story. Knowing what makes a good story, and what makes a story good is as essential as knowing the audience: who we are writing for, and why we are writing for this particular audience. Successful stories that connect with the readers should evoke emotions, be action-oriented, memorable and most importantly human to achieve relatability.

To tell the story of your campus, adopt the following guidelines:

  • Find characters. Find somebody relatable and tell the story through their lens(es). Characters can for example be a student, alumni or faculty member.
  • Choose a setting. This could be your campus or your building or department.
  • Decide on the point of view. Find the right angle to your story. It could be told from the perspective of a student, staff or faculty member.
  • Make it personable. Stop saying “the student”, say “you.” Stop saying “the campus”, say “we or “I” if appropriate.
  • Show, don’t tell. Avoid clichés and empty phrases, and think of concrete examples to make the story more compelling.
  • Use engaging media. Emphasize your story with photos, videos or graphics.
  • Make stronger word choices. Don’t just use words you are comfortable with, and don’t overuse words like awesome, great, fun, beautiful, etc. Book tip: Better than Great by Arthur Plotnik.
  • Write user-friendly. Use words that students and their parents will understand. Don’t be redundant, be playful. Alliteration works, and repetition can be effective. App tip: Hemingway App.
  • Use active voice. Speak in active voice with clarity. It is often more exciting and vibrant than passive voice, and it keeps the pace going.
  • Be brief. Cut the clutter and avoid unnecessary phrases. Brevity adds clarity.
  • Self-edit. Read your drafts aloud to help with flow and structure, print out a hard copy, share with others if you can (they aren’t as close to the topic as you are). Check for spelling, grammar, editing-induced errors, weak words, redundancy, fluff words, flow and structure, rhythm, fact-checking.

When working in teams, formalize the collaborative writing process. Check if there is a proofing process in order, write a style guide, create a schedule for content review and do a content inventory. Rethink job descriptions and the team structure, assessing who writes, who reviews, when and why.