Tag Archives: tone

Blogger’s style guide: Five tips on tone

  1. Be yourself. Write in the first person and let your personality show through – TIP: this will happen naturally if you choose to write about something you are interested in or enthusiastic about, otherwise this will seem like homework (and who wants to read homework?).
  2. It can take time to find your voice, especially if you are not used to writing in this more conversational way, but reading other blogs will help and practice makes perfect. Having trouble? Try pretending you are emailing a knowledgeable friend or colleague. And read it out loud – it shouldn’t jar.
  3. Avoid jargon – you might think it sounds clever but jargon is a no-no for readers. By all means show your expertise and authority, but explanations in plain English will be welcomed by, and more engaging for, your readers.
  4. Invite conversation – fortunately, you don’t have to know it all! Ask questions, think out loud, be humble and say that you’d be interested to hear what others think about >whatever you are writing about<.
  5. Have fun – this is not an annual report! You can still be a corporate expert, but be a human one.

Don’t worry, it takes time – here’s me wrestling with online tone and etiquette two years ago.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

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Blogger’s style guide: How is blogging different?

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

How is blogging different from other types of writing?

Blogging is a different type of communication. The style tends to be: informal and conversational; easy to read rather than big blocks of copy; human not corporate; real rather than perfect; a space for you to talk about what interests you.

Your opinion is valuable – in fact, the best posts are often ones that tell a reader three things:

  • what has happened, what is the issue of interest
  • an explanation of what it means, some context
  • an opinion on what you think about it (if blogging for a company, this will probably be the company line)

As you can also see, you can also speak directly to your reader. (Hi, by the way.)

The other big difference is that your reader can easily say ‘hi’ back. They can respond to what you are saying – and you can have a conversation about the subject of your post.

Think of it as a dinner party that you are hosting. What are you going to say? Hopefully something that will interest them. So, what will interest them? I’m glad you asked. Next up in this series is: ‘What readers like (or ideas for your posts)’.

Style guide wiki now up for online copy editors

After calling for a universal style guide in a recent post, well, here it is:

Style guide for online sub-editors 

Thanks to journalism.co.uk for the set-up. It’s editable for your learning pleasure and is full of tips, links and explanations for print subs moving over to online. Would be great to hear the input and suggestions of subs and copy editors, or go to the wiki and add your tuppence worth there.

There’s loads of things I haven’t covered, or haven’t covered enough. Please help and make this work-in-progress a useful resource.

Re-styling print copy into web conversation

Want a quick tip on how to tone up your copy for the Web? Dave Taylor at Copyblogger provides…

[I] read what I write out loud rather than just subvocalize it as I write. Not only is this a great way to learn which sentences are too long or need commas … but it also helps you “hear” which of your sentences are awkward and stilted rather than flowing and relaxed.

Basically, write the way that you speak. While Dave’s suggesting this helps him create a distinctive tone of voice, his tip also works as a generic trick for copy editors having to re-style print copy for Web.

How to host an online conversation

Following on from the last post on joining the conversation as being essential to get the tone right, I just found this piece from the OJB‘s Paul Bradshaw (here are some edited highlights; find the full story here):

An online journalist should be a mix of the ideal party guest and the ideal party host, taking part in – and stimulating – conversations in a number of ways:

  • Be involved in your communities.
  • Open up your own work for others to contribute editorially.
  • Make your content portable by providing an RSS feed; widgets users can place on their webpages; wikis for them to edit; or even raw data for mashups.
  • Respond to contributions.
  • Show explicitly that you are part of the conversation, by linking to sources (who will in turn know that they are being quoted either through pingback or traffic)
  • Listen! That means reading blogs, forums and other media in their sector, and then starting from the beginning again: comment, respond, link, open up.

It reminds me of how on citizen journalism sites, there is usually a team of professional facilitators behind the scenes who help the content and contributions come alive and pull out the growing stories.

Of course, the image of being both a party host and a guest sounds a lot nicer.

But essentially it is a way to think of a potential future role for journalists – particularly sub-editors and copy editors who like to have the overview – rather than focusing on feeling defunct in the new media age.

Wrestling with online tone and etiquette

Being sort-of-flamed in a forum a while ago was a wake-up call to getting the tone of online writing right. It’s something I’m still working on and something subs, copy editors and writers moving into online work would do well to learn.

Because unless you’re actively writing for the Web – blogging, contributing to forums, commenting and so on – then the Web’s more natural, conversational tone and transparency won’t come easily. In fact, your writing may end up sticking out like an academic essay delivered on the radio.

I’m learning that one of the best things you can do to make a successful transition to online work is to take part in the culture of the Web – just as your readers do.

Writing a blog, making comments, joining a forum or discussion – these are all ways to join in and develop your online voice.

The problem for print journalists is that we’re used to operating in a vacuum. We’re used to telling the reader what to think in a one-way distribution of information that is forgotten as soon as it goes to press.

And too often, the reader has felt like a nameless, faceless entity summed up by market research as an ABC1 type.

Not so on the Web. Expect them to talk back and respond directly to the content you upload. And be ready for them to click through to you from Bratisalava or Boston as much as from Birmingham or Bognor. Cock it up or come across as superior (even if you are!) and you can expect a flaming for you and/or your brand.

Dan Gillmor (author of We The Media) says journalism is in the process of evolving from ‘journalism as lecture to journalism as conversation’. Which means…

Online editors need to be ready to engage at a grassroots level. We can now write in the second-person, ask direct questions, start debates and reply to commentors, critics and detractors.

Btw, don’t think having a site which with comments disabled lets you off – anything you publish can be linked to, commented on, blogged about or discussed openly for anyone to read, ad infinitum.

But get the tone right and the readers are more likely to buy into what you’re saying.

(For a commercial rationale on this, check out why being likeable online is an important business strategy. Being controversial brings in traffic but if you’re selling something it’s likeability that makes people want to buy.)

And if you do cock up? Don’t respond in anger. Be humble, be honest, apologise for getting it wrong, ask what they suggest doing and avoid tit-for-tat responses. People will usually forgive you for being an arse. Once anyway.