How to Write Your Way to Online Success (Even if You’re Not a Writer)

This is a guest post from Joshua Clanton, a freelance web designer who blogs about web design, creativity, and productivity.

Do you remember a few years ago when social commentators were talking about how the western world was quickly becoming a post-literate society?

Though it may be a bit premature to say what will happen in the future, with the rise of blogging and the ubiquity of email, it seems that the death of writing has been greatly exaggerated.

And for those who work online, writing is even more crucial than it is for brick and mortar businesses, since it often replaces face to face interaction.

The Why

In most businesses, face to face interaction is one of the most important communication channels that we have. Not only is it among the most important, it is also the one with the highest bandwidth.

We are constantly sending physical signals about our trustworthiness, our commitment, whether we’re likable, etc. But online, for the most part, we have to do without that.

Eliminating this high-bandwidth communication channel means that we have to find other ways of conveying the same information.

While phone calls and video chats may help, the most common way that we interact online is through writing. So the trick is to turn our writing from a low-bandwidth channel to a high bandwidth channel.

There are, of course, some people whose online business is writing. But even if that’s not your niche, there are still very practical benefits to writing well.

Among them are:

  • Clearer communication with clients and colleaguesWhile email and instant messaging don’t require great artistry, they do require clarity of language if you want to communicate effectively
  • An engaging website and blogYou may hire someone to write copy for the static portions of your website, but more than likely you won’t want to pay for every article on your blog. If you can write articles that are both engaging and informative, it will make your website much more attractive.
  • The ability to market yourself on other sitesIf you can write interesting and informative articles for your own site, that means that you can also write articles for other sites, extending your marketing further than it would reach otherwise.
  • A more professional appearanceWhen forming an impression of someone’s professionalism, doesn’t the quality of the writing weight into that, at least a little? Of course, bad writing canbe overcome by good ideas, but why put obstacles in the way of your ideas?

The How

The benefits are pretty straightforward, but how do you learn to transform your writing from low bandwidth to high bandwidth?

My suggestions would be:

  • Read good fiction and non-fiction books.Reading non-fiction is obvious. But why should you “waste” your time with fiction? Because fiction often has a higher bandwidth, using tools like storytelling, emotional involvement and suspense. And you can potentially learn more effectively from fiction than from non-fiction.
  • Get a copy of The Elements of Style.This is the manual for brevity and clarity in writing. Once you get your copy, read it from cover to cover, and then reread it.
  • Read blogs like Copyblogger, Write to Done, and Men With Pens.Having a constant stream of good writing tips is very helpful when writing is part of your daily life. Eventually, you’ll come up against a writing project that you just can’t seem to figure out. At times like that, just ask yourself, “How can I apply their latest tips to my writing?” If that doesn’t work, odds are that they’ve got helpful advice in their archives.
  • Get friends and colleagues to critique your writing.This depends a bit on what your friends and colleagues are like. You don’t want people who just say that your writing is great, nor do you want people who just say that your writing stinks. You want people who will read thoroughly and then tell you what works for them and what doesn’t work. Of course, you also want to evaluate whether those who critique you have biases contrary to that of your target audience. (For instance, programmers may be unreliable judges of an article written for designers, and vice versa.)
  • Analyze the best writing in your genre and figure out what makes it the best.If you’re a self-improvement blogger, this would mean looking at sites like Zen Habits and Steve Pavlina’s blog. You probably don’t want to do things exactly how they do, but you want to gain an understanding of why their way works. Once you have that understanding, you can apply it to your own writing.

Of course, the most important part of learning to write well is to actually sit down and write!

The You

Now it’s your turn. Has writing helped you and your business? Are you where you want to be with your writing? What are you doing to improve it?

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