The digital world is tightly knit and tightly writ. You’ll find phrases. Fragments. Sentences without verbs. Yet you’ll understand what you read. People are used to the staccato style. The short sentences. Breaking news is delivered as briefs. It’s quick. Sometimes it’s: “This just in…”
We’re talking about news and information written specifically for websites, apps and some social media networking sites. Not stories uploaded as is from the print products.
Is this a bad thing? This different writing style? As an editor, should you be concerned?
Perhaps not, if you concentrate on good writing. Even a staccato style is a style — it is consistent and follows a pattern, like a conversation; it just differs from other writing styles.
If you change complex sentences in stories you edit for print to make them clear, you also should make changes in phrases or fragments on other platforms to make them clear. You still must understand the style; you cannot make up your own rules. Styles have always differed: newspapers from magazines from radio from television from online. What matters: whether there is a style and that the style is appropriate.
Tight writing on digital platforms might differ from tight writing in print. But that’s OK if you remember to keep it simple.
Want more tips? Strategy 32: Tight Writing / “Think Like an Editor”
When you trim for an online or mobile platform, you could end up with more, not less. That’s because one goal is to present stories that readers can consume quickly.
- You might cut out of a story some information that you could feature under a separate, clickable headline
- You might publish some of the information in list form as a rail alongside the story
- You might remove an entire portion of the story, such as an explanation of how an event happened — or where it happened — and turn it into an interactive data visualization.
Instead of one piece to tell the story, you might end up with several pieces.
When you look at the overall story after “trimming,” you might be offering readers more, not less.
Want more tips? Strategy 33: Trim a Story / “Think Like an Editor”
Let’s get social.
Social media is about more than communicating content. We need to provide the tools for our audience members to share our work with one another, and they need opportunities to become involved in meaningful ways, with one another and with us.
Social media is about breaking boundaries and facilitating this emerging media relationship. We still provide content: advertisements and editorial matter of all kinds. But the wall between the audience and us is down. The audience is as much partner as customer. It has roles as reader, subscriber, commenter, shopper, distributor, content provider and even, at times, competitor.
One of our roles as communicators is to adapt to audience members’ new identity by using social media and the three I’s — integral, interact, involved — in the following ways.
Integral. Make social media integral to what you do. This first “I” is simply a mindset and a commitment to make. It’s a strategic plan that is integrated, and not an add-on or afterthought.
Interact. Get your audience to interact with one another and with you. This second “I” is basically a set of tools that allow interaction and involvement to take place naturally. Among the ways to interact: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ , Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon.
Involved. Find meaningful ways to get your audience involved. This third “I” is what we do, our campaigns to get people involved. Like any good craftsman, pick the right social media tool for the job. Your strategy for social media should be tailored to the content and what you are trying to accomplish. What do you want and need? What does your audience want and need? Are you looking for utility? Fun? Both? Is Twitter right? Facebook? Instagram? YouTube? What about Storify?
A common misstep is to think of social media as a tool to use after content is created. Use it at the start, to solicit story ideas or to help with ongoing projects. Your audience, if asked, can help you generate new thoughts for sources, especially nontraditional ones, brainstorm new angles on ongoing stories, and build a list of new questions to ask.
And who is the “you” here? All of us — every digital communicator publishing on multiple platforms. Remember, too, that your audience should always be able to participate from a mobile device.
These tips should get you started. They all come from Strategy 4: Social Media in Think Like an Editor, second edition. Check there if you’d like to know more about getting social.
From Think Like an Editor, we bring you some key tips to ensure accuracy in content. Running through this checklist will take less time than it would take to correct any errors or misinformation that otherwise might get past you. Are you publishing content without an editor? This post is especially for you.
When you get to #6 (Use your resources), consider a site we just learned about this week, thanks to Gerri Berendzen @gerrrib , who shared it during a live chat of the American Copy Editors Society. It’s called Verification Handbook , and there you’ll find a comprehensive list of online verification tools.
From Strategy 28: Edit for Accuracy
- Check names. People, places and companies, especially names that are hard to spell or are frequently misspelled.
- Check addresses and phone numbers. Look them up. Call the numbers.
- Do the math. Add, subtract, multiply, divide and work out percentages whenever numbers appear in stories.
- Check dates. Do the math when it comes to ages and anniversaries. A person’s age, for example, depends on the month and date of birth in relation to when the story is being published.
- Check numbers in the lead. Compare numbers in the lead against information in the story, especially the last graph.
- Use your resources. Know where to check facts and information. You might need to verify information with more than one resource. Go to the primary source when possible.
- Check previous stories. Give special attention to stories about an issue that has been in the news. Know details or facts surrounding the issue.
- Use common sense. Think about what you are writing and reading. Sometimes the most glaring errors are easily missed. Visualize as you read. Question anything that does not make sense.
The book actually has 10 tips for editors, but #9 (Check your own work) and #10 (Ask the reporter) don’t apply when it is you who are both reporter and editor.
A few days ago, I was reading a piece by Adam Bryant, who writes the Corner Office feature for The New York Times. Bryant crystallizes six things he says business leaders have emphasized to him over the past few years as crucial to success. (Or, as Bryant says, the things that are integral to nurturing “an effective business culture.”)
The last point in particular resonated with me, and I’ve put it on my New Year’s list — a bit late. This year I had resolved to not have any such list, but Bryant’s Point Six so struck home that I broke my resolution not to have resolutions. And, it’s something anyone can practice in any environment — businesses of all kinds, education, personal life.
It’s the Email Trap. Especially when there is disagreement or confusion, email is the worst way to communicate and is an almost-certain path to more bad feelings, heightened confusion and time wasted.
Nancy Aossey, chief exec of the International Medical Corps, tells Bryant:
“If there’s a conflict and you need to resolve it, you cannot really do it in an email because people don’t know tone. They don’t know expression. Even if they like you and they know you, they might not know if you were irritated or joking in an email. There are things we can say in conversation that you can’t say in email because people don’t know tone and expression.
“People change when they talk in person about a problem, not because they chicken out, but because they have the benefit of seeing the person, seeing their reaction, and getting a sense of the person. But arguing over email is about having the last word. It plays into something very dangerous in human behavior. You want to have the last word, and nothing brings that out more than email because you can sit there and hit ‘send,’ and then it just kind of ratchets up … ”
“Sure,” you might be saying. “Everyone knows that.” Apparently not. And certainly, many don’t practice it. It’s not easy to put into practice because of those very human reactions Aossey mentions. Even if you resolve to avoid the trap, a colleague may not. It’s up to you to break the chain when that annoying email rolls in. Don’t answer until you can do it personally, or by phone if you must. (It’s a good idea to give it a little time, too.)
This year I resolve to do more communicating face to face and with a phone call when issues are complicated or things might be going off the rails. Actually, I think I’m pretty good at this, but could do better. Sometimes I just walk the halls and see who I’ll run into, inspiring 5-minute chats and spur-of-the-moment coffees. This is so easy to do, and so important. And, very efficient.
When email makes a Top Six list of some of the smartest CEOs in the world, it might be worth a consideration.
No one is saying don’t tweet, don’t text and don’t email. Just be smart and subtract perhaps one or two from the 1.5 billion or so emails we send daily.
Funny how a seemingly simple conversation about tangerines and clementines can spark a lively exchange about language.
Here is how it went:
Me: Try some of this clementine. It’s really sweet.
Other person: What is a clementine?
Me: It’s like a tangerine, but it has no seeds.
Other person: Why are you saying it has something when it doesn’t?
Other person: You said it has no seeds. How can it have nothing?
Me: (Blank look)
Other person: You should have said, “It doesn’t have any seeds.”
Me: Do you want some or not?
How we speak is generally how we write — unless we think carefully and assess each word and phrase. In a casual conversation, we usually can get away with a casual style (this citrus example aside). But people who read our words are usually less forgiving. That’s because readers expect a lot from us.
- Read the comments posted under any story published online — especially a breaking story — and you’ll get a good sense of how many readers present themselves as skilled grammarians. They point out language missteps of all kinds, and they often are right.
- Scroll through a steady stream of tweets in the course of a day, and you’re likely to discover the opposite. Some people who are expert writers might craft tweets that sound stilted. That’s because Twitter is designed to be a conversation — how we talk, not how we write. The best tweets are the ones that speak to us.
- A good balance happens with our close attention to the medium.
Inattention is how cliches sneak by us. It’s how we choose the wrong use of a word. It’s why we react with an audible OMG when someone points out our published missteps.
When readers take the time to point out grammatical and language missteps, think about how you can tap into them as a resource. The digital world is an easy way to do that, and here is one idea.
On your website or app, offer a link for readers to point out grammatical errors they spot in your stories. Provide a form, which will make it easy for readers to report the errors and for you to locate the stories. Internally, track the errors. Use this idea in two ways: so you can provide feedback and, possibly, training for reporters and editors who need it; so you can foster a collegial exchange with readers, who are providing a valuable service. Be sure you follow up with readers who write by rewarding them with feedback. Monitor the reader posts so you can assess how well editors are doing in preventing grammatical errors from being published. Be sure to reward the editors, your grammar gatekeepers, with feedback, too. (From “Reward Your Readers,” a Think Digital segment in Strategy 25: Edit for Grammar, in our Think Like an Editor book.)
Not an editor? Posting your own work? You can still try out these tips to tap into your readers.
BTW, I don’t have to tell you who the Other Person is; I know you just know!