Have you ever published content on Digital Journal and then thought, "Darn, forgot to check that!" Whether you're a new or veteran writer, we have a checklist and some pointers for you before you publish your next story or blog.
These are the top 15 things you should do before clicking ACTIVATE/POST. We highly recommend you bookmark this page and refer to it prior to publishing your next piece of content. This list will help your content look clean, readable and can help attract more readers:
1. Tailor your content to a specific thesis/goal. The best posts are those with clear focus. Before writing your article, outline on paper or in your head what you want to convey in your writing. This advice is especially useful for Op-Ed contributors who might want to cram in a lot of ideas into one post; but it can come off as meandering and unclear. Pick a thesis or goal for your content and stick to it. Journalists often call this a nut-graph.
2. Don't assume readers know as much as you do. Let's say you know a lot about baseball and you're writing about an injury to a player. It's easy to assume your readers know the player and the team and the incident, but it's best to believe your readers are baseball newbies. Write content with descriptions of, say, what the player has been doing recently and the medical explanation of the injury in question. You should link to things such as the baseball player's MLB profile page, the team's page, etc. in order for readers to learn more if they desire.
3. Ensure your headline is clear and powerful. Clarity is the top priority here. Have you ever read a headline that made you wonder what the heck the article is all about? Make sure your headline gives the reader enough info on the topic to want to click the link to learn more. That doesn't mean your headline can't be impacting or funny; just don't foresake clarity for cutesy headlines or misleading statements.
4. Choose your tags/keywords carefully. On Digital Journal posts, you can select tags relevant to your article. For an article on the iPhone 5 for instance, your tags should include "iphone" and "apple" and "smartphone", for example. Don't include long phrases such as "Apple releases iPhone." Sentences aren't ideal; there's a reason they are called keywords, right?
5. Link to content both on DigitalJournal.com and off site. As you likely know, Digital Journalists must link to minimum three sources per post (unless it's a Special Report). Always try to find at least three sources of information so you can offer readers a revitalized story infused with info from many sources, creating a new article for readers to enjoy. While we encourage linking to outside sources, remember to link to related content on Digital Journal, such as previous coverage or our Topics pages. For example, if you're writing about the iPhone, link to our Topics pages for iPhone or Apple.
6. Make your content readable. This can mean several things: use accessible and readable language, avoid jargon unfamiliar to many readers, don't bold or italicize phrases that don't require such treatment and space images properly around your article so the paragraphs read OK. Proofreading your article thoroughly before publishing can help you ensure your content is readable.
Sometimes, bullet points might be useful for explaining a list of items. Or sub-headlines within a long article could help break up the big block of grey text for readers.
7. Include the latest info. Let's say you start writing about a breaking news story on Hurricane Isaac. At 3 p.m. you begin the article and you're done at around an hour later. In that hour, news might have changed on the topic, so you should go back to your sources or on services such as Twitter to find out if your news story has changed within that hour. Always include the latest updates, and feel free to keep the story fresh after it's been published.
8. Always include an image. Photographs make your content stand out. It's that simple. Photos attract the eye and attract readers to your content especially if the photo really grabs our attention. Be sure to read this post on the proper pics to use in Digital Journal.
9. Write in a consistent voice. Your writing voice could take years to cultivate, but once you got it, you'll know it. Write in a way so readers will know that is one of your articles. A writer's voice makes him/her stand apart from the pack, and it's especially vibrant in Op-Ed articles. Also, by rewording news articles and posting content in your own words, your voice becomes more apparent to readers.
You know an Ernest Hemingway book as soon as you read the first few sentences. You know a Rolling Stones song when you hear the first few bars. A good artist's voice is instantly recognizable.
10. Don't use foul language. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to write professionally. Even if you feel strongly about a topic, don't resort to foul or abusive language that could hurt your journalistic credibility. There's a lot you can say without using swear words.
11. Don't write too much, don't write too little. Like a good bowl of oatmeal, your article length should feel just right. Ever read an article that went on and on and never really got to the headline's promise? That article needed editing to get to the heart of the thesis. Then there are articles that barely convey useful info, so that writer needed to spend more time researching the news and including various sources. Edit your post so it can be readable and clear and concise.
12. Add a call to action. For some content, adding a call to action is a fantastic way to engage readers. For the iPhone article, you can post at the bottom, "Will you buy the new iPhone 5?" This question might encourage more comments on an article that didn't have any parting line.
13. Review your copy for spelling, grammatical mistakes. Before hitting Activate, use our Spellcheck tool to see if you made any little mistakes. We also recommend reading your story three or four times and once aloud to catch any grammatical errors. Writers make mistakes, it happens, but you can avoid any slip-ups by taking your time to proofread your content thoroughly.
14. Engage readers via social media. As we've explained before, writers in the digital age should be reaching out to readers where they live. Social media is now the home to many readers, so publicize your hard work on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and more. It's recommended to ask a question accompanying your link, such as "What do you like or dislike about the iPhone?" Many marketing experts have said how asking questions on social media can generate more replies than simply posting a link.
15. Keep an eye on your topic after your content has been published. Following up on your news topics is a great way to keep published content fresh. A day after your post has been published may feature more news on your topic, so be sure to update your content as soon as you can. You can also alert readers to any updates in the post's comment thread.
Any questions or comments about this checklist? Feel free to add any other tips below.