Digital Writer Mistakes

Writing is hard and honing your craft for the digital age has only exacerbated the difficulty of writing a solid piece of content that today’s readers actually want to absorb.

At Presto Media, we often find ourselves dealing with the exact same issues for many of our writers. Whether that writer has spent 15 years creating content for a major news publication or crafted their skills as a Buzzfeed contributor, the issues remain pretty static and surprisingly simple to fix.

Burying The Lead

The who, what, where, why, and when of your story is incredibly important. This is the first chance your reader has to decide if they want to continue reading your story or will click through your entire slideshow. If you fail to capture the reader’s attention in the first few sentences of your piece, they are likely to jump off your page just as quickly as they arrived.

Missing the tone

When we talk about tone at Presto Media we look beyond the niche our writer is focused on for each piece. Instead, we examine the demographics of our partners’ readers, the type of content being written, and how articles have been historically written by the publication. Regular readers want to feel comfortable with pages they frequent and will stick with a story if it matches the tone they are familiar with.

Repetitively starting sentences the same way

Repetitive writing is lazy and that doesn’t make for highly engaging and unique content. If you find yourself starting everything sentence with “And then…” or “Also,” or any other repetitive variation, it’s time to rethink how creative you can become with your writing.

Poor image choices

Images are a struggle for many writers because of copyright laws and quality standards. If you don’t have a Getty Images account or contract with various other image providers, your photo options are limited. Our writers scour Pixabay, Photopin, Wikimedia Commons, and various other free image sources to find the best photos available.

Photos should match the needs of the content and should be of the highest quality possible. Blurry images, weirdly cropped photos, and other awkward photos can turn away readers just as quickly as poorly thought out content.

Padding articles to create long-form content

I recently wrote about the Google RankBrain algorithm and Google’s attempts to use natural language processing to determine the context of a news story, listicle, and other forms of digital content. Unfortunately, many publishers are still insistent that SEO requires large pieces of content that rely on heavy keyword usage. When an article is padded with content, the writer is often forced to move outside of the scope of the original article.

In some cases, even a 300-word article can become padded with loosely related facts that don’t capture the user’s interest in the story they believed would be presented.

Rely on the best writing possible to contextually tell a story that is engaging to the reader and you’ll win more times than you lose.

Using cliches like they are going out of style

We regularly run into issues where even the best 5-star writers use cliches to explain certain situations. If you pay close attention you have probably seen way too many uses of terms such as, “new lease on life,” “a diamond in the rough,” or “what goes around comes around,” among others. Find new and exciting ways to explain your story and it won’t seem dry and boring.

Being too vague with supporting details

If you are going to explain the successes, failures, and background of a person or place, it’s easy to fall prey to “list it all out” syndrome. For example, you provide a list of movies that Will Smith has starred in, information the average fan of the actor will already know. A better solution would be to offer a few interesting facts about his successes and failures as an actor or interesting facts about his dealings in Hollywood.

Sentences that go on forever

If a reader needs to finish a novel simply to get through a single sentence you are in trouble. At Presto Media, we push articles through the Flesch–Kincaid readability test which predicts the readability of an article. The test suggests sentences remain to no more than 13 words with as few syllables per word as possible. Don’t completely dumb down your articles but make each sentence easily digestible for your readers.

The ‘I’ versus ‘we’ dilemma

Many news writers switch between “I” and “We” when writing, oftentimes from one sentence to another. While a more personal story can be served well in the first person, it can also lead to a cynical tone that injects too much opinion into an otherwise non-opinion article.

The incredibly long sub-heading or title that includes more than 12 words and leads the reader astray in the process when all they want is a little bit of highlighted information

We recently wrote about the importance of guiding a reader with the help of sub-headings. Revealing interesting facts in a sub-heading is fine but you can lose your reader if you create huge swaths of information and shove it into a section of an article that is supposed to highlight main talking points and not give up the entire content focus.

The bad news? A green writer is prone to most of these mistakes. The good news? All of these problem areas can be fixed very easily and when more focus is placed on avoiding these pitfalls your writing can go from bland to exciting and fresh.