9 Steps to Clearer Writing: Focus

Got Focus?

Got Focus?


“I want my sexy!” screamed my four year old from the bathtub. I could hear his older brother patiently going through a list of possible words, other than sexy, that might placate the little guy. With each incorrect guess, duckie?, cookie?, Saltie?, wedgie?, the demand got louder and louder. I put a stop to the screaming by sliding open the shower door and explained to the toddler that demanding the same thing over and over, only louder, was not helpful. After a series of descriptive inquiries similar to a 20 questions game, I picked up a plastic Jet Ski from the toy basket and handed it to a now beaming child. Who knew that Jet Ski and sexy are the same things when you’re four?

Clear communication is elusive for many of us, even as adults. We each come to the table with different experiences and ideas that shape the way we communicate. Writing is no different. However, clear writing is crucial on the Web. Internet readers expect fast facts, clear communication, and instant entertainment- all within the first paragraph. Post unclear copy and you’ve lost the reader (a.k.a. the potential customer).
So begins our series on 9 steps to clearer writing. This nine part post will hopefully help new writers create better content and maybe give those seasoned veterans among us a refreshed perspective on clear communication.

Step ONE: Focus- Your Writing Foundation

Focus. A clear focus serves as the strong foundation for your writing. What is your article about? What idea are you conveying to your readers? When you lose your focus your writing tends to wander around aimlessly, resulting in confusion and frustration in your readers.

Finding a Goal

Each article, blog post, page of sales copy, or website content page should have an obvious goal. This goal may be to express an opinion, provide step-by-step directions, review historical facts, inform the reader, or entertain an audience.

Where to Start

Many professional copywriters recommend beginning with your title. You can revise the title once the article is finished, but having a brief summary of your writing helps keep you on track. Every sentence in the article should relate back to the subject of the title. If you need help writing better titles, you can visit CopyBlogger or ProBlogger for terrific tutorials.

Building a Framework

Keeping focus also requires a logical flow to your writing. Each piece should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. These three portions of your article need to be interesting, not repetitive. The introduction determines whether readers continue to the end of the page, the body should be easy to skim, and the rest of copy must support the conclusion.

Read Like a Visitor

One of my pet peeves is a professional writer that is too busy to read over their own work before posting. Taking a few minutes to read over a post eliminates 99% of errors in any content, as long as the reader has an adequate understanding of grammar and a good spell checker. Some writers recommend reading your wok out loud to help uncover any unclear or awkward phrasing. You should strive to read the content from the viewpoint of the reader, not the author.

Anything that does not related back to your title needs to go. Editing can seem like a brutal process, but pruning out the dead branches of redundant copy is essential to a healthy article.
Merriam-Webster defines focus as the center of activity, attraction, or attention; a point of concentration. Focus provides the solid foundation for your writing. Determine your purpose, set a goal, and build the framework for great content. Review what you’ve written before posting and don’t be afraid to edit out unfocused phrases. Focus provides clearer communication between you and your readers.

Next up in the clearer writing series is Keep it Flowing: Reaching Your Destination. See you soon!

4 Responses to 9 Steps to Clearer Writing: Focus
  1. JHipkin
    September 9, 2008 | 11:37 pm

    Do you ever make it hard to leave a comment. I had to go through so much I forgot what I was going to say.

    I’m not a professional writer but, as a build on your point Read Like a Visitor, I find it helpful to read my writing out load. Since I wrote it I understand what I’m trying to say and will fill in gaps in my head. By reading out load I hear awkwardness in a paragraph that I wouldn’t necessarily see just reading it to myself.

    Looking forward to future posts.

  2. JHipkin
    September 9, 2008 | 7:37 pm

    I’m not a professional writer but, as a build on your point Read Like a Visitor, I find it helpful to read my writing out load. Since I wrote it I understand what I’m trying to say and will fill in gaps in my head. By reading out load I hear awkwardness in a paragraph that I wouldn’t necessarily see just reading it to myself.

    Looking forward to future posts.

  3. Jamie
    September 10, 2008 | 9:46 pm

    Sorry about the hassle, we’re still working out the bugs. That was one was easy to fix, though!

    I agree on the reading aloud point. I often find that the cadence or flow of a sentence needs to be adjusted after hearing it spoken.

  4. Jamie
    January 6, 2010 | 8:14 pm

    Sorry about the hassle, we're still working out the bugs. That was one was easy to fix, though!

    I agree on the reading aloud point. I often find that the cadence or flow of a sentence needs to be adjusted after hearing it spoken.

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