Tag Archives: editing

11 Ways I’m Terrible at Writing Blog Titles!

53564334Among the key lessons I’ve learned about blogging is the importance of writing a great title. (Or is it a headline? Either one, I guess.)

I’ve written blog posts here that I thought would burn up my page-view counter … and then… crickets.

I can’t say why for sure, of course. But it’s occurred to me that my titles need some work. I looked around the blogosphere for tips, and analyzed what I was doing vs. what worked and didn’t work. Here are 11 tips I’ve found or learned on my own.

If you’re reading this, maybe that means I’m catching on, right? Send me more. I need all the help I can get!

  1. Use numbers in titles. For examples, the one on this post… Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi says using two numbers is even better. I tried this recently with How 5 Friends Reinvented Themselves, and 6 Resources on How You Can, Too. The results were good, but not great. (What gives, Joe?)
  2. Controversy sells. Maybe, but I’m uncomfortable with being deliberately provocative. Should I have titled this post, 7 Reasons Why You’re Wrong to Focus on Titles? I could have put “suck” in this title, but that’s borderline vulgar, isn’t it? My mother reads this. Damn it.
  3. Use keywords if you can, but don’t be obnoxious about it. Try to optimize for SEO.
  4. Keep it tight and punchy, with bold words and maybe even a little attitude.
  5. Find the right length to maximize on the channels you use to share. Stop at least 10 characters short of Twitter’s 140-character limit so it’s easy for followers to retweet you. “I try to shoot for 70 characters or less in my titles so they don’t get cut off in most emails and search engine results,” says Corey Eridon of hubspot.com.
  6. Some punctuation is OK, like question marks and even exclamation points, which I usually hate! (I double-dipped on this one: Does Exercise Make You More Creative? Go Take a Walk and Let Us Know!) More problematic are special characters like @ and #.
  7. Be topical. I had success with this (‘The Normal Heart’ and How a Story Evolves) because I wrote it the week “The Normal Heart” debuted and was receiving media attention. It wouldn’t have worked months before or later. 
  8. Start with the title in mind and then write to it. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. But I caught on pretty quickly, like with this one, 11 Ways to Keep Balance in Your Life.
  9. Be Clear about What You’re Offering. This was one of my best performers: 16 Easy Ways to Write Better.
  10. A blog post is not a newspaper article. I used to write headlines for a living, and I was good at it. But this is not that.
  11. Odd numbers are better than even. So they say…

How’d I do? Here’s a link to a dozen more resources on writing better titles. Check ‘em out.

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27 Writing, Editing Tips for Better Content

Never Say Never, Sean Connery, things to never write or say, jay croft, storycroft, atlanta, communications,

Never, Mr. Bond?

We talk a lot about storytelling and content in business communications, marketing, websites and social media. The conversation is often about the Big Picture, and that’s important, of course. But strategies and UX studies won’t help us if our content isn’t as good as it can be.

Even the little things can turn people off.

If you want your content consumed, understood and shared, here are 27 things you must never do.



1. Never start a communications project without knowing what you’re trying to say, to whom and why. Talk it out.

2. Never oversell. In headlines and links, don’t promise too much excitement or information. (Nobody likes click bait.) In text, avoid overused adjectives like “amazing,” exclamation points and all-caps.

3. Never assume people already know what you’re sharing about. Or where your photo was shot. Or why they should keep watching your video.

4. Never be needlessly negative. It’s easy to be snarky. But it’s better to be useful and helpful.

5. Never forget to do basic research or to confirm what you’ve heard or read. In the Internet age, we’re all instant experts on everything. Except that we’re not. And you don’t want to be caught reacting to something that turns out to be a hoax.

Grammar meme6. Never let a reader doubt you know “it’s” from “its” or “your” from “you’re.”

7. Never dump your notebook. You have to make choices. You have to focus.

8. Never try to turn perfectly fine verbs into nouns. “Ask” is something you do, not something you add to an agenda. And it’s the same thing in reverse. When discussing a challenge, do not say, “The way we’re going to solution that problem…”

9. Never start a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe.” If you write those phrases, see how the sentence reads or sounds without them. Better, almost always.

10. Never say “uh,” “like” or “you know” too much. Or this new entry into the genre, “again,” when you are not actually repeating anything. I’m not sure when that one became common. Listen for it. Let me know if you notice it.

11. Never waste space by metaphorically clearing your throat. Sometimes we want to warm up for a while, back into a story or a point before stating our business. It’s natural sometimes, so go ahead and write all that you need to. And then delete it.

12. Never write headlines full of words that can be verbs and nouns. Readers don’t want to struggle to make sense of a headline.

kill-your-darlings-150x15013. Never fall in love with a phrase, design or image for its own sake. You’ve heard the expression “Kill your darlings.” Yep. You gotta.

14. Never forget to follow a style guide. AP, Chicago, whatever. Consistency is key. It also helps you write faster.

15. Never publish without having proofread, paying special attention to figures and proper nouns.

16. Never confuse proofreading with editing. Do both or find someone who can. (Here are some tips from a master.)

17. Never write or say anything like, “As anyone who knows me can tell you…”

18. Never get political unless that’s your point. Why turn off a substantial portion of your audience?

26715619. Never use too many figures in a sentence or paragraph. Break them up or put them into a graphic, chart or link.

20. Never be crass or vulgar. Avoid using profanity and showing skin. Even in a tweet or status update.

21. Never use a new digital tool just to show that you can. Or publish images or quotes or outrageous things just because you can.

22. Never undermine your presentation with heavy-handed marketing. Ease up and let the content do its thing.

23. Never tell me something is ironic. Especially if you graduated from the Alanis Morissette School for Wayward Pop Stars.

24. Never pile on the acronyms. It’s like saying, “Call that guy about the place where they have the thing and tell him what I’m thinking.”

25. Never call a car crash tragic. Never call the natural death of an old person tragic. Never call something tragic unless it actually is. And then make sure you have a good reason for pointing it out.

26. Never use upspeak. If it’s not a question, don’t say it like it is.

27.  Never say never? Never.

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16 Easy Ways to Write Better

Jay Croft, Atlanta, writer, newspaper, Journal-Constitution, Cox Enterprises, storytelling, corporate communications, content, gay, pop culture, movies, music, TV, Poncey-Highland, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, who is a good writer in Atlanta, public relations, marketing, social media expertEverybody’s a writer in the Internet age. And I think that’s great.

I just wish more people had an editor, as well.

There’s no substitute for a collaborator who’s looking over your shoulder and pointing out where you could improve. But absent that, you can take steps on your own to make your writing better — whether it’s in blog posts, memos, tweets or articles.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the (many, pre-Google) years as a professional writer and editor. They’ll help you get your message across more effectively. I hope you try them and I hope they help. Let me know!

1. Resist the urge to use exclamation points!

2. Favor short sentences.

3. Remember to vary your sentence lengths, as well, so that some are longer than others.

4. In most instances, don’t start a sentence with a dependent clause. Subject-verb-object works better generally, and relying on it does not indicate you’re simpleminded or lacking in “style.” It means you care about clarity.

5. Get to the point early in your piece, whatever it is. Readers won’t stick with you if they have to look for it.

6. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Pick the right nouns and verbs, instead.

7. Take advantage of the medium (blog, newspaper, etc.) to enhance your message without going overboard or obscuring it.

8. Write short paragraphs. Dense copy blocks are unappealing and even intimidating to people who are scanning and deciding whether to dive into your blog or article.

9. Write short pieces. Really, no one has time. If you can cut that line, paragraph or passage, then do.

10. Avoid clichés like the plague.

11. Jargon, too. Or you’ll never think outside the box at the end of the day.

12. Write to express yourself, not to impress anybody else.

13. Read it out loud. Listen to the sound, the sound, the sound.

14. Watch out for tangents and stop when you find yourself going on one. A good clue: If you say, “But I digress,” then DON’T. (See No. 10.)

15. Prevent AAOS (Acronyms & Abbreviations Overuse Syndrome). When in doubt, spell it out or find a simpler way to put it.

16. Know your subject matter and audience so well that you learn to relax when writing and editing your own copy. You can even break your own rules now and then! (See what I just did? Ha!)

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Jay Croft, author of storycroft.com, is a veteran communicator in mainstream daily newspapers and large, national corporations. 



What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, movie, poster, Idris Elba

Mandela movie poster

When it comes to storytelling material, how much is too much?

We’ve all faced the question many times. And it’s not a bad problem, having tons of rich, compelling and relevant content. But it presents another series of questions about focus and editing.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” struggles to squeeze a magnificent (and long) life into a single film. Two lives, actually, since Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s stories are profoundly inextricable.

The movie covers decades of history, barely touching on many episodes and relationships that could have been given much more time. It goes for sweep, and delivers to an extent, in the old-fashioned Hollywood biopic way.

But is it too much? Would Mandela’s story have been better told by taking a more narrow approach? For instance, the one favored by “Invictus,” which told a specific episode from Mandela’s later years? Or maybe a longer approach – say, a TV miniseries?

It made me think of challenges I’ve faced working on corporate communications or mainstream media projects, either print, digital or some combination.  How much information to share with which stakeholders? How much background? How many examples? Here are a few things I try to keep in mind.

5 Things to Consider

1. Brevity’s hard. Mark Twain once wrote, “Hello, my dear friend. Forgive me for writing such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

2. What’s your main purpose in telling your story?

3. What can be pulled out for a sidebar or later update?

4. What’s the best channel for your story and any other components?

5. Kill your babies. Shake the tree. If it doesn’t really have to be there, then it doesn’t deserve to be there.

One last question: Why aren’t the stars of “Mandela,” the spectacular Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, in more movies? Hollywood – hello?

My Photos from Robben Island; Video of Mandela’s Cell

Nelson Mandela was held on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he spent imprisoned. For hundreds of years, the island off Cape Town was used to hold mental patients, lepers and political prisoners like Mandela and others who fought apartheid. I recently visited South Africa and toured the notorious facility. Here are a few pics and a video of Mandela’s cell that I took with my iPhone.