Does Your Content Feel Flat?

Flat content is a drag to read. People should click away—and you as the writer or content manager know it, too. Why would you deliver that kind of writing to your client?

While we’re all very busy and hurried, there’s always time to perfect your prose. Don’t let limp, lifeless writing ruin a relationship with your favorite clients, use these style and character tips to resuscitate your flat content!

Amp Up the Style

There are many ways to add style to content (short of asking your web pro to program it in!). Here are some of the easiest fixes and fastest ways to troubleshoot flat prose.

1. Crisp Images

crispapplempes4.15Fresh and crisp like a ripe apple, the appropriate image should make a viewer’s mouth water. Here are a few guidelines to live by when you choose imagery:

  • Bigger – Choose large images (500 pixels on the longer side).
  • Better – Blurry images seem unprofessional and sloppy, so always pick crisp ones.
  • Bolder – Saturated colors and white backgrounds seem the most professional and impressive. However, stylized pictures work too, as long as they’re used consistently.
  • Legal – Never risk a client’s reputation or your own by stealing private images. It’s easy to do, but eventually you will get caught and embarrassed.

If an image doesn’t hold your attention for at least three full seconds of consideration, then don’t use it. Pictures that don’t keep your attention will be flat for the reader, too.

2. Skimability

For content to feel foxy and stylized it needs to be easy to consume. Not sure how to make an article easy to skim? Consider the articles that you quickly absorb: they use a lot of bulleting, subheaders, underlining, italics, quote breaks, and numbering.

If the average user clicks to a page for ten seconds, make sure he or she could absorb as much information possible in those ten seconds—don’t make it hard work.

Here is an article that’s very skimable and easy to absorb: here’s another article that’s blocky and overly dense. Visit each page for ten seconds, and try to recall as much information as possible. Which page taught you more? While the second one is clearly easier to breakdown, it could be more concise.

3. Variety

varietybodyshapes4.15No two sentences should be the same length or tone. Neither should you start several sentences in the same frame or format. Try to break it up. You should also do this for paragraph lengths.

This is often easier done at the end of a writing assignment or during revision than it would be to do while writing. Simply change the lengths and styles of sentences so that the text doesn’t read like a robot’s prose. It makes a big impact on the voice readers hear in their heads.

4. Cut the Fluff

dogcutfluffmpes4.15No one should have to read fluffy content just because you have a word count to meet. If you have to write 1,000 words, or 800, or 25,000, then make all of them count with concise and well-planned writing. Please.

Refine the Character

Character is everything in this world. Your content must convey a sense of credibility and believability, which means that it needs to have character. Here are some tips to achieve this.

1. Meaningful Imagery

We touched on the importance of good pictures in the style section too, but images must also be considered for character. Here are a few tips to live by:

  • Obvious – Don’t choose the easiest picture. Just because the first section mentions crisp apples doesn’t mean that a crisp apple is the best picture. Sometimes the obvious choice is great, and other times you need to go funny or insert a pun, allusion, or cultural reference.
  • Old – Even if the picture meets other criteria, don’t use an outdated picture unless it suits the character of the content.
  • Ordinary – Content character will be depleted immediately by ordinary, stock photography. Again, thoughtful choices are necessary—which is to say that no stock posed group of businessmen high-fiving is going to do.

Pictures are the perfect way to demonstrate creativity and personality, even in stodgy content. If you have a stiff or restrictive client, see if you can add some panache through pictures. Sometimes all a piece needs is a few cultural references to trend on Reddit or Facebook in order to become social.

2. Be “Yourself”

robotmpes4.15By writing like a real person you will come off as an individual with character (rather than another robot). Whether or not the audience likes you is another question, but you will certainly seem ‘real’ if you engage the reader as though you are talking to him or her.

If this is a new concept to you, then try one of these exercises:

  • Imagine you are writing a letter to someone you know.
  • Write the content as though it’s dialogue for a screenplay.
  • Think of your all-time favorite character (for example, Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) and re-write text in his voice: sometimes it’s easier to tap a character ‘self’ than it is to write as yourself.

Give your editor or reviewer a heads-up that you will be attempting a new writing style. He or she should be able to give you feedback about what’s working.

3. Credit Where It’s Due

Earn a reputation as someone who provides excellent research and trustworthy facts and figures. Never just believe a third-party’s perspective of a primary source—go read it yourself! Cite the actual source. The three minutes you spend chasing a statistic’s tail will result in your own credit and value in the readers’ eyes.

Also, make sure you’re accurately citing image sources. Photographers, designers and artists deserve all of the props they can get for their creative commons works.

4. Chase Your Own Tail, Too

shutterstock_3496793Readers will become curious about writers when they see a name two or three times. Be prepared for those curious types who will check your picture, your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Make sure all of your images are of you, are professional, and show your name written in the same exact way. Readers want to believe you are a real person—so show them.

Pump up your content so that it doesn’t feel boring and fall flat socially. By following these tips you’ll find your readers more interested, invested, and showing more faith in the reliability of the content.

About the author

Michael Purdy