How to write great Web copy for your ministry
On March 24, Justin Stowell will host an Indigitous Session on Writing for the Web. This exciting webinar will probably be our most accessible Session to date, because you don’t need to be a specialist to gain valuable knowledge. Many people have told me that “everyone is a writer.” In case you’re wondering, yes, all writers hate hearing that (side note: Do people tell chefs that everyone is a cook?). There is some truth to it, though. While not everyone writes professionally, and few possess the gifts to write as an art form, everyone needs to be able to write content that is clear, informative, and persuasive. Your Web copy and your blog, for example, need to tell visitors what your ministry is, who you are, and why they should care. If you can’t do that, your ministry’s effectiveness on the Web will suffer.
I’m not going to drive deep into the writing craft in this post – come back on March 24 for the good stuff – but I would like to share some of the tips I’ve learned from years of professional writing and editing.
Know your audience
Who are you intending to read your content? Who will it serve? A seasoned missionary with years of evangelism training is going to need a different level of detail and background information than a college student who you are trying to mobilize. Regional and cultural influences will also play a major role in who gets value from your content. I recommend targeting all of your content at your ministry’s personas (if you don’t use personas, be sure to watch Lieze Langford’s Session for more information).
Define your purpose
[pullquote]The Web doesn’t reward nuance. [/pullquote]Obviously, you’re not going to start writing something for no reason. Just because you had a reason for writing doesn’t mean you have a clearly defined purpose, though. I have a personal blog where my only purpose is to make people laugh. If you think the posts are funny, I’ve done my job. In my freelance work as a music critic, my purpose is to let you know whether or not a new album is good enough for you to spend your hard-earned money on it.
When managing the content for Indigitous.org, I make sure that anything that goes on the website helps “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). Still, that is only the general purpose of Indigitous content as a whole. Beyond that, everything that is posted has a desired outcome. Maybe I want those who read the blog post to register for an event. Maybe I want them to help us translate an app. Maybe I simply want them to be informed about a new strategy that could make them more effective in their ministry. The point is, everything I post has a desired outcome and everything I write should lead the reader to that outcome.
Show, don’t tell… but also tell
Anyone who has ever studied writing was taught to “show, don’t tell.” This principle will make your writing more powerful, more memorable, and your work will resonate better with the readers. When editing my fiction, I go so far as to circle every instance where I write a character thinking or feeling anything. Basically all thought verbs – such as thinks, believes, knows, realizes, wants, and more – are thrown out and replaced with the character performing an action that conveys the same meaning. When writing for the Web, though, you need to do a lot more telling.
Someone recently told me, “The Web doesn’t reward nuance.” That’s the truth. Your writing needs to be explicit enough that someone scrolling through your site on their phone while waiting for their turn at the check-out line can grasp what you’re trying to tell them. That means those thought verbs, particularly feeling verbs, are important. Quoting somebody on their thoughts and feelings is even better.
Keep it short… unlike this post
Clearly this is an area where I don’t practice what I preach. Still, the attention span of readers on the Web is significantly shorter than readers of magazines, books, or other long-form media. I would tell you more, but I think instead I will practice the next tip.
If you find that your post is too long, break it up into a series
So let’s consider this Part One.
Remember, Justin Stowell will lead a Session on Writing for the Web on March 24. Register now.