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Speed-dating your source content in 4 easy steps

by Angie King on August 5th, 2009

Many of our first-time clients come to us in the eleventh hour of a site redesign, looking for web writing triage. They unload sitemaps, wireframes, and piles of source content (we’re talking PDFs, outdated web pages, print collateral, email copy—the works). It’s our job to turn this ugly mess into a beautiful, content-rich website.

Sound familiar? If you’re a web writer, it’s likely you’ve run into this scenario more often than not. And if you’re going to meet your deadlines, there’s not a lot of time to get to know your source material.

No problem. Just take what we like to call the “speed-dating approach.” In doing so, you’ll be able to quickly weed out the duds (aka nice-to-know, “filler” information) and find the studs (meaty content that addresses your users’ needs).

This approach may not be the most romantic beginning to your “happily web-er after,” but it’s efficient.

Get ready to meet your source content!

Before you start making eyes at all this material, you’ll want to do a little pre-date grooming. Let’s assume your client has prepped the source content for you–made it presentable by organizing and prioritizing it into usable content strategy documents.

Post these content strategy documents nearby for quick reference:

    • Business goals and user needs

    • Content inventory

    • Wireframes or page tables

Got all that handy? Good. Like wearing your favorite little black dress to a singles mixer, these documents are the trusted staples of your web writing strategy.

Now you’re ready to speed date your source content. Here’s how, in four easy steps.

STEP ONE: Scan-read source content and highlight the most important points.

There’s no need to spend countless hours reading over every page of your source content. In fact, the longer you linger over it, the more likely you’ll become immune to all its flaws.

Instead, follow the tried-and-true speed-dating guidelines. In other words, spend just a few minutes per page, scanning for important information and recurring themes. When you see a key point, highlight it. Repeat.

Not sure which information to look for? Refer to your content strategy documents. They’ll tip you off to what’s important and what’s not.

STEP TWO: Copy and paste highlighted messages into your content document.

Meaningful relationships don’t develop on first sight. And awesome web copy doesn’t auto-magically appear after a single review of your source content. So don’t rush your writing process. Matter of fact, don’t even write right away. It’s tempting, but trust us on this.

Start off by simply copying and pasting your highlighted content into the appropriate pages of your content document. Go ahead and organize the source content into an outline that fits the page’s content needs. But hold off on the actual writing until you’ve transferred all of your highlighted source content.

STEP THREE: Write, edit and refine your key content.
Just like you wouldn’t lay it all out there on a first date, don’t try to perfect your copy in your first draft. Do keep web writing best practices and style guides in mind as you write. Just don’t kill yourself with the details on the first go-round.

So, go ahead. Write that first draft. Just do it. But don’t edit while you write. Now set your draft aside. Sleep on it. Refer back to your web writing best practices and style guidelines. Then you can edit and refine until you’ve created killer web content.

STEP FOUR: Deliver irresistible web copy to your client.
Before you commit to your content document, have an editor take a look at it. He or she will be the strategic equivalent of the therapist you hire to smooth out all your relationship issues before saying “I do.”

After a few rounds like this with your editor-therapist, your web copy should be suitable to introduce to your mother. Er, client.

  • coreycaitlin

    Dude, you guys have a magical ability to post EXACTLY the tutorials/tips I need on EXACTLY the days I need them. Seriously. I should probably send cake.

  • http://www.cabedge.com/ Scott

    Agreed. I especially like the highlighting suggestion. I can't even remember all the times I've found some gem of a positioning statement or key message buried in paragraph six of some defunct brochure or whitepaper. It's like treasure hunting!

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