The best articles give their readers all the information they need. In fact, the ideal outcome is that your reader walks away from your article with a warm, enriched feeling of information fulfillment.
OK, maybe that’s an emotional stretch, but the fact remains that vague articles are frustrating for readers, who must then click away and continue their search for the answers they so desperately need. As such, when you’re writing for an online audience, it’s important to find simple ways to help your reader connect with the subject and draw out the information they seek.
If you’re struggling to achieve this style of writing, consider the five following practical tips to evade the vague and focus on the details you need without deviating too far from your natural style.
Target high-risk words
Certain words lend themselves to an incomplete, vague writing style. If you’re talking about ‘stuff’ or ‘things’ or ‘this’ or ‘that,’ your article may not give the content the focus it needs. While these words can add a conversational tone to your article, you could also run into problems because your interpretation of the word’s meaning may differ to what your reader thinks.
Be especially cautious about common nouns and phrases that are inherently vague. Words like ‘factor’ and ‘aspect’ initially seem quite specific, but it’s far too easy to end up with a vague sentence. For example:
“Good English is an important factor in a professional resume.”
While this sentence has value, it doesn’t actually explain the relevance of good English in a resume. The word ‘factor’ is rather generic here and can even come across as a little lazy. Consider the alternative:
“Good English in your resume demonstrates an attention to detail and will convey the professional image a recruiter wants to see.”
This sentence helps the reader understand the true impact of the point you want to make. There’s nothing vague here, and, what’s more, the reader has no doubt about why accurate English is so important.
To develop the right habits, search through your articles for these vague words. The ‘Ctrl + F’ combination is a useful tool here. Seek out every instance of these words and find better ways to explain your point.
Harness the power of good examples
You can add value to a vague statement by introducing a specific example. Indeed, any sentence that starts with ‘for example’ is likely to help eliminate vagueness because you’re taking the trouble to further explain what you just said.
When describing a type of dental surgery, you could say:
“The procedure can lead to unwanted side effects.”
If that’s all you say, the reader may wonder what type of side effects to worry about. Instead, it’s better to say:
“The procedure can lead to unwanted side effects. For example, patients may experience swollen gums and heavy bleeding.”
Eliminate unnecessary doubt
Using even one or two unnecessary words can introduce doubt in a reader’s mind. Accurate content is vital, and writers sometimes use words that unintentionally make the reader question their writing.
“The ball fell about fifteen feet away from me.”
Here, the writer’s use of ‘about’ adds no value because the precise distance is not strictly relevant. As such, you could easily drop the word about, and the sentence would immediately become less vague. Other common offenders include ‘roughly’, ‘almost’ and ‘apparently,’ Use these words sparingly.
Now, where was I? Create specific sub-headings
Sub-headings help you control the idea behind your article. Website users regularly skim articles to find the facts they’re looking for, and concise, unambiguous sub-headings are a great way to organize your content and keep readers engaged.
Confusing sub-headings will have the opposite effect. For example, this heading could mean different things to each reader:
“Find ways to improve your website”
How exactly does the advice help people improve their website? Talk specifically about the suggestion you intend to make. Consider this alternative:
“Use contemporary imagery to attract more young visitors to your website”
This sub-heading isn’t vague. There’s a clear action (use contemporary imagery) and a defined outcome (more young visitors to the website). Theoretically, a reader could skip the paragraph that follows and still take away the call-to-action.
If you use a conversational tone, it’s perilously easy to fall into vague territory. Focus on and eradicate the bad habits you have that can add ambiguity and indecision to your articles.