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This post originally appeared in the January 16, 2020 issue of The Content Technologist with the email subject line "The only web writing technique you really need" and a review of academic/bulk content analysis software MaxQDA.
Like many of you, I work out to get away. I get my heart rate up, move muscles, lift heavy things, hit the ground with sticks, squats, lunges. They’re routines I’ve learned over time, bolstered by really loud pop music, always. Going to the gym allows me to reset.
Those workouts make me focus on my body and sweat and stamina and burning and pushing. In those workouts I forget the life of the mind (aka sitting in front of a computer all day).
For about 18 months I’ve complemented those workouts with occasional yin yoga sessions. I stumbled upon yin quite fortuitously during some gym experimenting. Yoga, sure! People love it. I entered the class thinking I was going to learn another sun salutation. Instead I let the sounds of waves, gongs, and the dulcet vocals of Cheryl, the instructor, absorb me as I twisted my spine along the floor, thinking about how deliciously luxurious I felt, wondering how I would escape without pain if some kid suddenly rang the fire alarm and I had to sprint to the door.
Yin yoga is slow. You hold positions for five minutes or more. The focus is strengthening fasciae, or connective tissues. In yin, you “value a dull sensation,” as Cheryl says. There’s no room for comparison to others. It’s just your body and your mind and the teacher’s guidance.
I became addicted to the spinal twists, the forced and needed calm, the surrender to the position. Also, yin drastically alleviated my burgeoning back pain from my sedentary lifestyle. Now during Yin sessions, I elongate and I dissolve. I have a conversation with my body. My body and my mind collaborate.
My favorite yin teachers use this advice: while you’re breathing, scan your body. Identify what you are feeling, the location, the shape of it. Give it a name.
Maintaining stillness for five minutes in any position that’s not “at a desk typing” is incredibly difficuly for me. (I have a lot of energy.) Paying attention to sensations in my body long enough to identify, define them, and name them was revolutionary. Five minutes in a spinal twist is a long time. Now I consider those twists next to necessary for sanity maintenance. I understand how long, strange movements affect my feelings and emotions. I take the time to sort the difference between feelings and emotions. The vocabulary of my body is more precise.
Yin connects the corporeal to the life of the mind. Identify the sensation in your body. Use your intellect to give it a name.
WTF, how does this connect to web writing?
Naming anything is a risk. What if you use the wrong word? What if someone questions your name? What if your name takes on a life of its own? Many content creators shirk from those risks, from fear or lack of time.
Writers avoid naming with phrases like “there is” or “there are.” Cliches and prepositions and conjunctions that lack specificity. Here, there, everywhere, everyone. Is, can, be. Very, just. Perhaps it. Idioms. Pronouns. This and that. Each, more, less. The royal “we.” Optimize, synergize, engagement, innovation, leverage, utilize, learnings. All of these. Pretty much. Something for everyone. Language without precision is jargon.
So your number one web writing tip is: use precise nouns and verbs.
The number two web writing tip is: Use your audience’s precise nouns and verbs. Do research to figure out what those nouns and verbs are.
Use the signifiers that mean something. Only connect.
Understanding connotation and context for precise nouns and verbs means that you, the creator, have to work to clarify what you are saying and why. But that precision of language is worth the risk. Turns out it’s also great for SEO because precise nouns and verbs are what make your search queries and entities visible in search results.
Move slowly. Hold the position. Identify the sensation and name it.
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