Whether you’re submitting a session abstract or writing a blog post, you gotta get your readers to stay focused.
Write an awesome, straightforward title. Like it or not, people judge books by the cover. When you’re writing a presentation abstract or a blog post, the title is your cover. Sweat it.
Hit hard with the first sentence. Show ’em that you’re not just good with titles, but that the rest of your stuff might be catchy too. If you’ve got your blog set up to automatically post new entries to Twitter, this matters even more because the first few words of your post are usually copied into the announcement tweet. I’ve reworked entire blog posts to make them flow better from a more appealing first sentence.
Tell them something they already know. Unfortunately there’s a bunch of bozos out there who copy/paste material to “create” their own stuff without really understanding it. Let the reader in on a secret that they learned the hard way, like why disk queue length metrics are meaningless on a SAN, and they’ll believe you know your stuff. The trick is doing this as fast as possible in as few words as possible.
Drop hints about what they don’t know – yet. Give them just a clue about a few things they don’t know to pique their interest.
Make them laugh. The person on the other side of the screen has been slogging through a bunch of dry, boring material. They’re in desperate need of a laugh. This one’s especially hard to achieve for session abstracts, but nobody said this was going to be easy.
Check for grammar & spelling errors. I know, your chat room buddies say your spelling is fine, and your fourteen year old cousin is jealous of your text messaging skills, but you’re gonna have to kick it up a notch. It’s one thing to use slang like “gonna,” but it’s another thing to screw up the basics. This is especially important when you’re submitting sessions for conferences. If you can’t type when you’re not under pressure, the abstract selection people will guess there’s no way you can speak under pressure.
Take one thing off before you leave the house. Fashion icon Coco Chanel instructed women to check the mirror before they left the house, and then take one thing off. Keep your clothes on, but edit your material down, as Jeremiah Peschka recently wrote in his Act of Writing post.
Update: define your audience. Clearly define the prerequisites that readers need to have before they digest your content. If you’re writing for a person who’s been working with 2-3 years of SSIS experience who works with packages full time, say that. If you’re writing for a person who is more familiar with UPS packages, say that. Otherwise, when your readers give you feedback, they’ll complain that your material was way too junior or senior level.