top of page

Writing Puzzles #1

a pile of colorful legos of all shapes and sizes

I was reminded just how much I love solving writing puzzles this week. I've just finished organizing a conference, and this past week's task was to update the website for my other project, philosophy for humans.

In today's blog, I'm starting a new series where I present writing puzzles I've been faced with, explain how I'd solve them, and ask how you would have addressed them. There isn't one right answer to things, but some solutions are better than others.

P.S. I would absolutely recommend working with an experienced co-writer at some point in your career. Ricky Mouser and I spent hours this week tossing new problems and solutions back and forth at each other while redesigning the website. We moved faster than if we were working by ourselves, learned quite a bit in the process, and the website is much better for it!

Here are a few of the puzzles we ran into this week:

Puzzle: Email Button Microcopy

Your task is to write the copy for a button at the end of an email with a few different calls to action: asking viewers to check out recordings of the conference, sign up for a new series of workshops, and read more about a book project. All of this information could be found on the website, which the button will link to. What should the button text read at the end of the email?

First attempts: "Learn more" and "Check it out"

These both echo the language in the last sentence, but it's not clear at a skimming level where the button will take you, given the different calls to action. They're also both a bit bland.

Second attempt: "See what's next"

This is a bit more exciting, but it's also unclear where the button will take you. More importantly, the word "see" doesn't work for a blind reader.

Third attempt: "Join us"

This pulls from the text in the header of the email and draws the reader in. But like the first attempts, it doesn't really let you know where you're going or what you're joining us for.

Final decision: "Visit website"

Just as "see what's next" wouldn't work, "view website" wouldn't either. "Visit website" isn't sexy, but it is very clear what is going to happen if you click the button. Clarity beats sexiness when it comes to button text.

Puzzle: Turning a Book into Workshops

Your task is to take the following segment of text and shorten it into a readable outline that invites readers to sign up for three workshops based on each part of the book. How would you re-outline this section to spell out the ideas as concisely as possible?

Assume the workshop text segment is titled "Philosophy Hour: Living Well with AI" and that the dates are listed underneath.

Do we need the first sentence, "How can we live well with AI?" No. That information can be cut.

Next, let's shorten each of the three paragraphs into the following copy that includes the titles of each workshop:

Part 1: We need to figure out How to Think about Values.

Part 2: We need to recognize The Dangers of Optimizing.

Part 3: We need to develop a richer alternative: AI Virtue Ethics.

This is concise and communicates that there are three different parts to the workshop series.

Now, do we need the sentences at the end about the working title of the book? No. This call to action is about signing up for the workshop, not requesting a copy of the book.

Hmm... but now we've not got enough information about what Philosophy Hour is. Let's add that in before and after the three part summary.

Here's the finished product:

Note that while a lot of this writing is functionally conveying information, it's also advertising the event: it's "fun" and "timely" and "open to everyone." We've also drawn the eye to key information with differently colored text to make this skimmable.

Puzzle: Which Text to Bold?

Your task is to determine which segment of paragraph text needs to be bolded to match similar blocks of text on the website that also bold key phrases. Which words would you choose?

"Dive into AI ethics" is fun but it looks a bit strange to put the bolded text so close to the title.

"Week-long retreat" is informative but isn't very compelling.

"Join us" is more compelling, but "join us" for what, exactly?

Here's what we decided:

Let me know how you would have solved these puzzles in the comments!

P.S. If you have Google Chrome, you can use the "Inspect" function when right clicking on text to alter the html of the site locally on your computer. That way you could actually change the text on the philosophy for humans site to try different things out and see how they look (I cannot guarantee, however, that Wix will fix the spacing right).

31 views0 comments


bottom of page