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Jun 12 / Greg Pearl

How links can make your stories more concise but deeper

We talk a lot about hyperlinking in terms of B/R’s Content Standards and proper sourcing. However, links can do so much more than attribute a quote or breaking news.

Linking out in an article should be an integral part of your storytelling process. It provides additional detail, elaboration or proof of a key point. Thoughtful linking can make for a story that is both richer and more concise.

For instance, if I wanted to make a quick reference to the Boston College point shaving scandal, I could link those words to an explanation, as I just did, rather than interrupting the narrative with a parenthetical about “the case of mobsters, including Henry Hill of ‘Goodfellas’ fame, bribing Eagles players to keep the team from beating the point spread in games during the 1978-79 season.”

Links can also be punch lines, as I often explain to my beautiful wife.

Punch-line links can be double-edged, though, as the sentence should be clear to readers without clicking the link. If I’m reading your article on a mobile device or offline, it’s inconvenient to see: “And if you don’t believe me, look at this.”

Think of an explainer link as a non-restrictive clause. If it’s left out, you should still understand the meaning of the sentence. The trick is crafting a self-sustaining story for readers who won’t click any links.

Since most readers are scanning the page for info they’re after, pacing is critical to a good article. That’s why explainer links are great in big-list slideshows. They show you did research but don’t stifle casual readers with large chunks of background.

For example, no one expects you to write a dissertation on each slide of “MLB Power Rankings: Most Dominant Rotations in 2012.” But, since linking out adds and curates depth, if readers want more information, there’s a link to keep the story going.

However, as with words, links can be exploited and overused. Too many links can cheapen what depth or cleverness you may have achieved using only one or two examples.

Have you ever tried to read a paragraph riddled with bolded/underlined blue text?

Including last night’s win, 2-1 (OT), over the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings have only lost two games in these playoffs and zero on the road.

Most sentences shouldn’t have any links, let alone more than two. Be especially judicious in choosing where to apply a link. Pick important words instead of entire sentences, as the latter option interrupts the flow of the text.

Knowing how to link effectively is fundamental, and finding the right material to link to takes time and effort. It’s worthwhile, though, when readers follow the same entertaining, statistical and anecdotal journey that got you so excited to write in the first place.

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Greg Pearl is Bleacher Report’s Sportswriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Joel C. Cordes, he develops B/R interns by providing feedback and mentoring, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog here.