Content marketing is more than a buzzword. It is a critical business initiative. Yet, to produce effective content requires not only thought-leadership expertise but the ability to create content in a way that is engaging, interesting, and sometimes even controversial. To develop the skills necessary to be considered a highly-talented writer, consider these essential tips.
Tips to Become Better Writers
1. Clearly articulate the nature of the topic about which you are creating content. Start with a one-paragraph description. Know what you want to say. Determine why it is important and what will make your piece different from other content written on the same subject. Then produce an outline including working titles for the piece, an introduction, main points to be covered, research, possible interviews, examples and a conclusion or summary. Make sure the reader is left with an action step or question to ponder.
2. Know your audience. Define the readers’ profile. Create content centered around what’s important to them and their interests, not yours.
3. Be thorough. Develop a list of resources, subject-matter experts and previously published work to know what’s really new and important. Make sure you understand the writer’s guidelines upfront, whether you are writing for a publication, a client or other stakeholders.
4. Never miss a deadline. We’re all busy people, but deadlines exist for a reason. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t wait until the last minute to get started. Take into consideration that every potential resource may not respond in a timely manner, so always have a back-up plan.
5. Tell the real story, not your story. Too many writers try to inject their own points of view, preconceptions or prejudices into a story. Approach every topic with an open mind, and let the facts guide the writing.
6. Use quotes accurately and in context. Unless using a famous quote, you don’t have to quote someone verbatim as long as you’re close and convey the same meaning. And don’t use quotes out of context. If time allows, give the quoted expert the opportunity to review his or quote and make changes if needed.
“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
– Ray Bradbury
7. Develop content that is easy to read, easy to follow. Create paragraphs that flow logically from one idea to the next. Writers write in the active tense wherever possible. Use simple, short sentences so that readers don’t have to read your work over and over to understand it. Be articulate and crisp. Where appropriate, use bullet points or lists to help manage information. Ask yourself, “so what?” after every paragraph to make sure the content you created has value and contributes in a positive way to the overall piece. If you can’t answer the question, go back to the drawing board.
8. Proof your work. That requires a focus on details. Pay attention to spelling and grammar. For example, the first question every writer should ask someone they’re interviewing is “Please spell your name for me.” Even if it’s Glen Smith, it might be Glenn Smythe. Look for subject-verb agreements to make sure they are correct and to ensure you haven’t omitted a word. Use spell-check functions. Make sure you don’t use the same word over and over again. That’s where a Thesaurus comes in handy. Ask a colleague to read what you’ve written to be sure your content represents the quality you and others expect.
Developing Content Isn’t Always Easy
In the recent article “57 Tips for Writers, From Writers” by Marelisa Febrega, the author notes that many writers believe the ideas for developing content come easy. But she adds, “it’s in the execution of those ideas that the hard work really begins. You have to show up every day and slowly give shape to your ideas, trying to find just the right words, searching for the right turn of phrase, until it all morphs into something real. Then comes the wait to discover how your writing will be received.” While it’s difficult to predict the response, if you follow the eight tips above, you will be ahead of the game.