Content writers are invaluable in the digital age, and in any marketing team. It’s the best way to add legitimacy to any brand, and to keep people informed online. The role of the content writer is to be both entertaining and informative. To keep brands fresh, and long articles fun to read. It may seem like a daunting task, but it gets easier once you get the hang of it. Nonetheless, here are some tips that can help you jumpstart your journey towards being a better content writer.
The Importance of Research for a Content Writer
It may be shocking for you to realise, but not every output a content writer makes will heavily rely on words or text. Sometimes, it could even be just visual. The content itself is what matters, at the end of it all. What is this short copy trying to convey? What information can I glean from this graphic? Content writing will boil down to the information that it is trying to get across. This is why it’s important to research before putting anything down on paper (or Word document). Proper research makes content into 3 types of C’s:
Credibility can be tricky on the internet. The freedom of information comes with the freedom for any information, factual or not. Anyone can post anything, say anything, or claim anything with no actual basis. Which is why having a reputation as a providing or being a credible source online garners trust. Not only will you be combatting disinformation, but audiences will trust in what you write.
Recognizing credible sources is vital when researching for content. In research publications, a source is only credible once reviewed by peers, where it is thoroughly questioned. That is to say, reader scrutiny is the foundational method in discerning credibility. According to Northern Michigan University, there are a series of questions to test an internet source. All you need to do is ask for yourself.
To reach a wide audience means making your writing palatable for everyone to understand; this means having enough knowledge of what you’re writing about. Not only should your writing make the theme or overarching topic clear, but your topic should not be broad. Giving broad or generalised knowledge shows a lack of clarity in what you are writing. It’s better to write niche topics and explain in detail, rather than a generic concept.
Well-researched content should “pack a punch“. While word count and lengthy paragraphs seem impressive, at the end of the day it’s just difficult to read and will cause you to lose your audience’s attention before you even get your point across. Good copies use tight sentences, and know how to balance being informative, catchy, and concise. The only way to do that is through good research.
Content writers should do enough research that they are essentially distilling information into its “core message” for any copy. This rings especially true for social media or graphic copies where the text needs to be eye-catching and informative at first glance.
Long-Form Content Writing
Long-form writing is any piece of writing above 1,000 to 7,500 words. It’s longer to digest and read to take a deep dive into a specific topic. Search Engine Optimization articles, email newsletters, case studies, white papers, editorials, etc.
These take a week or so to write depending on the research needed. It also needs special care and attention because grammatical errors are easily lost in the sea of paragraphs. Here are some tips to get you started on long-form content writing.
Tip #1 A Content Writer Should Know the Difference Between Active and Passive Voice
One of the first tips to being a content writer: relearn the basics. This one specifically takes a while to relearn after studying it in elementary school. You are using the active voice when the subject of your sentence performs the action denoted by the verb. Using the active voice makes a text more engaging, and makes it clear who or what the focus should be on. However, the passive voice is gentler, and subtle; sometimes, a text need this. It’s all about balance and using too much of the other can harsh an otherwise good article.
Try the zombie method! If you add the words “by zombies” at the end of your sentence and it still works, then it’s in the passive voice. “The article had been written” is in the passive voice because “The article had been written by zombies” makes grammatical sense. To translate it to the active voice, we say “The zombies had written the article.“
Tip #2 Don’t be Afraid to Use Content Writing Tools!
The digital age gives us amazing advancements like being able to disseminate information in a quick and accessible manner. But just because we are out of the typewriter or pen-and-paper age, does not mean we’re taking it the easy route. It just means that we have amazing tools at our disposal. Which is why one of the most important tips in being a content writer is to not be afraid to use writing tools that can help long-form writing easier.
The tools you need depend on the type of long-form writing. For SEO, the criteria for being optimised can be a lot to keep in mind while you’re writing. Luckily plugins like Yoast SEO or Rank Math can automatically test your piece for SEO optimization. There are also tools that can be used for any type of long-form writing such as the Hemingway Editor or Grammarly that critiques your writing based on readability and grammar.
Tip #3 Make Lists Before and During Writing
List-making is one of the tips that can give a content writer an edge in two ways. First, as you write it may be difficult to stay on topic; this is significantly true for longer forms of writing. You could focus on one specific point in the topic, or you can veer off to a completely different one. Writing a list of the points you want to make is extremely handy in keeping you on-track. Before putting anything down on digital paper, make a concrete outline that writes out overarching points, and smaller sub-points that you want to back up your main one. It helps keep you on track while giving you an overview of your whole thesis.
Second, writing a list instead of paragraphs is usually easier to read. So, if your points do not need to be expounded further than two sentences, turn them to a list! The reader will thank you, for giving them concise and direct tips.
Short-Form Content Writing
If a text has less than 1,000 words, then it is considered as short-form writing. These are made to still be informative, but easily consumed by audiences or readers. The information does not have to be in-depth, but it should still provide some details. It may seem limiting, but a good content writer should know how to give information in a concise manner. Short-form writing can range from small website blurbs, short emails, social media post copies, infographic texts, etc. It can seem hard to give information in a way that catches attention, but we’ve got some tips to help you start out.
Tip #1 Actively Look for Inspiration From Another Content Writer
Graphic designers and content writers should have a similar creative process. It should always begin with finding inspiration. Much like how artists have a Pinterest board or a specific other artist in mind, writers should be inspired by fellow writers. However, most writers are afraid of seeking out inspiration for fear of plagiarism or looking inauthentic. The reality is, no work is original. You shouldn’t be afraid of looking up copies or ad campaigns for inspiration. As long as you’re using it for inspiration, you’re good to go!
You can check out this compilation of copywriting examples by Harry Dry. Following copywriters on their platforms is also a great way to inspire your own writing!
Tip #2 Write with the Audience’s Purpose in Mind
The best way to write an advertising copy is to know why your audience needs what you’re selling. Not only that, but you should also know their objective when seeing your ad. It’ll help keep your writing in perspective, and direct how you are going to start the copy.
This is where the previously mentioned research comes in handy. Not only should the writer have initial knowledge of the product or service advertised, but the targeted audience as well. By the end of your researcher, you should be able to answer, “What part of this service/product should be highlighted?” and “What does the audience need that they cannot get from other competitors?”
Tip #3 Study Literary Devices and Cliches
The last of the tips for a content writer is to never forget the classics. There is nothing like a cheap trick and a cheesy one liner to pull focus. You might say that rehashing writing cliches and relying on popular devices is lazy writing. But they are popular for are reason. Theories in adaptation studies note that people love repetition as long as it is not replication. Meaning that you can repeat beloved cliches as long as you put a spin on it or make it your own. It brings together target audiences because it is comforting and easily understood. It is the reason why folktales are still popular, and why film adaptations of books or comics brings people together.
You can check out Pamela Ross’ list of effective literary devices, or you can pick up something to read. The beauty of cliches and devices is that they are all around us. So, we will never run out of great inspiration to pull from.
A Content Writer Should Research, Read, Then Write!
And that wraps up tips on content writing! What you can take away from this is that writing takes time. Sure, you can sit down and type to your heart’s content, but to write content is to be informative. And to be informative is to first be informed. Remember: research, read, and only then should you write!