The internet may be a visual medium, but all pictures and no text make the web a pretty but underwhelming place. Whether your goal is to inform, educate, or explain, you need to provide at least some written content to get across ideas and concepts related to your business.
Unfortunately, writing is a skill that comes naturally to a scant few of us, and when we’re given a writing assignment, we struggle. It’s hard to know where to begin, it’s hard to know what to say, and it’s especially hard to translate the jumble of phrases in your head into a cohesive and logical progression of ideas. What usually ends up happening is that we put it off until our deadline is looming, we bang out something just to get the job done, and then we regret not doing it better.
If your writing could use a little improving, take heart: help is on the way. While we can’t promise that your writing will be Pulitzer-worthy after reading this article, we can say with a high degree of certainty that you’ll be more tuned into the characteristics that make blog posts, articles, and white papers more enjoyable to read. Here are nine tips for creating great written content.
- Stick to one topic per piece.
Writing for the web typically means shorter articles rather than epic-length pieces full of nuanced discussion and relevant digressions. That’s especially good news for anyone who feels intimidated by high word counts. Written web content tends to be shorter and more focused, so if you find yourself going off on tangents or getting overwhelmed by the amount of things you have to say, stop, and see if you can break up your ideas into several shorter pieces.
- Start off with a bang.
Great content is a lot like great journalism in that you want to lead off well. Your first sentence should be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in your entire piece, and it’s wise to front load your information because many readers won’t make it past the first few paragraphs.
- Go through several drafts.
As much as you may want to be done with your writing task one you’ve finished a first draft, you’ll need to revise and improve your first take. How many drafts should you go through? It depends on how skilled you are as a writer and how much time you have to put into revision, but in general, at least three drafts should be your goal.
- Proofreading is a process.
The absence of your spellchecker’s squiggly red lines in your draft is always a good sign, but that doesn’t mean your draft has been proofread. All it means is that everything is spelled correctly. You still need to proofread carefully, one sentence at a time, and with your audience in mind. For the best results, try reading your piece out loud!
- Watch for repetition.
Whether you’re using the same word over and over for SEO purposes or you’ve unintentionally repeated yourself, repetition of a word or phrase can be distracting. It can make your writing seem less intelligent, and overuse of keywords for SEO purposes (known as keyword stuffing) can actually harm your ranking rather than help it. As you proofread, make sure your vocabulary is varied.
- Cut the redundancy.
If getting to your target word count is a challenge, it’s often tempting to add a few redundant phrases here and there. However, great writing is concise writing, and redundancies have got to go. For example, instead of writing, “10:00am in the morning,” you could simply write, “10:00am.” Similarly, instead of writing that something is a “new innovation,” you could simply write that it’s an “innovation,” since the word itself implies that it’s new.
- When in doubt, look it up.
Unless you’re 100% sure of the meaning of a word you’re using, look it up. Full stop.
- Give yourself time.
While most writers will tell you that nothing inspires writing like a hard deadline, you still need to give yourself time to go through the process. As with just about everything else in life, waiting until the last minute to complete a writing assignment rarely results in your best work.
- Practice makes perfect — or at least very good.
The more you write, the easier writing becomes. Think of it as a muscle: use your writing skills often, and you’ll be able to use them all the time. Stop using them for a while, and you’ll be a little rusty the next time you sit down at a keyboard.