Content writers are savvy professionals who play the role of storyteller, copywriter, and lead generator all at once. We’re constantly learning about the latest content strategy trends and technology – not to mention conducting research on several industries for our clients – that we forget writing itself requires continuous learning.
It’s more important than ever to brush up on writing techniques and strategies. Today, the highest paying content writing gigs are in niche spaces like blockchain, cybersecurity, manufacturing automation, supply chain digitization, and more. Knowing how to organize and synthesize large quantities of information is a must for tackling these projects.
- Understand a Content Project’s Purpose and Writing Style
- Introduce More Verbs Into Your Writing Vocabulary
- Keep Your Writing Simple
- Take a Refresher Course on the Anatomy of a Paragraph
- Study Different Sentence Styles To Add Variety
Understand A Content Project’s Purpose and Writing Style
An effective piece of content has a clear purpose. Most content writers are familiar with the Inbound Methodology, so they know to ask clients whether a given assignment falls into the Awareness, Consideration, or Decision stage. Once you’ve got this direction, identifying the appropriate writing style helps guide your writing.
There are four main styles of writing:
- Expository: Focuses on facts or explains how to do something in a systematic way
- Descriptive: Uses sensory language (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound) to describe a situation, place, thing, person, and feelings.
- Persuasive: Attempts to convince the reader to change their mind or take action.
- Narrative: Tells a compelling story about connected events and people
When you’re used to banging out three blog posts a day, it’s easy to go through the motions and accidentally apply the wrong method.
For instance, a blog post in the Awareness stage is meant to help readers understand a problem. In some cases, the reader may need help identifying and naming the problem in the first place! So it wouldn’t make sense to write a blog post persuading them to take action using a given solution. Rather, an expository approach would focus on facts and statistics to help them understand their problem.
In some cases, a how-to article is the right approach in which the article provides a step-by-step solution to a problem (e.g. how to create an inventory management spreadsheet) before gently pushing the reader towards the Consideration and Decision stages where persuasive writing is more appropriate.
Of course, a single piece of content can adopt several writing styles. Incorporating customer stories using the narrative writing style might bring an otherwise dull expository how-to piece to life.
Identifying a piece’s writing style is not meant to be a restrictive exercise. On the other hand, it’s a focusing mechanism that empowers you to plow ahead secure in the knowledge that you’re on the right track.
Introduce More Verbs Into Your Writing Vocabulary
Verbs power your writing. Replace standbys like “be”, “have”, or “get” to provide a more satisfying reading experience.
“Amazon is the most impressive e-commerce company today” is fine, but we can do better.
“Amazon routinely outspends and outsmarts its competition in the e-commerce space” is a more engaging sentence, even in expository writing.
Both sentences are, presumably, based in fact, but the first is like bland chicken that lies limp in your mouth while the second brings a little spice and drama.
Drama isn’t always necessary. In fact, you may just need to vacuum up a few unnecessary verbs.
Case in point: “have”. Writers routinely use “have” as a way to quickly plop their ideas on the page. With a little extra time set aside for editing, they can easily sweep this word away and tweak sentences.
“We have seen what happens when companies fail to invest in employee engagement” can easily transform into “We know what happens when companies fail to invest in employee engagement”.
What’s more, verbs enhance every writing style.
In expository articles, they keep your writing clear and straightforward. Verbs serve you especially well when you’re writing a how-to piece and attempting to convey a technique or several steps.
In descriptive writing, it’s easy to overuse adjectives. While adjectives play their role, verbs are particularly important in descriptive writing. Verbs pull the reader in and allows the reader to imagine owning and using a product or benefiting from a service.
A critical component of persuasive writing – the call to action – relies on verbs. An effective piece of persuasive writing encourages the reader to “schedule a demo”, “earn money in their sleep” by signing up for a robo-investing app, “receive daily tips and tricks for runners” by signing up for an email list, and so on.
When it comes to narrative writing, verbs invite readers to play a role in the action. They aren’t an outside observer. Rather they inhabit the spaces in the story. And this doesn’t just apply to novels. For example, narrative-style case studies make for good reading.
FINE: “Westside Developments had a lot of different processes and steps. The project manager had to deal with change orders, schedule changes, and more.”
GREAT: “As Senior Project Manager, Madison Yuen juggled several tasks and responsibilities. While working on site, managing change orders and communicating with contractors proved immensely difficult thanks to all the moving parts. On any given day, Yuen would adjust schedules, manage incoming bids, answer customer questions, and prepare status reports for the executive team.”
The first paragraph relies on weak verbs like “to have” and “to be” while the second paragraph uses verbs to paint a picture.
Keep Your Writing Simple
Don’t circle the block just to cross the street. Write only what’s needed to convey your point. Streamline your writing, and remember that simple doesn’t mean stupid.
Using effective words is a great way to keep things sweet without minimizing impact and engagement. Another approach is to avoid unnecessarily long words that make your writing sound pretentious. Finally, consider conducting more research. Confusing concepts breed clunky, awkward sentences even among experts.
Finally: EDIT! Many writers despise the editing process, and here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a writer and editor. It often pays to hire someone else to revise your work. That said, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of editing and if you’re short on time, money, or both, polishing your work on your own is an important skill to learn.
Take a Refresher Course on the Anatomy of a Paragraph
Reminding yourself that writing has structure and technique helps relieve some of the anxiety that comes with feeling like you’re rambling, missing the point, or “winging” it. Paragraphs are not arbitrary chunks of text. They function as a tool for expressing ideas in a structured, coherent manner.
While your blog post has an overarching idea or thesis (much like a high school paper), your paragraphs tackle those ideas in different ways. We usually manage these nuances unconsciously, but when you’re writing longer form content, like a whitepaper or an e-book, outlining what you’ll address may be helpful.
- Controlling idea: This is how you’ll address a topic in this paragraph. If you’re writing about real estate technology, your controlling idea may be about the current “proptech” landscape.
- Explanation of the controlling idea: What are you trying to say about the current proptech landscape? You may want to talk about the fact that currently most proptech companies focus on listings, but new entrants are branching into areas like retail development and project management.
- Support for your idea: Introduce facts, statistics, and expert quotes to legitimize your points. For instance, this proptech article we’re drafting might reference the fact that the proptech industry in Canada and the U.S. jumped from US$4.6 billion in 2016 to US$7.3 billion in 2018.
- Explain why your evidence matters: This is the “so what” content marketing gurus always talk about. Yeah, the proptech industry jumped by a few billion. Impressive, but why should I care? Well, you might point out that investors want to create or invest in the next big industry disruption in the way that early Uber investors cashed in on the taxi industry’s disruption.
- Wrap it up and transition: Conclude and, if possible, offer a smooth ride into the next paragraph. Your paragraph on proptech might hint at the fact that despite investors’ enthusiasm, disruption is not always easily achieved, which can segue into the traditional roadblocks to innovation in legacy businesses.
This looks like a lot, but for those in-depth pieces, it’ll save you time both during writing and during revisions. Rather than receiving a marked up draft with notes like “where’s the proof?” or “why should the reader care?” you’ll have a robust, well thought-out piece that requires few re-writes.
Quick note: You may be squinting at this and wondering about readability. Wasn’t this process designed for academic writing where chunky paragraphs abound? Isn’t that a big no-no for online writing?
You’re right. You don’t want a paragraph seven-lines deep in a blog post, particularly when many readers consume content on their phones. Use this framework to organize and support your ideas and then break up paragraphs for readability.
Study Different Sentence Styles to Add Variety
Content with similar sentence styles bores readers, but it’s often difficult to notice when it happens. Trying to transform them during the editing stage is also a tedious exercise. That said, if you have a technical understanding of the different sentence styles, identifying these issues and making changes is easier. Examples of quick fixes include:
- Varying Sentence Length: Your paragraph may have sentences that are all the same length. Diversifying it may be as simple as cutting one down or making another longer.
- Varying Word Choice at the Start of the Sentence: Do all of your sentences start with “I” or “My”? Consider changing things up. One way to do this is to build sentences that start with dependent clauses. Instead of “Nancy started using our product in 2018. She loves the payments feature” consider “Nancy started using our product in 2018. As a busy project manager who pays dozens of subcontractors and vendors each month, she was particularly impressed with the easy payment tool.”
- Throw in Parallel Sentences: This paragraph style adds rhythm to your writing. Using this approach, the writer repeats grammatical elements in the same sentence. For example, “Developers must assess legislative changes, predict market trends, and manage interest rates.”
The next time your sentences feel a little bland, you can strategically revise them by changing up your sentence styles.
Just Because We’re Creatives, Doesn’t Mean We Don’t Need a Little Structure
Studying the technical side of writing adds rigour to the writing process. When you’ve got deadlines and multiple client requirements to juggle, you can’t afford the luxury of hoping the sentences flow. You need to bang out quality work day after day without losing steam. Understanding writing strategies and techniques can help you whip up fantastic blog articles, e-books, and white papers every time.
Need a freelancer who asks the right questions, adopts your brand voice, and whips up the articles and e-books your business needs? Let’s chat.
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