5 Ways to Introduce Structure and Discipline to Your Content Writing Style

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.

For example:

“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. 

A great paragraph consists of the following features:

  • 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

Featured image via Pexels

How Upwork Success Porn Fuels My Work Ethic

About once a month, I’ll have a day where I feel completely unexcited about my work.

Does the world really need another blog post about digital marketing? Am I undercharging? Will I get carpal tunnel before freelancing even makes a dent in my student loans?

Being in a funk is a waste of time. So when I have money, I’ll go to Caffé Demetre and get a waffle. When I’m broke (or feeling frugal) I’ll find some candy, put on a random TV show in the background, and spend an hour looking at what I call “Upwork Success Porn”.

What is Upwork Success Porn?

Top-rated profiles. High earning profiles. Profiles that say the freelancer worked a thousand hours. I love that shit. It gets me so motivated to work and sometimes, it gives me pointers on how to improve my own profile.

Upwork Success Porn-min
This is where the journey starts. Right on Upwork’s home page. (Source)

I go down a rabbit hole of profiles. I’ll click on a freelancer’s past clients and then see what other freelancers that client worked with and then see what other clients those freelancers worked with. It gets out of hand.

Successful Upwork Profiles-min
Danielle bringing in that money and kicking out those typos. (Source)

But doing this helps me in two ways.

One, I’m eager to get back to work, so I can get on their level.

Two, I’m motivated to find jobs on the platform. Upwork is no longer my primary source of work. I do like the platform and you can find great clients, but there are so many posts with asks like, “10,000 words for $20” that separating the wheat from the chaff is irritating and inefficient.

The few times I go on an Upwork pitching spree is when I’ve done some serious “Top Rated” profile creeping.

I’ve linked to everyone’s Upwork profiles underneath the screenshots. I’d be over the moon if you hired ME, but I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due so may the best freelancer win.

I promise I don’t know any of these people. Hustle just recognizes hustle.

 

Upwork Success Porn Profile-min
Go on with your bad self, Philip! Get that money. (Source)
Enviable Upwork Profiles-min
Ashley hitting the $100K mark like it’s nothing. (Source)
Good Upwork Profiles-min
Fellow Canadian Ryan writing copy that converts. (Source)
Great Upwork Profiles-min
NICK C. MEANS BUSINESS! (Source)
Successful Profiles on Upwork-min
“God damn copy genius” Stefan. (Source)

It is officially time for me to get back to work.

Student sits on bed and makes a budget on her laptop.

Students Can Create a Budget In Less Than 10 Minutes

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

Budgeting is the simplest proactive measure we can take to guarantee our financial security, but we don’t take it as seriously as we should.

A big reason for this is the lack of personal financial education in schools. Many of us simply aren’t taught how to handle our money by our parents. Unfortunately, our parents may not know what they’re doing either – the average Canadian has $21,348 in consumer debt, according to TransUnion. And about 56 percent of Canadians say they have less than $10,000 stored away in an emergency fund. Forty-four percent have less than $5,000 and 21 percent have less than a grand. Financial experts recommend having at least three months of expenses (the ideal is six months) tucked away to touch only in an emergency.

Making a budget doesn’t just allow you to save up for a trip; it allows you to save up for the unexpected as well. So why are a lot of us hesitant to create one?

It’s Not As Complicated As You Think

For people I’ve spoken to, the biggest reason they don’t make a budget is because they simply don’t know where to start. They don’t know whether they should be aggressively paying down their debt, stockpiling money to paying off their student loans, or living on only bread and water. So they abandon the process before they’ve even started. If you’re just starting out, here are two key pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t be extreme.
  2. Just get started.

Your budget is a flexible tool that you can adjust periodically to meet your financial changes. Create a budget that gives you room to buy the things you like and do what you enjoy. Your budget shouldn’t be a financial straitjacket. Prioritize so that you are giving up things you care less about in order to spend on the things that you enjoy.

On that note, just get started! Your first budget will not be perfect, and it will likely be a reflection of how idealistic and ambitious you are about saving money. Following a budget takes practice, so just start off simple.

Implement the 50/30/20 Rule to Quickly Make Your Budget

Uncertain about:

  • What to start saving for?
  • Whether you should tackle your debt first?
  • How much you should put towards discretionary expenses or “fun money”?

Start off with the 50/30/20 rule. It’s the budgeting rule of thumb. Only 50 percent of your income should be spent on needs (this includes rent, hydro, metropass), 30 percent on your wants, and 20 percent should go towards savings and debt repayment.

If you do not have to worry about rent because you live at home, then throw a couple of fixed “wants” in there like your phone bill. If you have the extra money, maybe start contributing a couple hundred dollars a month to your parents just to get into the habit of paying “rent”. But try not to consider your fortunate situation a free for all to allocate 80% towards wants instead of just 30%. You can even put some of that leftover money towards your savings.

It’s as simple as striking two lines across your paper and making three categories: Wants, Needs, Future. And then fill in the sectons accordingly. It’s a quick and simple process.

If you are spending too much on your needs, moving may not be an immediate option, so see where else you can shift your budget. The 50/30/20 rule serves as a no-brainer starting point that you can organically adjust to fit your personal situation.

Should I Pay Down My Debt or Build Up An Emergency Savings?

This depends on your current situation.

If you can only depend on yourself in case of an emergency (you can’t pay rent one month, you need a repair) work on building your emergency fund up first and once you have about three months, start chipping away at your debt.

If your basic needs are met and you don’t have to worry about your food or shelter, prioritize paying off your credit card debt. Interest rates on credit cards are very high and whatever interest you earn in a savings account will never outpace the money you lose paying interest on your credit card. Beat that down as soon as you can, and allocate a smaller portion towards savings.

Whichever option you choose make sure you ALWAYS MAKE YOUR CREDIT CARD MINIMUM PAYMENTS ON TIME!!! You can live with carrying a balance, but missing your minimum payments can very negatively impact your credit score.

Respect the Effort It Took To Make Your Money – You Earned It!

Setting aside a specific amount of money for eating out or shopping quickly teaches you the value of a dollar. You’ll quickly learn the price of that pre-made salad you casually buy and wonder whether it’s worth it when you can put a bit towards that dress you wanted to buy. And you’ll become much more aware of the hard work that went into earning that cash and be less willing to give it away.

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