Many people, if asked, would say they cannot write. Really, these people just believe they are not good writers. But the truth is, writing is a learned skill that many people haven’t put in the effort to master. Fear not – we are here to help! Whether you only write emails or a significant part of your job is writing copy, these are the core principles you can implement to feel more confident in your writing.
Building the Foundation
Like when building a house, your writing needs a good foundation. The following 4 tips are that foundation. They will help you form the structure of your content. Once you have your foundation, you can begin to build upon it.
Know your audience and focus on their needs.
Approach learning about your audience like therapy. You want to provide your readers with content that enriches their lives. To do that, you need to ask the right questions. Who are they? What is their pain point? How will they find your content? Once you have answered those questions, your writing will be more focused, and you’ll be able to engage with your readers better.
Consider the medium for which you are writing.
There is a strong chance that you handle various types of writing for your business. You might oversee your company’s social presence, while also writing all the content. Your day consists of jumping on Instagram to respond to a comment, retweeting something on Twitter, sharing a post on Facebook and writing a rebuttal on LinkedIn – all while trying to write the copy for the newest informational guide. When writing content, it is important to remember that each medium has its own set of best practices. Print copy tends to be a bit more formal and structured while copy for the web can be informal and laced with personality. It doesn’t end there though; each social media platform also has its own set of best practices. When writing for social media, remember the intention is to have an ongoing conversation. You want to interact with your friends/followers and be authentic. If you are interested in learning more about writing for different social media platforms, check out this article from HubSpot.
Use an established voice – and if there is none, develop a voice and use it consistently.
Branding is important in business. It is how you communicate your company’s values to the world. If your logo didn’t appear with your content, could your audience identify it as coming from your brand? Would they be able to see your content on different mediums and know it is from the same brand? It is easy, especially when multiple people are creating the copy, to have different voices and tones across the marketing ecosystem. This leads to an inconsistent picture of your brand identity. It is also important to keep in mind who the content is coming from; for example, if you are writing from an executive’s point of view, the tone of the document will be different than the normal brand voice. If you find that there is no established voice, you get to be instrumental in developing the voice that will be used going forward. The Muse has a great article on finding your brand’s voice to help get you started.
Start small – just write something.
Don’t feel pressured to write a novel or go viral. There will be plenty of time for that. Setting high expectations for yourself can lead to writer’s block. Often, if you start putting your thoughts to paper, the words will start to flow. As with many other aspects of business, writing is a process that will have multiple iterations. Allow yourself that experience.
Go Back to the Basics
You might be thinking, “Wouldn’t the basics be the same as the foundation?” While the labels are interchangeable, they are different concepts. The foundation refers to the framework of your content while the basics refer to the actual structure of your writing. They are the fundamental aspects of style that contribute to the quality of what you write.
Use proper sentence structure and mechanics.
What does this mean? Sentence structure is what makes up a sentence: starts with a capital letter and ends with punctuation, contains a subject and a verb, follows the subject + verb + object word order and is a complete idea that stands alone. Mechanics refers to the conventions of spelling, capitalization and use of numbers and other symbols. Both sentence structure and mechanics can, and should, be learned and utilized. Be careful not to over-punctuate, which is particularly common with commas and exclamation points. Sentences become hard to read when they have too little or too much punctuation. You want to avoid both. There are lots of resources available on the internet to help with sentence structure and mechanics. Some of our favorites are Grammarly and Hemingway App.
Write your copy for short attention spans.
On the web, people don’t read – they scan. No one likes sorting through dense blocks of copy with no end in sight. Think about your audience: no matter who they are, they probably don’t have 10 minutes to labor over an email or product brochure. Keep this in mind when writing your copy and keep paragraphs and sentences short and sweet. Many of us mistake using long and complex sentences for sounding smart; but, the reverse is true. Long sentences are harder to follow and create eye and brain fatigue. A good tip is to aim for a 9th-grade reading level. Break your content into bite-sized, scannable pieces by using bullet points, numbers and headings and subheadings that allow your reader to scan for the topics that are important to them. You don’t want to overdo it with the bolds, italics and underlining. However, you do want to make sure your reader can get the gist of what you’re writing about very quickly. When it comes to print, it is more common to read full paragraphs of copy, but you still want to break the content up with chapters and headlines.
Write for both sides of the brain.
For years we have heard that the right side of the brain = artistic and creative while the left side of brain = analytical and logical. Like the brain, there are two sides of writing: creative and technical. Creative writing is any writing that uses narrative and imagination. Its purpose is to entertain, persuade and educate. Technical writing intends to inform and give direction or explanation, sometimes defined as simplifying the complex. A great deal of writing that falls under the label of technical writing has an element of creative writing as well. Pure technical writing has its place but can be hard to engage with. By adding some creativity, readers can relate and enjoy materials that are more technical.
As mentioned before, anything you write will have multiple iterations. After all, it is rare to do anything perfectly the first time. This is especially true when it comes to writing because there are so many ways to say something. Once you finish your first draft, take a break and recharge your brain. Now you begin the editing process.
Edit only when you’re done writing.
It doesn’t matter how dreadful your first draft is – nobody is going to see it but you. The important thing is that you will have words down on paper. Once you have your thoughts fleshed out, you can start refining your ideas and tightening the style. The easiest way to pinpoint what needs editing is by reading your copy aloud. Start by opening the document on screen and reading it back to yourself at the same volume you’d use if you were speaking. This allows you to hear and better spot mistakes in both punctuation and word choice. You can also ask a friend or coworker to assist since most people are pretty ruthless when it comes to finding faults in other people’s work.
Edit to strengthen and simplify your ideas.
When editing, it is helpful to have three goals in mind: improve copy, strengthen your argument and refine the document structure. You want to maximize conciseness by shortening run on sentences, removing repetition and replacing unnecessarily complex or obscure words. Make sure that points and themes are made within the correct sections and reorder if necessary. Don’t be afraid to add references and sources that strengthen your argument by showing you have done your research.
Try to write well every single time you write.
If you’re worried about being a good writer, the only thing that will make you better is writing. Practicing your craft is essential to hitting your writing goals. If you want to be a better writer, you must practice these skills every time you write (emails, texts, blog – everything). This will help ensure the best practices you’ve developed are always top of mind and keep you from falling back into old (and less effective) habits.
Although it can seem overwhelming, remember that writing is a learned skill. If you adopt these guidelines and continue practicing and learning, you will be confidently writing content for your business in no time.