Writing is a skill that you develop over time. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to create great copy that conveys your key messages. And, while there’s certainly no substitute for gaining that experience firsthand, there is something to be said for learning from the practices of others. That’s why in this post we’ve compiled a list of writing tips that we believe can help you become a more effective writer and make the most of your content. They’re the rules and guidelines that we try to follow at Acrolinx, and we’d encourage you to do the same.
To make them easier to consume, we’ve broken up our writing tips into three categories: the stuff you need to be thinking about before you start, while you’re in the middle of, and after you’re done writing. Happy reading (and writing)!
Keep These Writing Tips in Mind Before You Get Started
1. Have a clear mission. Always have a good sense of what you’re trying to achieve with a particular piece of content before you write it. If that sounds obvious to you, it should. The thing is, although we all know this, we don’t always do it and the writing process can wind up taking a lot longer as a result. While you may not have all of the details worked out upfront, make sure that you and any other stakeholders involved are all agreed about what your content’s intended purpose is before you get going.
2. Know your audience. Make sure that you understand who you’re writing for. Again, this may seem like a no-brainer but it doesn’t always happen. To create good content, you need to know who your audience is, what they care about, and what knowledge and understanding they already have about your topic. It’s only when you have this frame of reference that you can create content that will actually resonate with the people you’re writing it for.
3. Understand the material. As a writer, you probably find yourself writing about topics that you may not be an expert on. In cases like these, you probably rely on interviews, readings, and your own independent research to get up to speed. You might also find yourself writing as you learn. And, while that may be necessary to meet a deadline, it’s less than ideal. That’s because you may find yourself having to rework your copy over and over as you learn new information. For that reason, whenever possible digest all of the information available to you first, so that you can take all of it into consideration before you start to write.
4. Develop an outline. No matter whether you’re writing a 600-word blog post or a 10,000-word white paper, it’s always helpful to organize your ideas with an outline. For shorter content, your outline might just be a couple of short bullets. For long-form content, it may spread across many pages. Either way, creating an outline is a useful exercise because it forces you to think through your content before you start to write. Doing so will save you time and energy in the long run.
5. Consider what keywords to use. If you want to optimize your content for search, it’s good to know what keywords you’re going to target before you start writing. Yes, you can always retrofit them in after the fact, but it’s easier to work them into your copy in a natural way (which search engines care about) when you’re actually writing it. Need help picking keywords? Check out this great resource from MOZ.
Keep These Writing Tips in Mind While You’re Writing
6. Write to your audience, not at your audience. It may be writing 101, but it bears repeating. Your choice of pronouns matters. The first person (“we”) is much more engaging than the third person (“Acme Corporation”). It’s more immediate and positions you as a group of people, while the third person is more detached and abstract. Likewise, address your audience using the second person (“you”) rather than the third person (“customers”) to make your writing more engaging and personable.
7. Be conversational. Along the same lines, try to make sure that you write similar to the way that people actually talk. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything we say is ready (or appropriate) for print, but rather that it’s becoming increasingly important to avoid stodgy, formal corporate speak. A more casual and conversational tone will be more effective at engaging your readers. And, if done well, it won’t lose any of the professionalism that you may be trying to project.
8. Vary your sentence length. Lots of long sentences in a row can be tedious to read. Too many short sentences back to back can be jarring. Make sure that you use a combination of both to create content with a cadence that’s easy and enjoyable to read.
9. Show your personality. It’s OK to be funny, witty, charming, or anything else that reflects your personality in your writing. Not only that, doing so will actually help endear you to your audience. Just keep in mind who that audience is and the nature of what you’re communicating. You can then dial your content’s personality up or down to fit the circumstances.
10. Connect the dots. Sometimes writers make the incorrect assumption that their audience is as well versed on a topic as they are. Worse yet, they think that their audience is made up of mind readers. As a result, they write in the equivalent of shorthand, perhaps using concepts, acronyms, or terminology that not everyone in their target audience will understand. Or they list out a bunch of ideas without explaining how they all fit together. Reading your content shouldn’t be a chore, so make sure that you connect the dots for your readers by providing the context and explanation necessary for anyone to follow it.
11. Tell a story. One of the most effective ways to engage audiences is by telling them a story. That’s not going to be possible with every piece of content you create, but whenever you can tell a story, it’s worth doing because it helps to draw the reader in and get them hooked into your content.
12. Put the why before the how. Companies, and by extension the writers who work for them, have a tendency to explain what they do and how they do it. But they often don’t spend enough time talking about why they do what they do. That’s really a critical piece of the puzzle and something that you should take on board in every piece of content that you create. It’s also something we’ve written about in the past, so check out this post to learn more.
13. Break some rules. Grammar is important. And while you definitely want to ensure that your content is well written, that doesn’t mean that you need to adhere to every single grammar rule ever written. Sometimes it’s OK to break certain rules to make your content a bit more conversational. For example, it’s OK to start your sentences with a conjunction (and, or, but, etc.) and to end them with a preposition (toward, of, with, etc.).
Keep These Writing Tips in Mind Before You Publish Your Content
14. Read it out loud. This is such a basic, but also important, step. Reading your content out loud forces you to pay attention to every word you have written because you’re not only reading it, but also having to pronounce and hear each one. In the process you’ll catch mistakes, awkward turns of phrase, and other issues that you might have otherwise missed.
15. Eliminate redundancies. While it can be useful to highlight key messages in your writing more than once to help underscore their importance or reinforce them, you don’t want your content to be repetitive. Cast a careful eye over your content to make sure that you’re not just saying the same things over and over again using different words. If you’ve made the point once, in most cases there’s no need to make it a second or third time.
16. Get rid of any extra spaces. Are you still using two spaces after your periods? That’s so 20th century. In reality, that practice fell out of favor when we entered the digital world. If you don’t take those spaces out, any graphic designer laying your content out will. You can read more about it here.
17. Say it with fewer words. Being efficient and concise with your use of words is difficult and takes a lot more work than just letting your ideas flow freely. Once all of your content is in place, make sure to go back and give it a critical edit. Try to tighten up your prose and eliminate unnecessary words wherever possible. This will make your content clearer and more to the point.
18. Link to other content. To make your content richer and more useful, go back and insert links to other content wherever appropriate. For example, you might link to the bios of people you reference, to articles that explain a particular concept in more depth, or to other resources that the reader can consult. Just make sure that anything that you link to is of really high quality. Doing so not only makes your content better, it also makes it more attractive to search engines.
19. Make sure it’s scannable. As you’re giving your content a final review, look for opportunities to break it up visually. For example, you might want to add in more headings, use bulleted lists, or insert callouts or graphics. In a world where people are time poor, big blocks of content can be daunting and turn readers off. By giving people different reference points throughout your content, they can quickly navigate to the parts that interest them most.
20. Give credit where credit is due. We all tend to consult various sources as part of the writing process. And while it’s fine to share general knowledge (e.g., the earth is round, the sky is blue) without attributing it to any source, when you’re referring to specific statistics, research, ideas, or findings, you should always make sure that you include your source by either linking to it or including a footnote or endnote with a proper citation.
Thanks for reading our list of writing tips. We hope you find them useful as you get ready to work on your next piece of content.