Content Writing 101: Where to Start When Writing Online

Since human hands could hold a brush, we’ve been scribbling thoughts out of our heads and into the greater literary canon. But over the thousands of years, our technique has evolved. In place of archaic dowries regarding the trade of oxen, we now can articulate a little more about our joys, our sorrows, and ultimately, what makes us human. If you’re a copywriter, a content writer, a blogger, or someone who has the task of fleshing out your company’s website with words about what makes that business special, here are some tips to keep you on track as you write your way to success.

 1. Stay On Target

Writing has the advantage over speaking because it can be edited. This editing process avoids long-winded sidebars that sometimes occur when we are talking at length. Ever start a conversation about how much you love grapefruit juice and end up in a heated argument about which season of the Simpsons is the best? Well, writing and editing take out all those conversational detours so the author can stay on target.

A tip is to recognize when an idea isn’t working. Paragraphs can only fit so much content. If your metaphor about your company’s hospitality being like a mama bird feeding its young isn’t working, kill your darlings and cut your losses. Go back to your point and stay on target. It’s also good practice to keep the point of what you’re trying to say fresh in your mind. Tenacious writers might go sentence by sentence, but taking the time, paragraph-by-paragraph, to ask does this have anything to do with my point will help steer you in the right direction.

2.) Shorter Sentences, Smaller Words

Let’s go back to grade school. Remember run-on sentences? Shorten those. Audience attention can only tolerate so much. The longer the sentence, the more you are demanding of your reader. Keep it short.

Shortening sentences is easy. Consider the sentence FRESH FISH SOLD HERE in regard to a sign outside a store. If we take a scrutinizing eye to this sign, we can start retracting words. Fresh gets the ax. After all, the assumption of the customer is that the fish are fresh (and what store would say they are selling anything other than fresh products?) Then, we look at sold. The basic store function is to buy and sell commodities, so to reemphasize sold is redundant. Lastly, let’s look at the word here. The sign is not only an indicator of content, but it also acts as a geographical marker. Here, in this case, is again redundant. Of this four-word sentence, we are left with the obvious, final word. Fish. If you walked by a store window that said fish, you would understand that fresh fish is sold here.

In a similar vein, unnecessarily long words can be shortened. Remember, businesses are hiring you to show how great their services are, not how expansive your vocabulary is. You don’t have to find monosyllabic words for everything, but where you can say big instead of brobdingnagian, err on the side of less is more. Otherwise, it’s not very pulchritudinous.

 3.) Stay on Brand

Companies, like people, have personalities all their own. Capturing that personality is important when customers are getting to know your company. That means using word-appropriate language. Consider this. Would you write about a toy store that wanted to emphasize childish wonder and friendliness the same way you would write about a law office that specializes in defending Heisenbergian criminals? Hopefully, your answer was no.

To avoid mixing up your language, try this. Narrow down the company you represent to a few keywords. Maybe the toy store would be fun or friendly or personable. The law office might be professional or determined or traditional. After you determined this, use a thesaurus to find similar words. These words become your brand guide as you represent the company.

Let’s take this idea further. Consider the toy store example. Below are two ways to write the same description of a toy store’s products.

Description A:

To adults, a toy might be wood and plastic, but all kids know the real secret. Toys are gateways. They take you to lands of dragons, or oceans of pirates, or cities in the skies. Wherever your imagination can take you, our toys can go with you.

Description B:

The majority of our plastic figurines are created using high- and low-density polyethylene (LDPE, HDPE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS, ABS), polycarbonate (PC), and polyester (PET).

If you made it through description B without falling asleep, kudos. You are a better reader than I.

4.) Do Your Research

Anyone with the gift of writing knows how easy it is to plant a message in such a way that it sounds like it makes sense… without actually making sense. Best practice? Do your research. Know the company so you can write about them with honesty and integrity.

The drawbacks of not doing your research can be damaging. Over-selling a product or service can create unrealistic expectations for potential customers. If they are expecting Shangri-La levels of service only to call and be greeted by a robot-operated answering service, they may feel cheated or betrayed. That puts your company in a bad position. Reputation is important. If your copy lies, the company takes the brunt of it.

Avoid this by asking the right questions. If there is something you don’t know, establish a good contact within the company to refer to when things become unclear. Write with purpose and your company will be the better for it.