Great content propels brands. It helps customers form relationships with companies beyond that of consumer and merchant. And with the digital tools and mediums currently available – and the possibility of all that is to come – great content will continue to play a vital role in forging those relationships and telling companies’ stories.
Across the country, agencies have built digital content teams. More and more, these teams include seasoned writers and editors, many from the journalism and publishing industries where it’s essential that the rules of writing find balance between stringent and flexible. As a result, these writers and editors-turned-digital-content-mavens come with an arsenal of tenets and tips that transcend industries.
And it’s a good thing, since the written word is still important and is at the heart of effective content. It’s a misconception that people are reading and writing less these days – it’s much more likely that we talk less. Studies show cell phones are now used more for data than for conversation.
In actuality, we’re reading and writing more than ever, but what we’re reading and writing has changed. We write more emails than letters, more blog posts than journal entries, and read more online articles than newspapers. Granted, we aren’t all concerned with composing clever Twitter messages or editing niche B2B content. But the foundations of effective writing and editing apply to all sorts of written communication, whether it’s a creative brief, a site description for a client’s website or an email to a colleague.
Here are some writing tips that may improve your content, no matter your audience or intent:
1. Know your purpose.
When creating a message, ask yourself six questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Here’s an example of how to make this work for you: Who is my audience? What am I trying to tell them? When will people see this message? Where will this content live? Why am I sharing this message? How is this message best conveyed?
2. Be concise.
In the digital age, it’s easy to assume you have all the space in the world. You don’t. Less really is more. Write a first draft and then cut it by half. Cut your second draft by one-third. In that first draft, try writing everything you need or want to convey and then make it flow and fit within space limitations. Cut anything unnecessary, particularly passive or redundant words. For example, this passive sentence, “It was determined by the focus group that Sour Patch Kids is the best candy” becomes “The focus group determined that Sour Patch Kids is the best candy.”
3. Be accurate.
You may think Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” is outdated. But there’s no harm in knowing when to use a semicolon and when to use a comma. Proper grammar is not a four letter word, but if you must think of it that way, why not learn it and know when and when not to use it? Additionally, make sure your words mean what you intend. This is crucial when creating content for clients. Keep a dictionary and a thesaurus – either tangible or digital – on your desk and keep a list of commonly misused words and phrases close by.
4. Be clear.
It’s tempting, especially with an online thesaurus, to use pretty words and phrases. Fight that temptation and remember that clarity of words means clarity of message.
Don’t confuse repetition with redundancy. It may irk you to repeat the same word or phrase several times over, but if it’s the best and clearest word, then there’s no need to seek other options. If a product kills weeds, there’s no rule that says it must also annihilate, massacre or eradicate them.
5. Edit yourself.
Spell check is not enough. Step away from what you’ve written for a while. Then come back and read it aloud several times. If something trips you up, take a closer look.
This is where a proofreader or colleague comes in. Don’t be afraid to ask for input and constructive criticism. Additionally, if something reads well but defies the rules in a way that’s inconsequential, go with your gut. Remember, in the end, effective messages reap rewards for you, your company and your clients.