The web is awash with mediocre content and we hate the thought of it getting worse.
In a bid to turn the tide, we’ve compiled our top seven techniques to help you transform a boring piece of writing into a brilliant one.
Tip #1: Get a clear head
A foggy mind makes for clouded content. Whatever your mission, make sure you have a clear head before your fingers hit the keyboard.
To write great content, you need to be fully focused on the task ahead. Creative industry guru Todd Henry calls the routines we fall into our Pacifiers, and describes the urge to check phones and emails while we should be working as Ping. Micro-disruptions like these could derail your flow, so put them out of your mind.
Tip #2: Let outlines guide you
Great writing rarely ‘just happens’. The old adage rings true; fail to plan and you plan to fail.
Some of the best content you’ve ever come across has often been guided by outlines that serve to ease the author into a piece. A good brief will help them find their flow without wandering too far off-topic, but sometimes you’ll be the shepherd of your own mental flock and have to chart your own course.
Luckily, outlines don’t have to take much brain power. Here’s an example outline for a blog:
• Heading 1
• Heading 2
• Heading 3
Outlines can also be helpful if you’re working with tight word counts, as you can allocate a word limit to each section, helping you stay on track.
Tip #3: Research is key
No matter how well you think you know a topic, there’s always room for research. There’s little worse for credibility than giving out an inaccurate statistic or incorrect name in a piece. When in doubt, check, double check and check again. There’s simply no room for assumptions in great writing.
The next big trick is to link those dry facts into an appealing narrative. People love personalised stories, and you’ll find they convey your message better than facts and figures. For instance, if you’re writing about the growth of a family business into a corporate giant, focus on the journey of the people behind it as much as the turnover figures.
Tip #4: Drafts are part of the process – embrace them
It’s unlikely that the first lines you write will hit the mark straight off the bat. And that’s okay. Drafts are a fundamental part of the writing process. As Terry Pratchett once put it, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
You have to start somewhere, but it needn’t be at the beginning – get all of your ideas down on the page first, formulate them into sections and then you can think of an enticing intro that incorporates all your points. It might even be helpful to start with some conclusions and work backwards.
If you start to stumble over an awkward paragraph, rather than letting it veer you off course, leave that section and come back to it later. Once your ideas start to flow again you get back on track and finish it off.
Tip #5: Take inspiration and pay it forward
We all lead busy lives and it can be difficult to justify reading books, copywriting blogs or newspapers in our free time. But effective downtime is a great way to hone your own craft, especially if you read content from a diverse range of fields.
Flexibility in tone, style and pace is an important skill for writers who provide content for a range of clients and target audiences, and it often comes from taking time out to refresh your creativity and find inspiration. The right approach will see even the most dry subject matter given an extra spark by your hand.
Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to read your writing aloud
A simple tip, but perhaps one of the most effective things you can do to polish your writing and give it a punchy tone is to read your words out loud. This will highlight clunky, confusing sentences and help you eliminate unnecessary words. Being clear and concise is all the more important with online content, as readers tend to skim through and will leave a page if the language is too confusing.
Tip #7: Re-read your writing. Always. No excuses.
The importance of this tip cannot be underestimated. When you’re in the midst of the writing process, it can be tricky to spot rogue commas, typos or awkward phrasing. This is why a good writer never submits content without reading the finished piece through at least once.
Ideally, once you’ve finished a piece you should leave it to rest for a day and come back to it with fresh eyes. Even the world’s greatest minds knew the importance of a decent break.
But if you’re working to tight deadlines and don’t have this luxury, take a step away from your computer, get some fresh air and perform your re-read with a clear head.
There’s no reason to serve your audience lacklustre content. A little bit of time, effort, smart downtime and consistency can go a long way in crafting great writing.
Take these tips on board and you’ll take joy in your creative work, which will translate to better content and great audience retention.