Multitalented creative genius Tina Fey summed it up in a way that resonates every time I begin a new blog post: “Writing is the worst!”
Shared at Content Marketing World 2018, the comment referred to the frustration of staring at a blank page, looking for the right way to get those brilliant insights and ideas out of her head and onto the pages of a script.
But the opinion is widely shared. Even veteran wordsmiths struggle with high-quality storytelling. Add in the strategic, technical, and creative challenges of telling stories in support of brand goals and, well, it only gets harder.
To help, we’ve gathered the most helpful writing tips, techniques, and advice in this downloadable e-book, Content Marketing Writing Secrets: Get Better, Stronger, Faster (registration required). The guide offers simple ways to make your work more readable, resonant, and actionable, as well as systems and techniques to help you write faster and overcome problems like writer’s block.
Every content creator knows writing involves more than putting words to (digital) paper. Someone needs to come up with the topic and decide on the format. When the draft is complete, the best creators fine-tune it.
These tips, tricks, and exercises may ease some of those content creation struggles.
Beyond brainstorming: Find ideas your team can execute
To generate ideas, content teams often:
- Use brainstorming techniques (like this sticky note method)
- Conduct wordplay and word association exercises
- Implement audience research methods (like mining your customer service emails and search engine intelligence)
But can you execute on the resulting ideas?
In her keynote presentation at Content Marketing World 2020, StoryFuel Founder Melanie Deziel outlined a creative framework to help you make consistent decisions about the ideas that make sense based on available resources.
The framework starts with establishing brainstorming parameters before coming up with ideas. Melanie’s system involves choosing two of the six questions journalists are trained to explore: Who, what, why, when, where, and how. Then come up with options for answering those two questions in your content.
Melanie’s demonstration used what and how – what will the content focus on and how will it be presented?
She listed 10 topic options:
And 10 format options:
Then, she plotted them on a matrix:
From there, systematically review the intersection of each point, eliminating any storytelling combinations that are less likely to work based on what you know about your team resources, your audience’s interests, and your business’s competitive strengths.
For example, if your team lacks efficient video production capabilities or design resources, take video, live video, image galleries, and infographics off the table.
Once you go through the exercise, you’re left with viable storytelling combinations to focus on as you brainstorm story ideas – for example, a written process guide, an audio interview with a key team member, or an interactive quiz about desirable product features.
Before you turn in that draft: Fine-tune and fact-check your content
Once you’ve produced a draft of your content, don’t rest on your laurels. Every writer needs (and should have) an editor. But the best writers give their editors clean, accurate copy.
Take the time to eliminate mistakes and inaccuracies in your writing. Your editor will thank you – and keep relying on you.
A basic editing checklist for writers
It can take years of practice to develop true editing proficiency, but this quick tutorial based on advice from CMI editorial consultant Ann Gynn can help you cover the basics:
- Read your content as a reader would – hands off the keyboard except to scroll. (If reviewing in print form, keep the pen out of your hands.) Wait as long as you can between completing the draft and doing your final review to bring a fresher look to your content.
- Read the content as an editor. Put your hands on the keyboard (or pen in hand) and note where the content doesn’t work well and why. Does the opening grab attention? Is every sentence and paragraph clear? Does the order of the content flow logically? Does the content represent the brand’s voice and style?
- Ensure factual correctness and proper accreditation. If the content includes research, statistics, opinions, or quotes, make sure they are accurate and attributed correctly. In digital form, make sure links go to the original source of information (not to another post quoting the original content). This fact-checking to-do list goes into these processes in more detail.
- Do the math. Make sure any numbers you’ve used add up. Can you spot the mathematical inaccuracy in this passage? “70% agree chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. One-third prefer vanilla over chocolate.” Math errors make editors and audiences question your understanding of the topic.
- Review with your style guide. Check the copy against your brand’s style guide and chosen dictionary. For example, CMI’s style guide follows the AP Style Guide with minor customizations for the brand and uses Webster’s New College Dictionary.
- Read through after revisions. Once you’ve fixed any problems noticed in the previous steps, give it a final look. Reading it aloud to help you spot any remaining problem areas.
Content marketing writing secrets
Mastering the art and science of quality content creation takes time, effort, and practice. No magic spell exists to make writing easier. But the advice and exercises in this e-book will help you sharpen your storytelling, speed up your writing processes, and improve the quality and marketing impact of your efforts.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by author or sources. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Download Content Marketing Writing Secrets: Get Better, Stronger, Faster to get started. Then, let us know in the comments how these tips and exercises work for you.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute