I love learning. I want to continually improve myself and expand my knowledge. And, ideally, I hope to be able to make good use of my variety of skills in my job. That’s why I’ve learned photography, graphic design, Google Analytics and Hubspot, and it’s why I’m constantly trying to get better at writing.
When I was at Marketing United earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Ann Handley from MarketingProfs. The Queen of Content, she provided great examples and practical advice, and inspired me to become better at creating great content. I was so impressed by what Ann (I’m sure she won’t mind that I consider us to be on a first-name basis though we’ve never officially met!) had to say and how she said it that I quickly went out and got her latest book, Everybody Writes.
The foundation of her book is that everyone writes content – whether it’s a novel or a tweet – and everyone interacts with content on some level. Writing must be done well to stand out – it should be thoughtful, motivational, purposeful and empathetic. Ann notes that, “Good writing takes planning and preparation; it doesn’t just emerge, fully formed, out of the head of Zeus. Or your own head, for that matter.”
As a public relations firm, we use content to solidify and improve our clients’ brands. We create bylined articles, pitches, social media, blogs, white papers, case studies, press releases and more – and we want them to be written well. But not just that – we want them to be consistent in tone and voice and phrasing.
Ann’s book takes you through what she calls the “Writing GPS” – a step-by-step guide to writing well. I’m going to outline some key points below – and they are tailored to the public relations and marketing industry – but I encourage you to read the book to gather the full context and descriptions that she gives. It will help you no matter what kind of writing you do.
The Writing GPS:
- Goal: Think before ink, and find your key point:
- Why am I creating this? What am I trying to achieve?
- What larger business or marketing goal is it aligned with?
- What is my key take on the subject or issue?
- Reframe: Put your reader into it. Why does it matter to her?
- Good content, i.e., good writing, doesn’t preach or hard-sell. Instead, it shows how your product or service lives in the world, explaining in human terms how it adds value to peoples’ lives, eases troubles, shoulders burdens, meets needs.
- Seek out data and examples: You can use your own experience, too.
- Organize: Create an outline or general architecture that suits the story you’re writing.
- Write to one person: Put your reader into your story right up front because you want the reader to recognize and relate to the issue you are writing about.
- “Good writing requires us to understand and have empathy for our audience, their situation, their needs and goals. The best content experiences are pitched perfectly in the sweet spot, the nexus of all those human factors.” –Jonathon Colman of Facebook
- “Your customers don’t buy your product to do your company a favor. They’re doing it because your product makes their lives better. So if you want to sell something, you need to explain how you’re helping them.” –Nadia Eghbal
- Produce The Ugly First Draft (TUFD): Write as if no one will ever read it.
- As Ann Handley notes: Very often, the people you think of as good writers are terrible writers on their first drafts. But here’s their secret: they are excellent editors of their own work.
- Walk away: Put some distance between your first draft and the second.
- Rewrite: Shape that mess into something a reader wants to read. In your head, swap places with your reader as you are doing this.
- Approach writing like teaching – explain your POV to your reader with supporting evidence and context. Don’t just tell your readers that you feel something; tell them why you feel it. Don’t just say what works; tell them why it works and what led you to this moment.
- Keep it simple, but not simplistic. Assume the reader knows nothing, but don’t assume the reader is stupid.
- Generally, you want to use the active voice instead of passive. Active sounds zippier and more alive. Passive tends to sound a little stilted and awkward.
- Edit yourself.
- Give it a great headline or title: Spend as much time on the headline as you do the writing.
- Have someone else edit behind you.
- One final look for readability: Is it inviting, alluring, easy to scan? For the most part, chunky chunks of text feel impenetrable and don’t convey energy and movement. And keep in mind that online text is more likely to be scanned than carefully read; it’s different than print.
- Publish, but not without answering one more reader question: What now? Do you want your reader to check out other resources, sign up to hear more, register for an event or trial, buy something?
Want more tips on writing? Check out these blogs from my fellow super-smart Groupies:
- 11 Killer Buzzwords That Will Doom Your PR and Marketing Resume
- Becoming a Better Writer by Osmosis
- So You Want to Be a Better Writer?
- 5 Ways to Turn Tech-Talk Into People-Speak