Blog

From the Trenches

How to Become a Better Writer: 10 Tips

Yvonne Lyons | January 4, 2018

Dear marketer, this post is for you. I bet you have to write as part of your job. Maybe in college you figured a marketing job was not the same as a writing job. But then you learned, like we all did, that conveying ideas to your audience in a way that keeps them interested and engaged is what makes marketing efforts succeed. And to create that engagement, you need to be a good writer.

Remarkable, engaging writing stands out from the rest. It gets noticed, and it’s hard to put down. But only if it’s really done well.

You don’t have to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. It’s hard to be “great.” I say aim for “really competent with some flair.” Hemingway? Great writer. Me? Completely competent. Unfortunately, you can’t hire the likes of Hemingway to write your copy, and even a living freelancer might not always be an option (but can be very helpful, if you have the right one).

But you can learn to be a better writer so that you get the results you need from your marketing. Here are some tips.

  1. Read. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” You can read anything you want, but include Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Go out and get it as soon as you’ve finished this post. It’s not a long book, but it’s like the Bible of good writing.
  2. Write. As much as you can. The more you write, the better you get. It doesn’t have to be for work. Write in a journal, write short stories — whatever comes to you. But write often. You can’t become a good writer if you only do it once a month.
  3. Create an outline. Good writing is always organized. A bunch of beautiful sentences that don’t work toward the common goal of making your point to the reader are just random thoughts. Your audience will not keep reading if they don’t understand what you’re driving to.
  4. Write several drafts. No one gets it right on the first pass. Writing is really about rewriting. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s the difference between average content and remarkable content. Hemingway said, “The first draft of everything is shit.” Probably pretty accurate.
  5. Get the grammar right. There’s really no way to sound more foolish or less credible than by botching the grammar. Print out the most important rules and hang them on your wall if you have to. If grammar is still a mystery for you, see No. 6.
  6. Get an editor. Everyone needs a second set of eyes. Everyone. And if you stumble over the grammar, a good editor can save your skin and reputation. Also look for someone who can look at your content as a whole and give you comments that are conceptual in addition to tactical. People with that skill can give you tips on how to make something flow, or be more organized, or make one point instead of four.
  7. Keep your writing simple. There is no need for fancy language when simple language will get the job done. George Orwell said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and “If it’s possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Less is more.
  8. Work on your headline. Only 20 percent of people will read beyond your headline, so if that doesn’t do it for them, they’re gone. A headline cannot be an afterthought that you knock out in 10 minutes. It is the most important 55 characters in your piece.
  9. Do your research. Remarkable writing is as much about depth as it is about pretty sentences. Make sure you know your subject.
  10. Write to your audience. While simpler is generally better, you have to keep in mind who you’re talking to. Aerospace engineers? Quick service restaurant employees? Probably not the same style. Understand your audience and establish the right voice before you start anything.

Strive to become a better writer, even if you never become an Ernest Hemingway. It’ll make all the difference in the content you create — and that content’s ability to help you achieve your business goals.

Get more tips for writing content that gets results in our new interactive eBook, “How to Write Remarkable Content.”

 

Related Posts:

  • Repurpose Your Content: Make What’s Old New Again
    Right Source | July 28, 2016

    Repurpose Your Content: Make What’s Old New Again

    “I don’t understand,” the client said. “All the articles have already been written, approved, and published. All you have to do is send them to a graphic designer, right?” The client was referring to an eBook we’re creating that will be comprised of existing blog posts that all cover different aspects of a single, big […] read more

  • Right Source | December 30, 2010

    Your 2010 Marketing Trenches Favorites

    First, thanks to all of you who have read, commented, and passed along our posts throughout 2010. As 2010 zooms into 2011, we’re taking a look back at what we learned over the past year, and the posts that you, our readers, liked best. To select these posts, we looked at a combination of page […] read more

  • Finding Images for Your Content
    Right Source | June 9, 2016

    Finding Images for Your Content: How to Do It Right

    Years ago, in a former life, I was part of a magazine redesign process. One matter we needed to settle was what to do about our covers: Should we continue to publish photographs of our cover subjects, or, New Yorker-like, opt for illustrations, instead? We opted for the second option. One reason: As an industry […] read more