Truth be told, I kind of fell into content writing. After being crazy about literature my whole life I went to university to study creative writing, a course I adored and that gave me invaluable experiences in not just fiction and poetry, but scriptwriting and journalism too. Then came graduation, and after that… nothing.
With no concrete idea of what kind of work I wanted to move into, I floundered about in retail for a while and was eventually recruited by a friend in social media management. After that I found myself here at Tone Agency, where I was able to really get stuck into content production and find out that, actually, the skills I’d honed at university were more integral to this industry than I first thought.
Skill #1 – Crafting an attention grabbing title
A title is everything in writing. Whether heading up a story, book, poem, newspaper article or magazine article, it’s what piques readers’ attention and draws them in, making them want to find out what the piece is about.
The same goes for content. It doesn’t matter how great the piece itself is; without a great title there’s every possibility that potential readers won’t even bother opening it. Your title is the free tasting plate at your local bakery, and needs to give readers an inkling of what they’ll find in your content without revealing too much, and without being too lengthy. Pack more punch than a simple “5 Tips to Help Your Content Reach More Readers.”
Skill #2 – Being more creative than commonplace
While the term “creative” might be commonly associated with writing novels and poetry, it has just as big a part to play in your content.
Would you rather read a straightforward piece about what Facebook hashtags are and how to use them, or one that includes more exciting, emotive vocabulary, anecdotes, relevant metaphors and examples of what happens when they go wrong?
Thinking outside the box goes a long way in making your content stand out. In an industry that’s saturated with people trying to force their own content to the top, it pays to put more thought into yours and make it a much more exciting read.
Skill #3 – Injecting some emotion
If there’s one thing that makes readers tune out of a piece of writing, whether for marketing or literary purposes, it’s a robotic tone and a lack of emotion. Writing with heart is so much more involving, interesting and relatable, giving your piece a human quality that resonates with audiences and shows it hasn’t just been regurgitated by a content farm.
This doesn’t mean you need to create a wild story about how “content saved your life” though, simply utilising italics, exclamation marks and rhetorical questions in the appropriate places goes a long way in emphasising your point and making those emotions more tangible to readers.
Skill #4 – Being a tonal chameleon
Throughout my degree I needed to write in a number of different styles and tones of voice, especially where our journalism modules were concerned. From broadsheet newspapers and tabloid newspapers to fashion magazines and television magazines, they all needed to be written in completely different tones of voice.
The same goes for content writing. As well as each client requiring content in a signature style that marries up with their branding and resonates with their audience, it’s likely that each of your industry guest blog targets prefers a certain tone of voice too!
Skill #5 – Proof reading
Have you ever read a book that’s been full of spelling and grammatical errors? How about a piece of really great content?
Proof reading is an absolute given where any kind of writing is concerned, and I don’t mean a quick scan before you submit it. I mean a once over, then a twice over, and maybe even a third over. Even when I read pieces by popular companies like Hubspot that contain really obvious mistakes I find myself sighing, and I find even more people venting their frustration in the comments section!
There’s always going to be at least one reader who pulls you up on your mistakes (and not always in the nicest way), so don’t give them the opportunity. Plus, think about it in terms of a brand new reader who’s come across your business via a piece of content. If it contains a host of mistakes, do you really expect them to take you seriously? As well as making the content seem rushed and lacking in pride, it can even come across as a little insincere and spammy.
Skill #6 – Peer appraisal
At university we did this thing called Peer Appraisal. The week before the session we’d send around the assignment we were working on so everyone could make notes, correct mistakes and gather some ideas about how the work could be improved. We’d then share these thoughts in the Peer Appraisal session, and I can’t stress enough how valuable the whole exercise was.
While I’m not saying you should have a whole company pow-wow about one another’s work, getting more than one pair of eyes on your content can be such a huge help. If you’ve been staring at a piece of content for hours on end, someone who hasn’t is much more likely to be able to spot any sneaky mistakes and identify areas for improvement.
Skill #7 – Drafting, re-drafting and re-re-drafting
A single draft isn’t enough. Even J. K. Rowling chopped, changed and tinkered with Harry Potter until she had it absolutely perfect.
The same goes for your content writing efforts. No matter how perfect the information and sentiment contained in your first draft might be, I can bet you now there’ll be at least one grammatical or spelling error. A truly great piece of work has been re-appraised to identify not just mistakes that need to be ironed out, but areas for improvement in the actual subject matter.
It’s funny really – on my journey through university I never saw ‘content marketer’ on the list of possible future vocations for my course. Yet reading back through these points I can’t imagine how it never crossed my tutor’s minds! Maybe it’s because the marketing industry hasn’t always had the best reputation, or because it’s only over the past year or so that content has really come to the fore as an integral part of the industry.
Nonetheless, whether you’re in literature or marketing then content is content, and it should be treated with just as keen an eye and creative a mind in one industry as the other.
Have you found you’ve been able to transfer skills from a former industry into your current one?