It seems like everything is considered “content” nowadays. Whether it be a cliché quote or a vapid list of hacks, people assume that they have managed to put forward a worthy read by simply writing something.
If you really want to change minds, gain respect, and inspire others through your writing, you’re going to need more than just an interesting topic drowned out by all the fluff.
You’re going to need good technique.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to publish a strong article.
Select Your Topic and Define Your Objectives
Putting your thoughts into words is an exciting process, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting associative and jumping from topic to topic. But remember, no one likes a scattered and incoherent read. So, it would help if you defined what you want to say about the topic you have chosen beforehand.
For example, if you’re writing about global warming and you bring up factory farming, don’t elaborate on the ethics of animal agriculture in general. It will only confuse your readers and make them forget what they were reading about in the first place.
Before you start writing, make a list of the sub-topics within the broad umbrella you have chosen. Define your objectives and stick to them.
Know Your Audience
Knowing who you’re writing for is no less important than knowing what you’re writing about. Think of your article as a one-sided conversation. Just as you would speak differently to different people when having a verbal conversation, you should know how to adapt your writing tone to suit your readers.
For instance, if you’re writing a fun, nostalgic article about a TV series from the 1970s, it’s fair to assume that your readers won’t connect with the current lingo and slang words being used today. For that reason, define your target audience and tweak your writing accordingly.
To take things one step further, a useful way to learn more about your audience would be to track your article’s performance through an analytic system (e.g., Adobe, Google Analytics). That way, you can find out more about who your readers really are and what sparks their interest the most.
Make the Intro Short, Punchy, and Engaging
You know the sentence “Your first impression is your last impression?” When it comes to writing, this is painfully true. If your intro doesn’t draw your reader in, they’re likely to click off before giving your story a second chance.
To avoid that, you need to spark their curiosity, or at the least, provoke some sort of emotion. Whether it be anger, fear, or excitement – if they attach some kind of emotional value to your writing, they’ll keep on reading.
Here are some ideas:
Ask your reader a question. If you’re writing an article about a missing person, kick it off with “Nothing bad should happen while lifeguarding at a local pool, right?” That way, the reader will feel more involved in your storytelling.
On a similar note, telling your reader to imagine something is another great way to reel them in. For example, “Imagine you’re at your local pool when suddenly, you’re attacked from behind.”
And lastly, use attention-grabbing quotes. They intrigue people without giving too much away. For example, “It is what you don’t expect… that most needs looking for.” – Neal Stephenson.
Write to Express, Not to Impress
When writing a story (fictional or real), it’s tempting to fill the pages with an extensive number of words. But a sentence that seems flowy and clear to you might be a bit too tangled up for others. It’s essential to clean up your act.
Don’t add words where words are not needed. For example – “past history.” History is, by definition, something that happened in the past – it’s redundant. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule, especially if you’re trying to “paint” your readers a picture.
“Whispered softly;” while whispers can’t be anything other than soft, the word does add character to the sentence and is a way of bringing your story to life.
Use your judgment wisely. If you’re writing for an editorial, keep it concise and straightforward; no one likes to read fluff. And if you need a little oomph to illustrate your story, remember to do so mindfully.
No Abstractions; Give the Reader Substance
There’s nothing more annoying than reading an article and realizing halfway that it says nothing. To avoid writing empty slogans and generic sayings, make sure you have enough meat for your article.
Collect enough information, and more importantly, gather it from credible sources. Double-check your facts by comparing them through several sites, back up your claims with reliable data, and spend enough time learning about the topic you’re writing about, whether that means watching documentaries or reading memoirs.
Remember, you’re not writing content for the sake of content. Your content should be designed to teach, interest, and inspire.
Tell a Story
No matter your topic, if you lay it out as a story – instead of just an assortment of facts – it will instantly excite your readers. If you’re writing about the ice-age period, illustrate the lives of cavemen by describing their labor with words that will get the reader to imagine the scene in their heads.
For instance, “In the chilling freeze, our ancestors huddled together in Eurasia’s limestone caves,” as opposed to “Due to low temperatures, the Neanderthals slept in caves.”
Editing and Proofreading
I can’t stress enough how important this step is. You could write a fantastic, engaging piece of art, but if your readers find typos or incorrect punctuation – that’s it. Your credibility will drop, and so will your readers. Why? Because typos and other errors make it seem like you haven’t put much time, thought, and effort into your article.
Apart from proofreading, another pointer is taking the time to read your article out loud. This will help you hear if the words flow in order.
Bring Your Story to Life with Visuals
Images are powerful tools. They’re the ultimate eye-catching content and the best way to evoke feelings in your readers. Writing about a romantic reunion, for example, without the couples’ faces attached to the story, won’t interest your readers as much as an article showing the reunited lovebirds, all smiles and sunshine, right at the top of the page.
An overlooked yet no less important tip is practice. Many assume that writing is some magical, innate ability that one is born with – that you’re either a wordsmith or not. And while it’s true that some might be more inclined to it than others, that doesn’t mean one can’t get better at it. In the words of sci-fi author Ken Macleod, “The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write and keep on writing.”