Content Writing Tips From A Writer

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“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” —Isaac Asimov

If writing doesn’t come to you as easily as it apparently did to Mr. Asimov, here are four content writing tips from a writer: start strong, tell the readers what you’re going to tell them, tell them clearly and succinctly, and use a conclusion that wraps things up nicely.

Content Writing Tips

Start Strong

The introductory sentence of any communication is the first thing the audience sees. Often the reader makes a decision based on the first sentence about whether to read on or turn the page.

So use a strong opening line.

In addition to telling the reader what a piece of writing will be about, the introduction should include a “hook”—something that gets the audience’s attention and makes them want to read the entire content. So never miss a change to use something in your introduction that will grab the audience’s attention. For instance, you might start with a question (“Are you ready to . . . ?”), a relevant quotation (as with the Asimov quote, above), or an interesting statistic or fact (“One in every ten Brits . . . .”).

Never begin with a tired and worn-out phrase such as “Our modern world,” or “In the current business climate.” These are clichés that don’t add much to the content, and they certainly won’t “hook” the reader. And unless you say otherwise, readers will assume you’re discussing today’s world.

Similarly, avoid trying to pull in your audience with weak words such as “interesting” as in “X is an interesting subject.” Far better would be “scintillating,” “life-changing,” or “earth-shaking.”

Tell the Readers What You’re Going to Tell Them

You should have a sentence toward the beginning of the content that states what your main message is.

This is what academics call a “thesis statement,” and it can be something as simple as “Here are six new ways to cook chicken.”

The thesis statement functions as a road sign, telling the audience where the communication is going. For example, if you’re driving and see a sign that says “Manchester” you know where you’re going. Because it functions as a road sign, you should put it in a place where it will stand out. If they know what they’re doing, highway engineers don’t put the Manchester sign in a clump of trees, do they?

Similarly, the thesis statement should be highly visible to the audience. It should usually come after the “hook,” either at the end of the first paragraph or at the beginning of the second paragraph. If the thesis statement itself is so fascinating that it can also function as a “hook,” then by all means put it at the very beginning of the piece of writing.

But never bury the thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph—that’s like the Manchester sign in the clump of trees. Someone who’s just skimming the content might not notice it.

For more information about using a strong thesis statement, see the section titled “Say It Clearly and Meaningfully” in the TWMA’s recent “Better Communication with Your Audience” blog.

Tell Them Clearly and Succinctly

You should always be sure to use language that the reader will easily understand.

Avoid wordiness and difficult language.

As Professor Gerald Grow, formerly of Pembroke College, Cambridge, once put it: “We quit!” is much easier to understand than “We’ve decided to suspend project processes.” The latter may sound sophisticated, weighty, and official, but it’s difficult to pull out the exact meaning.

Similarly, avoid jargon that your audience won’t understand. Jargon means words used by a group of people (often those employed in the same field) that are not immediately clear to outsiders. If your readers are medical doctors, then using “nasopharyngitis” is fine; otherwise, it may be a better idea to write “runny nose,” instead.

As you tell them, avoid presenting your readers with a “wall of text.”

A “wall of text” means long paragraphs that go on for pages without interruption. Unless you’re writing an academic treatise, it’s best to present the audience mostly with short paragraphs, plus a few long ones thrown in for variety.

The same is true of sentences, by the way. Avoid writing too many long sentences in a row, because this kind of writing can be difficult to understand. But avoid writing too many short and choppy sentences in a row, as well. This kind of writing sounds immature to the reader.

Try to vary your sentence lengths, using long, short, and medium-length sentences. Varying your sentence lengths will make your writing sound more mature and will give it greater fluidity or “flow.”

Another good way to break up your document for better reader-friendliness is to use subheadings and bullet points. For example, if you’re writing about “Six New Ways to Cook Chicken,” present the reader with sections labelled, for example, “1. Grilled over a Wood Fire,” and “2. Spice-Rubbed and Roasted.”

Use a Conclusion That Wraps Things Up Nicely

As you end the document, keep in mind that the conclusion is the last thing the reader sees before deciding whether to take action and what action to take based on what you’ve written.

A good conclusion should reinforce and finalize the ideas in the piece of writing. Just as the introduction should “hook” the audience into reading on, the conclusion should give the reader a sense of completion.

The person reading the communication naturally wants a sense of closure when he or she finishes, and a strong conclusion provides this sense of closure to the reader.

An effective conclusion may contain a restatement of the thesis—a sentence that “tells the readers what you’ve just told them.”

However, the conclusion will ideally do more than just summarize the content, especially is it’s short. Does the reader of a two-paragraph memo really need a summary at the end? Probably not.

Some common ways of concluding a communication effectively are: calling upon the reader to take action, asking a question, presenting a quotation, and suggesting something about the future.

Conclusion

So now, as a professional writer, I’ve given you some of my secrets. Did you learn anything? Hope so!

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