Writing is a skill that most people have. But professional writing isn’t a skill that everyone have. Forgive me for this overused cliche: It’s a craft; it’s an art. And a dash of science, too. Like any other skill, it takes practice to hone one’s writing. Not everyone has the time nor inclination to work at it. Unfortunately, writing is an increasingly undervalued skill (a topic for another time).
When I wear my editor hat, I coach fellow writers, helping them polish content for publications and websites. In addition to grammar, punctuation, and clarity, I look at a number of factors for great writing:
An Introduction with Impact. The first paragraph should grab the reader’s attention. It needs to be meaningful. It should indicate what the article will be about. It should convey the tone of the overall article. It should be interesting. It should do everything.
The truth is there’s no magic trick to craft this perfect, powerful, face-grabbing sentence. I encourage writers to come up with three to five different approaches, and the strongest or most interesting one wins out.
Support. Even if readers don’t see these supporting material, writers should obtain independent sources that support their statements, whether it’s fact or opinion. If these writers’ articles are ever challenged, the evidence backs up their articles. When a writer, to pose a hyperbolic example, publishes an article saying: “The moon is made of cheese!” this writer should be able to produce supporting material if challenged. Scientific research and analysis. Interviews of nursery rhymes authors. Neil Armstrong’s recorded affirmation. Photographs.
They can’t pull facts out of thin air. Not allowed.
Meaty, Valuable Content. SEO keywords don’t work as well as they used to, thanks to Google and DuckDuckGo’s ongoing rejiggering of the algorithms. They still drive traffic toward a website, yes. But what happens after a reader arrives onto your website and sees a keyword-dense article? “Brandname is the greatest! Brandname has X feature, Y feature, and Z! X feature does this thing which makes Brandname great! Buy Brandname!” (Ugh.) If you need further disincentive for this tactic, this approach is penalized by a number of search engines nowadays.
When you use certain words or phrases too often in any given article or web content, you risk annoying your readers. Sure, these keywords helped get the reader to your website, but you also need them to stay there. Alienating your readers with a SEO-pumped heavy handed writing isn’t the way to do that.
What works? Writing good content often. Providing valuable content to your readers. Promoting your website is essential, also. Don’t rely on Kevin Costner’s “build it and wait for them to come” tactic.
Image support. An image is worth a thousand words. They also serve as a visual aid, to help break up a block of text. It gives your eyes a resting place while your brain processes what you’ve just read. They’re also a place to sneak in a little SEO support without using a sledgehammer: metadata.
Voice. Tone, language, vibe, etc. Clients have different needs. Different audiences, different target demographics, and different sales goals. One company may adopt an authoritative tone by using $10 words and jargon, while the next might use single-syllable 4th-grade-level words. It’s important for writers to understand that they need to write for their intended audience. It should blend in with a client’s previous works, whether it’s intended a front page site, a blog article, or an email.
Aim for Quality.