Technology and market research can tell you quite a lot about the type of content to write, but when you’re actually putting fingers to keyboard what makes good writing? It’s not just a matter of good spelling and no typos, though those are important.
Writing is a form of communication, and so it must follow the rules of all forms of communication. Any message has to come across clearly, in an understandable format, and contain something that is relevant to the recipient. Does your writing fit these criteria?
Clear writing starts with conforming to the rules of the language. This means good spelling and no typos, but it also means no ambiguity. Most pieces of content aren’t pieces of fiction. They’re trying to communicate a truth or a message about some topic, even if it’s just a piece of branding. Can you identify the message of a piece of content within the first two minutes of reading it? That’s a baseline rule for good content.
Clarity also must conform to your audience. The audience for a long-form magazine like The Atlantic or The New Yorker will enjoy long lead-in stories and a bit of time to get to the core point of an article. On the other end of the spectrum, click-bait content whacks you over with the point at the headline. Yet both pieces of content perform well for their respective audiences.
Web writing also adheres to certain conventions. If this article was 2500 words and had no headers, it would read like a “wall of text” and turn most readers off. Some might lament the attention span of people who can’t read long strings of text at one go, but there’s actually a simpler reason. Eyestrain. Our eyes handle reading differently on screens than on paper. Long strings of text don’t read well on screens. That’s why headings, white space, and photos help our eyes travel the page on screens, and why e-readers and newspapers don’t have a completely white background. Muted grey is much easier on the eyes.
Similar conventions apply when tailoring content in different mediums and channels. Even if your content is clear and unambiguous, it still has to fit the format. In fact, if you drift from the format too much you’ll garble the clarity. Stuff an article too much with pictures and people will think it’s a slideshow. Have someone drone on and on in a video with the same background and you’ll tune people out. Constantly posting photos in Facebook like you would on Pinterest or Instagram would make your page seem spammy. Never forget the preferred formats of your channel and medium.
Good content creators think like librarians. The real role of a librarian isn’t to shelve books and shush people. It’s to help people find the information they need among all the information in the library. Content shouldn’t be put out just for the sake of spreading information. In fact, information is useless until it meets the needs of someone else. This is why you can read a long-form article on a mildly-interesting topic and feel like you wasted your time, then turn around to a click-bait slide-show article on something really relevant to your interests and feel like you got a lot out of it.
If you follow these three principles, you’ll discover that your writing has become much more authoritative and interesting to read. These are qualities that all readers want to see when they read a piece of content. Make sure your content is relevant, understandable, and clear.
The Clever Content Club
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