5 ways to improve your content writing

Do your homework. Employ smart SEO practices. Start strong. Find your voice—without prattling on incessantly.

Writers worldwide publish millions of articles every day. Do yours stand out?

If you’re a content creator, making a few simple changes will help you become the kind of writer whose posts are readable, relatable and shareable.

Here are five things that will make you better at content writing and help your posts shine like a beacon in a sea of words:

1. Studying other writers.

To create solid content, be aware of what other writers are doing. Read widely. Keep a clip file of articles that hook you. The bonus? When you’re short on inspiration, you can browse your clip file to discover topics you’re excited to write about.

Use social media to follow writers whose work informs and entertains you—or subscribe to their email updates. Study their articles analytically; what are they doing that’s so appealing? Is there something about their technique that you could learn from?

Look at how your favorite writers draw you in with their opening sentence and paragraph. Pay attention to what you like about their voice and style. Do they structure their articles in a way that makes them particularly readable? Is there anything unique about their presentation? How do they handle closing paragraphs? Reading and analyzing the work of other writers can give you valuable insights.

2. Researching without overdoing it.

Before writing an article, I start with reconnaissance. I Google my topic and scan the top-ranking articles, thinking about how to bring something unique to the subject.

My approach to creating content quickly involves writing first and researching last. When I do my recon reading, I make quick notes about the research I want to include in my article, but I won’t dig into that research until I’ve finished my draft.

Unless analyzing research is your specialty, your readers aren’t going to be looking for in-depth coverage. In most cases, they’ll thank you for digging out the most fascinating discoveries and sharing those in a few sentences. Just make sure you provide a link to the research in case your reader is curious and wants to learn more.

3. Getting familiar with SEO best practices.

Search engine optimization is a huge topic. Here are a few basics:

  • Titles will make or break you. A good title with competitive (but not too competitive) keywords is key to getting your article seen, read and shared.
  • Structure is crucial. The internet has made us into scanners rather than deep readers. Your article must be skimmable, and subheads are a great place for SEO keywords.
  • You should link back to yourself. Linking to your own relevant articles is a great way to generate page views.
  • Fresh content is essential. That includes creating fresh stories and updating older ones.

4. Knowing how to create a killer hook.

Your headline will draw your reader in. After that, your opening sentence and lead paragraph must keep the reader on the page.

I often draft the rest of my article before writing the opening paragraph. That way I have a good idea about what’s interesting about it. Think of your opening paragraph as an advertisement for the rest of your article. Consider these examples.

Weak hook

Writing a great opening paragraph is very important. Here are a few tips to get you on the way to hooking your readers.

Yawn. Don’t tell your reader that something’s important, show her. Why should she want “a few tips” from you?

Strong hook

I just stopped reading your article. You had about two seconds to hook me, but your yawn-inducing opener made me surf on to something else. Writers (not to mention their websites) thrive on being read, so why do we invest so little time in crafting strong opening hooks?

Here, we’re showing why a strong hook is important—because if you don’t have one, your reader won’t stick around. Readers who navigate away, rather than staying on your site to read what you’ve written, don’t engage. They won’t comment, or subscribe to your newsletter, or follow you on social media—and they probably won’t come back.

There’s one caveat when it comes to opening paragraphs—they should sell, but they shouldn’t be misleading. Never let your opener write a check that your article can’t cash.

5. Finding your voice.

More than 2 million blog posts are published every day, which means you must stand out.

Your writing style and your experiences forge your unique voice. Don’t just cover a topic; share a story.

If you don’t have a story to relate to your readers, infuse your article with your personal style. Instead of writing as though you’re churning out a dry research paper, write as though you’re telling a friend about some cool new stuff you’ve learned.

Use your own natural, conversational tone. Keep your language simple and direct. In other words, just be you.

A version of this post first appeared on Grammarly’s blog.

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