I hate to break it to you, but your 9th grade English teacher was right. You do need to know how to write, grammar does matter, and you will use this valuable skill throughout your life. Love it or hate it, being able to turn out professional, readable, and relatable content is essential in today’s world, and especially when it comes to successful marketing. A whopping 77% of Americans spend time on the internet every day, and 26% spend a majority of their day online. This means that whatever you write, from blog posts to company emails to website content, plays a crucial role in creating a successful marketing strategy and extending your reach to customers and colleagues.
It’s pretty amazing that you can reach thousands, even millions of people with just the click of a button. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if your writing skills aren’t up to par, what you send out to that massive audience could work against you and may even be damaging to your business. But not to worry, writing quality content is easier than you think. Here are 9 of the most effective professional writing techniques that you can use to ensure your content stands out from the rest (and make your 9th grade English teacher proud!).
- Read, Read, Read. What does reading have to do with writing, you may ask? The answer is simple: everything! If you want to be a good writer, you have to read, period. And no, text messages and the billboards you pass on the way to work don’t count. Read a wide range of authors and genres to better learn how to express your ideas in written form, and then focus on reading books, articles, and posts similar to the style and format you want to use in your own writing. So, resist the call of Netflix in your spare time and awaken your inner bookworm instead. You’ll find it much easier to imitate writing what you find particularly engaging or powerful if you spend time reading it first.
- Write, Write, Write. Reading is a great way to improve your writing skills, but the most effective way to write well is to, well, write! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your content isn’t going to transform from drab to fab in one session either. Write as often as you can, and about as many different subjects as you can, until you start to get a feel for your own personal style. And yes, you may be busy, but you’ll find opportunities to practice writing if you look for them. Consider composing and sending out your business emails today instead of leaving it to your assistant. Company newsletter going out next week? Add a blurb to update your employees or express thanks for their hard work. Now, we writers are notoriously bad at math, but when it comes down to it, the equation is simple: the more you write, the better you’ll become.
- Read your Work Out Loud. If there is one technique that can dramatically improve your writing in a matter of minutes, this is it. Cadence and rhythm play an important role in readability, and reading your text aloud gives you instantaneous feedback on how will sound to your audience. Read your writing aloud and you’ll more easily recognize overused or misspelled words, incomplete or run-on sentences, and awkward paragraph transitions. Take it a step further and read what you’ve written to a live audience–a spouse, coworker, or friend–who will give you honest, helpful feedback.
- Know Your Audience. I once edited a blog post intended for elderly readers that was full of technical jargon and pop culture references. I’d venture to say that very few of the readers finished reading the post, if they read it at all. A smart writer knows their audience and always writes with their interests in mind. Consider your audience–their gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, and social status–and as you write, you’ll be able to more easily cater to their interests, values, and needs without using unnecessary or confusing jargon and references.
- Utilize Outlines & Drafts. It’s much easier to compile your ideas into comprehensible text if you work from an outline. Whether you jot them down in a notebook throughout the day or when inspiration strikes, type up a full outline in one sitting, or use some other method, organizing your thoughts before you begin writing can set you up for success and streamline the writing process. A first draft doesn’t need to be perfect; write it with the intent to convey your message and without worrying too much about spelling and grammar. Remember, writing is a process; take time to do it correctly and your skills will improve with each revision.
- Write Like You Speak. No one likes to read content with flowery, patronizing language. If you try to sound smarter than you are, your audience will call you on it. Simply write what you know, and convey it in a way that you would in a conversation with your reader. Pay close attention to your tone–is it engaging and entertaining, or formal and lackluster? Especially for marketing purposes, readers are more likely to read content that sounds authentic and is easier to read. And speaking of speaking, watch out for commonly misused words that can easily derail your message and distract your readers.
- Take a Break. I’m back! If you think I churned this article out all in one sitting, you’re wrong. When you’ve got a deadline looming, the last thing you want to do is take a break. But periodically removing yourself from your writing can actually speed up the process. Instead of trying to power through a frustrating bout of writer’s block, simply step away. A ten minute break for every hour of writing will help shift your focus, renew your thought process and invite new ideas to your mind.
- When in Doubt, Leave it Out. Your writing should show that you value your readers’ time. Keep your paragraphs short and to the point. Don’t use superfluous language that will add unnecessary length to your content. For example, there’s no need to say “I think that” or “I believe that” before a phrase. If you think it or believe it, just say it! By stating the obvious, you not only run the risk of losing your readers’ attention; you also imply that they aren’t smart enough to fill in the blanks. Concise, effectual content is appealing to every audience and will ensure that they’ll be back for more.
- Never Skip the Proofread. Crucial to professionally written content is the all-important but often overlooked step of proofreading. Don’t make the mistake of relying on spellcheck and grammar check to catch every mistake; a human proofreader is much more effective. Sure, you can proofread your own work, but there’s something about a pair of fresh eyes–especially ones trained to proofread–that is essential to polishing the perfect prose. A careful proofreader will catch errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, and style that you may have overlooked. And for the busy writer or business owner, affordable, professional proofreading in real time by a qualified, online professional is just a click away.
Remember, good writing takes time, and as with most things, the old adage applies: practice makes perfect. Renowned author Louis L’Amour once advised, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” No matter what grade you earned in your 9th grade English class, by applying these writing techniques, you can begin to pour out quality content and write like the pros!