In a world awash with content of variable quality, how can you ensure that yours stands out? Michelle Garrett offers some suggestions.
The quality of writing today is on the decline. If you read any online publications or blogs, you’re probably noticing more and more errors (even in the major ones). Why is this?
- There’s more content – everyone is creating content. With the rise of content marketing, blogging, self-publishing and guest posting, the volume of content has increased dramatically. Back in 2015, it was estimated that more than 2 million blog posts were published every day. The latest Content Marketing Institute surveys show that about 70 per cent of companies expect to produce more content in 2017 than they did in 2016. More does not mean better.
- There are fewer copy editors. There are about half as many copy editors today as there were 10 years ago. According to a 2013 Poynter report, the role of copy editor has been sacrificed more than any other newsroom category.
- There’s a rush to get content out there. Some statistics claim that companies that don’t blog daily will be left behind. With that sort of a rush mentality, it’s no wonder there are more mistakes than ever.
Our standards are falling and this is damaging our credibility as professionals. Author John Bernoff surveyed 547 businesspeople in early 2016 and published the results in the Harvard Business Review. Bernoff found that 81 per cent of them believe that “poorly written material wastes a lot of their time”. It distracts the reader from the intended message. And it just makes us look plain unprofessional.
Conversely, while the quality of writing may be decreasing, content marketing is seen as an increasingly vital part of a company’s marketing strategy. A US marketing advisory company, DemandMetric, says content marketing costs 62 per cent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads. It’s efficient, compelling and highly customisable, catering to virtually all businesses and industries.
So, given all of this, what can we do to produce higher quality written content? Here are seven tips to improve your writing:
1) The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect
Just get it down on paper … get the words out. You can go back to fine tune it later, but it’s important to get all the information out of your head and on to the page first.
Some writers seem to be intimidated by the writing process. But truly, the first draft is just that – a draft. If you get the words down, you can always go back to edit them. Don’t be afraid to just start writing. Remember, you don’t have to show anyone your first draft, so who’s judging?
2) Write when the mood strikes you
I often see pieces advising writers to set aside a block of time each day to write. And, yes, generally speaking, there are times of day that are better than others for most when it comes to writing in a focused manner.
But sometimes an idea will just hit you – that’s the time to go with it. Run with that inspiration to achieve some of your best work. For example, I can tell you the time spent writing a 500-word blog post will to go a lot faster when you’re feeling inspired to write versus when you’re forcing yourself to write.
3) Allow time for rewrites
I find that my best work is usually a product of having enough time. Sure, there are times when you just have to get it written and done. But a much more effective process is allowing yourself a couple of days in which to write, walk away and then come back to refine your work. You’ll be amazed at what you catch and can improve if you give it time to breathe.
4) Proofread your work
Of course, you need to proof your work. Many simple errors would be caught before publication if writers would simply review their work. A tip I use often is to read your work aloud. This will help you catch errors you might otherwise glance over. (A side note: you may want to try this when no one else is listening!)
5) Have someone else review your work
After you’ve proofed (and re-proofed) your work, ask someone else to review it. A spellchecker is good, but it’s not the same as having another human review your work. This could be a colleague or even a friend (or check a service like Fiverr to hire a copy editor at a reasonable rate). It’s just helpful to have another pair of eyes reviewing your work to catch the errors you (or spellcheck) may miss. If you have no human available to proof your work, you can try a tool like the Hemingway app or Grammarly. There are even free versions of these tools, which help catch complex sentences and common errors.
6) Follow style guidelines when applicable
Not sure if a number should be written or spelled out? Ever wonder if a word should be capitalised? Style guides to the rescue! If you’re in the news or PR fields, the AP Stylebook is generally preferred. The Chicago Manual of Style is the guide for authors, editors and publishers of books, periodicals and journals. (Ed’s note: Amanda Greenslade has created a free online style guide for Australian writers and editors at www.editoraustralia.com.)
7) Look to the pros for more tips
Looking for more advice? I always recommend Ann Handley’s best-selling book Everybody Writes. And sites such as MarketingProfs, Contently and Copyblogger are great sources to glean more writing tips and tricks.
Those are my best quick tips. What works for you when you write?
References & links
Bad writing is destroying your company’s productivity in the Harvard Business Review