Becoming a successful content writer is like becoming a successful tradesperson.
What do all successful tradespeople have and do?
They have a love for learning.
Learning new skills and learning to use a variety of tools. What about you?
How do you succeed as a content writer?
The first and most important quality needed to succeed as a content writer is having a love for learning, or doing thorough research. The internet is a goldmine of information, but that goldmine also contains a lot of fools gold, e.g. inaccurate information. Like a successful tradesperson, the best content writers know how to dig deeper to find statistics, facts, and data that are accurate.
So, put a love for doing thorough research at the very top of your list of skills needed to succeed as a content writer.
But, there's more...
What other skills does a content writer need?
- Creativity and originality
- Understanding of SEO (search engine optimization)
- Social media savvy
Adaptability is vital if you're going to become a successful content writer because you're going to be working for a variety of people, companies, and brands and each will have their own unique brand voice.
Like a skilled tradesperson needs to use a variety of tools to excel, successful content writers need to use a variety of writing styles to excel.
With that in mind, you'll need to learn about and use these 4 writing styles:
This is writing with the purpose of concisely and clearly explaining something to your readers. Expository writing can include facts, numbers, data, graphs, tables, charts, and illustrations to provide evidence for what you're communicating through your writing.
Where is expository writing used most?
- Instruction manuals
- Scientific research
- Technical manuals
- News magazines/articles
5 characteristics of expository writing
- Informative; highlights important details that help readers understand the subject better.
- Clear, concise; the writer must know the subject matter well.
- Focuses on main topic and lists events in logical order.
- Avoids first-person narrative; effectively uses second-person instruction.
- Free of personal opinions; is unbiased in presenting the facts.
Expository writing types
- Problem and Solution: identify a problem and provide facts, numbers, data to prove the problem is serious enough that your audience should take action to solve it. Suggest the solution to the problem and show your readers why and how (facts) your solution will work for them and show them how to implement the solution.
- Cause and Effect: show the direct link from a cause to an effect and the impact the effect has or will have on your reader. Answer the question "so what?" How will the effect change his or her life, business, relationships, health, fitness, emotions for better or worse.
- Compare and Contrast: explain similarities and differences between two subjects, things, individuals when they are in the same category, e.g. compare and contrast coaching and mentoring.
- Definition and Classification: thoroughly describes a topic, including meanings, examples, and types. Includes and explains the differences between objective and subjective things.
- How-to/Process: instructs your reader and lists steps needed to do something; think about cookbooks, instruction manuals.
Think of your five senses, e.g. sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Descriptive writing creates a strong image in the mind of your reader by describing people, places, animals, and objects. Descriptive writing shows instead of tells.
The four components of effective descriptive writing are:
- Attention to detail - instead of simply writing "the red apple," we would describe the detail of the stem, the change in color of the apple, the spots on the skin, and the way it catches the light.
- Descriptive language - vivid verbs, e.g. shatter or fracture instead of break, and precise adjectives, e.g. thrilling instead of scary, exciting, or fun. Choose quality over quantity.
- Include multiple senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.
- Organization - descriptions should be organized chronologically (by time), by order of importance, or spatially (focus on one part of an object before moving onto the next part).
Here are a couple of examples of descriptive writing that help create a vivid image in your mind:
- My Uber driver looked like a deflated airbag and sounded like talk radio on repeat. (source)
- My dog's fur felt like silk against my skin and her black colouring shone, absorbing the sunlight and reflecting it back like a pure, dark mirror. (source)
A narrative is a story. Its main purpose is to entertain your reader/audience. You'll be familiar with a narrative from stories you've read or movies and TV shows.
Narratives follow a general structure and to illustrate this effectively, let's go back to the opening scroll of the first Star Wars movie from 1977:
- the orientation: introduces the setting - the where and when. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... It's a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire."
- the problem (challenge): "During the battle, rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents..."
- the solution: "Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy..."
As a narrative progresses and the story unfolds the reader's anticipation grows. See, hear, and feel it for yourself as you watch the opening crawl from the original Star Wars movie in the video below.
Persuasive writing's purpose is to convince your readers and get them to take action. In order to achieve persuasion, successful content writers use a number of persuasive language devices.
Emotive language is using words that stir emotions and cause people to feel a certain way. If you can successfully get people to feel a certain way you're more likely to be able to get them to think a certain way, e.g. agree with your viewpoint, opinion, etc.
For example, look at the two headlines below to help you appreciate what emotive language does:
"Hooligans stormed the pitch." What emotions do you think the writer of the headline wants you to feel? Compare that headline to "Fans ran onto the field." The second headline gives the reader a completely different feeling and idea, doesn't it? This illustrates the power of emotive language when trying to influence readers to feel a certain way.
Using verbs to convey the likelihood of something happening. Modals like may, might, can, and could indicate something is unlikely to happen, so they are low-modality verbs. On the other hand, modals like must, will, ought to, would are high-modality suggest something is more certain to happen.
Let's look at an example:
"You will become a successful content writer when you implement the 4 writing styles in this post."
Compare that to "You might become a successful content writer if you can implement the 4 writing styles."
The first sentence gives your reader a feeling of certainty that he or she will become a successful content.
Involving Your Reader
Talk to your reader by imagining that you're sitting across from them in a coffee shop, having a conversation and using personal pronouns, like "you," your," "we," "our," and "together." These pronouns create a connection between you and the reader, involving them in the issue so it becomes personal and important to them, too.
"Our blogs grow much faster and we earn significantly more passive income when we write high-quality blog posts that help our readers solve their problems and achieve their goals."
These are questions that aren't supposed to be answered but are used to illustrate a point or get your reader to think. Let's add a rhetorical question to the example sentence above where we are involving our reader.
"Can we really afford to ignore writing high-quality blog posts?"
That question is making the point that the reader will benefit by paying attention to learning how to and writing high-quality blog posts.
This includes facts, numbers, quotes from an expert, and interviews.
For example, Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger, Digital Commerce Partners, and StudioPress, which he sold to WordPress Engine, said:
"Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”
This quote, from someone who's recognized as a pioneer in the field of blogging, digital marketing, and copywriting is used as evidence that to succeed as a blogger and content writer you've got to produce content for your readers and that helps them solve their problems, and achieve their dreams, goals, desires.
Repeating key words, phrases, and ideas is a persuasive language device. Let's take the quote from Brian Clark, above, and employ repetition to persuade our audience.
Based on what Brian Clark said, we should:
- Create content that helps our readers solve their problems.
- Create content that helps our readers achieve their dreams.
- Create content that helps our readers reach their goals.
Note that I've used to language devices to persuade. I've use repetition as well as involving you - the reader. Cool, eh?
Adjectives and Adverbs
"These poor writers have no consistent income. They struggle strenuously to make ends meet and are constantly accepting the leftover scraps of work at lowball rates that highly-skilled writers won't accept."
Those words make us feel like we don't want to be included in this group of writers and is a good reason for us to learn what we need to do to become successful content writers.
This is placing words beginning with the same sound together. I used alliteration in the sentence under adjectives and adverbs when I wrote, "They struggle strenuously."
I would caution you to be careful not to overuse alliteration, as it could make your writing come across as affected, or phony.
So, there you have examples of the 4 distinct writing styles that you should learn to employ and you'll become a successful content writer.
How can you improve your content writing skills?
There are two things you must do to improve your content writing skills.
The first is to consume the content of other writers. Some of the ways to do that are to:
- Subscribe to email lists and social media platforms from others you look up to in the content writing industry. By reading their content you're going to become a better writer by osmosis.
- Think about your own reactions to the writing of other content creators. What are the emotions you feel when you read their content? Ask yourself: "how did they hook me with their opening sentence to get me to keep reading?"
- What kind of stories tug at your heart strings?
- How did their CTAs (calls to action) move you to act, whether it was subscribing to their email list or downloading one of their lead magnets or purchasing one of their products or services?
By getting into the habit of reading great content by the best content writers every, single, day, you'll become a good writer and then a better writer and finally a great writer.
The second thing you must commit to doing to improve your content writing skills is to write every day, without exception.
How much does a content writer write each day?
I can't speak for all content writers, but I can share my own daily writing habit with you. I write a minimum of 1500 words every day. Why do I write so much? For two reasons:
1. To improve my writing skills.
2. To create new blog content for you, my audience.
If you're going to be a successful content writer you've got to start thinking of writing as your job as a tradesperson views their trade as their job.
You're not a carpenter, plumber, or electrician.
You're a content writer.
And, whether you're writing a journal entry, a blog post, email or sales copy doesn't matter. You must write every day because it's the only way you're going to get better at writing.
So, I'm challenging you to start writing every day. Once you start practicing daily you're going to experience something you're not right now. Writing daily is going to open your eyes and mind to all of the content ideas around you that you're not conscious of right now.
Remember: every successful content writer started writing. They weren't born with the skill. They had a strong desire to learn it and practice it and that's how they became successful at writing content.
And then, last but not least, every successful content writer had to start putting their writing out there, whether on their own blog, on social media, in advertising materials, in newspapers and magazines, every one of us has put our writing out into the public domain.
When your writing is published, the fun begins. The more active you are on social media, the more likely your readers will be to recommend your content. Content writers who are active, public, and friendly are successful.
Becoming a successful content writer is like becoming a successful tradesperson. Successful content writers have a love for learning new skills and how to use a variety of tools, or writing styles.
Those four writing styles are:
With the proper skillset and a lot of practice, you can become a successful content writer, thrive, and discover that your profession is the greatest there is.
The only question left is, when are you going to get started? I can tell you there's no better day than today.