7 fixes for common writing mistakes

Most media and communications professionals have to write for their job at one point or another, and some are more writing-inclined than others. But everyone who writes will at one or more points be faced with a challenging writing project or stumble into some of the common writing pitfalls.

So, what are these pitfalls and how can you avoid and navigate them? Writing for the Content Marketing Institute Blog, Ann Handley examines the pitfalls through practical examples, and offers concrete solutions. Read more

Need more writing tips? Check out my previous blog posts below:

Photo credit: Hometown Beauty, Flickr Creative Commons

Six tips to conquer writer’s block

Ah, writers block. Many writers out there will attest to the perils of this dreaded state of affairs. Writer’s block ramps up anxiety and stress, especially when working in a professional environment with tight deadlines. It can also dampen creativity, making writer’s resort to plagiarism and other shenanigans.

Writing for the Content Marketing Institute blog, Alex Jasin offers six quick tips to beat writer’s block:

1. Look for inspiration in keywords

Use keyword research tools like Google Trends and Google AdWords to discover the most popular keywords in your niche market. But don’t overdo it, as this can easily distract you from your core task at hand  writing.

2. Tap into the power of headline generators

Get out of your head and look for suggested headlines via headline generators like Tweak Your Biz Title Generator and Portent.

3. Research what your audience is talking about

As Jasin notes: “If you know your audience well, then you know where they like to hang out online. You know their influencers, the communities they visit, and the forums they frequent.” These platform can be great sources of inspiration for articles and blog posts. Sift through or participate in discussions to find out what your target audiences are talking about. A platform like Quora is great for this.

4. Talk to your audience

If you really want to know what’s on your audience’s mind, it doesn’t hurt to just ask them directly. Post questions to them on your website, newsletter or social media channels, or send out a survey. Analyze the responses and incorporate them into your content strategy and editorial calendar. Jasin adds: “By talking to your audience, you not only get topics to talk about but also improve your relationship with them, boost your credibility, and ultimately, build a loyal customer base.”

5. Repackage content

Repackage your content so that it fits into another format and is adapted for different channels. For example, you can turn a piece of long-form content into a video, expand on a short piece, transform a podcast or video into a blog post, and extract content from your white papers, case studies and annual reports. However, before going this route, ensure that any repacking exercise makes sense in the grander scheme of things i.e. it aligns with your content strategy.

6. Consume great content

“You can’t expect to create ideas and write great content if you don’t read great content,” notes Jasin. Find inspiration and keep up with trends and emerging themes in your industry by reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, following relevant organizations on social media and subscribing to newsletters. Consuming great and relevant content will enhance your creativity and help you provide real value to your audience.

Featured photo: Nate, Flickr Creative Commons

8 ways to create a brilliant newsletter people want to read

Live video, interactive content and social media are great, but when it comes to building a loyal following, look no further than the humble newsletter. Writing for the Content Marketing Institute, Mark Walker sums up the strengths of the newsletter nicely:

“For senders, newsletters are a powerful way to stay top of mind with readers, providing a direct route to getting their attention. The best newsletters — the ones readers value the most — get an almost automatic open because readers want to see what goodness is inside that day.”

With that said, how can you create a newsletter that gets opened every time you send it? Walker offers these eight strategies:

1. Go super curated

There’s an overabundance of information out there, which means that the truly high-quality content might get lost in the crowd if it is not marketed well enough. Curate unique content from around the web to really stand out.

2. Let your personality shine

As Walker notes, “newsletters feel inherently more personal”. Stay true to that personal feel by letting your personality shine through with a unique tone, anecdotes, personal stories and observations, and humour.

3. Offer value 

What benefit do people get from your newsletter that they can’t find elsewhere? How does your newsletter positively impact on people’s lives? Offer value.

4. Make it personalized 

Personalize your content based on your readers’ behaviours and preferences. This will likely require research and comprehensive audience analysis, but it’s worth it.

5. Keep it fresh but focused

Ensure that your newsletter consistently provides quality content on a specific field, so that your newsletter is considered a reliable source and authority on that field. But this doesn’t mean you can’t include new, fresh and unique examples and perspectives in each edition, while still staying true to your focus.

6. Go niche

“Newsletters, perhaps more than any other format, allow you to go really niche,” says Walker. “[You] don’t need huge audiences for your newsletter to be valuable, you just need the right people — those who care and who are engaged.” Enough said.

7. Be exclusive

Getting people to pay for your newsletter — even if you’re a nonprofit — could be an effective approach. As Walker notes, “most people tend to be more committed to things they’ve made an investment in, particularly a financial one”.

Nonprofits can ask readers to pay a small subscription fee that will go towards a social change programme that the organization supports. Reports, testimonials and human interest stories can be shared periodically in the newsletter itself, to update subscribers on what their funds have helped achieve.

However, any organization taking this route — nonprofit or otherwise — must ensure that their newsletter offers strong value for money.

8. Keep it pure

Newsletters offer a “chance to have a pure, honest conversation with your readers, and if they appreciate it, they’ll reward you by opening up your newsletter each time it’s sent,” says Walker. He adds: “You don’t have to write with SEO in mind or in a click-bait way to rise above the noise on social media.”

Truer words were never spoken. Newsletters can be a great platform for passionate writers to flex their writing and creative muscles, while promoting their organization as truly authentic.

Featured image: Dennis Skley, Flickr Creative Commons


#WritingTips: The first question to ask before you write

Here’s a quick scenario: a nonprofit communications department realizes that its organization’s website lacks engaging stories, a key element to any effective communications strategy. “We need more stories!” declares the communications manager.

Following this declaration, the senior communications officer quickly tasks Bob the intern with writing an engaging piece. Bob, new to the nonprofit writing game, is somewhat perplexed: “Where do I start?”, he asks himself.

Bob should start by asking one important question: “What do I want this story to achieve?”

Before writing any nonprofit story, or any story for that matter, it’s essential to clarify the objective of the story. Is it to mobilize funds? To raise awareness about your organization’s mission or strategy? To get people engaged on social media? To get people to volunteer, vote or attend your event?

Whatever the reason, the story will be made all the more effective if the purpose is clarified from the start, including how it ties in to your overall communications and content strategies.

If the purpose of the story isn’t clear, and if it does not fit into the grander scheme of things (i.e. your strategies), you shouldn’t be writing it. Writing aimlessly prevents you from writing well and undermines what the story can achieve.

Writing for his Empower Nonprofits blog, Jeremy Koch explains how this can negatively impact on your audience:

“Put simply, if you don’t know what you want your audience to do after listening to your story then they’re not going to know what to do either.”

Read Koch’s article to explore three ways in which the intention of your story impacts how you tell your story, and why this matters.

7 lessons copywriters can learn from great conversations

Some of the key elements that make for a great conversation can be the perfect model for good copywriting, or good writing in general.

But don’t take my word for it. Writing for the Copyblogger blog, Nick Usborne explains how. Read highlights from the article below or the full article here.

Lesson #1: Don’t assume the other person sees the world the same way you do

In great conversations, “You really get to understand the point of view of the other person, even if you don’t agree with it”, says Usborne.

Applying this to copywriting, Usborne adds:

“Listen carefully to your prospects and customers. And be aware that they may not share your own worldviews.

When you understand how they see the world, you’ll be in a better position to write to them in a way that truly connects.”

Lesson #2: Ask open-ended questions

Great conversationalists ask open-ended questions, giving the person being asked the question space to explore their thoughts in more detail. This approach also signals that the question asker cares about the other person’s point of view and values their contributions.

Linking this to copywriting, Usborne notes: “You may not be in an actual conversation with your readers, but you can still send those positive signals by asking open-ended questions in your copy.”

You don’t ask the question with the expectation of a reply, but you’re still engaging with the reader.

Lesson #3: Pause and create space for the other person to respond

In great conversations, slowing down and pausing works wonders, allowing the other person to take part and feel valued. Using this approach in your writing can also be effective. Usborne explains:

“First, you can be explicit about it. Say something like:

‘Take a few moments. Stop reading; look out the window and give this some thought.’

Or you can just slow down the pace.

Like this.

Nice and easy.”

Lesson #4: Show empathy

Empathy is a powerful force in conversations, and it can also be applied to your writing. Usborne notes that a simple way to show empathy is to mirror or point out what the other person might be saying or thinking.

Lesson #5: Avoid being adversarial or overly pushy

“As soon as the reader feels you’re only interested in pushing the sale, they’ll disengage and stop reading,” says Usborne, adding, “Be less salesy and more conversational.”

Lesson #6: Express gratitude for what the conversation brings you

Just like in a great conversation, share your appreciation and gratitude for your audience. Usborne shares an example:

“I know I don’t say this often enough … but I truly appreciate the fact that you’re still opening and reading these emails. It means a lot to me!”

Lesson #7: Harness the power of short words and sentences

Usborne makes some important points:

“In conversation, we put aside all of the clever writing habits we’ve learned.

Instead, we use everyday language.

You can do the same with your copywriting.

Keep it simple, as if you were having a conversation with a friend.”