Admit it: Sometimes you wonder if your content is really any good. Sure, you worked hard to write it, but you’re a business owner, not a professional writer. Are readers connecting with it? Do they understand what you’re trying to say? Is there an easy way for you to tighten things up and improve upon what’s already there?

Fear not, of course there is! Here are some tips to help you improve and write better content. It’s like 10th grade English without the fear of getting called on when you’re not paying attention.

Before you start writing…

1. Identify the goal of the content: One reason it takes us so long to write good content is because we don’t stop to decide what it is we want to say. What are you hoping your content will accomplish? Is the purpose of your article to explain how something works, put a customer on a determined conversion path, build brand trust? Whatever goal you’ve decided on, have it in mind before you start writing. Knowing your goal beforehand will help set the tone (and sometimes the filter) for everything that’s about to come next.

2. Decide on a hook: Every piece of content you write should have a hook. Just like in fishing, your hook is what you’re using to catch a reader in your net. Whether it’s a news hook, an attack hook, a humor hook or an ego hook, you want to decide how you’re going to draw people in. Keeping the hook  in mind will help you frame your article and organize it in your head. It will also determine the writing style that you use. You wouldn’t write a news hook with the same juice you’d use to write an incentive hook.

3. Think like your reader: Before you put fingers to keyboard, get in the mindset of your audience because your content is for them. If you’re attempting to explain something, talk about it from their point of view. How deeply would they need something broken down? Which terms would they use? Where might they get confused? Put yourself in the place of your customers and write like they would. Don’t use your view of the world. You’re the expert. It’s tainted with jargon.

4. Get rid of distractions: Log out of Facebook. Close Twitter. Stay away from YouTube. While it’s easy to head to these sites during a brain lull, they’ll only make your content sound more fragmented and make you spend three times as long trying to write. When it’s time to write, turn them off.

When you’re writing…

5. Only include what’s relevant: Do you still have the goal of your content fresh in your mind? Good. When you start writing, keep that goal in mind so that you only include information that supports your goal. Just because you know the whole alphabet about a subject doesn’t mean all of it belongs in one piece of content. For example, if you’re writing about how to make a good vanilla latte (my drug of choice), then you don’t need to include a five-page summary on the history of coffee, where the best beans are located, and how to brew the perfect cup. Leave the kitchen sink at home. The more irrelevant information you include, the further you take people away from your goal and the more you confuse them along the way.

6. Let yourself write: Stop me when this starts to sound familiar: You write a sentence. . . then you delete. You write three more and delete two. Then you get rid of a whole paragraph and pick at your title. Stop it! Writing and editing are two different stages of the content cycle, which means you shouldn’t attempt to do them simultaneously. When you sit down to write, just write; don’t self-edit. Focus on getting everything out that you want to say and putting it all down. Once it’s written down, then you can edit and make it sound cohesive. But the more time you spend self-editing as you’re writing, the longer and more fragmented your copy is going to sound.

7. Use short sentences: Short sentences are easier for writers to get out. They’re also easier for readers to take in. Stick with them and stop confusing people with overly complicated writing. Like short sentences, it’s that simple.8.

8. Use clear, direct titles: One of the best things you can do to improve your writing is learn to write killer titles. Direct titles aren’t always the most fun to write (who doesn’t love a good pun?), but they do the best job of telling readers and the search engines what your post is about. And that is your title’s main goal – to set up your content and make someone want to read it. Avoid getting so clever with your titles that you make it impossible for readers to predict what’s coming next or, even worse, set them up to be disappointed when your content isn’t about what they hoped it was. When all else fails, say what you mean. It’s true in life and in Web content.

9. Make it scannable: In our post on 4 things to consider when writing Web content,I encouraged readers to consider the medium when writing. Writing on the Web is different from other formats. Online, scannable content reigns supreme, as users still aren’t so great at reading on the Web. If there are five things you want readers to take away from your page, break them out into a numbered list and make it easy for users to grab on to them.  Lists, white space and short paragraphs are your best friends on the Web (other than links).

10.Use your voice: The quickest way to make your content unreadable is to remove yourself from it. In order for people to care, you have to give them a little bit of you. Voice an opinion, wear your heart on your sleeve, and write like it matters to you. It will take a little experimenting to find your blog but once you do it will make all the difference in engaging readers and bringing them into your site and your company.

Before you publish…

11. Read your content aloud: If you want to improve your content, read it aloud to yourself before you publish it to the Web or hand it to a customer. If you stumble over something  or think you’re being too wordy, so will your reader, and it may turn them off. I never publish or commit to any piece of writing before I’ve read it aloud to myself several times. Once I can get through it without stammering, I trust that it’s “ready.”

12. Read backwards: If you often fall victim to typos and misspellings, then scan your copy backwards to allow your brain to see words out of context instead of subconsciously seeing “what you meant.”

Those are some of my tried-and-true ways of improving my writing. What tips have you picked up over the years? Whose writing do you most try to emulate?

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