What qualities does good writing have? Whether you are reading a book or a Facebook post, good writing is easy to understand and it grabs you with an idea or an emotion. Sadly, there's a lot of bad writing out there, especially on social media.
There are several qualities that good writing has and when you're creating content, you should consider them.
Brevity. Clarity. Curiosity. Usefulness. Humor. Timeliness.
Keep It Short and to the Point
What is the main point you are trying to make? What is the most salient point that you want your reader to leave with? Put it first. And state it as clearly as you can. And show why it matters.
"It's a lot easier to write social media content when you know exactly what you're trying to talk about," writes Kelly Vo. "Get the BIG picture down on paper and it will be a lot easier for you to figure out how to write something that people want to read."
When you read a newspaper, you'll notice that news articles put the most important information first. The answer to the question, "What happened?" is always up top in the "nut graph," as an old newspaper editor of mine use call them. The details come later. Newspaper writers don't assume that their readers will make it to the end of their articles, so they front load the most important information: Who, what, where, when, and why.
Just the Facts, Ma'am
What information is your writing based on? Do you have some new facts to share? Interesting statistics? Images that no one has seen before? Or are you sharing ideas that you've gathered from experts? Make it clear early on that you have something of substance to offer your reader.
Finding sources for information is usually the most time-consuming part of the writing process. But it separates the gold from the garbage, especially online.
What's Your Angle?
Choosing the right topic is hard. What does your audience want to know? What do they need to know? What kind of problems are your readers dealing with that you can help them with?
Then, choosing a strategy to get to what matters or is interesting within your topic is even harder. The radio show "This American Life" often includes stories where what happens is surprising, unexpected, and illuminating.
We are all very experienced with stories now. We've all seen hundreds of movies. We've read thousands of articles and books. We know the narrative path most stories take. That's why the same old story is boring. Try to figure out what's new. Or controversial.
Get Rid of Those Extra Words!
When I'm editing myself, I try getting rid of extra words in sentences. If I can cut a word and the meaning of the sentence stays the same, then that word is extraneous. Cut it.
I'm not sure why people leave in extra words. Is it because we all had to write to word counts when we were in school? Imagine that everything you write is a tweet and you want to include the greatest amount of information possible in each tweet. Go lean. Get rid of all your "Well, I guess I'll think about..." There is as faux casual tone that a lot of writers strike on the Internet, where they insert "well" and "kind of" and "I think." Cut it!
Indeed, get rid of fluff and filler. You wouldn't want to read it. Don't write it.
Grammar exists for a reason, as do punctuation rules. If you want your audience to respect you and what you have to say, you'll need to use both correctly.
Read your own work over a few times. If you have a hard time seeing errors in your own writing, change the font of the text and read it aloud. Even better, get someone else to read your work before you publish it.
Don't you hate it when people use vague terms that make their point hard to understand?
Take this sentence:
"The thing about my friend is that he is sloppy in general and everyone can tell when they see him in the morning after breakfast because of that yellow stuff."
It could be better if it were more specific. Like this:
"Joe spilled egg on his shirt."
This is especially important with verbs. There are a lot of excellent, specific verbs, but when we speak we tend to only use a handful of them. For example, I could say that Paul Revere "told people" about the movement of British forces. Or I could say he "warned patriots." I could say he "went" to several Massachusetts towns, but it would be more informative to say that he "galloped" through them.
Write for Each Medium You Use
Facebook: "When possible, don't write more than five lines or 400 characters with spaces," writes Vo. "Speak in a friendly and casual tone. Use image posts more often than link posts or text-only posts. Use formatting such as paragraph spacing and list format."
Twitter: Short and sweet. "The best tweets are under 115 characters in length. Tweets are very news friendly, so headlines work well," writes Vo. "Don't forget to add a trending hashtag."
LinkedIn: This network is for professionals. Write news briefs or internal information emails to your customers. "Think about how you would sell the article to a CEO," writes Vo.
Instagram: Love the hashtags on Instagram. Your best bet: use 11 hashtags per Instagram post. "Don't worry about the text so much as choosing the best hashtags," write Vo."
Humor & Timeliness
Everyone loves a joke.
Q: How many marketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. They've automated it.
Here's another one:
Q: What's a personality trait of a bad marketer?
People tend to want to read about what is happening now. The newest information. The newest solution to a problem. Studies that look at what articles are actually read online show that most of often they are news articles about current events.
I like to imagine a version of the Internet where everything I read is interesting, helpful, and elegantly written. Or, at least, a small corner of the Internet where that is true. Join me in that small corner, would you?