Creating content can be a simple enough task – as long as you know what you’re doing. Former journalist and owner of science, healthcare and tech content specialists 42group Lawrie Jones shares with us some of his tips learned from over 10 years’ in the trade.
Tell it to a 5 year old and write for a 10 year old
As a journalist, you are often in a position where you’re speaking to someone about a topic that you have no real knowledge of. You can brave it out and pretend that you know what they’re talking about, or you can do the honest thing and own up.
If you don’t want to do either, then use one of the oldest tricks in the book:
Ask them: “How would you tell it to a 5 year old?”
This helps the interviewee to actually consider the words they use. It also helps them to bring a clarity to their thoughts that they might lack as they go into autopilot and reel off a well practiced script.
This also helps you to understand exactly what they are talking about because (hopefully) you’re a little bit older than 5 years old. This simplification can help you to ask insightful questions that will help with your piece.
The Sun is famously written for those with a reading age of 9, but is one of the UK’s most successful newspapers. The reason is that journalists working for the Sun understand their audience wants complex topics broken down into an easy to digest narrative.
In fact, you can learn a lot from the way all newspapers approach writing up a story. This is because journalists who write for newspapers like the Sun go through a tough apprenticeship that helps them to write in a compelling and captivating way. They really do know what they’re doing.
It doesn’t mean that you have to reduce the complexity of your content – but you do need to bring a clarity and simplicity as well as a strong structure to your work. It’s about having a strong headline, an opening that grabs the attention and words that deliver on those promises.
It also makes sense for SEO purposes, with strong simple sentences with few clauses helping to strengthen your business online.
When you’re producing content for yourself, your business or for clients remember to write for a 9 year old.
Edit like a 30 year old
Writing is the easy bit, it’s the editing where the magic happens. Editing can help to bring a consistency to the message, ensuring that the tone of voice across disparate pieces of content is the same. It’s the point where you ensure your key messages are included and that the content will benefit you and your business.
It also ensures that the words you publish – whether that’s in print, online or anywhere else are spelt correctly, are grammatically correct and read well.
Editing takes time and concentration. It also takes a level of maturity to do it properly, which is why editing like a 30 year old is a good idea. It doesn’t matter if you’re older though.
Pay like a 40 year old
The world is seemingly full of writers who will work for very little (in some cases for free), but in the world of content – like anything else – you get what you pay for.
Poorly written content isn’t just terrible to read, it could harm your business too. Visitors to the site will pick up on those errors and lose faith in your brand. Search engine algorithms can pick up poorly written, keyword loaded content and discredit it.
If you’re commissioning content from a writer, select someone that understands what you do and will produce material of the right quality.
Always check references and ensure that you read pieces that are relevant to your industry, well written and accurate.
It’s also worth establishing who will write your content – is it the person you’re speaking too, or will it be shared across a team or farmed out to another freelancer?
When you do find the right person, make sure you pay them a decent wage. Words have the power to change our businesses and our lives, they’re worth spending some time, and a little money, on.