In part one of this series on improving your content marketing by taking a journalistic approach, I talked about how to think like a journalist in the content planning/story gathering stage. Part two focused on how to develop content ideas by conducting journalistic interviews. Now, in the third and final part of this series, I’ll bring it all home with tips for how to write like a journalist in the content creation stage.
As noted before: Journalists are trained to think and write in a very specific way. The best journalists are able to use this training to not only tell a good story, but to do so in a targeted, concise, accurate, and compelling way.
These are some of the same skills that great content marketers possess—and it’s ultimately what makes their content stand out and rise above the copious amounts of “meh” content consumers are inundated with every day. Unfortunately, many content marketers aren’t trained and practiced in the art of journalistic writing and storytelling. But no worries, these are all learnable skills!
To get you started, here are my top 4 tips for how to improve your content marketing by writing like a journalist:
1. Identify the key elements of your content/story.
This may seem obvious, but often marketers can get so focused on the end goal (e.g., getting the reader to take a specific action) that we forget about one of the most fundamental steps in the writing process: outlining! Always outline the key elements of your content before you actually begin to write it. Most of us were taught this in grade school. Journalists have had it drilled into their heads so much that it’s practically second nature.
No matter how experienced you may be, it always helps to write out the key elements of your story or piece of content—also known as the 5 W’s and H:
- Who (… is the subject of the story, …else is involved, … is going to care, etc.)?
- What (… happened, … will happen, …is the point, …action do you want your audience to take, etc.)?
- When (… did the event happen, … will something happen, … will your audience need to know/apply this information)?
- Where (… did/will this happen, … is the setting for your story, etc.)?
- Why (… did/will it happen, … should your audience care)?
- How (… did/will this happen, … should it happen, … can your audience help, stop it or make it happen, etc.)?
Write out your 5 W’s and H. Keep them at the top of your mind (and maybe hang them above your computer), and come back to them throughout the writing process to ensure you don’t stray too far from your main topic/storyline.
2. Hook your audience and guide them through your content.
Journalists are taught to write news stories using the inverted pyramid structure. Based on the (well-proven) theory that most people won’t read your entire story from beginning to end, the inverted pyramid method structures your content with the most important content at the top (your 5 W’s and H) followed by additional details and supporting content in descending order of importance.
Just like journalists, content marketers should come up with an attention-grabbing headline, and then quickly give the audience the information promised in that hook. Don’t bury the lede or try to “trick” people into reading your whole story—they won’t, and it will only make them frustrated and annoyed with you/your company. Also, if your content is more than a few hundred words, use headings, sub-headings, lists, bullets, visuals, and other elements that help segment your content and make it easier to scan.
3. Write the way you speak.
Journalists are trained to write for “Joe Schmo” or everyday folks—the general population with a pretty basic reading proficiency. Many writers and business professionals struggle with this—often because they think that “dumbing down” content makes them seem “dumb” as well, or because they’re so entrenched in their industry and its accompanying jargon that they don’t know how to stop. Yet studies have shown that using more and bigger words actually tends to make people think you’re not as smart or authoritative on the subject as you really are.
This is truly one of the most important practices for content writers and marketers to develop: Use concise and simple language if you want to engage your audience. It doesn’t matter if they’re 10 years old or 100, or if they have a high-school education or a PhD–everybody prefers to consume content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
4. Don’t just tell the story, show it!
Finally, concise and simple does NOT mean boring. And no one wants to be told “just the facts” of a story, or even in a how-to article. Make your content sing with visual language that puts readers at the scene, helps them connect to the characters and/or plot, and evokes that coveted personal engagement that will turn them into loyal followers (and eventually, customers). Back up your points and let others help tell your story by incorporating research from reputable outside sources and sprinkling in quotes from your rock-star interviews.