A few years back, I was working at my college newspaper and wanted tips for how to improve my content writing. So, I asked for a one-on-one meeting with our Editorial Adviser. He’s an older guy, roughly in his mid-to-late 60’s, and he goes by the nickname “Spoon”.
The reason I asked Spoon to meet with me was because I was still in my first semester at the paper, and I wanted to hear his feedback. This is a guy who has decades of experience working as a journalist, and under his watch our paper had won a bunch of awards and is nationally recognized for its work. I knew his critiques were only going to make me a better writer.
I won’t give you all the details of this meeting (it was a long time ago and I don’t remember, like, 95% of it), but one of his main critiques is something that I still think about to this day. To paraphrase, he said “a lot of what you’re writing doesn’t sound like it’s coming from an actual person.”
I was confused at first. I was working in our sports department, so I pretty much tried to emulate the sports writers I read growing up. Turns out, that’s the problem. A lot of good writers fall into these same traps that cause people to tune them out.
Read on below to find some of those common missteps, as well as other tips from Lifted Logic to improve your content writing.
Don’t Use Jargon or Fancy Words.
One of the biggest pitfalls that writers fall into is that they use too much jargon or professional language. Or, they use fancier words to sound smart. Spoon pointed out that I used the word “plethora” in one of my articles. He said, “When the hell have you ever used plethora in an actual conversation?”
He was right! I don’t think I’ve ever used that word. Not once before or since. In his experience, a writer using fancy words just for the sake of using them, at best, made their content inaccessible to the reader. At worst, it made them sound like smarmy asshole.
Along those same lines, using too much jargon in your writing is bound to turn the reader off if they aren’t familiar with what you’re talking about.
In my case, I wrote a game recap for my school’s hockey team and used technical terms like “forecheck” and “five-hole”. Hockey fans will know what these terms mean, but is everyone reading my article going to be a hockey fan? Almost certainly not.
You’re trying to relate to as many people as you possibly can, and most people don’t talk like they have a PHD or 30 years of experience in your field. Because of that, you need to meet them at their level.
Don’t Dumb Things Down
With that being said, don’t dumb down your writing, either. After all, people do need to know that you’re a knowledgeable source in whatever you’re writing about. You certainly don’t want to come off like you’re talking down to the reader and insulting their intelligence.
This usually comes in the form of over-explaining. Even if the people reading my articles weren’t hockey fans, I don’t need to go into detail about what pucks, sticks and skates are. People generally aren’t stupid, and in fact have a broad knowledge on a lot of different topics. They’re also able to grasp complex concepts as long as you’re explaining it the right way.
The best way I’ve found is to approach the topic like you’re explaining it to a close friend. If you’re good friends, you probably see each other as equals. You want to explain a topic, but you don’t want to patronize them or make them feel stupid. You should see your readers the same way.
Have a Conversational Tone
Way too often, people will write in a way that feels like lecturing. You aren’t writing a research essay here. You’re trying to relate to the reader and provide an answer to a question (that question being their keyphrase). The best way to do that through writing is with a conversational tone.
A conversational tone is key for connecting with your audience. In everyday life, we speak to each other through conversation, and that tone allows us to help the reader feel a more personal connection with us. It also puts the reader and the writer on equal footing, which makes the reader more likely to digest and listen to everything you have to say.
At the same time, it isn’t as simple as “just write like you talk”, either. For me personally, writing how I talk would involve a lot of swear words, and even more filler words. As important as it is to sound human and not like some branding robot, you still want to come off as a knowledgeable authority on your subject.
Don’t Try to be too Trendy
More often than not, people who do this just end up making content that’s cringey as hell to read. Using trendy phrases, words or memes might seem like a good idea, but things age very quickly on the internet. Usually, at best, your content ages poorly. At worst, you look like that Steve Buscemi meme from 30 Rock.
Most people see this as pandering or just trying too hard to be relevant. Look back at content from 2016 that references something like, I don’t know, the “Damn Daniel” vine and read it today. You’ll probably just groan.
People aren’t dumb. They’ll see this kind of content and think that you’re a brand just looking to capitalize on trends. Ultimately, it’ll cause them to tune you out as a result.
Furthermore, ideally if you’re taking the time to write content, you’ll want it to be as relevant as possible for as long as possible. This kind of stuff will ensure that it’s not.
Similarly, be careful about inserting humor into any content you write. Especially topical humor. It may seem witty at the time, but it could end up looking really cringe-worthy in the future.
That’s not to say don’t write with personality, but just remember that humor is subjective, and what you think is a good joke might end up turning off half of your audience.
Above All, Just be Genuine and Direct
People really do respond well to authenticity. A lot of us like to know that there’s a real human, with real thoughts and emotions, at the other end of the screen. No one needs to read more content that’s just corporate brandspeak.
Be real with your audience. Be direct with them. If you’re a company, relate to the reader and let them know how your services can improve their lives. I guarantee that you’ll see a better overall response because of it.
One of the things Lifted Logic specializes in is helping companies write engaging content for their websites.
Looking for a helping hand (or hands)? Schedule a free SEO consultation with our president, Adam Fichman, My partners in the content department and I are ready to help you connect with a wider audience. If you’re already a client, remember that you can schedule a blog training anytime with the content team to go over any questions you have.