What does great writing look like?
As content writers, it’s a question we ask ourselves time and again – and there’s no shortage of people willing to provide the answers. All across the Internet, there are lists of “rules” that we are to learn and follow that will help us become better, stronger and more efficient content creators. Use short paragraphs. Avoid industry jargon and highly technical terms. Stay away from passive voice like it’s the plague.
But what does great writing sound like? That’s a different story.
Generally speaking, “rules” like those listed above are all good pieces of advice worth following and they do help contribute to some great writing. But without a strong voice at the heart of it all, they’re not going to be able to help you. Think about it like this: you can take a great piece of writing and edit it to conform to these types of best practices, but all the structure and formatting rules in the world won’t help you if what you’re trying to say isn’t worth listening to in the first place.
Great Writing Write Here: Lifehacker
Lifehacker is a site dedicated to “life hacks,” software and other helpful topics that originally launched in 2005. Recently, Josh Ocampo wrote a piece titled “What You’re Entitled to When Your Flight’s Delayed” that is certainly worth a closer look at.
Immediately, this piece has all of the hallmarks of a great piece of writing. There’s a catchy headline that pulls you in quickly – who hasn’t had to deal with a flight delay? An opening paragraph that quickly establishes why this is more relevant than ever.
Then, the topic is broken down into great detail in a straightforward, conversational way that everyone can understand. “This is how tarmac delays and general delays are different.” “Here’s what to do if you’re delayed for two hours.” “These are the factors that kick in when you’re delayed for three hours or longer.” The list goes on and on.
The paragraphs are short. There are bullet points so that you can easily skim – if you just want to know what happens if you’re delayed on United specifically, you can do so in seconds. It follows all of the rules that we’re supposed to, but the piece resonates because the voice of the writer shines through again and again. It feels less like you’re reading a whitepaper buried on the FAA’s website somewhere and more like you’re hearing all of this from a friend – one that just happens to be an expert in flight delays and related matters.
You click on the article because of the headline, but you get to the end because of the voice. In this example, both sides of the coin – structure and style – play off of one another nicely.
Great Writing Write Here: The Digital Bits
Another example of great writing is a piece recently published by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits, a website dedicated to the home video industry that first launched in 1997. Titled “CES 2019: The Beginning of the End For Physical Media,” it’s notable because it almost immediately breaks every rule that we’re supposed to follow when creating “quality content” on the Internet.
For starters, it doesn’t actually fulfill the promise of the headline for eight paragraphs. Those paragraphs, by the way, are enormous. Mr. Hunt instead leads with what he calls “routine business” – coverage of recent DVD, Blu-ray and 4K announcements. Even when he does begin to address the topic, it still takes awhile to get to the meat of the discussion. Bill contextualizes his somewhat sensational headline against a somewhat unrelated story about the path he took to get there.
But none of that matters, because the voice is just so strong.
After over two decades of writing about this incredibly niche topic online, Bill Hunt knows his audience – and it shows. He knows that he’s speaking to a small-but-passionate group of people and he knows exactly what they want to hear. He’s not afraid to get into the nitty gritty details of digital noise reduction and the recently announced “IMAX Enhanced” format, even though those are the types of things that would make a casual reader’s eyes glaze over.
Because “casual readers” aren’t who he wrote the piece for. He wrote it for the die-hard home video fans – the ones who still spend countless hours online and in local shops having discussions about picture quality, special features and new releases. The kind who don’t just want to pass around information, but what to have a conversation.
So that’s exactly what he did.
This piece actually has quite a bit in common with the previous example. They both have eye-catching headlines. They both address timely topics in a detailed way. They’re both examples of great writing – just for two totally different sets of reasons.
One rigidly follows the “rules of content creation,” while the other throws them out. But they both succeed, because their writers understood the most important thing of all: ultimately, a strong voice is the most powerful weapon you have. One honed that voice to speak to a small, niche audience and the other used it to address a very broad segment of people. But they both had it – and that’s all that matters.
Does Great Writing Characterize YOUR Content?
Your voice isn’t just what makes your writing unique – it’s also the thing that your readers will immediately latch onto. In an era where we’re bombarded with more information online than ever, you need to give people a chance to cut through the noise and connect with you.
Part of finding your voice means finding your audience – learning what they want to hear and how they want to hear it. Once you’ve got that, then you can start to focus on the rest of the rules we’re supposed to follow.
Except, of course, for the ones you’re going to throw out.
Great writing, like the examples shared here, is within your reach. As Byron White explains in the WriterAccess Professional Writing Skill and Price Guide, “You can go about getting that quality writing one of two ways. You can blindly throw a dart into the wind and hope to hit your target. Or you can go with an online marketplace that continuously rates and scores writers, letting you choose the level of expertise your projects demand.” Download the WriterAccess Pricing Guide for help scoping your content needs and budget, and talk to us for details and to get started today!
Stephen L earned his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production at the University Of Toledo College Of Performing Arts in Toledo, Ohio. In addition, he also worked for a big box electronic retailer for three years specializing in high definition audio and video equipment as well as computers and software. He has created almost ten thousand pieces of SEO-driven content for various online clients on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, electronics, computer operating systems and general technology.