A beginner's guide to content writing - Part 1

Top 12 Content Writing Tips for Beginners in 2020

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Are you thinking about taking up content writing as a career? Well, I would say ‘go for it’. For one, it is an in-demand profession. Secondly, becoming a content writer is a fulfilling career pathway. Imagine a client saying ‘your blog post helped us increase our conversion percentage by 10 percent’ or a reader commenting on your post ‘this was extremely helpful, and I implemented the ideas straight away’. 

The biggest hurdle that most people who are interested in taking up content writing face is — getting started.

How to get started as a content writer?

Everybody writes, but not many make their writings public. Most people are held back by self-doubt. The key is to overcome this mental block and keep putting your work out there. That’s what this two-part guide is all about.

It will help you understand the fundamentals of content writing so that you can kick-start your journey confidently. Part one of the guide will cover everything from the basics of content writing to how to land your first content writing gig.

1. Take up any sort of content writing you like

Decide the type of content writer you want to become - Content writing guide

The scope of content writing is immense. There are so many different types of content formats that you can specialise in ⁠— blog writing, SEO content writing, website content writing, copywriting, podcast scriptwriting, video scriptwriting, academic writing, and more.

On top of that, you can work as a content writer in any domain you like ⁠— technical content writing, fashion blogging, sports writing, current affairs/journalism content, marketing content, educational content, creative writing, among others.

You can focus on multiple domains or formats, that’s perfectly fine. But, each one comes with its own challenges and nuances. So, in the initial days, it is always better to narrow down your focus. Do it based on your expertise level, bandwidth, and interest areas.

2. Come up with exciting and relevant ideas

Come up with relevant idea - content writing guide

Huffington Post alone publishes nearly 2000 blog posts per day. Now, imagine how many blog posts get published every day across the world.

So, irrespective of whether you are writing for a client or yourself, you need to make your content stand out. Otherwise, it might get lost. Here are a few tips to help you with this:

  • Use a content curation tool to find out what’s trending in your domain. Then, based on your expertise level and bandwidth, come up with a set of topics.
  • After finalising the topic, check out existing content around the same, and find out how to make your post unique. Maybe you can explore a new angle, or use a different tone or content format, or provide more actionable insights, and so on.
  • Learn to do a content gap analysis using SEO tools and find out one-word keywords and long-tail keywords that you can target.
  • Use free headline generators to get tons of topic ideas within a short time. 

Tools you can use

3. Become a better researcher

better researcher

A content writer who doesn’t do enough research, especially in this age of the internet, will be deemed lazy. There is so much data and information available out there. You can use them to structure your content pieces better, make it more authoritative, and insightful.

Here are a few tips to help you become a better researcher:

  • Before you start, gain a thorough grasp of the context — why are you writing it, who are you writing it for, and what’s your target audience’s preferred tone, format, and expertise level.
  • Always verify the credibility of the information provided. Look at their Domain Authority (use MozBar), find out how popular they are, read the comments, or do a quick Google Search and read reviews about them.
  • Narrow down the scope of the research by writing down a research question. It should be clear, focused, and concise. For example, the question shouldn’t be ‘what are the consequences of the latest economic reforms’; instead, it should be, ‘what are the consequences of the new Trade Bill’.
  • Keep your research organised. There are several online tools out there that will help you save your notes and screenshots for later and manage your bookmarks and citations.
  • Learn Google Search hacks; it will help you research much faster. 
  • If the topic is too broad or complex, break it down into smaller pieces, and sequentially do your research rather than doing it all at once.

Tools you can use

4. Draft better outlines

Draft elaborate outlines, reduce your time writing

Creating a solid outline can significantly reduce your writing time. You will be able to stay consistent throughout, your core argument will be intact, and you won’t lose your way halfway through the post.

Few tips to help you draft effective outlines:

  • Write down the title and state the central question or idea that you are trying to answer/explain.
  • Write down the target audience you have in mind and the end objective of the post.
  • Create a hook around the central question to capture the attention of the target audience.
  • Write down how you are going to lead the conversation to your points/arguments/solutions.
  • State your thesis statement and break it down into your smaller sub-points.
  • Go through each sub-point, find out how much you already know about them, and what’s left to learn.
  • Based on that, frame research questions and start doing the research.
  • Use Workflowy to make outlines; it is a powerful tool that helps you cohesively organise your research and thoughts.

To learn more about the art of outlining, you can check out this fantastic post by Ryan Robinson.

5. Practice distraction-free writing

Distraction free writing

Writing and editing should never be done together. Instead, resist the urge to edit let the momentum carry you forward, and ensure you put down all your thoughts.

Few tips to help you become a faster writer:

  • Start writing the first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh and awake.
  • Don’t go back to edit the formatting, typos, or grammar mistakes. 
  • Keep a notepad handy, if something is distracting you, just jot it down and deal with it later.
  • Use a text editor that is cross-platform compatible, has a distraction-free interface, supports voice typing, has version control and cloud storage, and lets you edit offline.
  • Employ the Pomodoro technique, write for 45 minutes, and take a break for the next 15 minutes.
  • If you hit a roadblock and don’t know how to proceed, skip the section for later or look for inspiration in another place.
  • If you can’t stop editing simultaneously, cover your laptop screen with a cloth while you are typing.
  • Invest in a good headphone with noise-cancellation, and listen to ambient noises or instrumental music while working.
  • Keep your workspace and your computer de-cluttered.
  • Pause all notifications on your desktop and mobile to ensure you block all distractions.

Tools you can use

6. Edit meticulously

Edit ruthlessly

To be a successful content writer, you have to be a ruthless editor, especially if you are freelancing. A poorly formatted draft that has spelling and grammar mistakes may well end your chances of retaining the client.

It is said that successful content writers spend 75 percent of their time on editing, proofreading, and processing. Make sure you thoroughly proofread before you submit the draft. It will significantly reduce the back and forths, and you can move on to the next project quickly.

Editing may be a less glamorous skill, but it is certainly worth it. Here’s how you develop your editing skills:

  • Read the document aloud. This is a great way to spot errors, incorrect or inappropriate word choices, and awkward sentences,
  • Start reading the text from the end. This will help you locate errors and also, logical and tonal inconsistencies.
  • Use online tools that will help you spot spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, inappropriate usages, tonal inaccuracies, and long drawn sentences.
  • Edit out words that make you sound unsure or unconfident— could, seem, may— wherever appropriate.
  • Create a checklist for editing so that you don’t have to do everything at once. For instance, start with cutting down long sentences, then spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, and finally, tonal inaccuracies.

For more editing tips, check out this exhaustive post by Alexis Grant.

Tools you can use

7. Make your posts public

Keep publishing

Even if you are writing for yourself, always to publish your posts, i.e. make it publicly accessible. Not only will it help improve your writing and your confidence, but it will also help you build a solid portfolio and gain visibility.

Few tips to keep in mind while self-publishing:

  • Evaluate different free blogging platforms out there. Then, select the one that is user-friendly and is relevant to your target audience. 
  • Make sure you optimise the post title, the URL slug, and the meta description of the post.
  • Distribute the post across your social media channels — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Add the link of the article to your online portfolio and your LinkedIn profile.
  • When you are starting, never compare your work with someone else’s. Never set your benchmarks that high. Instead, aim to improve from your last article/copy.

Note: It is natural to feel that your post isn’t anywhere near as good as other articles on the same topic. But, this is one rabbit hole you don’t want to go down. It can destroy your self-confidence and lead you to obsess over every line that you ever write. Remember, it takes time to develop flow, clarity, and consistency. So, stay strong, be patient, and keep putting your content out there.

Tools you can use

8. Showcase yourself better

Freelance writer portfolio

It is always better to start applying to content writing gigs after you have a few content pieces under your belt.  This way, you will be able to showcase yourself better and convey to potential clients or recruiters that you can actually do the job, and do it well.

Here’s a 6-step plan that you can follow to ensure you go about it in the right manner:

a. Create an online writing portfolio

Use online portfolio builders for the same. Having a fully fleshed-out content writing portfolio can significantly improve your chances of getting hired/selected for the gig. It builds credibility, establishes trust, and gives them a glimpse of your capabilities.

b. Optimise your professional profiles

People will review your profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn and TapChief before the selection process starts. So,  have a professional-looking display picture, fill out all the necessary details (summary, experience, contact details), add links to your work, add recommendations, and so on.

c. Learn how to write project proposals

If you are planning to become a freelance content writer, you will have to write these documents. Ideally, a project proposal should provide an outline of the problems you have identified and the proposed solutions, a plan of action, a timeline, your budget requirements, and much more.

d. Gain work experience

Reach out to local businesses and NGOs, find out if they have content writing requirements. Work with them for free, but in return, ask for referrals and testimonials.

e. Contribute guest posts

No matter which domain you are in, there are a lot of online publications which accept guest posts. All you have to do is search for your area + “write for us”. Guest posts will help you build credibility and gain visibility.

f. Start applying to content writing jobs

Firstly, sign up to various online job boards such as Monster, Naukri, Angellist, Internshala, and freelance platforms like TapChief. Then, search for relevant content writing jobs or projects, and start applying for them.

9. Be kind and gentle to yourself 

be kind and gentle to yourself as a content writer

As a content writer, you will have to meet deadlines, ensure your tone and voice matches clients’ target audience, write helpful and unique content, and impress your clients too. Moreover, you will have your own standards to meet. Due to this, it is very easy to feel pressured.

Pressure is good; it keeps you focused. But, when it becomes too much, it shackles your creativity and productivity. You start overthinking and overanalysing. Often, you will end up being too hard on yourself and questioning your own abilities. It reduces your effectiveness.

So, be gentle with yourself. For instance, if you are facing a writer’s block and unable to get into the flow, you need to accept it first. Every good content writer goes through such patches. Take a step back, analyse your mental state, find out what triggered it, and what you can do in the meantime. Cursing yourself will do you no good.

Content writing is a creative task and not a mechanical one. So, instead of putting yourself under more pressure, be kind and understanding, and work your way out of it.

10. Seek help from content writing pros

Take help of mentors to get better as a content writer

You can share your final draft with your friends and family, but is that enough? Not really.

Although they may be kind enough to read through and offer you their opinion, it could be biased and sometimes, uninformed.

This is not a great idea when you are learning on the job. Your editor will surely find more mistakes or errors than all of them put together. And you will end up getting an earful.

So, get help from the pros. There are many online and offline support groups for content writers where you can get informed feedback on your work. You can also use networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit to interact with experienced content writers. Make sure you establish a rapport before you seek help.

Also, you can sign up on TapChief. We enable you to reach out to experienced content writers and editors and get them to mentor you.

11. Become a better reader

Better reading habits will help become a better content writer

All the best content writers out there are voracious readers. The more you read, the more you’re exposed to high-quality writing.

Soon, without realising it yourself, you will start internalising the elements of the text, and you’ll slowly find yourself implementing them in your writing.

More importantly, it will help you learn and understand different angles in which you can approach a topic, how to frame your story, how to maintain your flow, how to develop new ideas, and so much more.

12. Pickup allied skills

Pickup allied skills

Source

As a content writer, if you know image editing, SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing, you will boost your employability. It means you will be able to handle content end-to-end and not just the writing part.

Companies will be able to reduce the amount of time, effort, or money invested. Moreover, social, design and SEO are the three teams you will have to collaborate with. So, having a basic understanding of these areas will help you collaborate more meaningfully.

Here are the things that you should be learning:

  • SEO ⁠— Learn about keyword optimisation, image optimisation, and internal linking.
  • Social media marketing and content marketing — Learn more on content distribution websites, social copywriting, social media content consumption trends.
  • Design ⁠— Master tools such as Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, among others.

Final thoughts

This marks the end of part one of the guide. Now, go ahead and read the second part, Top 12 Content Writing Tips for Beginners in 2020 – Part Two. It includes tips on how you can make yourself more employable.

If you are a freelance content writer, you can also check out the following posts:

Sucheth

Sucheth is a Content Marketer at TapChief. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.