Today you’re going to see the exact 15 writing techniques I use in every article I write.
These are the same writing methods I use to write for sites like Foundr, TheNextWeb, Entrepreneur, and many others.
What’s more, these types of writing techniques and strategies will help you boost your writing style and quality. You’ll only need to plug-and-play them in your next article, and you’re done.
Let’s get started.
Technique #1: Get Inside Your Reader’s Mind with Review Mining
When you write, you want your readers to feel as if you’re writing just for them. How do you do it?
There’s a simple technique copywriters have developed to take the exact same words their readers use: review mining.
The idea behind review mining is simple:
- You go to where your customers (or readers) talk about your product (or topic) without any interference from the marketer (or writer)
- You copy their exact words
- You use them in your writing
Let’s say you were writing an article about car repairs, but you know nothing about the subject. What do you do?
If you start winging it, your reader will know it. It will be subtle, but it’s easy to see by someone who knows about the subject. It’s the same as when your father tries to “be cool” and talk like a young man.
Instead, you go to a place like a Reddit, check the appropriate subreddit (like this one), and start reading through all the posts in there.
Slowly, you’ll start to pick up some expressions, slang, and mannerisms only people who repair cars use.
Here’s how you can review mine your industry or niche.
Step #1: Go to Amazon
In Amazon’s search bar, add a broad keyword related to your content.
Then, scroll down and check the products that show up in the results. Open any result that has at least 50 reviews, like this book.
Step #2: Analyze the Reviews
Go to the review section at the bottom of the page, and start reading the reviews one by one.
Open your favorite note-taking app — in my case, it’s Apple’s standard note app and Evernote — and copy each sentence, phrase, or word that seems unique or interesting.
For example, the expression “hone my craft” shown in the review from the image above seems like something that I could use in my content.
I also liked the second review, which says: “Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newbie writer, pantser or plotter, you’ll find this book has something for everyone.”
I could use an expression like that in a future article (I even considered using it for the intro of this guide).
Repeat that for every review in every product you find, books or otherwise.
Step #3: Repeat the Process in Facebook Groups
Go to Facebook and enter the same keyword in the search bar. Then, click on the “Groups” tab in the right.
Find a group that has at least 1,000 members. In this case, there seems to be only one group that fits that criteria.
Most likely, the group will be closed for non-members, so ask to join the group.
Once you’re accepted, check for posts with lots of likes, shares, and most importantly, comments.
The post from the image above is a good example of such a post. I found a couple of expressions interesting.
Most importantly, it gives me the validation to write an article about what to do when a client changes all your content. Some of the answers could be the same ones the people shared there.
Step #4: Repeat the Process in Reddit
Go to Reddit’s homepage and look for a relevant subreddit.
Then, check the posts with the most comments.
One that caught my eye is one about quitting writing. Once I go to the post, I start reading the words from the OP (Original Poster) and the redditors in the comment section.
The first sentence already looks like an amazing intro. The rest is also pure gold, especially the expressions “just write on,” “fail often and get better,” and “nuke the cringe from your work, improve the rest.”
These peeps are a bit dramatic in their wordings, but what can you expect from writers? 😉
The rest of the comments are as good as this one, which can help me figure out the common problems writers face and the expressions they use.
Step #5: Repeat the Process Anywhere Else
You can continue to repeat this same process anywhere where there’s a community, which includes:
- Product reviews: Amazon is the largest retailer, so it makes sense start there, but any type of product review from any retailer works just fine.
- Forums: Facebook and Reddit are the two best places to start, but there are some communities that still run in old-school forums.
- YouTube: Check the expressions experts use in YouTube videos as well as the comments.
- LinkedIn: While focused on the professional crowd, LinkedIn is another great place where you can see what people say and think.
To summarize, here’s how the review mining process works:
- You find online communities
- You analyze the conversations people in those places have
- You take notes
- You use those notes with the exact same words people used in your content
With review mining, your content will look relatable, honest, and clear. Your readers will feel like you’re one of them, even though you aren’t.
Pretty cool, right?
Technique #2: Find the Most Important Ideas with Wikipedia and Book Mining
Clarity is paramount to writers.
When you write about a topic you understand, you know the exact ideas to express and their order of importance. But when you don’t, you get lost in the details. Worse yet, you may pick the wrong topics to start with.
What do you do in this situation? You could ask an expert. But a much easier way is to go where experts already are and see what they consider important.
I’m talking about Wikipedia mining.
Wikipedia is the ultimate place where experts from all over the world gather to organize and explain different topics.
With Wikipedia mining, you look at a topic’s table of contents to find out the way in which experts have structured the most important points of a given topic.
As a consequence, you can easily find out the most important points of any given topic, giving you a leg up when writing about a topic in which you’re not an expert.
For example, let’s say you were writing about incorporating a business, a topic about which you’re clueless. With Wikipedia mining, you’d to its Wikipedia page and see what you find.
Right away you see the most important topics of business incorporation and how they could look in your article.
- First, you can start by explaining the legal benefits of incorporating a business and why a business owner should consider doing so.
- Then, you can briefly talk about the history of incorporation laws, as an interesting aspect of the topic.
- Finally, you can talk about the actual steps around incorporating a business. Optionally, you can talk about the taxes related to it and the mandatory requirements of having a business.
In a few minutes, you already have a basic structure of a complex topic.
I know some despise Wikipedia because it’s not professional enough or it’s easy to manipulate. I agree, but the point isn’t to base a whole article or essay from Wikipedia; rather is to use it as a guide towards a topic; as a starting point, if you will.
If Wikipedia doesn’t convince you, you can repeat the process with a book’s table of content.
A book — particularly a technical one — does a similar job as Wikipedia. Instead of reading a whole book, however, you use its table of contents to find the most important ideas and their order.
Following the business incorporation example, let’s go to Amazon and search for “business incorporation.”
Then, let’s open the first few books that seem relevant.
The “For Dummies” books are amazing to learn new topics fast and discover the topics that matter.
Once on the product page, we’ll click on the book’s cover.
Then, we’ll select the print version (they’re more organized than the Kindle ones) and click on the “Tables of Content” button.
Once in there, start reading everything in the table of contents, taking notes of the most important parts.
Not only this brings you with a lot of new topic ideas, but you’ll also learn about the most important topics around the subject of business incorporation.
After you have repeated this process with a few more books, you’ll have a much clearer idea on the topics to write about and their order of importance.
Next time you’re don’t know how to start an article, check Wikipedia and table of contents for guidance.
Technique #3: Laser-focus Your Writing with the “Show Me the Money” Technique
The proof is in the pudding.
You can act like an authority and give recommendations, action steps, and advice, but if you don’t show any proof to what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter.
This reminds me of the scene of the movie Jerry Maguire, when Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) starts screaming:
If you haven’t seen the movie, the background of the scene goes as following (spoiler alert!):
Jerry is a sports agent who’s trying to convince one of his football superstar clients, Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), to continue working with him after he’s fired for trying to be a more honest agent. To convince Rod, Jerry needs to prove himself.
That’s why instead of believing Jerry’s words, Rod asks him to prove his commitment by screaming “Show me the money!”
What does this all have to do with writing? A lot.
When you write your content, you need to show your readers the money. In this context, “the money” means:
You must show any specific piece of information that takes your ideas from abstract…to concrete.
Copywriters have been using this technique for ages. They know they must make their copy believable, and instead of fighting with rational ideas, they simply show facts and numbers.
Take a look at the copy ClickFunnels, a company founded and ran by master copywriter and marketer Russell Brunson, uses to promote their software:
You don’t build a funnel just “fast;” you build it in under 10 minutes. Simple and concrete.
Take a look at this example:
Why do you think a blogger like John Lee Dumas is so popular in the affiliate marketing niche? Because everything he says goes next to the proof of the results of his actions: the monthly six figures he rakes from his blog and other businesses.
The same applies to any article where you want to give advice. Sumo writers (like the great Chris Von Wilpert) know to have their advice stand out in the marketing industry is to show results.
Sure, ecommerce stores should use discounts, anyone knows that. But if you see BlendJet generated $163,633,50 in 30 days from using such tactic, then you go from knowing to understanding.
It’s all about the outcomes — the proof where the money is.
Let’s use a real example. Imagine you were writing an article for a personal finance blog where you had to explain how using saving accounts from online banks can help people save more money thanks to their greater interest rates.
You could say that alone and it could be considered “good” by many writers. Add a link to the bank and let the reader do the rest.
Instead of doing so, do the math in front of them and show them exactly how much extra money they could make (i.e., save) by putting their money in an online bank instead of a traditional one.
Here’s how the piece of content would look like:
If you’re looking to 10x your savings, Ally has some of the country’s best rates. With an annual yield rate of 2%, Ally gives you 65% more per dollar saved, comparing it with Bank of America’s meager 0.03% rate.
That means, if you put aside $100 per month, Ally would save you a net of $1,303.48. Bank of America, in sad contrast, would net you only $18.47.
In other words, Ally would make you $1,285 more for the same monthly deposit and time frame.
You can clearly see leveraging online bank savings is a no-brainer, so you should definitely open an account with them.
You have the responsibility of being truthful to your readers.
To make your content more specific and powerful, use specific numbers, dollar signs, percentages, and anything that can show a result or outcome of your words.You have the responsibility of being truthful to your readers. To make your content more specific and powerful, use specific numbers, dollar signs, percentages, and anything that can show a result or outcome of your words.Click To Tweet
Technique #4: Boost Your Content Authority with Social Proof
Whenever you write, think as if your readers are thinking “why should I care?” in every sentence and paragraph they read.
Your content needs to beam with authority and impact, so they can’t ignore your content even if they tried.
To do so, you must leverage social proof.
Here’s how Robert Cialdini, the mastermind behind Influence, defines it:
The principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.
(See what I did there? That’s social proof. 😉)
Social proof works like a back up: if the reader thinks to himself “why is this important?” the fact you’re backing your idea behind proof of some kind gives it an undeniable power unparalleled to anything.
You’re not just saying something, you’re showing other more authoritative people than you think, do, or say so.
There are three types of social proof you can use:
Take a look at my articles; there’s almost no article I don’t write where I don’t use these three elements at the same time. With the exception of stats, in this article, you can see multiple examples and quotes. Both say “Ivan doesn’t believe this alone, all these other people (or cases) prove him right.”
For example, when I wrote this big-ass article about ecommerce growth hacking, I mentioned two statistics, one quote, and 19 examples.
Check any of my other previously written articles, and you’ll see the same pattern: stats, quotes, and examples are abundant.
It’s a PITA to find them, but I know that’s what makes my content much better than my competition.
Exercise #1: How to Find Proof for Your Content
Let’s imagine you were writing an article about the benefits of a ketogenic diet (i.e., a diet with no carbs).
To find stats, you’d go to Google and use a search string like this one:
Then, you’d take a look at the results:
Boom! These sites are already packed with statistics you can use to boost your content’s quality.
If you click on the first result, you will see something like this:
When you’re explaining all the benefits of the keto diet, show that graphic and your audience will not only understand you, but they will get it. Your explanation will “click” faster, making your content stand out.
Some other search strings (footprints) you can use to find stats include:
- [KEYWORD] + statistics
- [KEYWORD] + stats
- [KEYWORD] + stats [YEAR]
- [KEYWORD] + research
- [KEYWORD] + studies
- [KEYWORD] + data
- [KEYWORD] + research studies
- [KEYWORD] + research articles
- [KEYWORD] + site:.edu (this is to find results from educational sites)
- [KEYWORD] + site:.gov (this is to find results from government sites)
In some cases, you won’t have the chance of using stats (this article is one example), so you’d have to use more examples and quotes (which is what I did in this one as well) to compensate.
To find examples, use some of the following strings:
- [KEYWORD] + examples
- [KEYWORD] + results
- [KEYWORD] + before and after
- [KEYWORD] + reviews
- [KEYWORD] + analysis
- [KEYWORD] + case study
- [KEYWORD] + case studies
Continuing with the ketogenic diet benefits, if you were trying to find examples, you’d search for “keto diet results,” which would show you the following results:
You could embed one of those videos, plus show some of the examples from the articles shown above.
To add an even greater impact, you can click on the “Images” tab, and see the actual images of people who used it.
With these examples, your article would look both well-researched and inspirational.
Finally, you’d need to find quotes from experts. With the results from the case studies, you’ve got a lot of information to quote, but if you want even more information, you can use some of the following search strings:
- [KEYWORD] + quotes
- [KEYWORD] + expert
- [KEYWORD] + influencer
Read some of the most influential experts from your industry, take their advice, and add it to your content. Use their quotes sparingly; your content should be yours but use some other people’s knowledge to extend or justify your advice.
Finalizing the ketogenic diet example, this is what you’d find:
In the first result, you can see an article from an M.D. from Harvard. Once you visit the page, you can see an expert’s opinion that would boost your content’s credibility.
If you scrolled down to the bottom of the article, you could see this expert believes the ketogenic diet isn’t necessarily good because there’s not enough information about its long-term effects.
Adding such advice to your article would make it much more reasonable and believable. After all, nothing in life is perfect on its own; adding some data that weights some of its concerns makes you a much more responsible and honest writer than if you just talk about the good aspects of it ignoring the bad ones.
Take notes from articles and books you read. Create an Evernote note with all the best quotes you find, and when you create an article, check that note for relevant quotes to add.
I come to believe most writers who wish to make more money often write well enough to deserve greater income. Their only problem is that their content doesn’t look authoritative.
Use statistics, examples, and quotes, and your content will shine with authority.Use statistics, examples, and quotes, and your content will shine with authority.Click To Tweet
Technique #5: Explain Technical Concepts with the “Compare and Conquer” Technique
So you have to explain a complicated, technical concept. What do you do?
Easy: compare it with something your audience knows.
Technical and science writers often leverage the compare and conquer technique to let their audience understand a complex concept.
Scientists know this better than anyone. If they want to keep their jobs relevant and useful for the general masses, they need to “dumb down” their concepts so people can relate to them.
For example, astronomers, who work with massive and abstract numbers few can ever get a grasp on, have developed the concept of “solar mass” as their standard unit of mass. Instead of using kilograms or tons, they use the solar mass to both simplify the numbers and to make them easier to understand.
You know the Sun is huge — its mass is 1.989 × 10^30 kg (that’s a lot of zeros). Now, if you were writing about the size of Sagittarius A, the radio source that’s at the center of the Milky Way galaxy (which many believe it’s a black hole), you’ll get that it’s 4.3 million solar masses.
That’s 4.300.000 multiplied by 1.989 with 30 zeros behind. As I said before: that’s a lot of zeros.
Most articles in science magazines, like Wired and Popular Mechanics often rely on such comparisons. They’ve got to become as successful as they’re thanks to making their fascinating technical concepts into something digestible lay people can understand.
“It’s Like X but for Y”
A key phrase you can use to start a comparison is “it’s like X but for Y.” For example:
- Ketones: They’re like glucose but made from fat cells.
- Inbound links: They’re like votes that Google use to check the popularity and quality of a site.
- Solar mass: It’s like a meter but for stars and galaxies.
None of these definitions are necessarily well-used. You may complain about the oversimplification of such definitions, but at the least, they help make a concept concrete. From there, you can start building your ideas and transform them into something more specific.
To give you an often used example from the tech startup world. Nowadays, everyone is creating the next “Uber for X,” a process which the media has called it the “Uberification” or “Uberization” of the economy.
The reason the “Uber for X” popularity is it makes new innovative concepts easy to understand. Take a look at the following (bizarre) example:
Everyone knows what Uber is and the way it works.
Everyone knows weed.
You mix the two, and you get the “Uber for Weed.”
There are many more examples of “Uber-like” business, including:
The “X for Y” phrase is the easiest application of the “Compare and Conquer” technique for the simple reason it takes two ideas you know and creates a separate concept that’s easy to grasp.
This phrase, however, is only one way you can compare and conquer.
Roy Peter Clark, author of Help! for Writers, recommends other techniques to make your complex technical concepts easier to understand, including:
- Simplifying words and phrases
- Using as few numbers as possible and place them in context
- Limiting the user of numbers
- Making large numbers smaller ($2,632,024 becomes $2.6 million)
- Lifting the heaviest information into a chart or graph (like you saw in the previous technique example)
- Slowing down the pace of information so people can understand it better
- Using shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity
- Using the phrase “Here’s how it works….”
Compare and conquer. Make your ideas simpler by comparing them with something most get, and you’ll have a much easier time explaining technical concepts.Compare and conquer. Make your ideas simpler by comparing them with something most get, and you’ll have a much easier time explaining technical concepts.Click To Tweet
Technique #6: Use a Three-Step Catchy Intro
People have a short attention span. It’s not that they’re incapable of reading long pieces of text; it’s just that there are too many distractions vying for their attention.
Instead of giving an intro worthy of a college essay, start with what you will give away. Spill the beans in front of them.
Take a look at what Derek Halpern from Social Triggers does in this post:
It doesn’t get any shorter than that.
Remember people visit your content already knowing what’s it about thanks to its title. (A good reason to have a good title, which I will explain later.)
Since they have some idea of what your content is about, start with that pre-existing knowledge and build the intro from there.
In the case of Derek from above, he follows a three-step formula:
- He starts with a benefit-driven title
- He asks a question to build some further interest in the subject — which already exists since the visitor already took the liberty of clicking on that title
- He tells them what he’ll do to “close the loop” — that is, by sharing his best tips
Copywriters have historically developed a set of frameworks that helps them develop their copy structure, always focused on catching the readers attention and holding it long enough so they read the entire copy, thus increasing the chances of converting.
One of the most common frameworks they used is called “PAS”, which stands for:
There are many more frameworks, but the critical aspect of such a structure is the same:
- You touch on a pain point — the problem
- You dig deeper — you agitate it
- You provide a band-aid to ease the pain (or make it go away entirely) — the solution
You can change your problem for a story, an anecdote, a fact, or anything that shocks the reader. What matters is that you build interest before starting to explain the hypothesis of your article.
Inc’s writers always do a great job at creating short, catchy intros:
While this example doesn’t use a problem-agitation structure, they catch your attention by starting with short, seemingly random sentences, all of which are tied with the idea of activities that bond employers together.
Similarly, Stefanie Flaxman from Copyblogger creates interest in her topic by tying the topic of the article with a personal anecdote:
While it’s not as concrete as Derek’s intro, it’s still short and concise. She even finishes giving a glimpse into the solution.
If there’s one writer I believe is the king of short, catchy intros is Brian Dean from Backlinko, who spares no time to create a lot of interest in his articles:
Exercise #2: How to Create Catchy Intros
Answer this question for me:
What’s my content piece about?
Write it down in one sentence. Your answer will be your intro.
You can use the following structure to guide you:
My article/email/ebook is about [TOPIC] for [PEOPLE] who want [OUTCOME]
For example, this article is about 15 writing techniques that will help content writers who want to have more people read their content.
With that sentence, I can already build my intro.
If you check the one I wrote, you can see I start right with that outcome.
Today you’re going to see the exact 15 writing techniques I use in every article I write.
These are the same writing methods I use to write for sites like Foundr, TheNextWeb, Entrepreneur, and many others.
What’s more, these types of writing techniques and strategies will help you boost your writing style and quality. You’ll only need to plug-and-play them in your next article, and you’re done.
I could have made it fancier, with a story or anecdote, but since this one is so long, I didn’t want to distract you with nonsense.
In some other cases, you can use a shocking fact, an anecdote, a longer story, or any other interest-piking idea.
The point is that idea should lead to the answer to the previous question: the outcome that’s waiting for the reader.
If you lead them there, they’ll follow you and read the rest of the article.
Start your content pieces without wasting any time, talking about the main problem the audience has and then providing a benefit-driven solution — before you know it, you’ll have people reading your entire piece in no time.
Technique #7: Give Powerful Action Steps
Unless you run The Atlantic, your readers don’t just want an analysis, they want something out of your content.
The solution? Powerful action steps that take your ideas from static to dynamic, from theoretical to practical, from abstract to real.
An action step is a summary of the idea(s) you’ve explained before with a bias for its application in real life.
The reason why you want to use action steps is to add another layer to your content. While one layer builds interest, like using a historic background around your topic, your action steps add a layer of practicality.
You can be interesting, funny, engaging, and more — but action steps add an emotional feeling to your content — similar to stories — one that lets people take the ideas they learn and implement them to their lives.
Cooking blogs, for example, share action steps because you need recipes to replicate the foods shown. Not surprisingly, a recipe is a list of actions to create a specific food, so action steps are the foundation on which all successful food blogs lay upon, like you can see from Big Man’s World below.
The same idea applies to fitness blogs. If you want to run 5k, you can’t just read about the theory of running, you need to follow a routine that will push your limits to hit that distance, a routine similar the one shown below from VeryWellFit.
In some cases, however, adding actionable advice isn’t as obvious. Take the case of online marketing, the industry in which I work.
Sometimes it seems like it’s not necessary to add an action step, but if you make the extra work, the readers will be able to go from understanding the ideas explained to using them and getting real results, which makes me (the writer) an authority.
One of my favorite examples comes from Bryan Harris from VideoFruit, who shares amazingly detailed and no-BS action steps in almost every article he publishes.
Throughout his articles, he explains concepts clearly, but by adding action steps, he makes the article palpable and real. Try his advice, and you’ll get his same results (which he also shares extensively, following technique #4).
You don’t have to use action steps in every new piece of content you create (unless you’re in the cooking industry, as explained above). Instead, you want to mix some of these action steps every so often, to surprise your readers and give them more value than the one they were originally expecting.
Technique #8: Engage the 5 Senses
One of the subtle aspects behind every average writer is that their content looks “flat.”
That is, when they describe an idea, they do it without playing with the “dimensions” of your imagination. Those dimensions are your senses.
As you know, there are five senses:
When you engage the senses, you add a layer of complexity to your content; like the subtle flavors of a fancy coffee or wine, it lets your readers enjoy your content in a way they’ll have a hard time explaining.
They’ll simply like it without being able to point out what it is they like. You’ll know what it is, I’ll know what it is, but we’ll keep that as our secret, shall we? 😉
When you write, you can tap into each one to add “flavor” to your content by using specific words that connect them with a specific sense.
Exercise #3: Play with the Five Senses
Here’s how you can play with your reader’s senses:
Take a look at the following group of verbs and adjectives. Next time you write, sprinkle one of those words along your content to leverage each of the five senses.
Technically speaking, some of the adjectives shown below also work as verbs, and thus they can also be adapted into gerunds or adverbs.
Avoid cramming more than one descriptive adjective in your writing per sentence, and if possible, per paragraph. When in doubt, use a verb.
- Size: Big, small, colossal, tiny, gigantic, little, huge, immense, petite
- Width: Broad, narrow, wide
- Color: Black, pale, obscure, reddish, blueish, yellowish
- Length: Long, short
- Shape: Round, flat, angular, rectangular, triangular, straight
- Weight: Light, heavy, bulky, chubby, skinny
- Beauty: Pretty, ugly, beautiful
- Shade: Dim, bright, dull, gleaming, shiny, glowing, shiny, sunny
- Depth: Deep, shallow, hollow
- Quality: Filthy, flawless
- Height: High, low, tall, steep
Smell and Taste Adjectives
Exercise #4: Play with the Senses
Grab the subject of your content, whether that’s a person, a problem, an object, or a concept.
For example, let’s say you were writing an article about common challenges managers face daily, like obstinate employees who don’t follow orders.
Then, describe the subject in simple terms. Using the previous example, you could write:
A difficult employee often makes managers to stop paying attention to what’s actually going on. The situation seems hopeless, so we just turn our attention to other more important tasks, both to avoid the situation and self-protect ourselves.
This example is acceptable and good for most editor’s standards. But it could be more “multidimensional” if we added more sensory feelings to it.
Your last and most important job is to take a look at your content and add one sense verb and adjective. Sprinkle them whenever it’s possible, but don’t force it. Like everything in life, when you force something, it rarely works as it should.
After taking a look at the previous example, here’s how it could look like (I have italicized the sensory words):
A rough employee often makes managers to stop paying attention to what’s actually going on. The dim situation seems hopeless, so we just turn our attention to other more important tasks, both to avoid the situation and self-protect ourselves.
In this case, I could only add one adjective per sentence, which is more than enough.
As you go editing your content, add sensory words and give your readers a more interesting reading experience.
Technique #9: Write for Yourself
There’s a point in your writing where you will ask yourself: “should I write this?”
This is the moment where you start doubting yourself, trying to appeal to the reader, to the editor, or to anyone who you think to whom you should kneel down.
At such conjunction, the only answer is to write for yourself.
I know some will say that’s irresponsible and ridiculous; if all writers did is to write for themselves, most writers would write about pizza and football, in a colloquial, immature manner. “Where’s the art of writing?” they’ll ask.
The idea behind this technique isn’t to do whatever you feel like. Rather, it’s a pledge to adopt a philosophy of writing; one that guides your writing as a way of expressing yourself. Do what you think is the most representative of yourself.
Let’s say you’re writing for a site that has a formal and authoritative tone and whose readers are well-read, educated people. As you’re writing the piece, you feel like adding a funny, silly, or sassy phrase or sentence in your content but doubt that will be accepted.
In such circumstance, you’ll probably take that out of your content and forget it. Naturally, you believe that’s the most responsible thing to do. But as you can probably tell by reading sites like The Atlantic or The New Yorker, these sites also feature writers whose unique style isn’t as formal as you’d expect.
Their styles descends from that self-amusement most writers follow — the spirit of writing for themselves.
As I suggest in the next technique, you should also write with the reader in mind. But before anything, you’re a writer, and as such, the exercise of writing should be a self-expanding activity, one that helps you express yourself, whatever the topic about which you write.
When you write for yourself, you will start to amuse yourself. Your writing will be both spontaneous and funny, personal and relatable, professional and honest.
For example, most “bloggers” like me often put prepositions at the end of their sentences because it’s more colloquial, and thus personal. I don’t like that, for such reason, I almost never do that.
Does that matter? Not a lot, but it’s what defines my own style, and while I don’t aspire to write Pulitzer-level content, I want it to be well-thought and explained.
As William Zinsser writes in On Writing Well:
Don’t worry about whether the reader will “get it” if you indulge a sudden impulse for humor. If it amuses you in the act of writing, put it in.
“Who am I writing for?” It’s a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself.
When in doubt, write for yourself.
Technique #10: Write for One
When you write, you are expecting — if not hoping — someone will read the exact content you’re producing. In some cases, like in my own, you’re writing to attract traffic, so if you don’t get eyeballs in front of your piece, you’re failing, regardless of the quality of your content.
As a content writer, you should always keep your personal writing spirit, as shown in the technique above, but you can’t also forget to write with the reader in mind.
Whenever you write, write for one person.
But who in particular should you write for? Your boss? The editor? Your mother? 🤔
In such a situation, marketers have developed a technique typical of their analytical and systemic fashion: a customer avatar.
A customer avatar is an abstract representation of your ideal reader to whom you want to write. This avatar will help you create content that best represents their interest, problems, and needs.
You can make this avatar as simple or complicated as you want to make it. The most basic characteristics any customer avatar have include:
- Demographics: Like age, gender, education level, marital status, income
- Psychographics: Like goals, values, challenges, and paint points
- Name: Give it a name
- Face: Add a photo of this avatar
For each of these characteristics, you want to be specific. You won’t be writing to a woman between 25 and 34 who has 2.5 cats; you’ll do it for a 28-years old woman who has one cat and one dog, and who also likes to listen to jazz at night.When you write, write for one person.Click To Tweet
To find this information, you have two options:
- Do qualitative research, including surveys, 1-on-1 interviews, and data from sales and customer support people
- Do quantitative research, including using tools like Facebook Audience Insights
The more complex your goal, like generating leads to an enterprise company, the more specific your avatar should be and the more you should have.
If you have a simpler strategy, one focused on attracting a few thousand visitors to your personal blog, then you can use simpler avatars.
Think about this person as if you knew him (or her). That’s where adding human touches to the avatar, like a real name and a photo help a lot. You want to literally imagine that avatar as you write. Regardless of your tone — formal or informal — you want to write for that person.
You can imagine the avatar as a friend of yours, as a potential customer, or as a conference attendee; whatever the case, write for one person.
Keep your reader in mind and your content will be much more relatable and specific.
3 Customer Avatar Research Resources
To learn more about how to research your readers, take a look at the following guides that I have used for my own research:
- How We Used a Simple Survey to Crack the Code on Our Customers
- Simple Steps for Conducting Creative Content Research
- The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas
Remember: you can make your research as complicated or as easy as you want to. Start small — it’s better to have rudimentary but useful data than spending weeks to find data you may not need.
Technique #11: Delete These Words from Your Language and Become a Badass Writer
There’s a secret thought behind all writers that says: “who am I to say this?”
First of all, I’m aware the word “say” isn’t correct in the context of writing, but when you write, you think as if you were talking to the reader, even if it’s formally. Second, “this” applies to anything you’re writing about.
We, the writers, love to doubt ourselves. We don’t want to sound too cocky, authoritative, or imperative.
What doubtful writers do then is to write conditionally (or using the past conditional tense), using words like:
To add salt to injury, the writer adds to his writing doubtful words and verbs like:
- Ought to
There’s nothing wrong with using these words per se; there are countless cases where such words are necessary. But too often, the writer uses these words indiscriminately, which makes his writing weak, as if he’s asking for his reader’s permission to communicate an idea.
For example, the writer says “you should try to be authoritative when you write” when he’s trying to say “write authoritatively.”
He says “when giving public speeches, you could try to speak loudly, unless you have a microphone” instead of “speak loudly when giving public speeches.”
In both cases, the former sentence sounds like the writer isn’t sure what he’s talking about; in the latter, he knows his shit.
Sure, there are cases in which writing authoritatively or speaking loudly isn’t necessary, but that’s something the reader can figure it out by himself. There’s no need to write with the conditional elements.
Delete the doubts from your head and write like a badass.
Change all the words from the past tense into the present.
- Could => can
- Should => shall
- Would => will
- Might/may => must
What’s more, delete in every instance all the doubtful words from above. This technique won’t make you look like an a-hole. Just because you use the imperative more often than not and use a stronger, more confident language doesn’t mean you are bullying your reader.
Say what you mean. Be ruthless with your communication.
If you’re scared that you’re overlooking at some situations or you’re being too harsh, you’re not.
Write like an authority. Otherwise, why would you write about it?Write like an authority. Otherwise, why would you write about it?Click To Tweet
Technique #12: Use the Newton Principle
Newton is considered as the greatest physicist ever to walk on Earth.
(If you don’t believe me, look at the famous “Be Have a Badass Over Here” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s video where he explains why he was the greatest. Just sayin’ ¯(ツ)/¯)
Whatever the case, Newton was also a pretty humble man. When he wrote to friend of his about his jaw-dropping discoveries, he said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Borrowing the idea from his humble quote, I call this the “Newton principle“: when you write, stand on the shoulder of giants.
Check what other people successful writers have done and copy them.
The act of copying your idols, heroes, and favorite artists will help you learn from the best of your craft. You will learn by association; the closer you are to them, the more you will take from them.
For example, I love to I read because it teaches me to write. Stephen King explains this point in On Writing (emphasis mine):
Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling.
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.
The point isn’t to take the exact words of my heroes and changing them for mine. As King explains, the goal is to learn the way they express themselves and the tools they use so I can use them when I write.
Then, I adapt their techniques and change them to match my own ideas and expressive methods. It’s a subtle task, but it’s imperative to learn to become better at your craft.
Austin Kleon, author of the book appropriately called “Steal Like an Artist,” puts it even more clearly:
Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.
Copywriters have an old-school technique where they copy by hand other copywriters to get their ideas as if they were their own. While you don’t have to handwrite your idol’s content, read their content while thinking the way they reached to a given sentence, idea, or expression.
Go to an art museum, and you will see swarms of art students copying the masters. The same applies to iconic buildings with architect students, dance students in ballets and dance competitions, and many others.
As a writer, you must do the same — read your favorite writers, enjoy them, and take mental notes of the way they express themselves.
To close this technique, I want to share a final quote from the great William Zinsser (who I haven’t stopped quoting in this article):
Study the writing masters, stand on their shoulders, and soon, you will write like them.Click To Tweet
Never hesitate to imitate another writer. Imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft.
Find the best writers in the fields that interest you and read their work aloud. Get their voice and their taste into your ear—their attitude toward language. Don’t worry that by imitating them you’ll lose your own voice and your own identity. Soon enough you will shed those skins and become who you are supposed to become.
Technique #13: Use the S.I.C. Formula to Build Engaging Stories on the Fly
People are drawn by stories. The more stories your content has, the more engaged your readers will be.
Your stories, however, need to be short and concise; otherwise, you risk distracting your readers from the point of your article.
How do you create a story without taking forever to make your point?
By using the S.I.C. storytelling formula. Here’s how it works:
- Situation: Start by explaining the background and characters of the story — the problem that makes your story interesting.
- Interest: Continue detailing what happened with your characters and how the problem developed.
- Conclusion: Finish by explaining how the problem got solved and how the character got to the happy ending.
The S.I.C. technique is similar to the one about catchy intros (#6).
You create a problematic situation => you make it interesting by agitating the previous problem => you finish it with a solution
Take the intro of this technique. The situation is that people like stories. But a story can become too long if you’re not careful, so by using this technique, you can overcome that problem.
While it’s not a story per se, I use the same structure over and over.
You make a statement about a situation, you introduce the problem (which the situation interesting), and you close it with a solution.
Take a look at what Pat Flynn does in this article about starting an email list.
As you can see from above, the situation is one sentence long — he got hacked.
Then, he makes the story interesting by explaining a bit more about it and the challenge it meant for him — all in one sentence.
Finally, he finishes the story with two sentences of how his email list saved his business.
If you were starting to learn about email list building, this story would be all you need to know about its importance.
Your stories don’t have to be as short as this one; you can add more details to it (remember to use sensory words) so the second part becomes increasingly more interesting.
For example, take a look at what Ramit Sethi does in the intro to one of his evergreen guides:
The intro is one sentence word — it’s literally six-words long.
Ramit then goes to give a detailed explanation of his story — why he was awkward, what he did, and why he realized it was a mistake.
Finally, he closes the story with a few sentences showing you how he changed and he’s helped others as well.
While the conclusion isn’t as strong (he could have given more specifics about his and his student’s change), it’s still enough to get you hooked on the rest of the guide.
Avoid making the situation and conclusion too complicated and long — all that matters is that your story is interesting.
In all of these examples, what makes the story unique is the person who was living it. Contrast the two previous examples that with this article from GMB.
I love GMB, but their stories are too simple. How would I get elbow pain? How do you know having elbow pain is “excruciating”?
If the writer had told me a story he had about his own elbow, it’d have been much more engaging. I’d have been able to imagine what that pain looked like.
Not all stories need to be based on your own life. You can invent stories by using words and expressions like:
- Think about
- What would…?
- What if…?
- For example
- Let’s say
- Let’s suppose
- There was once…
- How would X look like if…?
The point is to use your reader’s imagination as much as possible, as often as you can.To write stories on the fly, use your reader’s imagination as much as possible, as often as you can with some of the following expressions.Click To Tweet
This technique goes hand in hand with the one about the senses — you want people to think, dream, and imagine themselves or someone they know living the situation you’re explaining.
The more real and truthful the story, the more engaging it will be.
Most importantly, the more stories you can use, the better your writing will be.
Technique #14: Edit Your Content with the “So What?” Test
You write, and write, and write some more. You’re proud of the prose coming from the end of your fingers.
The problem is…your audience doesn’t care.
Whenever you write a sentence, paragraph, or idea you need think as if you were the reader and ask yourself: “so what?”
Here’s how this works:
- Put all your ideas on paper (or in a document app) until you’ve written everything you had in mind.
- Once you’re done, go back to your content, and take every section, paragraph, and sentence and ask yourself “So what?”
- Repeat the process with every paragraph and section.
- If the answer to the “So what?” question is “it doesn’t matter,” then delete the sentence, paragraph, or section.
Imagine you were writing an article about coffee brewing methods and you wrote a paragraph like this:
Anyone who knows anything about coffee knows what an espresso machine is – they’ve been keeping us caffeinated since 1901. Today they come in various shapes and sizes, with loads of features and gimmicks. Don’t get confused by flash machines though because the basics are the same: pressurized water is pushed through a chamber (the puck) of finely ground coffee beans, through a filter, resulting in what we call a shot of espresso.
Let’s ask “so what?” for each sentence.
Anyone who knows anything about coffee knows what an espresso machine is – they’ve been keeping us caffeinated since 1901.
It means espresso machines have been used for a long time, which explains its popularity.
Today they come in various shapes and sizes, with loads of features and gimmicks.
It means there are multiple types of espresso machines with many features, some of which I will explain later. Still, it’s not clear what features and gimmicks I’m referring to, so it may not be as relevant to mention them right now.
Don’t get confused by flash machines though because the basics are the same: pressurized water is pushed through a chamber (the puck) of finely ground coffee beans, through a filter, resulting in what we call a shot of espresso.
It means they all work the same, regardless of the different shapes mentioned before.
The three sentences make sense on their own, but could they be explained in less space without cutting any of the ideas? It’s a possibility worth trying.
Let’s imagine you wanted to take the main ideas behind each of these three sentences and put them into one or two sentences.
This is how the paragraph could look like:
Baristas and coffee makers alike have been using espresso machines since 1901. Regardless of their shapes and sizes, they all work the same: pressurized water is pushed through a chamber/puck of finely ground coffee beans, through a filter, resulting in what we call a shot of espresso.
Does that look as good as before, but much more concisely? I believe it does.
Just like that, by asking yourself about the importance of the meaning behind each of your sentences, you’ve made a much more powerful paragraph while keeping its value.
I once read somewhere a phrase that said, “You write for yourself, you edit for the reader.” I couldn’t find who wrote that, and if that phrase even exists or if I invented it. Whatever the case, the point is this:
Write for yourself (as you saw in technique #9) but when you edit your content, remember the reader (technique #10).
The reader doesn’t care about your opinions. He’s got a lot of things going on; if your content doesn’t appeal to his interest, he won’t use it to understand your content.
Everything you write should have a purpose, it’s your job to find it and polish it so everything looks pristine and useful.
Popular nonfiction writers, like Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Pinker, often write bestsellers thanks to their uncanny ability to write in such a way that almost everything makes a point. Every sentence and paragraph they put together push their idea or hypothesis forward, engaging you and delighting you in the process.
Your reader can forgive one or two irrelevant ideas. But if the answer to the “so what?” test constantly ends up with “it doesn’t matter,” then you’ll lose their attention and, most importantly, their respect.
You want your content to be pristine — clean and concise — something they can enjoy without having to worry whether you’re going to tell them irrelevant, uninteresting information.
Next time you sit down to edit your content, ask yourself “so what?” If the answer is “it doesn’t matter,” then you know what to do.
Technique #15: Use the Aristotle Technique
The Greeks developed the art of rhetoric 2,500 years ago. From the many famous orators — Demosthenes, Dinarchus, etc. — a philosopher stands out from the lot: Aristotle.
While Aristotle is widely known for his philosophical teachings, he also developed a technique for effective communication which some call the “Aristotelian triptych” — or is I call it, the Aristotle Technique.
In his Treatise of Rhetoric, written around the mid-4th century BC, Aristotle developed a system for effective communication, which consists of the following three parts:
- Start by gaining your credibility — the “ethos”
- Continue creating an emotional bond with your audience — the “pathos”
- Finish by developing a pattern for reasoning — the “logos”
While the Aristotle Technique has many philosophical ramifications, you can still use the ethos-pathos-logos trifecta by structuring your content — written or spoken — in the following manner:
- Tell your audience what you will tell them
- Tell them what you want to tell them
- Tell them what you told them
This three-part structure follows the order in which you organize your content. That means:
- In your headline and introduction, you tell the reader what you will share with them in the rest of the article
- Throughout the article, you explain everything you told them you’d tell them
- In the conclusion, you summarize what you told them, which is what you said you’d tell them in the introduction
If you analyze the content all successful bloggers and writers create, you will find all of them use — consciously or not — the Aristotle technique.
Look at this guide. I start with a catchy intro (technique #6) where I said what you will learn in this guide. More importantly, I say these are the techniques I’ve used to write in authoritative sites, thus gaining my credibility (my ethos).
Then the rest of this guide is all about giving value and creating the emotional bond with you (the pathos).
At the conclusion, which you can see below, I briefly sum up what you learned, helping you get a clearer understanding of the concepts explained in here (the logos).
Let’s take a look at another example, this one from Niklas Goeke, a writer for Sumo, about content creation. Here’s his intro:
Not only he starts by telling you what he will teach you, but he also goes to explain what he did, gaining all the credibility he needs to start teaching his ideas.
Then, he finishes his intro by summarizing the three main ideas he will teach.
I mean, this is top-notch stuff.
The rest of the article explains with detail the steps he promised at the intro (the pathos).
At the conclusion, he summarizes the lessons from the article (the logos), plus a lead offer to entice a signup.
That’s how you use the Aristotle Technique and how you must use it.
Say what you will talk about. Talk about it. Recap what you just told them.
An Extended List of Writing Techniques
The writing methods explained throughout this article are the ones I always use and recommend a content writer use.
There are more techniques available, however. While I won’t explain them in detail in here, I want to quickly share them with you so you can research them on your own.
- Use the active form. The active form adds action, power, and authority to your content. In most cases, you can change your passive form into active, so when editing, look for the passive sentences and change them. Passive is fine used every so often, but avoid it as much as possible.
- Use humor. People like getting entertained. Humor can work, especially if it comes from a position of sincerity and not a clown-like attitude of making people laugh for whatever you’re writing about.
- Avoid adverbs. As Stephen King says, “With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.” If he says it, who am I to say otherwise? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Use patterns. Repeat your ideas to build a pattern. The best example comes from Martin Luther King’s famous speech “Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
- Use short paragraphs. They will increase your reader’s attention. Most content writers often use shorter paragraphs for a reason: it’s easier for the reader. While that doesn’t work in newspapers and books, it does online.
- Avoid overly-technical words and concepts. Make the life of your readers simpler by writing simply. As explained above, write thinking your audience doesn’t understand what you’re writing about. The only exception is when you’re writing for a technical audience (remember technique #11).
- Start your sentences with the object and then with the verb. For example, “write to express yourself” instead of “writing is the best way to express yourself.” Same idea, different perceptions. The former adds more power to the sentence than the latter, which seems more amateurish.
- Use cliffhangers to increase attention…and engagement. See what I did there? Well, something like that. 😉
- Engage your audience. Add sharing buttons, including “Click to Tweet” buttons, and ask for comments at the end of your articles. Anything that makes your audience do something to show they liked your content is always a good sign of good faith from the writer.
- Know the answer or solution your content provides the audience. Whether that’s learning a specific skill, getting informed, think, or question their preconceptions about an idea, there’s always something you give the reader. Know what that is.
- Avoid clichés. Clichés are frowned upon for a reason: they say the writer who uses them is lazy.
- Write without thinking and stopping. Once you have finished writing, you can go back to rewrite and edit everything with more time. It’s easy to fall into the “writer’s block” dilemma if you’re constantly doubting yourself. Write first, edit later.
- Accept your “first shitty drafts.” As Anne Lammot, author of Bird by Bird, puts it: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper.”
- Use a simple writing app. They help to avoid writer’s block and procrastination. I like Bear, previously I used Evernote, and once my first draft is done, I use Google Docs. There are more tools; the point is to use one that’s discretion-free.
- Leverage deep work. Take your time to do your writing avoiding all networking, distractions, and unnecessary work until it’s done. Read Deep Work by Cal Newport to learn more about this topic.
- Read, read, read. If you want to be a better writer, read all the time. I know it sounds weird, but reading has made me a much better writer. I can’t explain why, but when I read a lot, I write a lot (and better too).
- Ask for advice and feedback from peers. When you’re stuck, ask for advice from your editor, a friend, or colleagues. If you think you need to ask a colleague, enter a writer’s group or search in Facebook for one.
- Get a writing coach. This works particularly well when you’re a fiction writer, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. An expert who’s been where you are and has done what you’re trying to do, who also will keep you accountable, will push you beyond your current capabilities.
- Use Roy Peter Clark’s five stages of writing:
- “Sniff around” for potential writing ideas. As a content writer, forums, social media groups, and keyword research work fantastic.
- Collect the evidence from the places mentioned above.
- Find the focus. Define what your content piece is about before starting.
- Write your first draft.
- Edit for clarity.
- Enjoy the process. Writing is both a job and a passion. Remember to keep the latter close to you, because when you face a problem with an article, you’ll feel like giving up. Avoid such feelings and remember why you do what you do.
5 Books to Learn and Improve Your Writing Technique
I love reading books about writing; they always teach me new techniques, ideas, and strategies that help me improve my craft.
Here are the five books I’ve read and which I highly recommend you read.
- On Writing, by Stephen King. An amazing book by one of the best fiction writers of our times. I’ve never read any of his books, yet the philosophy in this book is useful to any writer. Particularly, I loved the idea of finding your muse.
- The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. A classic for any English writer of any kind. This is like the Bible for us because it lays down basic rules any writer should understand. Break them at your own peril.
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Another classic from a pupil of William Strunk Jr. I liked this one much more than the previous one. It explains the theory behind the ideas explained The Elements of Style and tops to share what it takes for a non-fiction writer to develop the style and techniques needed to master the craft.
- Writing Tools, by Roy Peter Clark. Probably the best book for any writer who wants a list of techniques to implement in her writing right away. All of Peter Clark’s books are equally good, but this one is the most tactical of all. You’ll take at least one new technique from each of the 55 chapters, making you a much more coherent and effective writer.
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lammot. A beautiful book from a writer with a unique life perspective. While it’s not as philosophy nor technique-focused as the previous books, discovering the life of a writer and what it takes to write several fiction books is refreshing and insightful.
Here’s What You Need to Do Now…
Pick one of the techniques and use it right away.
Which of the 15 writing techniques from this post will you use in your content piece?
Come back and share your results. I can’t wait to hear what you do with it!