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Professional writing dos and don'ts. Includes copywriting, ghostwriting, blogging, storytelling. Covers headlines, formatting, structuring, opening, body, closing and more.

Resources

General Advice

  • Don't be afraid to use (tweaked) clichés (jargon, idioms, bonmots)
    • They can add or amplify personality in your writing
  • Authenticity: be who you are, write like you speak, have fun
    • Don't use jargon or try to sound smart
    • Practice what you preach
  • Give proper credit
  • Copyblogger's formula for great content:
    1. Killer headline
    2. Incredibly useful information that benefits readers
    3. Lively, interesting writing
  • Use what you know: convert previous professional experience into writing gigs
  • Use who you are:
    • Situation in life
    • Personal experience
    • What's my demographic?
    • There are businesses selling to people like me - they're potential clients
  • Write follow-up articles: what happened then, where are they now, how did it end?
  • Cite my sources
  • Specialize: go deep instead of broad
  • Flexibility: also write about things that aren't exactly your favourite.
  • Love of challenge: take difficult tasks and grow!

From Glen Long at Boost Blog Traffic:

  • Constrain yourself
    • 10 best things to do in Stockholm at night / for free / chosen by natives
  • Create an interesting idea out of several ordinary ones!
  • What would your role model do?
  • Write from a future or past perspective
    • How to keep ideal weight
    • How to prepare for losing weight
  • Be obscure
    • Headline: "little-known", "unusual", "unconventional"
  • Blow up a single detail
    • Distill specific information for reader to act on

How to be Productive

Katie Aka on Copyblogger

  • Be in the habit of writing daily
  • Prepare two foundations:
    • Content strategy - a goal for your blog, lots (100s) of topics
    • Ultimate goal - the eventual, permanent value you want to provide
  • Create rituals
  • Create a writing environment, e.g.:
    • Shielded from distractions
    • Soft music available
    • Coffee or tea
    • No Internet
  • Schedule time to write, take it seriously
  • Develop a framework, e.g. particular topics for each day (!!)
  • Spend 2 minutes outlining
  • Write 200 words
  • Refine, optimize
    • Set featured image
    • SEO

Writing to Build Trust

Article by Pamela Wilson

  • Build a conversation that says:
    1. Not everybody will find success with this
    2. This is what can hold people back
    3. Here's what you can do to make it work for you

Article by Ali Luke

  • Make a clear promise in your title and intro, then fulfil it
    • Precise: "9 ways", "how to", "examples", ...
  • Clear, logical structure: plan your post
  • Share personal details (supporting anecdote, admission)
  • Write conversationally
  • Promote content by others
  • Get your grammar and spelling right
  • Blog consistently: have a schedule and stick to it
  • Write in-depth pieces occasionally
    • As opposed to usual 700-1000 word posts
  • Quote experts

What to Write?

Articles vs. Blog Posts

  • Understand these are not the same! Rules of thumb:
    • Article: longer (1000-2000 words), well-researched, sophisticated
    • Blog post: short, more opinionated, not so well-researched, keyword-driven
  • Definition by Carol Tice
    • Ask clients to define if they want articles vs. posts
    • Educate them, convince them they want articles!
    • Sell them on upgrading their blog (report, magazine-type)
    • Articles are more complex and impressive for readers

Inspiration

Types of Copy

  • Good copywriting requires creativity and science. Types of copy:
    1. Plain: just describes the product and benefits
    2. Storytelling (article by Carol Tice): opening (pain!), conflict (stakes), dialogue (humans love this), solution (my product)
      • There's a lot of drama in business!
      • Sell your storytelling skills to decent-sized businesses
      • Advertorial articles, native ads
      • Ghostwriting: first-person narrative e.g. form business owner's perspective
      • Annual reports
      • Customer case studies
      • Bottom line: make business fascinating - use stories!
        • Be curious, ask lots of questions, listen
        • "What happened next?"
    3. Conversational: "you and me"
    4. John Lennon: "Imagine" what it would be like [...]
    5. Long copy: tell a lot (like David DeAngelo) - perhaps divide into e-mail series
    6. Poetry: combine style with selling, creativity with marketing, story with solution
    7. Direct from CEO: "Dear customers". The advertiser is the character: vulnerable, personal, relatable
    8. Frank: the ugly truth about the product. Start with the warts.
    9. Superlative: only when I can prove it
    10. Rejection: challenge the reader. Only VIPs get in
  • Now, combine a select few of these.

Types of Articles

Article on Social Media Examiner

  • How to / Tutorials
    • Most powerful!
    • Step by step
    • Start with "why" (benefits/what happens if not)
      • Keep this present throughout
    • Vivid examples (storytelling!) & fun
    • Use metaphors (from themes I love)
    • Sprinkle problems along the way
    • Finally: edit & add emotion, sparkle
      • Sensory words: creepy, bland, dazzling
      • Emotional: mesmerizing, mind-numbing, captivating
      • Tightenand then tighten again!
      • Mix long vs. short sentences
    • Inspire: remove obstacles to implementation of my advice
  • Lists in general
  • Resource or Link Lists
  • Cheat list, checklist, to-do list
    • Add printed PDF: branded or via opt-in
  • Reviews
    • Straight up
    • Compare & contrast
  • Controversy
    • "5 reasons why responsive design is wrong for your business"
    • Prepare for anger
  • Infographics
    • google for them
    • Write up some context
  • Podcast show notes
  • Videos
    • Paired with contextual blog post, transcript
  • Interviews
  • Guest Posts (guests writing for me)
    • Ensure they follow my rules
  • Blog Series
  • More Possibilities
    • Case studies
    • Stats, reports
    • Weekly/daily roundups
    • Breaking news
    • (Personal) stories

Quick & Easy: "Filler" Blog Posts

(Smartpassiveincome newsletter from Apr 18, 2014)

  • Useful when I don't have anything big to write (or no time)
  • Types:
    1. Guest posts, interviews
      • Need to be prepared ahead of time
    2. Ask the readers
      • Ask for opinions
      • Follow up with future articles
    3. Case Studies
    4. Monthly Reports
    5. Links to other blogs
      • Good for my audience!
      • Might spark relationships with other bloggers
    6. Links to posts in my archive
      • e.g. a list of older posts I'd like to share
      • Include a snippet, summary to put into context
    7. Personal Stuff
      • Shows I'm a real person

Formatting

  • Short, and short paragraphs
  • Use block quotes / pull quotes
  • Space out paragraphs! Lots of white space
  • Bold: important concepts
    • Unfamiliar terms that are subsequently defined
    • Bold an entire first sentence introducing a key concept
  • Italic: foreign languages, book/mag titles, works of art, music
    • To add shades of meaning
  • Use lots of images
    • With intriguing captions
  • Footer: include disclaimers, copyright, promos like here!
  • Numbers! Numbers everywhere! (e.g. headlines, lists, numbered subheadings)
  • Scannable:
    • Number/bullet lists
    • Subheadings
    • Pullquotes
  • If there's a lot to say, break it into several posts

Purpose, Goals

  • Have one purpose:
    • Inform
    • Persuade
    • Entertain
    • Inspire
  • Helpful!! (Useful)
    • Save people money
  • Single subject
  • Make content rewarding
    • As well as reader's actions (opening e-mail, clicking link)
  • About the reader, not me
  • Moving, personal, current, relevant
  • Interesting: funny, opinionated, snarky, charming, enthusiastic
  • Write like you speak!
  • Have memorable catchphrases, comparisons and metaphors that frame the article. Run with them!
  • Plus, give people a reason to care! Take them from "nice to have" to "need"!
    • Tap into one overwhelming desire my readers have
  • Engage people! Questions in article, end of article, when posting on Facebook!
    • Ask people to share and add incentive for doing so (e.g. a bonus)
  • Use content strategically: it should achieve something (not necessarily sell)
    • How will my prospect react to it?
  • Share information, guidance, tips, stories.
    • Tell how you’ve helped people
  • Thus: build relationships
  • Isolate important links on their own line and make them big (a whole sentence)
    • Also: links to useful information anchored to keywords
  • Don’t Waffle (go off on tangents)
  • Highlight your vulnerability (not just how awesome you are)
  • Have an opinion (+ humour)

Leveraging Emotions

Wheel-of-emotion
  • What effect do I want to produce in the reader? Which one of these 50 emotions?
    • 50 emotions: fantastic resource of trigger words!!
  • Is there empathy? Do I care? Do I feel concern for the reader?
    • Do I respect their intelligence?
  • Am I excited and enthusiastic about my subject?

Fascinating the Reader

Article on Copyblogger - 7 Ways

  • Cues:
    1. Alert or alarm - urgency
    2. Mystique - curiosity
    3. Passion - pleasure and experience
    4. Power - authority, control
    5. Prestige - "I'm better than you"
    6. Innovation, rebellion - defies absolutes
    7. Trust - loyalty through repetition, reliability
  • 7 Ways to create Fascinating Content:
    1. Use the triggers, e.g. mystique (open with intriguing question), passion (appeal to senses), facts/figures for trust
    2. Connect to emotions behind the problem! Agitate. (e.g. alarm, fear of conflict, loss)
    3. Make solution mirror problem: needs to specifically solve the issue you agitated!
    4. Take the next steps - guide through a series of actions! Pne by one, do not rush the relationship, show you care
    5. Address objections - identify and answer the most common ones
    6. Back your message up: example, metaphor, story to illustrate
    7. Summarize - and strengthen connection with audience

Scaring the Audience

  • Read more on Copyblogger, esp. about doing this ethically
    • Why? Establish a sense of urgency, exclusivity
    • Be subtle about this, do not abuse the concept - people will notice
  • Fear of missing out, losing something, future threat
    • Threat has to be moderate to high
      • Understand how the reader ticks!
    • Personal risk must be perceived
    • Prevention must appear simple
  • "Fast forward 30 years. How will you look back?"
  • Tell them what they already know, then show what they don't
  • Threat can be beat with my help
  • Have some time constraints:
    • Time's running out
    • You're late
    • You can still catch up
    • ~ make it

Headline, Opening, Body, Closing

Before Publishing: Review and Polish

  1. Am I opening with confidence?
    • Examine from reader's point of view
    • Prove yourself right away
  2. Detach from your ego:
    • Thoroughly scan each sentence and word
    • Does it all support the context and my main point?
    • Cut out what doesn't
  3. Wisely choose the right words
    • Do they perfectly convey my message and vision?
  4. Style: ensure consistency, coherence, tightness
  5. What was the post's objective? Is it achieved?
    • Have a 20-word version of the main message to compare against
  6. Am I closing strongly?

Ben Yagoda at Make a Living Writing:

  • Avoid common mistakes:
    • Check for word repetition
    • Cut out filler words
    • Get rid of extra prepositions
    • Word use: affect/effect, hearty/hardy, your/you're...
    • Fake quotes. Quote marks only belong around things people said!
    • Avoid semicolons and parentheses. Sentences should be clear and succinct.
    • Get commas right
    • Generally avoid starting and ending sentences with prepositions (like "and" at the beginning).
    • Subject/verb disagreement: singular/plural
    • Identity crisis: when using "he", be sure it's understood who "he" is.
    • Misplaced modifiers: "Running down the hall, my jacket caught on a locker".
    • Random capitalization
    • Bold/underline/italics: use sparingly and correctly (underline denotes a link)
  • Review and polish:
    • Read it aloud
    • Look up grammar and spelling
    • Clean it up: get rid of useless/excess wording
    • Do not rely on spell-check: it might insert mistakes
    • Don’t be vague or wordy. Be clear and precise.
    • Use a style guide. Examples in article
    • Are you understood? Does the audience have a clear idea of your point?

Copyblogger:

  • Replace bland words with sensory or emotional words. Instead of bad, use rough, stale, or stinky.
  • Use a thesaurus for inspiration. But be careful, because synonyms aren’t always interchangeable.
  • Pick the word with the right connotation. Thin hair has a negative connotation, while fine hair is more positive.
  • Choose a specific rather than a generic word. Describing a girl as lanky or svelte gives you a more precise impression than thin.
  • Limit yourself to a maximum of one adjective before a noun. Don’t talk about a warm, sunny, humid day. Instead, choose the word that describes the day most accurately, for instance: a sticky day.
  • Replace an adjective/noun pair with a stronger noun if you can. Why say big house if you can refer to a villa, palace, or mansion?
  • Delete as many adverbs as you can. Avoid meaningless words like just, really, and actually.
  • Introduce surprising metaphors … such as scrumptious blog posts that your readers gobble up.
  • Strike a balance. Too many emotional words make your content melodramatic. An overdose of sensory words sends readers onto a roller-coaster with lights flashing and loud music playing. Your job as a writer is to paint a picture with as few words as possible.

Copywriting

Definition according to Marya Jan on Getresponse (copywriting 101 article):

"Words that persuade people and convert. Words that make them want to buy. Also known as copy. And the process is called copywriting (and not copy writing). Specifically, writing words with the purpose of getting your audience to take a desired action. You use words like these all the time without realizing that you are actually creating copy."

Sonia Simone from Copyblogger about Copywriting (in: "How to use a 'Content Net' to boost your conversions and make more money"):

"[A copywriter] develops a compelling personal voice, nurtures a relationship with the reader, and uses soft-sell techniques to nudge the reader down the path to purchase."

Ground Rules

  • Step 1: listen to your audience, get to know them, understand them
  • Write to touch the desires of your audience! (article on Copyblogger)
    • Supply to how they identify: which tribes do they belong to?
    • Feed their beliefs (by demonstrating your own)

Use an "Impact Table"! 3 columns:

  1. List your Features
    • Physical description, how product is used, accessed, delivered, what subjects it covers...
    • This is what I have
  2. impacts of the Features (why should the customer care?)
    • Helps solve problems?
    • More enjoyable, fun?
    • Eliminate negative emotions?
    • Achieve positive ones?
    • Save time, money?
    • This is how it will affect you
  3. Emotions associated with impact!
    • More focused, less overwhelmed, confident, reassured, empowered, ambitious, proud...
    • This is the positive change you'll feel

According to "Copywriting 101: How to Create Words That Persuade and Sell"

  1. Start with your prospect in mind
    • Clearly picture that person and speak to them personally
  2. Get the first sentence read
    • Every sentence should lead to reading the next one
    • Starts with headline!
    • Again, accomplish this by catering to ideal prospect
  3. Headlines
    • Useful - Urgency - Unique - Ultra Specific
    • See more in "Anatomy of an Article"
  4. Solve a specific problem
    • Provide examples
    • Illustrate what it looks/feels like to improve
  5. Give them a story
    • Establishes connection
    • It makes a point
    • Shouldn't be long
    • Details, emotions, colourful language
  6. Write like you talk
    • Collect adjectives to describe your voice
    • Bring out our emotions
    • Be honest, true, authentic
  7. Be clear and brief
    • Simple words
    • No clichés, jargon
    • Specificity
    • Short sentences, paragraphs
    • Active voice
  8. Stress benefits, not features
    • What will this help people do?
    • Make people experience the product
    • Create scarcity, urgency (genuine, not fake: e.g. limited guest list, room for clients)
    • Social proof: testimonials
    • Overcome objections, offer guarantee

Principles of a good Copywriter

  • Get attention. And keep it.
  • Copyblogger: good copywriting requires creativity and science
  • What clients expect!
    1. Write in their tone of voice and language style
    2. Good research, on time
    3. Clients want to know how my research works (e.g. call + follow-up personal research)
    4. How much can be changed after first draft?
    5. Knowing to ask the right questions:
      • Ideal customer?
      • Problems my client solves
      • Why this is important to their clients
      • What my client offers their clients
      • Price of their service, and what's included
      • How is their product delivered?
    6. Understand and explain that I cannot guarantee results - other variables factor in!
    7. Don't grant unlimited revisions: guarantee extensive research and strong first draft + 1-2 rounds of tweaks
    8. Follow-up questions, requests for additional (useful!) information
      • Via phone or in person, to capture client's style and tone
    9. Ask for examples of copy they'd like / wouldn't like
    10. Ask for feedback
  • Reliability (no flaking)
  • High quality: proof my work!
  • Be humble (not a diva!)

Creating Urgency

  • "Problem - Agitate - Solve" formula as introduced on Copyblogger
    • Problem: name what problem the client has ("are you insecure?"). Personal.
    • Agitate: describe how miserable that is ("If you don't do anything about that: wallflower! Will never make it! Miss out on life!")
    • Solution: here's what you can do. Subscribe, listen to podcast, purchase product

Powerful Trigger Words

Article by Dvora Goldstein, Jun 4, 2015

  1. You
  2. People's name
  3. Because
    • Reasons!
  4. Yes
    • "Yes, it's time to raise your game"
  5. New
  6. Discover
  7. Stop
    • "snap suggestion": breaks train of thought
  8. If
    • "If you're serious about..."
    • "What if"
  9. How
    • "How to"
  10. (Even) worse
    • Then, offer a fix
  11. Instantly
  12. Today
  13. Everyone
    • Use this for social proof ("everyone wants...")
  14. Want
  15. Easy
  16. Win
  17. P.S. (postscript)

"Advertorials"

As introduced on Copyblogger

  • Can be a list, guide, video
    • Usually tells a story
  • Understand the publication it'll appear in
    • Formatting, layout
    • Headline style
    • Opening style
      • Check most popular articles
      • Introducing characters, locations?
      • Which senses?
      • Short or long sentences?
    • Body style
      • Blocks of text?
      • Dialog-type lines?
    • Who's the audience?
      • Ask for demographic / psychographic report
      • Check out comments, letters
      • Talk to editors and readers
    • Understand ad policy
    • Create a story
    • Identify reader pain
      • Agitate it
      • Introduce an enemy (government, corporation, neighbour?)
      • Introduce the solution
    • Support my claims
    • Happy ending
    • Call to action

E-Mails, Newsletters

  • Keep it simple. People spend less than a minute reading your newsletter
    • Skip intro content. Get to the point. People look for headings.
    • Achieve your goal above the fold (the point past which one needs to scroll)
    • Five seconds of attention span to make something happen!
    • Structure: shape content visually: headings, paragraphs, images, lists, line length/height
    • Arrange the text to be visually appealing
  • E-mail is exclusive, intimate, familiar and converts!
  • Being different: use poetry, language to hook articles (sprinkle fiction/prose throughout?)
  • Share info about my business with readers (establish exclusivity)
  • From Pamela Wilson:
    1. Entertain
      • Behind the scenes
      • Photos, videos of employees
      • Sneak peeks, previews of upcoming content
      • Funny related vids from the web
      • Links to great info
    2. Engage
      • Poll/survey + prize
      • Contest
      • Invitation to exclusive event
      • Or to a public event
      • Insights, musings, personal details
    3. Delight (perks)
      • Coupon
      • Invite to flash sale
      • Ltd. early bird discount
      • Exclusive tutorials
      • ebook guide, checklist

Ebooks

  1. Build an audience first (fan list)
  2. Add a bonus workbook (action plan)
  3. Follow up with more books!

Ebook advice from Carol Tice! (mistakes to avoid)

  • About what you love
  • Simple and short
  • Split into an ebook series!
  • Affordable
  • Write about specific situations and solutions
  • Set up sequels: "Romance 2013" "Romance 2014"...
  • Have related classes or webinars
  • Have fellow bloggers contribute
  • Design, illustrations: optional
  • BIG launch! Contest, giveaways, Twitter. Get it on amazon, related warehouses!
  • Make more than just PDF: Kindle, Nook, etc. (format accordingly!)
  • Keep conversation going: new angles on the topic on blog, related multimedia, community building, host events

Design, Structure

Article on Constant Contact

  • Page orientation: landscape, portrait? Landscape is good for screens (as opposed to printouts)
  • Wide margins: white space sets text off, allows eyes to rest
  • Unique fonts: we're tired of the standards. Readability before style!
    • Not too light or tiny. Must be easily readable
  • Images, pull quotes
  • Remember headers, footers: e.g. header contains chapter title, book title
  • Cover: polished, professional, eye-catching. Font should still be readable on small image
  • Proofread!

Types of Ebooks

  1. Giveaway/viral: spreads my message. Short: maximum impact in short time!
  2. Opt-in: builds e-mail list. Permission to communicate. PDF that solves a few problems.
  3. Paid: whole systems for problem solving, incl. strategies, theory, step-by-step. References! 24-100+ pages. Mention useful resources!