Improve your writing skills with these tips.
1. Read More
Reading other writers’ work is one way to nurture your own writer's brain.
Read often, and read different types of content. Making a habit of reading will expose you to different styles of writing and ways of structuring your content, which will benefit your own pieces.
Read a ton. Reading fiction will help writers learn about narrative structure, while non-fiction from celebrated authors can give lessons on writing concisely and clearly.
Read content from different brands and media publications you’re interested in or that are related to your industry, and consider setting up Google Alerts for the topics you write about.
Monitoring your competitors and other industry leaders is also a good idea. After all, analyzing your competition can help boost your own content marketing.
For example, you can also easily find the top-performing organic content of any website using the Organic Research Tool. Simply enter the domain and head to the “Pages” report to see what’s most popular on a website.
By critically evaluating the competing content, you can determine what works well and what can be improved.
2. Write Every Day
Every craft takes practice to become truly proficient, and writing is no exception. Unless you are one of a few very fortunate people, you will not become an award-winning author by accident.
One top writing tip is simply to write as regularly as you can. This helps you exercise the part of your brain responsible for your writing prowess.
So, how can you do this?
Writing every day does not mean churning out thousand-word-long articles. If you want to become a better writer, a great way to get going is to write just a little but often.
It can provide a ton of practice while you’re waiting for your workload to pick up.
Try committing to a “write every day” challenge to improve your discipline. Platforms like WriteEveryDay.app are a great starting point for that goal.
3. Get a Clear Brief
Whether you are writing for your own company or work for someone else, a clear brief is key to good writing.
The brief needs to firmly lay out what is expected from the piece.
That means things like the topic, tone of voice, intended audience, and length all need to be agreed upon before writing starts.
Writing for Someone Else
When writing for someone else, discuss with your editors and clients or any other stakeholders what information they want included, whom you should quote, how long the piece should be, and any other expectations they have.
In the end, a good brief can prevent hours of unnecessary work on the part of the writer and the editors as they tussle over a lengthy editing process.
Writing for Yourself
If you’re writing for yourself or your own blog, keeping your expectations in mind is still important.
These tips can help you if you're writing for a client, too. Include your:
- Aim: why you are writing this particular piece
- Word count: stick to it to stay concise
- Research: research ahead of time and include useful stats, quotes, and sources
- Reader profile: who it is and why they should care about your writing
- Call to action: what you want the reader to do after reading your piece
Effective planning is important for great writing. It will help you understand where a piece of content fits in as a part of a larger strategy and what to include in it.
4. Know Your Audience and Use the Right Tone
It’s crucial to be in tune with your target audience. You’ll need to focus on what issues are key to them and which topics they want to read about.
It is also important to communicate using the words and voice familiar to that audience via the websites and apps they like to use.
Our research found that 75% of all pieces analyzed used a tone of voice that was too casual for their intended audience.
Once you have established the best tone of voice for your audience, stick to it. Building a relationship with readers by being consistent has long served writers well.
Defining the voice with which you communicate with your readers will be key to fostering a connection with your new community.”
Keep Your Writing Human
Sure, rank is important—but you should always write for human beings first, not search engines. In fact, as Google’s algorithm becomes more intelligent, it becomes more “human.”
Google wants people to use its product, so it rewards content written with people in mind.
To help accomplish this, put business objectives aside as you write your first draft.
Imagine you are writing a letter to your curious uncle. Assume he has a very basic understanding of your topic.
What would his goals be by the end of that letter? It’s easier to humanize your work when you consider a real person in your life as the ideal audience for your piece.
5. Research Your Topic
Before putting pen to paper, you should research your topic carefully.
Depending on the subject, you might spend anywhere from 15 minutes to several months diving into your topic.
If writing a brief marketing email, you won’t spend nearly as much time on research as you would if you were writing a research-driven piece on responsible investing.
If you’re new to the research process, these resources can help you get comfortable:
- CORE is an open-access database of scholarly articles you can use to create informed writing topics
- GanttPRO gives you access to Gantt chart templates so you can keep your research tidy and organized
- Mendeley is a fantastic resource if you need to track and cite sources in your work
- Topic Research is a tool that can help you quickly learn about the most popular subtopics, questions, searches, and headlines related to your focus topic. This information proves useful when creating an outline and mapping your content’s structure.
For example, if you wanted to write an article about responsible investing, the tool could help you build a foundation for the piece.
By analyzing the most popular questions, headlines, and searches related to your topics and subtopics, you can get a deeper understanding of your audience's problem.
And help them solve it more efficiently with your content.
Remember that the goal of your research should be to identify your piece's primary purpose and ensure you answer all questions your audience has in relation to the topic.
Keyword research should be your next step if you are writing for a website and looking to rank your piece well on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Determine and research your keywords
Knowing which keywords to use is crucial for getting your content in front of your readers.
Researching keywords is also a great way to start digging into your topic, becoming more knowledgeable on the subject and informed of your readers’ intent.
Do some keyword research in Semrush, or your tool of choice. Create a list of similar words, phrases, and questions. Use that list to build a cohesive outline that tells the story. It not only helps with that article or project but often gives more ideas of similar topics to cover.
Use the Keyword Magic Tool to see which keywords you should include in your piece based on your topic. For example:
Make Use of SEO Checklists
Checklists like this one from Semrush offer a good introduction to writing SEO-friendly copy. Use it to ensure all critical steps are considered when creating organic content.
6. Analyze Search Intent
Search intent is the purpose of a user’s search. In other words, it’s the reason why people Google a specific phrase.
For example, it can be because they are looking to buy something, find a place, or get an answer to a question.
Analyzing search intent can be beneficial for writers creating organic content.
Google’s only job is to give searchers the best answers to (and content for) their problems and questions.
So, if a piece of content is ranking well, you can safely assume that it gives readers exactly what they are looking for.
Here’s how to analyze search intent for your piece of content:
Start by typing your topic (or keyword) in Google. Then, analyze the content that appears on the first page.
Look at the following:
- Type of search intent (e.g. are they looking to buy or to get information)
- Headlines and their main focus
- Structure of content (e.g. listicles, how-to guides, and short-form articles)
- Questions and subtopics covered in the piece
- Tone in writing (e.g. casual and friendly or professional and serious)
- Target audience (e.g. does the piece target beginners or pro users)
For example, if you want to create an article about ‘revenue operations’, start with Googling this term.
Next, you’ll see that most articles ranking on the first page seem to target beginners. Analyze them and try to identify some common patterns.
As you can see, the top-ranking articles target the "what is" format where the goal of the blog post is to introduce the reader to the topic and explain the foundational details about it.
In other words, these articles are for people who are not familiar with the topic and want to learn what is revenue operations and whether they need it in their companies.
Based on that, we can assume that creating content targeting sophisticated users experienced in revenue operations might not be the right strategy.
In summary, analyzing search intent aids excellent writing and helps you better understand your audience’s content needs.
7. Think About Structure
You might have an incredible command of the language, but if your structure doesn’t make sense, your message might seem unclear and confusing.
Order information logically, leading the reader through your arguments or ideas point by point.
Assume your reader comes to the table with some existing knowledge, so build your content like a house:
- Create the outline (the foundation of your “house”). This will help you maintain your logic and continuity throughout your work.
- Craft an engaging introduction. This is like building a sturdy yet inviting front door that hooks your reader (we will get into this next).
- Put the most important information upfront. Start each paragraph with the most important thought and further support it with examples and details.
- Each sentence and each point in your article should build upon the previous one. Leave out or rethink anything that seems superfluous or that does not move the story forward.
- Avoid digressions. Stay true to your introduction, and include credible evidence where needed.
- Explain each point you make in your copy. For example, if you suggest taking a certain step, explain why and how the reader can execute it.
- Write a conclusion that summarizes your main points. You don’t want it to get too wordy.
Now, let’s take a look at a good (and a not-so-good) example of blog structure.
This example blog is quite long and vague. Shortening the introduction and removing repetitive and unnecessary words/sentences would really help this piece of writing.
On the other hand, this REI article on cross-country skiing is an example of an effective blog structure.
First, the reader can immediately skip to the section of the article that they need via hyperlinks in the introduction.
From there, each paragraph packs a punch. They are short, informative, and supported by images and video.
This type of structure is more likely to keep the reader captivated until the very end of the piece.
Make the Most of Templates and Workbooks
These templates can help streamline your content writing process:
- 5 Blog Post Templates
- Free Ebook Template
- The Semrush Blog Writing Checklist
- The Semrush Content Writing Workbook
8. Pay Attention to Your Introduction and Summary
Understanding the reader’s motivations and ensuring that each section of your article has a purpose will make it 10x more engaging.
Writing engaging opening paragraphs
For example, some writers summarize what the blog will be about in the opening paragraph.
This can go one of two ways: either boring or informative and time-saving.
The only goal of your opening paragraph should be to get people to read the rest of what you have to say.
So, leverage the opening paragraph to show the reader that you empathize with their problem or question and have the solution if they follow along.
Above is an example of a catchy introductory paragraph. It’s empathetic and funny and makes good use of negative space to keep the reader’s eye on the page.
Crafting effective closing paragraphs
Blog posts can also fizzle out at the end—especially if you’re writing about a long, complex subject.
Use the closing paragraph to get people excited about implementing the solution they have just read about.
Don’t just summarize the entire article in several paragraphs at the end.
The example above showcases how you can get creative when writing your closing paragraph.
It also provides a clear call to action (CTA) to help users move on to the next step in the content funnel.
9. Tell Your Story and Build a Narrative
It helps the reader understand why something is important and how it relates to their situation. Building characters, plots, and storylines into your work can contextualize ideas and help people relate to your content.
Try this simple technique to build real customer experiences into your writing:
In a couple of paragraphs, share your customers’ problems or challenges and how they worked hard to overcome them. Then step outside of the anecdote and relate it directly to the reader.
Alternatively, dot quick sentences throughout your copy or article to share real experiences. For example:
The megaZoom 3000 speeds up office cleaning by 30%.
‘I’ve been able to get home and see the kids much earlier,’ says Richard, an office cleaning manager from Wyoming.
Here, eyewear company Warby Parker does an excellent job telling its brand story.
It’s short and succinct and draws its readers in at an emotional level, because many people can relate to the struggle to afford eyecare in the U.S.
So, it is important to remember that your customer/reader is the main character—not your brand.
10. Keep It Readable, Simple, and Short
Never use 20 words where five will do.
You might like to wax lyrical, but that does not mean your would-be audience wants to read it.
Like simplicity, brevity is key to good writing.
Emily Newton-Smith, Growth Marketing Manager at Otta, recommends one exercise where writersremove as many words from a sentence as possible. Afterward, it should all still make sense.
While you can always put words back if you want, using the fewest possible is a good rule to stick by, she says.
Such advice is similar to one of author George Orwell’s six rules of writing:
“Never use a long word where a short one will do,” Orwell said. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”
In an analysis of Semrush SEO Writing Assistant data, we found articles that rank higher on Google tend to have higher readability, among other things.
We also saw that lower-scoring articles share similar mistakes:
As you can see, having sentences and words that are too long and complex is a common trait of low-scoring articles.
To increase the readability level of your content, make sure to:
- Keep your sentences concise
- Break down paragraphs and sentences that are too long
- Have not more than 1-3 sentences per paragraph
- Avoid using complex words where it’s not necessary
You can also automate this process. Head to SEO Writing Assistant and upload your copy directly in the tool, or use the free add-ons for Google docs, Word docs and WordPress.
It will then produce a readability score for your article and compare it with the target based on your top 10 organic rivals.
The tool will also highlight all paragraphs, sentences, and words that need to be improved. Reworking each of them will help you increase your readability score.
When rewriting and simplifying your text, focus on the following:
- Divide long sentences and address one idea per sentence
- Cut out unnecessary words that don’t add value and context
- Avoid overusing adjectives—descriptive words—and fancy words
For example, instead of saying “verbose” to describe a person who talks a lot, use a word like “chatty” instead.
According to Mark Burdon, a Senior Content Specialist at Geotab:
Write to communicate your message, and not to impress the reader with your writing skills, or broad vocabulary. Any writer looking to show off to their audience with grandiose text should cut it out.
Other examples of filler words and overused adjectives, according to Grammarly.com, include:
- Needless to say
- In my humble opinion
Rewriting a paragraph
Let’s look at an example.
The paragraph below appears bulky, with multiple long sentences:
“A crucial part of any successful marketing team is the ability to measure campaign success and establish baselines that can serve as a reference for future efforts. With this in mind, accurately measuring ROI helps marketers do both. By understanding the impact of individual campaigns on overall revenue growth, marketers can better identify the right mix of offline and online campaign efforts. Moreover, measuring ROI consistently allows marketers to establish baselines to quickly gauge their success and adjust efforts in order to maximize impact.”
We can break it down into shorter sentences and add bullet points to help our readers digest the information faster:
→ “It is crucial for any successful marketing team to be able to measure campaign success and establish baselines for future reference. Accurately measuring ROI helps marketers do both.
- It allows them to identify the right mix of offline and online activations
- It enables them to establish baselines to gauge their success and adjust accordingly”
Finally, you can use the Rephraser AI feature in the SEO Writing Assistant to automatically simplify sentences highlighted by the tool, as shown below:
Quick Language Tips
- Don’t make common spelling mistakes that reflect badly on your writing. Some of these include:
- Your (possessive) versus you’re (contraction of “you are”)
- Its (possessive) versus it’s (contraction of “it is”)
- There (adverb), their (possessive), and they’re (contraction of “they are”)
Check out CNBC’s list of commonly misspelled words.
- Use commas to separate clauses, but don’t overdo it. Indiana University East offers a handy usage guide.
- Use hyphens ( - ) to connect compound words (e.g., The ready-made soup wasn't as nice as he’d hoped)
- Use dashes ( — ) to highlight a word or phrase (e.g., She was happy—ecstatic, even—as she showed her friends the ring)
11. Use a Consistent Style
News agencies like Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) are renowned for publishing thousands of pieces of content each day, as concisely as possible.
They do this by adopting a consistent style. This means their tone, grammar, and sentence structure all remain relatively consistent throughout their work.
The AP Style Guide is a great starter style guide for new writers.
For example, Reuters and AP urge their journalists to avoid writing with exclamation marks in place of other punctuation. They also ask writers to avoid using any other word than “said” or “says” when demonstrating speech.
If you’re used to writing informal pieces, style choices like this can bring out the professionalism in your work.
Similarly, when you start writing, establish some ground rules for your brand’s own writing style.
While the guides for AP (which requires payment to access) and Reuters (which is free) are available online, books written by newspaper editors—such as Harold Evans’ Do I Make Myself Clear?—are also widely available on websites such as Amazon.
How to choose the right style guide for your work?
In addition to AP and Reuters, here are tips for which style guide is right depending on the type of content you produce:
- If you are writing a scholarly or scientific paper, the Chicago Manual of Style is a great resource
- If you are writing a blog or more informal piece of writing, the AP Style Guide or Modern Language Association Style Guide (MLA) are solid starting points for grammar and structural guidance
- If you are trying to create your own style guide for your business or brand, here is Medium’s list of the Top 100 Brand Style Guides for some inspiration
12. Reread Your Work
Rereading and self-editing your article before submitting to your stakeholders or publishing is vital. Otherwise, you will not find mistakes or be able to polish your work.
Before you get started, walk away from your work for a while. A half-day or overnight is ideal, but even just 10-15 minutes away from your draft can be refreshing.
Reading your work out loud is also a great way to find problems with structure or syntax.
Always read your work aloud. Reading aloud is the only way to check the rhythm of what you've written and ensure that it flows naturally. Also, it's a great way to pick up on the kind of errors you might miss in a visual check.
Read slowly line by line, highlighting areas that need work, and then go back to revise them.
Remember to watch out for repetition and be brutal with your cuts. If you are torn over whether to delete a word or keep it, always cut.
13. Be Open to Criticism
When it comes to writing, everyone needs feedback. This is as true for novice writers as it is for Pulitzer Prize-winning authors.
Try not to take any negative feedback personally. It may not be that you are a bad writer.
But perhaps someone with more experience can provide insights on structure, employ a sharper turn of phrase, or cut out some flabby prose.
Usually, a stakeholder or editor will review your content. But if you’re writing for yourself, look into a writing workshop or ask more experienced friends and colleagues to critique your work.
Alternatively, another professional writer may be free to cast a careful eye over your content.
For example, Critique Circle is a platform where writers can get feedback from other writers on their work.
14. Get Feedback from Your Audience
Where possible, get feedback from people outside of your writers’ circle.
As a wordsmith, it can be all too easy to get bogged down in the finer arguments over uding semicolons or Oxford commas.
However, feedback on the content of your pieces and copywriting skills will be most useful coming from those in your target audience.
Get feedback on your work. Not just from other writers and editors, but from others in your company or industry. I love to get feedback from my product or technical colleagues on how I've explained security concepts to a consumer audience.
“Where possible, push for constructive criticism from potential readers and customers as well,” Berger adds. “Ask them to explain what they liked—and did not—in your latest piece.”
Bonus: Writing Resources
Here are some of the top tools you can use to make your content writing more effective:
- Evernote: Collect and arrange clippings, articles, images, research—and anything else you can think of—from around the web. Perfect for writers who are research-driven and need a tool to organize their work
- Milanote: A great alternative to Evernote; use it similarly to gather research and organize your notes ahead of writing the next great article!
- Grammarly is an in-built spell checker or a plug-in to help identify grammatical and spelling mistakes. Note any errors you commonly make, and attempt to iron them out.
- Pomodoro Timer: Many free “tomato” timers are available online. They are designed to help you work in short bursts, making the most of your concentration—and rewarding you for short breaks.
- Toggl: Use Toggl to track your hours. This tool is great for freelancers who need to bill, or for busy writers in a time crunch. Keep a record of your hours, and send or analyze it later!
- SEO Writing Assistant: Use it to optimize your copy for readers and search engines, assessing and improving your content across four main pillars: SEO, readability, tone of voice, and originality. You can use it via Google Docs, WordPress, or Microsoft Word add-ons or use it directly in the Semrush interface.
- ContentShake: This AI writing tool helps you find content ideas, write articles faster with AI and competitive data, optimize them, and publish directly to your blog.
You are now ready to set out on the path to becoming a better writer and boosting your writing skills. This road has been walked by many.
You are alongside business writers, creative writing students, English literature professors, as well as war reporters, and philosophers.
Reading and writing every day and building a strong relationship between writer and editor will give you all the tools you need to start producing excellent content.
Don’t be too hard on yourself as you get started. In time, you will surely look back on some of your earlier efforts with a wry smile as you see how far you have come.
Time to get typing.