My Content Quality Standard

“Quality” is subjective. But there are some best practices I’ve learned to incorporate into my writing over the years that I use as a personal standard of excellence. I’ve added these best practices into the style guides of companies I’ve worked at, and thought it might also be helpful to also share them here for other content marketers.

Best Practices for Writing Quality Content

  • Write for the reader, not the brand. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and think about how they’d want to receive this information. Be empathetic. By serving the reader’s best interests, you’re serving your brand’s best interests.
  • Write like you’re talking to your friend. It’ll make the words flow easier. It’ll also make your writing sound more authentic. You can tighten it up during editing.
  • Use active voice.
    • Good: “Last quarter was a record-setting one for the company.”
    • Better: “The company posted a record quarter.”
  • Avoid jargon like the plague. It sounds pretentious and makes it harder for the reader to unpack the information. If you must use jargon, go out of your way to explain it.
  • Say what you need to say in as few words as possible and get out.
    • Good: “Our company’s purpose is to deliver business innovations at scale around the world.
    • Better: “Our company exists to deliver scalable business solutions globally.”
  • Show don’t tell. Instead of explaining a concept to the reader, give them an example.
  • Write narratively. Storytelling helps evoke emotion, which is the hallmark of good writing.
  • Grab the reader’s attention. Your lede is your first and only chance to keep the reader on the page. To do so, write narratively and show don’t tell.
    • Bad: “Customers love using our product.” (YAWN! DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING)
    • Good: “When [NAME OF CLIENT] sought out [NAME OF COMPANY], she wasn’t sure what to expect…” (SUSPENSE, TENSION!)
  • Write short sentences. They’re punchier, pithier, and liven up your writing.
  • 1 sentence = 1 thought: The moment you try cramming multiple thoughts into a single sentence, your copy becomes painful to read.
  • No more than two commas per sentence (and ideally only 1). The only exception is when you’re listing something out.
    • i.e. “The recipe required parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.” (yes, I like the Oxford comma).
  • Alternate sentence length. If you have to write a long sentence, follow it up with a short one. This can snap the reader back to attention.
  • Don’t repeat the same word in the same sentence. Furthermore, don’t start or end a sentence with the same word you used to start or end the previous sentence.
    • Bad: These brand guidelines will help us improve our brand perception.
    • Bad: Revenue surged in Q4. We exceeded our revenue targets by 30% in Q4.
  • Put the object before the action. It’s easier for the reader to comprehend.
    • Bad: “The project was directed (action) by the manager (object).”
    • Good: “The manager (object) directed (action) the project.”
  • Be aware of unconscious bias. Just because a phrase doesn’t raise a red flag for you, doesn’t it mean it won’t for somebody else.
  • Don’t be dramatic. Lots of writers use unnecessary emphasis. If your copy is well-written, the reader should be able to discern what’s most important.
    • Bad: “Our company is revolutionizing the organic dog food industry.” (OH YEAH? HOW?)
    • Good: “Our company is making organic dog food more accessible to a larger segment of the market.”
  • Reread your copy with fresh eyes. If time permits, step away from a draft and return to it several hours later. It’ll help you be a more objective editor.
  • Read your copy out loud. It can help you identify clunky wording and awkward sentences.
  • Edit ruthlessly. Aim to cut your word count in half.
  • Write with the company’s brand voice in mind. If your company doesn’t have a brand voice, get one.
    • Examples of brand voice characteristics:
      • Authoritative
      • Approachable
      • Subversive
      • Thought-provoking
  • Write with your company’s values in mind. If your company doesn’t have values, it probably won’t be around long.

I consider a piece of content I create to be of a high quality if it adheres to these guidelines. If it doesn’t, I don’t publish it.

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