Adam Fisher
15th January 2019 - 6 mins read
B

ut it is not just those in content marketing who face the pressure of having to write quality content on demand.

Journalists have to create attention grabbing-content every day.

So what skills can we steal from them to make our content better?

 

Keep it simple

One of the lessons I learned as a young journalist which really stuck with me was the need to keep my writing simple.

Good newspaper articles are concise, contain simple language and use basic sentence structures.

The simpler an article is to read the more people will be able to understand what it is saying. The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

And this is pertinent to content marketing.

All too often organisations inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and detracts from the message.

Let’s take something I saw from Lloyds Banks just before I settled down to write this blog. It was a quote in a document from chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio.

It said: “Our differentiated, customer focussed business model continues to deliver with our multi brand, multi-channel approach, cost leadership, low risk positioning, investment capacity and execution capabilities positioning us well for sustainable success in a digital world.”

There is so much about that sentence I don’t like. But the key issue is that no matter how often I read it, it does not make sense. And that is a real problem. If people don’t understand the content you produce they won’t stick with it.

So lose the big words, keep the sentences tight.

 

Write how you talk

This follows on quite nicely from the importance of keeping writing simple, because one of the best ways to do that is to focus on using the same language you use when you speak.

If I’m struggling to write something I think about how I would say it.

The other benefit of this approach is that it creates a chatty, informal style and natural flow – something journalists strive for in their stories.

To help achieve this, grammar rules sometimes go out of the window. For example, sentences can often start with ‘and’.

 

Research

In many cases, for journalists, the writing is actually the shortest part of the process of putting a story together.

Reporters spend lots of time gathering, looking at and assessing the validity of information in search of a story. This could be sourcing facts and figures, studying data and interviewing experts.

The more research you put into your content the more it will tell your readers things they don’t already know.

And that is a crucial way of ensuring it will stand out from all the other content which is available. 

 

Interview

Here’s a question. How many blogs do you see which include comments from a real person? How many newspaper stories do you see that don’t feature people?

One of the key differences between content and newspaper stories is that the stories always feature people.

And people are predominantly brought into stories through interviews.

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different, as well as breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas.

A journalist’s contacts book is something they rely on heavily. Look through your contacts and consider who you could interview for your content.

You can find out more about using interviews in your content in this earlier blog.

 

Human

The way we consume stories and content has changed. Newspaper sales are in decline and people increasingly rely on social media and the internet to find out what is going on in the world.

But despite this evolution there is a constant – people still want stories about other people.

Human interest stories remain as powerful as ever, which is why ‘how does this affect people?’ is still the phrase you will hear most often in a newsroom.

And it is a key in producing content which draws in readers and keeps them engaged.

 

Inverted pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a writing model used by journalists to show how stories should be structured so that they get the most attention.

Essentially it shows that the most newsworthy part should be at the beginning. So; who, what, where, when, why and how are the questions journalists will look to answer in their opening paragraphs.

The next stage of the inverted pyramid structure is the important details and supporting information, including quotes and statistics. And the pyramid base is the general and background information.

The beauty of this structure is its simplicity which ensures stories are easy to follow for readers. If people can’t follow what you are writing then they quickly lose interest.

The only change to this structure for a content marketing point of view is that the last part of the pyramid should include some form of a call to action.

 

Focus on what’s new

If you consider what makes something newsworthy, then timeliness or topicality would be one of the crucial components.

We want to know the latest news and the latest trends. We are not interested in a rehash of something we already know.

So, look to bring your readers something new. Perhaps some new insight or a new way of looking at things. Or look to use topics that people are currently talking about to show how your product or service could have made a difference.

 

Thesaurus

A thesaurus can be a valuable tool for a journalist, but it’s one that comes with a note of caution.

A good reporter will use it to avoid annoying repetition in their writing, by finding alternative words.

But it is crucial it is not used to find more complicated words to make your writing appear more intelligent.

As a content marketer you are writing to inform and generate interest. But that will not happen if the audience does not understand the words you use.

 

Edit

Always ask yourself whether you could say the same thing in your writing without using as many words.

Journalists look to make their copy as tight as possible and similarly, you should look to edit your own content without fear.

This doesn’t mean you should always produce short-form content. It is about ensuring the words you use are the most effective. For example, the word ‘very’ often isn’t needed. ‘Many’ is tighter than ‘a lot of’.

I don’t think I have ever seen a journalist read their writing aloud in the newsroom, but if you can find somewhere quiet this is a good tip. If you find yourself falling over your words and struggling for breath then you need to simplify and rework your sentences. 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Marketing

Why simplicity is vital to content marketing

Adam Fisher 2nd February 2018 — 5 mins read
W

e can probably all recall investing time to read something that grabbed our attention with an enticing headline, only to find it was convoluted and tricky to follow.

Perhaps it is the quest to create something original and valuable that drives organisations to inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and distractions from the main message.

Maybe it is a fear that they will not be seen as an expert in their field that leads them on a path to complicated language and clunky phrasing.

Whatever the reason, it is hugely frustrating for both the reader and the author. Ultimately, if people can’t understand what you are trying to say they also won’t know how you expect them to act.

But this situation is solvable.

Simplicity is the key to understanding and therefore should be the foundation of all written content.

Newspapers and journalists know this.

The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

The Sun has a reading age of eight, while the more highbrow Guardian has a reading age of 14. That doesn’t mean they think their readers lack intelligence, it means they know where to set their writing so that the vast majority of readers can understand it.

But how do you make your content simple to understand while still producing something valuable?


Lose the big words

The important thing to remember about your content is that you are not producing it to impress your colleagues with your vocabulary.

And very few of us have time to reach for the dictionary when we’re reading. Invariably if we can’t follow what is being said we quickly give up and disregard that content altogether.

This means that when producing content we should always think twice about the more decorative words we could use and consider if there are simpler alternatives. For example, use ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’ and ‘near’ instead of ‘close proximity’.


Short sentences and paragraphs

One of the first lessons drilled into any young journalist is the importance of using short sentences.

At the start of my career I was told to keep mine between 20 and 30 words long and it is something I try to stick to now, 20 years later.

The reason is that long sentences and those with multiple clauses invite unnecessary complexity.

Similarly, long paragraphs can be daunting for readers and cause them to switch-off and lose interest.

Again if you look at a newspaper or magazine, very rarely will you find paragraphs consisting of more than one sentence.


Avoid the jargon

A regular frustration with much written content is that organisations often fall back on jargon to explain what they do and the messages they are trying to get across.

The problem is that often these words and phrases mean little to people outside that industry or particular company – instantly turning off readers.

But use of jargon in content also suggests that you don’t know the subject perhaps as well as you should or think you do. Remember the famous Albert Einstein quote - “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

It also implies that you have nothing new to say to the reader (in which case why should they read on?).


Stick to everyday language

The key with written content, even with the more formal style used in whitepapers, is to use the language that you and your readers would use in everyday conversation.

When I’m writing content I try to use the language I would use if I was explaining the point to a friend or family member in a pub or café – just without the swearing.


Reading out loud

One of the tricks I use to test the simplicity of my own content is to read it aloud. Sure, it generates some funny looks in the office, but it’s a good way of identifying words, phrases and sentences which may be confusing.

If I stumble over parts of it, or find myself having to reread certain paragraphs, then it is fair to assume my content isn’t as straightforward as I intended.


Test the readability of your content

There are easy to use tools you can use to test the simplicity and readability of your content. Word offers two useful measurements.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.



As you can see, in the above image my reading ease is 60.3 and my grade level is 9.7, meaning a 14-15 year old should be able to understand it. It’s also worth highlighting that the average length of a sentence in this post is under 20 words.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

Simplicity is a very effective content marketing strategy. It is not about dumbing down or insulting the intelligence of your readers.

It is about ensuring your content is easy to understand for as many people as possible. And that takes skill. But, it is well worth it.

Steve Jobs famously once said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”



At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Mark Mars
3rd October 2017 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.