How to Write Things People Read
A checklist for writing good human-first content
What is authentic content?
Authentic content revolves around a series of things like strong ideas, how you frame them, the way knowledge is curated and shared, and the type of experiences readers can relate to.
When you create content that solves problems and inspires, content that caters to a clear target audience, you create a space where readers always want to return to.
But there's a trick. Exceptional content and loyal readership take time to build. That's why, when it comes to delivering content that connects and endures, laying the right foundations and being steadfast to your principles is crucial.
To do so, writing needs to revolve around exciting ideas and strong voices so you can create something that brings value.
As content increasingly becomes the norm in many organisations, storytelling is the key to keeping readers engaged and excited about what you have to say. In the end, what makes good stories lies in the creative quality that makes humans, well, human.
In a nutshell, how do you write good, authentic content?
- Find the why.
- Brainstorm the what.
- Research in-depth.
- Build the narrative.
- Share insights, ideas, experiences.
- Back it up with reliable sources and facts.
- Seek second opinions.
- Rewrite everything for clarity.
Lay the right foundations.
Marvin Swift memorably stated, "clear writing means clear thinking.” Focus on clarity.
Create content your readers care about, so they will always come back for more.
Take into account Zest CEO Yam Ragev's VAT framework - bring value, be authentic, stay transparent.
Tap on your acquired knowledge and first-hand experiences while aiming to develop skills and expertise in new areas.
Remember that seeking for the truth is more important than the desire to always be right.
Identify solutions to your audience's problems and share them in a way that's actionable, compelling, and inspirational.
A mix of rhetoric and facts, woven into the right story, will always keep minds engaged.
Refer to Aristotle's persuasive appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos revolves around convincing an audience of your credibility.
Logos is the use of logic and reason. Employ rhetorical devices such as analogies, examples, and citations of research or statistics.
Pathos appeals to emotion.
Start with why. Continue with what.
Distill complex topics into stories that are easy to read and understand.
Turn your ideas and experiences into delightful content through research and experimentation.
Capture the current reality and sentiments of your audience to show that you have experience and insights into their situation.
Frame an idea as a narrative to inform, illuminate, and inspire.
Share your story from a place of conviction and passion.
Show readers "what could be" as opposed to "what is" currently. Take Nancy Duarte's example of writing powerful stories using the same techniques as great storytellers.
First inform, then tell the story.
Look for behaviours that show a high level of intent.
Write an engaging and appealing story based on these elements: character, conflict, and resolution.
Begin your story by following the "Five Ws" and the "H". In journalism, the “Five ‘Ws” are “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.”
Don't write a story thinking it’ll cause someone to buy or sign up for something. Be genuine.
Convince your readers that your story is worth reading.
Reframe your intent. The idea behind a story should be: does it cause the reader to return and read your work again?
• Get feedback and ideas from stakeholders.
• Use an editorial calendar to plan quarterly or monthly content. This saves time and helps content stay on track with your overall strategic vision.
• Use persuasion techniques. One book that has the biggest impact in the field of persuasion is Robert Cialdini’s "Influence". In it, Cialdini introduces the 6 principles of influence that helps you persuade others. The 6 principles are reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
• We love Dave Gerhardt's (VP Marketing at Drift) content process and highly recommend it
Everything revolves around the core of your story.
Defining your central story is crucial to a great writing experience – but how do you actually tell that story? And how do you identify the core theme?
To identify the theme, use the following framework.
• Read every day. If Bill Gates can do it, so can you.
• Brainstorm to generate ideas. Browse articles, topics, and trends on platforms like Medium, Twitter, Google Trends. Do social listening. Need inspiration? Try techniques like mind-mapping, storyboarding, or word banks.
• Write down your ideas.
• Identify the "aha" or central theme of your story.
• Write your first draft.
• Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Strengthen your content’s credibility by quoting experts, citing sources, using testimonials and tapping on stakeholder knowledge.
Develop ethos by avoiding hyperbolic language, fancy jargon and promises that you can’t keep.
Be honest with your readership and deliver on your promises to build long-term value and trust.
Research everything. Choose quality over quantity. Fact-check for accuracy.
Identify story hooks. Give a teaser of your subtopics to make sure readers know what they are reading your story.
Be different - stand out from the crowd in a world overloaded with clickbait and shallow content.
Have a bold message - don't be afraid to share different points of view.
Reject the status quo - challenge ideas, opinions, and thoughts.
Be authentic - don’t create hooks that don't reflect reality.
Define your voice.
Choose to empower, educate, and delight. Kill your darlings.
Follow Aristotle’s three-part story structure (beginning, middle, end), to create a message that’s easy to digest, remember, and retell.
Write in a personal, conversational tone, though not at the cost of clarity or factualness. Don't be excessively formal nor too casual to express authority.
You can define your voice by determining what it should always and should never sound like.
Create your own guidelines by interviewing stakeholders or people you work with.
Follow the advice of the classic Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style: “It is always a good idea to re-read your writing and ruthlessly delete the excess.”
Really get to know your reader.
Know your readers inside out. You can only craft content that resonates strongly when you understand their world.
When you write, make sure it's always a human-to-human conversation. Use everyday words and phrases to earn trust and build confidence.
Make sure that people understand your intention and tone.
Being a better writer means you always have to write. It's the compounding effect that makes anyone just a bit better than they were a day before. Reading a lot matters. Getting inspired by experts helps.
We love to give credit to those who always inspire us and make our lives better through their work.
Thought leaders and companies we swear by:
Books we highly recommend:
What inspires us:
A list of articles we always go back to:
How to Improve Your Business Writing
The Ultimate Guide to Remarkable Content
How to Identify and Tell Your Most Powerful Stories
Why Opinions Aren’t Optional in Content Marketing
8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year
All Walk and No Talk? How to Grow Your Product’s Voice
Sincerely Yours: 8 Tips for Writing Like You Really Mean It