[Ed: Nicole is one of our freelance writers. She did a lot of agency work before, creating online marketing strategies for clients, until she decided that what she really wants to do is to write. Say hello to Nicole!]
In the movie Ratatouille (2007), Auguste Gusteau, a well-loved chef, said that “Anyone can cook.” A lot of people didn’t agree with him (one even said, “Well, anyone can, but that doesn’t mean anyone should”), especially the renowned food critic, Anton Ego. Later, however, a measly cook and a rat prepared a delicious dish of ratatouille for Ego, and even he concluded that while not everyone can become a great cook, a great cook can come from anywhere.
The same can be said about writers. With the rise of blogs and social media platforms, everyone can become a content writer these days — and a great content writer can come from anywhere in the world.
Wherever you may be coming from as a writer, here are four qualities that we should all aspire to have or become.
1. Great content creators are great at research.
Great content writers are ferocious researchers, a quality brought about by a writer’s inquisitive mind. They are able to find all the important information, statistics, insights and other inputs relevant to the topic at hand.
They know that good writing is grounded in data and history, because these are the things that add context and credibility to their work. Great writers understand that if they are going to tell their readers what they think, they need to give them a good reason to believe it.
2. Great content creators serve the reader.
Writing teacher Don Murray puts this in a good perspective: “The reader doesn’t turn the page because of a hunger to applaud.” Great content writers are not self-indulgent and are all about giving their audience valuable information.
Here is also a piece of gem from renowned author, George Orwell, on how writers can better serve readers:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
3. Great content creators use words with clarity and simplicity.
This is how novelist Mary Gaitskill expressed clarity:
Writing is in some way being able to sit down the next day and go through everything you wanted to say, finding the right words, giving shape to the images, and linking them to feelings and thoughts. It isn’t exactly like a social conversation because you aren’t giving information in the usual sense of the word or flirting or persuading anyone of anything or proving a point; it’s more that you are revealing something whole in the form of a character, a city, a moment, an image seen in a flash out of a character’s eyes.
On the surface this sounds only applicable to fiction writing, but it is actually sound advice for any kind of writing. Great written content can drive a point and persuade the reader using words alone.
Good content writers are also capable of using words to make concepts simpler. Whether it’s a complex business model or a technical scientific, writers can translate them in text that even laymen can understand.
The style guide of The Economist also takes clarity and simplicity quite seriously: “The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.”
4. Great content creators are big readers.
In numerous occasions, Song of Ice and Fire (the book series from which HBO’s Game of Thrones was based on) author George R.R. Martin said that J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings had “an enormous influence” on him and the way he wrote his books.
Can you imagine if Martin did not read LOTR? What would’ve become of Game of Thrones? Would we even have the epic books and TV show written the way they are now? Probably, but I doubt it.
Similarly, anyone who writes but does not spend a lot of time reading won’t have the material of someone who does. Reading other people’s words help writers grasp of the art of language, inspire them to write more (and better), and overcome any plateaus and roadblocks during the writing process.
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Whether you are writing content for a company website's Inbound Marketing, your personal blog or a client’s Facebook Page, I hope you’ll keep these four points in mind and write your way towards becoming a great one.
What other qualities do you think great content writers have? Sound off in the comments below.