When you create a piece of content it helps if you think about it as a story. It’s an opportunity for you to talk directly to your target audience. So, it needs to be recognised by them, and relevant to enable you to deliver your message.
The story element is important. Your content needs to move the reader seamlessly through the piece, to get to the end without realising. Structuring your content in a way that flows naturally for the reader is vital.
Here’s an example of storytelling. It’s an advert for Sky Atlantic. They produce some exceptional, binge-worthy and edgy programmes. This is a really short piece that encapsulates what a story can deliver.
Create an order for your information
Research is the starting point for any new piece of content. You will gather a lot of information. It’s a good idea not to start writing straight away. Let your mind pick over the elements and sort through the details. Then come back to the topic and start to structure.
Keep the framework simple with a beginning, middle and end. Much the same as a good story. But – remember you need to write with a purpose.
Start by setting the scene. Don’t make your reader work their way through a long-winded introduction. Make it relevant to your headline. Expand on your topic with a glimpse of what’s to come.
It is important for you to front-load information. If you read a novel, the opening chapter is crucial to the rest of the book. The author might give a critical piece of information away or throw you into a tense situation from the start.
That’s not to say you tell the whole story in the opening paragraphs. You keep adding value throughout the piece. And don’t save the best to last because – guess what, your audience may not get that far!
Be focused on your content
Themes will emerge as you research your topic. Decide on the three or four key messages you want to focus your piece around and start to build your story. It’s a lot easier to group your content around these areas.
Challenge yourself to keep the information relevant. You’ll have gathered a lot of detail but stick to the elements that build your story. If it doesn’t add any value then do not use it. It’s very similar to editing, you have to remain focussed.
You may find yourself going down a route that takes you away from your theme. It’s good to recognise this. And don’t be afraid to take it out. This could be the start of another piece of content which dovetails nicely with what you’re writing.
And it’s not about word count. Don’t fall into the trap of padding out a piece of content because you’ve been tasked with writing a certain number of words.
Let the story flow and come to a natural conclusion. If you have structured your piece right, you will have more than enough words.
Build a rhythm into your writing
Headings and sub-headings act as your pointers. These help with your structure and provide clues to your audience on what they can expect from your content.
Your heading should summarise the whole piece, while the sub-headings work as different entry points. These are designed to pick up skim readers with several opportunities to engage with your content. They are markers in your story but not conducive to building rhythm.
Varying the length of your sentences is also key. This helps with the rhythm of your story. Reading it out loud is a good test for how it flows. If there is a sticking point, you will discover it. This provides you with a chance to reword and improve.
And sentences need to have an impact. Twenty words or less is a good benchmark. If you have to re-read a sentence to get the meaning, it is not working. Be clear, concise and relevant.
Paragraphs are also important to the flow. Work them together with your sentence structure and remember –
- Ideally two or three sentences each – depending on the length of your sentence
- Focus on one idea – several ideas together and you lose your audience
- Vary the length – looks more appealing to the reader
Your choice of words is just as important. If one word can deliver your message rather than several, go the shorter route. For example, ‘afford an opportunity’ could simply be ‘let’ or ‘allow’ and ‘referred to as’ becomes ‘called’.
One final thought. Think of telling your story as a one-to-one experience. You’re having a conversation with someone. This will ensure your content remains personal and relevant.