Content writing isn’t just an option for businesses striving to thrive online — it’s a necessity. High-quality content grabs attention, engages audiences, boosts SEO, and ultimately drives conversions.
For beginners getting started in content creation, the process can be challenging, to say the least. But fear not! Whether you’re an aspiring content writer, a budding blogger, or a marketer eager to build your skills, this guide is your shortcut to success.
These actionable content writing tips for beginners can help you improve your writing and better understand what content writing is about. Let’s dive in and unlock the secrets to content writing mastery.
What Is Content Writing?
Content writing is the process of planning, writing, and editing website content. It includes blog posts and articles, scripts for videos and podcasts, and content for specific platforms such as Facebook or Reddit.
The main goal of content writing is to create useful or entertaining content that meets the needs and interests of a particular target audience. It often involves a strategic approach to resolving readers’ problems (their “pain points”) or helping them reach goals. From the business side, the content supports specific objectives, such as
- Increasing brand awareness.
- Establishing credibility and industry leadership.
- Engaging with customers.
- Improving search engine rankings.
- Growing website traffic.
- Generating leads.
- Encouraging interest in products or services.
Who Writes Content?
Content writers have diverse backgrounds. They typically (but not always) have a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communication, public relations, or marketing. Some content writers specialize in the field they studied, such as psychology or software engineering.
Do You Need a College Degree for Content Writing?
You don’t need a college degree to write content. You can take courses — Cornell offers a certificate in content writing — but experience is the main way to learn content writing. Some companies, like Hubspot Academy, offer free courses in content marketing, SEO, content strategy, and other courses that any content writer can benefit from.
In addition to excellent writing skills and the ability to edit and proofread your work, content writers need:
- Research skills.
- Marketing knowledge.
- Time management skills.
- Social media familiarity.
- SEO knowledge.
- Professional communication skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
When content writers work as part of a content marketing team, they interact with editors, managers, marketers, and designers. They might write blog posts, website content, product descriptions, email campaigns, social media posts, and other types of content.
How Do Freelance Content Writers Find Work?
Freelance content writers find work in several ways:
- Self-promotion, whether online or local: You can offer services on social media or your website and apply to freelance and remote positions listed on LinkedIn and job boards, such as the ProBlogger Job Board. Experienced freelancers can contact specific companies that look like a good fit.
- Leveraging freelance hiring sites: Sites such as Upwork and Fiverr offer many possibilities.
- Working with content management platforms: Companies such as Scripted or Contently pair their client companies with experienced content writers.
Keep in mind that content writing is not intended to sell products or services, at least not directly. That’s copywriting. Content writing is about telling a story that connects with your audience, provides them with knowledge or solutions, and helps establish relationships based on trust and value.
What’s the Difference Between Content Writing and Other Types of Writing?
Content writing often shares similarities with other types of writing. However, content writing has a unique purpose and style. Let’s take a look.
- Purpose: Educates, informs, or entertains with a strong focus on meeting the needs and interests of a specific audience.
- SEO: Uses search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to improve visibility and rank high in search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Formats: Includes blog posts, articles, website content, product descriptions, social media posts, email newsletters, and more.
- Tone and Style: Incorporates a friendly, conversational tone that can vary depending on the target audience and brand voice.
- Purpose: Informs or argues specific points within academic disciplines and follows strict formatting and stylistic guidelines. The focus is on contributing knowledge to the field.
- Research: Relies on cited evidence, primary research, and academic sources to support claims and arguments.
- Formats: Includes essays, research papers, theses, dissertations, and scholarly journal articles.
- Tone and Style: Formal, impersonal, and focused on objectivity and clarity.
- Purpose: Entertains and evokes emotions in personal or imaginative stories.
- Creativity: Emphasizes narrative craft, character development, and plot. Allows a wide range of creative freedom and stylistic choices.
- Formats: Includes novels, short stories, poetry, scripts, and other literary forms.
- Tone and Style: Varies widely, allowing for personal voice, artistic expression, and experimental approaches to language and structure.
- Purpose: Explains complex information clearly and accurately and often helps people understand and use a product or service.
- Clarity and accuracy: Focuses on precise facts and avoids jargon unless it’s appropriate for the audience.
- Formats: Includes user manuals, how-to guides, FAQs, and white papers.
- Tone and Style: Impersonal and objective, prioritizing clear, straightforward communication over flair, creativity, or persuasion.
- Purpose: Aims to inform and educate the public about news, events, issues, and trends backed by accurate, unbiased information.
- Research and verification: Emphasizes rigorous fact-checking, reliance on primary sources, and ethical reporting.
- Formats: Includes online articles, news reports, investigative journalism, feature stories, interviews, and documentaries, plus audio, video, and interactive elements.
- Tone and Style: Adopts a formal, objective tone, though the style can vary. Clarity, conciseness, and objectivity are prized, along with fairness, accuracy, independence, and accountability.
- Purpose: Designed to persuade readers to take specific action, such as making a purchase or subscribing to a list.
- SEO: Keywords are strategically used to rank well in search engines and appeal to the target audience’s interests.
- Formats: Typical in product and service descriptions, ad copy, email campaigns, sales letters, landing pages, and social media ads. Compelling calls to action (CTAs) are central.
- Tone and Style: Varies to match the brand’s voice and target audience’s psychological triggers. Uses persuasive language and emotional appeal to create urgency, desire, or need.
Understanding the differences between types of writing helps you understand what content writing is — and what it isn’t.
Content writing is a unique blend of creativity, strategy, and audience engagement. It’s distinctly different from the more rigid, academic focus of scholarly writing, the imagination involved in creative writing, the instructional nature of technical writing, the timeliness of journalism, and the persuasion of copywriting.
How to Get Started with Content Writing
Ask yourself a couple of questions: Who are you writing for? What do you hope to achieve?
As a content writer, identifying and understanding your audience is essential. And setting goals is critical, whether they’re routine daily or weekly tasks or work stages in long-range plans.
Know Your Audience
Before you start typing away, figure out who should ideally be reading your words. These are the people you want to help or provide information for. They’re also the readers who help you reach your goals, whether your business (or client’s business) sells a product, offers a service, or both.
Your target audience shapes everything from the tone of your writing to the topics you choose and how you approach them.
How Do You Figure Out Who Your Audience Is?
Start simple. Think about a niche you’re interested in or the topic you want to write about.
Let’s say you’re passionate about eco-friendly living. With a little research, you discover that self-described high-income millennial and Gen Z consumers are most interested in reducing their environmental footprint. Other studies suggest Gen X consumers are far more likely than Gen Zers to make eco-conscious decisions. You’d need to dig deeper, but that’s a start in identifying your target audience.
Consider questions they might have, problems they need to solve, or information that could enrich their lives. Are they looking for tips on recycling, reducing energy consumption, or eco-friendly home renovations?
Take some time to review content in the niche, do some social media listening, and read blog post comments. Use your imagination to discover your potential audience.
- Why are they interested in the subject?
- How do they feel about it?
- What’s the best platform and approach to connect with them?
- What other interests do they have?
- Where do they live, what do they read, and how do they talk?
Adjust your writing tone and style for your audience. For example, if your client sells custom t-shirts to college students who use skateboards to get around, a formal business writing style won’t work. On the other hand, if your client offers software training, and the target audience is business professionals, using skater slang in their content might mean you’re out of a gig. Match your style to the audience.
Set Clear Objectives
Whether your reasons for writing content are personal, freelance, or professional (i.e., it’s part of your job description), you need to set goals.
If you’re establishing your own website and blog, your immediate goal should be to build a loyal readership base and increase engagement through informative, useful content.
As a freelancer, you might want to attract clients in specific industries or master various writing styles to broaden your marketability.
If writing content is part of your job, it must be aligned with your company’s branding, meet marketing goals, and engage the target audience effectively.
Start with specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals.
For your own blog, a SMART goal might be to publish a weekly high-quality post that addresses key topics in your niche and grows your subscriber list by 10% each month.
As a freelancer, your goal could be posting monthly articles in different content formats to diversify your offerings. You might publish on your own blog or a platform like Medium.
Professionally, you might want to increase web traffic to your company’s site by 15% within a certain time period through consistent, SEO-optimized content creation.
Each goal has its own steps. Break them down into easy-to-complete tasks or mini-goals so the big goals aren’t overwhelming.
By defining what success looks like for you, you can tailor your content strategy to meet your objectives. That way, your efforts will be focused and effective.
Key Elements of Effective Content Writing
Great content writing takes many forms, and what qualifies as good writing is often in the eye of the reader — even if they don’t know why they love it and want more.
But all high-quality content writing shares certain qualities. Here are some tips:
Quality Over Quantity: Focus on Delivering Value
Content writing is rated on value. Most readers will overlook minor writing problems (if they even notice them) or less-than-stellar content if the piece delivers value.
But what makes content valuable?
Value means reliable facts, unique insights, and accuracy in every piece you write. Instead of churning out content just to fill your blog, take the time to craft each piece with care and intention.
Ask yourself, “Will this help, inform, or entertain my reader?” Use examples, stories, and data to enrich your content and make it stand out.
Remember, a single, powerful article that solves reader problems can do more for your audience (and your credibility) than a dozen fluffy filler posts.
Clarity and Conciseness: Keep Your Writing Clear and to the Point
The key to effective content writing lies in its clarity and conciseness. Your readers want information that’s easy to read, understand, and act upon.
So how do you write quality content if you don’t know where to begin?
- Start with a clear outline with manageable sections.
- Use simple language and short-ish sentences to convey your ideas.
- Vary your sentence length and structure to create a rhythm that mimics natural conversation.
- Avoid jargon and complex terms unless absolutely necessary, and always define them when you do.
- Use bullet points, lists, and subheadings to break up the text and guide readers.
- Always edit and revise your draft, removing any fluff that doesn’t add value to your message.
By writing clear, concise, and conversational content, you respect your reader’s time and make your content easier to read and understand.
Engaging and Relevant: How to Keep Your Readers Interested
To maintain reader interest, your content must be interesting and relevant to their needs. Here’s how:
- Start with an attention-grabbing headline.
- Use an active voice (more on that below) to make your writing more dynamic and direct.
- Incorporate real-life examples, case studies, or anecdotes to illustrate your points.
- Ask questions to encourage readers to think about how the information applies to their own situations.
- Include visual elements like images, videos, or infographics to complement your text and break up long sections of content.
- Always conclude with a strong closing statement or call to action (CTA) that encourages further engagement, whether it’s commenting, sharing, or reading another piece of content.
If your content doesn’t grab readers’ interest and hold it, they won’t read. It’s that simple.
SEO Basics: Introduction to SEO and Importance in Content Writing
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, means optimizing your content to make it more visible and rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
It gets complicated, but most content writers need to focus on just a few key basics:
Start with keyword research: Learn what terms your audience uses to search for information related to your content. Include these keywords naturally in your title, headings, and throughout the content.
Clients sometimes provide the keywords they want you to use. They might also ask you to use SEO tools like Surfer or Clearscope. Knowing how to use keywords effectively and being familiar with various tools can give you an advantage.
Be sure your content is well-structured: Use clear subheadings, header tags, and short paragraphs. This helps search engines understand your content and also improves readability for your audience.
Pay attention to meta descriptions and title tags: These SEO elements directly influence click-through rates from search results. Simple, consistent efforts in SEO can significantly enhance your content’s discoverability and reach.
Content Writing Techniques and Best Practices
Entire books have been written on writing techniques and the best way to write content. The thing is, the best content writing styles depend a lot on your audience. How do they talk? What do they talk about? What slang or buzzwords do your readers use? Take your cue from your readers — snoop around in blog post comments and social media — and write in their language.
Here are four tips for effective content writing:
Create a Compelling Headline: Tips for Crafting Headlines That Grab Attention
A headline is your first (and sometimes only) chance to grab a reader’s attention. Make it count by being clear, concise, and compelling.
Start by clearly communicating the value or unique insight your content offers. Use strong, active verbs and language that speaks directly to the reader’s interests or needs. Incorporating numbers, such as 5 Ways to [achieve something] or Top 10 Tips for [topic] create catchy headlines because they promise specific, organized information.
Question headlines can be effective by piquing curiosity or addressing a common problem your audience faces.
Other headline styles include the surprising benefits of [something], the shocking truth about [something], discover the secret [to something], the most common mistakes in [topic], and many more.
“Achieve X by this doing this one weird thing” has been all over the place in the last year or two. Headline styles trend because they work, but they lose value quickly due to saturation. Start your own trend or stick with the tried and true.
Have you tried ChatGPT for headline ideas?
The Art of the Introduction: How to Start Your Content to Hook Readers
Your introduction sets the stage for your entire piece, so start strong. Begin with a statement or question that directly relates to your reader’s pain points, interests, or curiosities. This creates an immediate connection and signals that your content has the answers they’re looking for.
Briefly outline what the reader can expect to learn or how they will benefit from reading further. Keep it concise; the goal is to tease the value of your content without overwhelming the reader with too much information upfront.
Here are a few ideas for good introductions:
- Start with a surprising statistic or fact.
- Use a provocative quote.
- Pose a hypothetical scenario.
- Describe a common pain point or problem you’ll solve.
- Highlight a recent trend or news.
- Ask a series of questions.
- Use vivid imagery or description.
- Create intrigue with a bold statement.
- Tell a relatable story.
Using a friendly, approachable tone makes your reader feel welcome and eager to continue reading.
Storytelling: Use Stories to Connect with Your Audience
Incorporating storytelling into your content writing can enhance its impact and relatability. Stories have the power to evoke emotions and make your message more memorable.
Start by identifying a relatable scenario or challenge that your audience faces. Use a real-life example, a customer testimonial, or a hypothetical situation that illustrates your point. As an example, let’s say you’re writing a blog post for a veterinary clinic.
After brushing my dog, I saw a few dark specks on my white sweatpants. I flicked them off, thinking they were just bits of dirt he had shaken off. An hour later the specks were back. You guessed it. Fleas! Read on to learn how to get rid of fleas on dogs and prevent infestation.
Make sure the story aligns with the overall message, the lesson you’re conveying, or the information you’re providing. Use vivid details to bring your story to life but keep it concise to maintain focus and relevance. By weaving stories into your content, you create a more engaging, immersive experience for your readers.
Active Voice Over Passive: Why It Works Better in Content Writing
Using the active instead of passive voice in writing makes your sentences clearer and more engaging. There’s just a little more zing, a little more excitement.
In the active voice, the subject performs the action, making the sentence direct and straightforward:
The horse threw the rider.
In passive voice, the object of the action is the subject or focus of the sentence.
The rider was thrown by the horse.
Do you see the difference? Why make the horse a secondary focus when the horse, in the reader’s imagination, is bucking and kicking wildly, teeth bared, tail flying, foam spewing from his mouth? The rider isn’t performing the action — the horse is.
In addition, sentences in the active voice tend to be shorter and more concise. The passive voice makes sentences wordy because, well, the passive voice requires more words.
Active: The boy threw the ball to the dog.
Passive: The ball was thrown by the boy to the dog.
Why focus on the ball? It’s just an inanimate object, unless you’re writing sci-fi or paranormal fiction that features sentient balls.
Here’s a tip: Passive voice typically uses a form of the verb “to be”: am, are, is, was, were, being, been, be. The preposition “by,” as in by the boy or by the horse, is another sign of passive voice.
To revise in the active voice, focus on the actor — the doer of the action — and position them at the beginning. It improves readability and makes your writing more authoritative.
It’s tricky and hard to spot passive voice sometimes, that’s for sure. And occasionally, passive voice is the best choice. But if you habitually check your drafts for passive constructions and revise as needed, you’ll soon be a pro. Grammarly is a big help! Expresso is helpful, too.
Editing and Refining Your Content
Editing isn’t just about correcting typos. It’s a critical part of content creation that impacts quality. By reviewing and revising your text, you can improve clarity, coherence, and readability. In fact, very few writers produce high-quality, substantive content with the first draft. If they do, they’re counting on an editor to take care of the details.
The editing process allows you to refine your ideas, ensure consistent tone and style, and eliminate errors or ambiguities. It’s also an opportunity to cut redundant words, restructure awkward sentences, and ensure your content aligns with the audience’s needs and expectations.
Editing also includes checking grammar — sometimes it’s tricky, even for experienced editors. Remember: If in doubt, look it up, or throw it out and start over. And don’t forget punctuation.
To effectively edit your work, take a break after writing — a few days is ideal, but a couple of hours can help, too. Then return with fresh eyes.
You can also try reading your content out loud to catch issues you might overlook while reading silently.
No matter what you start with, editing is your path to transforming a rough draft into good writing and great content.
Grammar and Style Tools: Recommended Tools to Help Refine Your Writing
Writing and editing tools can make the editing process more efficient and effective. Here are a few options:
- Grammarly: Offers comprehensive writing feedback, covering everything from basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation to style and tone. It’s great at catching passive sentence construction. The free version of Grammarly helps, but Grammarly Premium offers much more.
- Hemingway Editor: Hemingway is free and helps simplify and strengthen your writing by highlighting “hard to read” sentences, passive voice, and adverbs. It also evaluates readability (grade 7-9 is usually best for online content).
- OutWrite: OutWrite does a fabulous job of highlighting wordiness and providing options. As an editor, it may save me from carpal tunnel syndrome. With just one click, make use of becomes use and the overall cost becomes the cost. NOTE: Punctuation suggestions are Australian/UK regardless of the language setting.
- ProWritingAid: ProWritingAid gives you a detailed analyses of your writing, offering suggestions on grammar, style, readability, and even overused words. It’s ideal for in-depth editing. Try the free grammar checker.
- Expresso: This free tool will pick your writing to pieces and make you a much better writer. Expresso requires some effort because it doesn’t autocorrect, and you might have to figure out a lot on your own. But it gives you everything you need to improve your content writing and learn a lot while you’re at it.
These tools help improve your content but should complement, not replace, a thorough manual review. Each tool has its strengths, so consider your specific needs when choosing which to use.
Feedback: Getting and Using Feedback to Improve Your Content Writing
Feedback — human feedback — is an invaluable part of the content creation process that can significantly improve your writing. It provides insights into how your audience might perceive your content and can highlight areas for improvement that you or a tool might not see.
Share your drafts with friends or a writing group and ask for constructive feedback. Look for people who represent your target audience (or can pretend). Other content writers are ideal.
The trick is being open to constructive criticism. It’s natural to feel defensive, but with practice, you get over it. Evaluate responses carefully and focus on the suggestions that align with your goals and audience needs.
Remember, feedback can help you refine your ideas and strengthen your writing. It’s not meant to compromise your voice or message. It can help you improve and produce content that resonates more deeply with your readers.
Staying Motivated and Overcoming Challenges
If don’t have external motivation to write, you might rely on internal motivation. Also called extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, people are motivated to perform tasks or take part in activities for two main reasons:
External motivation: You might write for external rewards, such as recognition or money. You might also write to avoid punishment: As a freelance content writer, you might not feel like writing sometimes, but you do it anyway to avoid hunger or homelessness or, at least, to avoid upset clients.
Internal motivation: You write because you enjoy it. Even if nobody reads your words, writing gives you a sense of satisfaction. You might offer advice or instruction on your blog without pay or monetization just because you enjoy helping people and learning more about your niche.
Most writers write for a combination of reasons. You might write for intrinsic rewards (satisfaction, enjoyment), but you also write for extrinsic rewards (income, praise).
What if you don’t have any external motivation — yet — to write content, and your internal motivation isn’t lighting a spark?
You have to create goals that motivate you. Devise reasons to write and your own rewards. Try to make writing a habit and celebrate milestones.
Here are some reasons to write daily.
- Clarify your thinking.
- Improve your writing.
- Practice writing for a specific audience.
- Generate ideas.
- Build an audience if you write online.
A consistent writing habit over time will improve your writing so you can reap external rewards later.
Overcoming Writer’s Block: Tips for Keeping the Words Flowing
Writer’s block is a common challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. For many content writers, maintaining a regular writing schedule and adhering to deadlines means writer’s block isn’t allowed: you just do it. Your first draft might be lousy, but you know you can polish it during editing and revision.
Plus, content writing isn’t like creative writing, as in writing a novel. As a content writer, you know what you have to write about, at least in general. After research and some brainstorming, you can create an outline and take it from there with tricks and techniques.
Fiction writers don’t have the same tools because they’re writing from their imaginations, for the most part. They might struggle with how a character would react in a certain situation or what he would he say. What his body language might be, what happens next, and should they kill him off or lock him up.
Content writers deal with facts, but you can still hit a wall. Sometimes, your brain just doesn’t want to work. But what can you do?
Research and Read
Even if you know the subject, do some research, learn more, and go deep. Read the latest authoritative articles to get ideas and learn what’s new. Take notes and consider what hasn’t been covered out of all possible angles or what subtopic hasn’t been discussed in depth. Exciting new information gives your brain something to work with instead of the same ol’, same ol’.
Set Small Goals
A big project like a lead magnet (opt-in incentive) or ebook can be overwhelming. Break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. You could create a mini outline that covers the necessary topics for sections or chapters. Then, write a rough paragraph or just a few sentences for each topic, one at a time. Later, return to each section and develop it. Small victories can build momentum and lead to progress.
Clear Your Mind
If you’re wrestling with life or work challenges, your mind could be buzzing. Emotions might be in overdrive, and focusing on writing is tough. Try clearing your mind by de-cluttering your desk or the room you work in. A physical warm-up can help, even if it’s just some slow, relaxed stretches. Try deep breathing, noise-canceling headphones, or soft, ambient music that helps you relax and concentrate at the same time.
Create a writing environment that encourages focus and minimizes distractions. Turn off your phone or notifications, disable internet access, or use apps that block social media. Close the door, and if you work from home, request no disturbances from family members, roommates, or pets (although the latter may be impossible). A focused environment helps direct your mental energy toward your writing.
Content writing can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. As a freelance content writer and editor, I know it requires dedication, perseverance, and plenty of hard work. The key to success, though, is a willingness to learn. You can do it!
Meanwhile, don’t forget to grab the free Simple Writing Writer’s Guide. Brush up on your punctuation and grammar as part of your journey to success in content writing! (Scroll up and you’ll see the form on the right.)