Writing Better Content: What Journalism Can Teach Us

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I’m a big believer in the better my writing, the more value I bring to my work.


The better I can clearly and concisely tell a story, the better I can show the true quality of services for our clients.


Structure is one of the many ways I attempt to better my writing.


Structure is the cog that makes the writing machine work; It’s the blanket you wrap your readers with to make them feel safe. To me, writing is not only an art but a craft. It’s organizing thoughts better than the person next to you.


When you treat your writing like a craft, working on the nuts and bolts, you end up being more efficient, and in turn able to use the extra time to focus on the magic of writing. I say magic because writing, after all, is an incredibly difficult thing to do well and requires a little magic. Anybody who can move you emotionally with words on a regular basis is a magician in my mind.


One way we can capture some of that magic, and better our writing as copywriters and marketers is to take some lessons from our friends in journalism and use their structure to shape our stories:


The Inverted Pyramid – Also known as front loading, involves including all of the most important details which you will further explain over the course of the entire piece in the first paragraph. This technique comes in handy when writing online where your readers make their first impression of you and your work within seconds. The Inverted Pyramid also coincides with best practices for SEO, which is something we should all be thinking about when we write.


The Lede – it’s your piece’s first impression, it’s what keeps their attention. It’s the place in just a few seconds to convince the reader to stick around. John McPhee the American writer who is widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction is quoted as saying “the lede is a flashlight shining down into the story.” The lede is the guiding light to the rest of your story.


Nut Graf – Coming next is your “Nut Graf” or nutshell paragraph. This is the paragraph that tells readers what your story is about and why they should care. It provides an overview of information and why it’s important. This paragraph is integral when using the inverted pyramid structure I talked about earlier. When your story has multiple parts, your nut graf will act as an organization tool that lists the main elements of your story, a sort of short outline or roadmap to the piece you are writing.


Barnburner quote – Now if you are marketer you won’t always have a quote. But with any luck, you have a strong position and even stronger intent to your piece. This position or quote is your best stuff, the best prose, the best soundbite you have. This section supports the premise of your story. Immediately following the nut graf, it will solidify your position and make your reader want to know more of your story.


Endings – I enjoy a great ending to a story. One powerful way to do this is to bring back your lede that you used at the beginning of the blog and bring clear meaning that you have explained throughout the piece. It is often a little more inviting than just a summary closing. Another way is to provide next steps, as a clear call to action. After all, you more than likely want the reader to do something, just come out and ask them. No matter how you end your content, remember to end it in a way that benefits not only the piece you are writing but your readers as well.


Nope, I didn’t end the blog at “endings” way too predictable. Which leads me to the next section, where I tell you to throw everything I just said out the window. To me, rules are meant to be broken, or at the very least bent from time to time. Maybe you have a super long lede, and your inverted pyramid looks like a martini glass. Maybe your story follows a more chronological order instead of presenting the important facts first.


How you shape your story is entirely up to you, just remember that structure (not necessarily hard rules) is your friend, not your enemy. Compare this to other great artists in you need to master the rules before you set out to break them. This all comes together to create some of that magic and assist you to write better content.


I’m going to end this by letting one of my favorite videos, by one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, explain story structure, and the art of shaping stories. Enjoy.


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