I’d like to thank Daryl Anthony Chiu for his contribution to the “Challenges that Filipino Freelancers Face” series.
I’ve known him for years, and I can confidently say that he’s a natural when it comes to English communication.
Daryl’s topic will be a recurring theme in this blog: writing quality content.
Without further ado, let’s look at his work.
Disclaimer: The submission you’re about to read is in no way edited or modified by me. I want each contributor’s personal writing voice to shine. Why? Because I want them to work with clients who prefer their unique writing style. I also want to create more fleshed-out guides about each topic. So, stay tuned!
Challenge #2: Writing Quality Content
by Daryl Anthony Chiu
When I started freelance writing, the first question that immediately popped in my mind was the format or template of my write-ups.
Because let’s face it; we live in the digital age and as such, with an overload of information, not many have the time and/or the attention span to sit through reading paragraphs that look like huge walls of text.
It was at the time I was working with Romeo that he taught me practices on how to efficiently place a harmonious balance of text and relevant images that are simple, yet comprehensive.
1. First off is to start with a framework of your article, a skeleton if you will.
When you’re just starting off with your ideas, you need anchor statements. This can be as simple as:
- Introduction (discusses the context of the problem)
- Statements of the Problem (elaborate the main concerns)
- Action Plans (step-by-step solutions to the problem)
- Outro (leaving your calling card or encouraging discourse from your audience)
Now of course, these anchor statements change depending on the nature of the topic but the main premise must be there.
Avoid derailing too far from your main idea and if you must discuss ideas in tangent, do so within the context of your narrative in mind.
2. Keep it short and simple.
One rule of thumb in freelance writing is to keep your paragraphs within 2 sentences; 3 if you can’t help but discuss the intricacies of that concept or idea.
A good paragraph is short and visually pleasing, consisting of no more than 20 words per sentence; around 25 if you’re feeling frisky.
One more important thing to consider is when to break off paragraphs. This takes a bit of practice but when you can separate your ideas into bite-sized morsels, the spacing really helps the reader digest your narrative (pun not intended).
3. Word Diversity
Your anchor words will help establish your content for SEO (search engine optimization) but your script will need to supplement those key concepts.
Keeping the article interesting while staying true to your anchor words mean you have to add variety to your vocabulary.
While paragraph openers are admittedly formulaic, avoid repeated use of the same openers. This makes it look lazy and obnoxious and readers will be quick to notice such practices.
To remedy this, you may consult either the online dictionary to assist you in looking for synonyms or the built-in thesaurus of your MS Word program if you’re working offline.
4. Complement your article with context appropriate images.
To further entice your viewers into your content, you can’t solely rely on words. Humans are naturally visual creatures and adding the right images for each section helps the reader further paints the picture of your narrative.
Whenever you insert an image, consider the spacing between the pictures. Give your viewers the sense that the image is a break from the monotony of paragraphs.
Lastly, as a guideline, use at most 2 images per section and only when it’s relevant to your topic.
Building Your Content Writing Strategy
Hey, it’s me again, Romeo.
Daryl mentioned four of the best content writing practices every freelancer should learn:
1. Preparing your content’s outline
Number one is to do your research before you write your first word.
Depending on the project, this may entail a number of preparations.
SEO copywriters, for example, need to do keyword research.
Keyword research is a topic for another day.
For now, I’ll tell you what I do when preparing outlines.
After receiving the details of the next job, I fire up Trello and organize everything there.
Trello is a simple task management tool that makes writing just a tad more satisfying.
Basically, you turn your tasks into “cards” and organize them within lists.
These lists can then be kept within boards, which could pertain to projects, clients, and so on.
To give you a better idea of how this works, I’ll give you a sneak peek at my Trello boards.
In my “A Million Words Later” board, I have three separate lists called “Planning,” “Doing,” and “Done.”
You don’t need to be a veteran freelancer to know what they’re for.
The screenshot above shows that each Trello list has one card each.
To add a card, just click ‘Add another card’ at the bottom of any list and give it a name.
Don’t think too much on where to put your card. You can freely drag and drop it to another list if you want.
Trello cards can contain a description, checklist, several attachments, and even due dates.
When planning your outlines, be as detailed as possible by utilizing these features.
For example, I like to keep things organized by adding color-coded labels.
For time-sensitive projects, I make sure to prioritize it by setting a due date.
Anyway, Trello has a free version you can use to explore the tool yourself.
Try it yourself and let me know what you think in the comments below.
2. Keep it short and simple
The vast majority of businesses that hire freelancers hate fluff.
I, myself, easily get carried away when writing about topics I’m familiar with.
But the sooner you kick the habit of writing fluff, the better.
In case you didn’t know, fluff is used to describe unnecessary text that offers no value to readers whatsoever.
Not only does it waste time, fluff also leads to giant walls of text that no one wants to read.
Here are three things you can do to avoid writing fluff:
Practice writing short sentences
As Daryl mentioned above, keeping sentences short — preferably below 20 words — is ideal.
If the current sentence you’re writing exceeds 20 characters, it can probably be split into two.
To give you an idea:
For some freelancers, writing short sentences is such a drastic change.
I also struggled to adopt this practice. But, after a while, it just becomes second nature.
Paragraphs should not contain more than two sentences
Fun fact: I recruited Daryl once to write articles for a link building project.
Before writing, I instructed him to keep paragraphs within two sentences. Anything beyond that already looks too busy and boring — at least, for my taste.
Is it just my opinion?
But I’m clearly not the only one who thinks like this.
Obviously, you need to check with your client if they’re okay with this writing style.
In my experience, most of them won’t mind. But if they do, you just have to focus on writing shorter sentences.
Set word count limits for the sections of your outline
If you planned your outline well, there’s no reason for you to overwrite.
SEO-wise, writing a maximum of 300 words per headline is widely considered favorable. You’ll have a better time following this rule by writing the headings and subheadings of your article first.
With that in mind, here’s what your next Trello card could look like:
If that won’t encourage you to get to the point, I’m not sure what will.
3. Mix things up
Daryl’s third point is rather self-explanatory.
When writing long posts, it’s easy to repeat phrases and ideas unintentionally.
In my early freelancing years, I tend to repeat the following phrases:
- Believe it or not
- For example
- Make the most out of
- In which case
The same can be said for words like:
Don’t get me wrong — it’s perfectly fine to repeat these phrases and words in the same post once or twice.
But if you find yourself typing them three or more times, then you have a problem.
An easy fix is to search for other ways to say them.
I mean, literally, Google “other ways to say” next to the phrase or word you want to avoid.
That’s how I overcame my problem of word and phrase overuse.
Another option is to just remove the repeated stuff altogether.
Such phrases don’t affect the message you’re trying to convey.
I could’ve written that sentence as:
“Believe it or not, such phrases don’t affect the message you’re trying to convey.”
4. Incorporate visual content
Do you use visuals when writing articles?
For a long time, I thought downloading royalty-free images from websites like Pixabay was enough.
Well, it is for some news websites.
Authoritative blogs and publications, however, like their content spiced up with original, high-quality images.
You may not realize it yet, but there’s always an opportunity to insert an image into an article.
I, for one, love to use screenshots to make sure my point gets across.
For that, I use a tool called Snagit.
I know, it’s a paid tool — probably not practical for new freelancers.
The good news is, the guys behind Snagit offers a free alternative called Jing.
By the way, this post isn’t sponsored by TechSmith, or any tool I’ve mentioned here. I’m also currently not an affiliate for any of these companies.
I’m recommending them to you because I use them personally. I know how they work, and I’m confident that they’ll be a big help to you as well.
Below is a short list of things you can take a screenshot of:
- Websites of other companies (as examples)
- Tools (when writing step-by-step tutorials)
If you’re feeling extra creative, you can use Canva to design your own visuals.
Canva is a drag-and-drop graphic design tool.
It has features that allow even absolute beginners to create professional-looking designs within minutes.
Some of its key features are pre-made templates, stock elements, image filters, and advanced typography customizations.
With Canva, you can even design infographics that can make any post 10x more engaging and shareable.
There will be a comprehensive Canva guide coming soon.
For now, you’re welcome to use the free version and learn at your own pace.
There’s still a lot more to share about writing quality content.
Daryl made a lot of solid points in his contribution. I hope you learned a lot from him!
Before I sign off, remember that I welcome any feedback, question, and suggestion. Just leave a comment below and give this post a share if it helped you.