“I want to be a writer when I grow up,” a child says, and one immediately thinks of a novelist, writing books and stories. The truth is, there are so many different ways to write for a living: articles, online content, academic papers, and blogs all need writing, just as much as novels and books, fiction and nonfiction. Content writing itself involves researching, planning, and writing pieces that provide value to a certain website, company, or brand. That value can be entertainment, information, or education; the writing can be formal, conversational, or instructional. That being said, the content writing skills required to be successful are different than other types of writing, and require particular attention to a number of things to stand out in the business.
The most important content writing skill is, of course, writing. Content writers need to be fluent in their written language; they need to understand standard grammar conventions, and know how to use available software and online tools to check their grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They should be able to produce a coherent work in a reasonable amount of time, and should have a basic understanding of the kinds of software one might come across when doing content writing. These include word processing programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Open Office, but can also include project management type of programs like Microsoft Teams, Monday, Asana, or Slack. Good working knowledge of computer software and the internet is an absolute must.
In addition to the fundamental writing skills, content writers need to be able to adapt their writing to a number of different styles, depending on what kind of content they’re asked to create. Technical articles, for example, are written in a very different style than a blog post; writers need to be able to be engaging and conversational for some articles, while others will require a more formal voice. It isn’t enough to be able to ‘write’ — content writers have to be able to provide quality content in a number of different styles.
Knowing how to do solid research online is a key content writing skill. Writers may be asked to produce content on topics they aren’t familiar with, and no one wants to reject potential work. This is where research skills come in; content writers should be able to not only produce relevant links using a search engine, but also know how to judge which sources are legitimate, and which come from sites that might not be so reliable.
Once the writers have gathered their sources, they need to be able to review those resources and put together an understanding of the topic at hand, so that they can build an outline. In places where two sources contradict each other, the writer has to be able to search for additional sources, so that they know their article will have the correct information.
This is because content writers have to be two important things: original and accurate. Every content writer knows their work needs to be original; there are a number of online programs that check for deliberate plagiarism, and web content companies absolutely know how to use them. It’s important that writers make sure they’re speaking in their own voice, and aren’t parroting or copying from other sites. In addition, the content they produce is intended to be accurate; misleading claims or false information can damage the customer’s brand, and they’ll absolutely take their business elsewhere.
Being able to find and verify information, review it, and create the outline for the content article is one of the most valuable content writing skills. Research forms the base of the article, provides sources that can be quoted for eligibility, and also helps the writer see what’s already out there, so that their content can stay original and unique.
Some content writing jobs stop here: the writer produces quality content with reliable sources and submits it to the customer. That being said, there’s another set of content writing skills that can help writers stand out, and it involves an understanding of the social pieces of the internet and how they work. In addition to work processing and project management programs, the best content writers are also familiar with online search protocol and social media platforms.
Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming standard for online content producers. This involves having current knowledge about search engine trends and what keywords and phrases are relevant to the article; search engines often change their algorithms, so it’s important that the writer understands how to keep up and make their articles stand out.
In addition, experience with the backbone pieces of the internet is another highly desirable skill. Knowing how to make changes in basic HTML, CSS, using formatting languages like Markdown, and understanding platforms like WordPress or Dreamwidth can make a writer highly valuable to a customer who may not want to worry about all of that.
Not all content writers outsource their social media accounts, but a good number of them do, and this can be a place where content writers shine. Understanding which social media platforms may be relevant to a particular brand and what content the customer wants to put out across a number of social media platforms is another key content writing skill. Understanding how to create social media content that engages people and helps to direct content can help both the customer and the writer expand their own online network.
In addition to all of these skills, content writers need to be effective at time management and communication. Most content writers receive a number of assignments that can span a wide variety of topics, each requiring its own research, style, and keywords; writers need to know how to manage their time so that they can dedicate enough time to every article they write. For content writers, their content is their brand.