This Guide will enable you to:
For brand publishers to be successful, there are a lot of things they must do right: structure teams effectively, hire the right people and nail down an audience and editorial strategy.
How to effectively present content
But once some of those important pieces are put into place, the only way to retain consistency is to make great content. Understanding how to generate ideas and present work in the right formats is the first step. Next, and no less important, are the basics of creating compelling narrative Crafting pieces that sing, doing so with detail and directness and getting the basics of storytelling right can take average content and make it great.
For brand publishing to be successful, taking a few must-know cues from journalists and editorial writing can go a long way in creating content that tells a real, impactful story. Brand publishers should create content in a way that prizes detail and accuracy, has sources and quotes, writes clearly and has certain key basics of structure and form. This can lead to polished products that are not just interesting and valuable to the end user, but are also presented in the most effective way possible. For writers, having a clear understanding of structuring a piece and crafting it well can go a long way in making brand publishing work feel polished and professional.
Brand publishing writers should ensure that:
- Every piece of content they produce contains necessary and critical elements for creating strong stories that generate results: These elements include the right structure, opener, context, and upbeat ending. These criteria ensure that writing makes a strong, emotional connection with the target audience and doesn’t end up reading like a corporate press release or presentation.
- They’ve identified effective ways to tell stories. There are certain tenets of journalistic writing that can position brand publishing teams in good stead, such as ways to ensure accuracy, while also keeping things interesting. Writing can also feel overwhelming or scary for more junior staffers, and applying basic tips will create a more efficient process.
- Present facts, details and information that are always accurate and properly attributed: Attribution can be difficult and confusing for novice writers. Attributing facts and information, whether firsthand or secondhand, correctly, will ensure that readers trust and believe the information being presented, and see the content as authoritative and honest.
This Guide explains the tactics and approaches outlined above, and other key tips and tricks to make writing sing.
Defining the elements of a story
Every content creator is in the business of telling stories. Stories have clear arcs that exist in a linear, active way – people do things, say things, and things happen. And each story has clear challenges, tensions and even resolutions.
Each piece of content must try to elevate to being a story, above all else. Even in pieces that don’t seem like a story, such as, the announcement of a new technology by a company that is relevant to the industry, can be “unstuck” and made interesting.
Crafting a lead
The “lead” is the opener or opening paragraph of any piece of content. It is the first thing most readers will see, and therefore is the most important part of executing on a piece. A good lead will contain an answer to the key question every audience is always asking: “Why should I care?” It will do so by presenting an important or surprising piece of news, delivered with some hint to the tension or conflict that lies ahead.
Creating a presenting tension
Not every story necessarily has an out-and-out conflict, but every good story always has some tension. For example, a straight announcement about a new piece of technology can be presented by examining what problem this technology solves, as well as what obstacles or issues lie ahead to adoption of this technology. Those two pieces of information will provide enough tension to pique interest. A “flat” piece of writing presents facts without providing context that leads to tension.
Understanding nut grafs
The “nut graf” or contextual graf is the crux of a piece and provides the reader understanding of what the piece is about and, crucially for business writing, why it exists. Put another way, it tells the reader what exactly the writer is up to and why. It is called the “nut” in journalistic parlance because it has the kernel, or primary context, of the story.
Using facts and analysis
Writers should always ask what a piece is about and why people need to be told about it, then focus on providing evidence for that information. That “evidence” should be in the form of facts and analysis – why something is happening, how it is happening, what exactly it means and how it can affect the reader. Evidence and facts should be presented in a verified way, whether via original reporting or research, and should come from places other than the writer themselves – unless the piece is a firsthand account or an opinion piece.
Ending a story
Along with a lead, a nut graf, facts and analysis, stories should always end in a way that feels conclusive. An easy way to do this is with a quote. Another way to do this is via a summary conclusion that feels like the writer has done the work to connect the dots. For example, if the piece about a new technology required something to tie it together, it may end with the writer summing up the major tension in the story and ending with a conclusion that tells the reader what to do or expect next.
Stories must have a few key elements to make them worthwhile. But writing content is about more than putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
Good content also has a few other factors that should be considered when pieces are being put together.
Ensuring newness and newsworthiness
The “new” in news is often abused and used to mean that every piece of information must be brand new, all the time. While this is true in the case of breaking news, a piece’s newsworthiness can be delineated by a variety of other means – such as, an innovative presentation, a unique analysis or point of view or simply a better piece of writing. Every piece must be able to demonstrate its newsworthiness in this fashion.
Readers have a lot of information available to them. For business writing and brand publishing, particularly, the need for relevance is paramount. Relevance should be obvious and even outlined, for example, with a few paragraphs that clearly make connections to the audience, establish why they should care and why this story will change their lives in some way.
Adding detail and specifics
It’s already evident that creators must focus on presenting something interesting. One way to do this is to focus on the finer points and elements of a piece. Good storytelling hinges on detail and painting a picture that readers can “see” – from what people are wearing, to why they’re saying something, to when something happened. This only occurs when writers ask the right questions and do research on their own. Detail can happen through simple observation, but is also part of being curious.
Editors will also have to watch out for this, but business jargon is a common affliction when writing any kind of professional content. People in various industries have become desensitized to using certain words, phrases and acronyms in lieu of plain English. Writers should always write for the layperson. This doesn’t mean acting as if readers are not knowledgeable, but being careful to avoid business-speak, in favor of regular language, can improve readability and make stories more enjoyable for the reader to consume.
Presenting fact-based information
Wherever possible, writers should provide credible, unbiased, verifiable information and let other “experts” fill in the blanks. This doesn’t apply to opinion or first-person pieces, but, in general, stories shouldn’t be a vehicle for a writer’s own opinions. Of course, writing is more than transcription, and every story comes with a certain, observed narrative that will seep through – an angle, for example. But, writers should always keep their eyes on the prize, which, in this case, is strong, fact-based storytelling. If the writer has to embellish or rely on opinion, that’s a good sign the topic is not a fit for a strong story.
Making people sound intelligent
In most cases, whether writers are speaking to internal executives, experts, academics or researchers, they will say one or two quotable sentences, and the rest will be useful information that can be summarized. Above all, writers should remember to be kind – avoid quoting people if they’ve used, for example, filler language, tangled sentences or have unwittingly misspoken. That doesn’t mean scrubbing quotes, but it does mean using quotes, only when necessary, and paraphrasing where not.
Speed is difficult, and as much a matter of practice as anything else. However, writers should never be afraid to simply start writing, even if it’s in the middle of the story, just to get words on a page. Often, writing efficiently simply means getting everything down, then going back to finesse, restructure and rewrite confusing sentences and fill in information. Seasoned writers will often write, for example, the nut graf and factual information first, then go back to write an interesting opener and add pizzazz to a piece. This process can speed up writing tremendously.
Sourcing and attributing information
A fundamental foundation for any compelling piece of content is the proper attribution of information.
In an era when misleading content, misinformation and clickbait are commonplace, readers are increasingly questioning the provenance of the information they consume and the ways it’s positioned and presented to them. Careful attribution — now, more than ever — is an essential prerequisite for building meaningful trust and credibility with an audience.
Why attribution is important
Attribution means signaling to readers, clearly and accurately, where pieces of information in writing come from.
Attribution helps prove to readers that a writer has done their due diligence and that the information being presented is reliable and trustworthy. Readers should feel comfortable consuming information without pausing to question its provenance or accuracy.
Attribution also allows writers to include viewpoints or information they don’t know, themselves, to be objectively true. A writer might include an analysis from a subject matter expert that a reader may disagree with, for example, but clear attribution should ensure that the viewpoint is that of the expert and not the writer themselves.
Publishing teams inside brands or agencies should and can be held to the same standards of attribution as news companies. While much of content marketing is rightfully focused on spotlighting the company’s expertise or offerings, it should be based in reality – with clear facts and information from reputable sources providing the bedrock of the argument. In fact, that’s what makes the story (and the product or service being offered by the company) relevant, newsworthy and beneficial to the target audience.
Using it correctly
As a rule of thumb, every piece of information included in a story should be attributed to either a person, a company or another group or entity, unless the information is commonly accepted as fact or it is known to be true by the writer and general public.
Attribution should be used when:
- Using someone else’s words. For example: a person’s account of an incident.
- Including statements of opinion. For example: a theory as to why something happened, or a prediction of what may happen in the future. If the source is from previous writing from a company’s representative, then it should be linked.
- Using information gathered from another article or document. For example: citing reporting from news sources.
- Using information gathered from a company or organization, or a spokesperson. For example: including information from a press release, or information provided directly by a company executive.
- Using information that isn’t proven to be true. For example: a piece of information perceived to be accurate by a group of people, but that hasn’t been objectively proven or observed, by the writer to be true.
- If a writer did not observe facts to be true themselves. For example: if writing about an incident involving a blue car, a writer can state the car’s color, if they saw it with their own eyes. If not, they should attribute the color information to a source.
Information from outside sources should typically be included and attributed in one of two ways: A direct quote, or with paraphrasing.
Direct quotes should assertively relay what a source said. Direct quotes needn’t be longer than necessary, but should not misrepresent the meaning or intent of the person’s statement by being cut short or otherwise edited. Quotes should be about one sentence in length, and if absolutely necessary, two sentences. Stories shouldn’t be collections of quotes only; the majority of copy should be explaining facts and paraphrasing what people have said, using quotes only when they’re especially powerful. When using a direct quote, writers should also seek to inform readers of how and when the quote was collected – for example at a conference, during a phone call or via an emailed statement.
- “Other companies will struggle to compete with company Y because of the introduction of technology Z,” Jane Doe, chief executive of company Y, said in an interview.
- In a press release, Company Y said, “the introduction of technology Z will make it more difficult for other companies to compete.”
- “We believe technology Z will put us at a huge advantage over our competitors,” a spokesperson for company Y said.
Readers will, typically, be far more skeptical of a piece of information that isn’t attributed at all than a piece that’s attributed to a self-serving source. Rather than attempting to hide a person’s potential interests and motives, these should always be disclosed for the reader to evaluate and take into consideration themselves.
Quoting also satisfies another major need: it makes information interesting. For example, if a writer is creating a recap of an event held by a company, using attribution like “the panel said” is less engaging and accurate than specific people and what they said. Direct quotes, especially from speakers who are able to make their points succinctly and clearly, are more pleasant to read, and feel more natural and conversational to the reader.
Paraphrasing is rewording of what a source said, and is often used to make information more succinct and direct, and when a direct quote doesn’t add particular value to the reader.
Paraphrasing is an essential tool for delivering information effectively to the reader, without getting bogged down in direct quotes and disrupting the flow of a piece of content. However, when using paraphrasing, it’s essential that writers take great care not to place comments out of context or to alter their meaning or thrust.
As with a direct quote, information about how and when the information was collected should be included where possible.
- Jane Doe, chief executive of company Y, said that other businesses will struggle to compete with company Y because of the introduction of technology Z.
- The introduction of technology Z will make it more difficult for other companies to compete with company Y, according to a press release issued by company Y.
- Company Y believes the introduction of technology Z will put it at a huge advantage over its competitors, a spokesperson for the company said at a press conference on Thursday.
Checklist and next steps
Writing is difficult. Much of it comes with practice – and with ingesting good writing and trying to apply its principles to other pieces of work as well. Applying certain habits and techniques, however, can go a long way in creating content that isn’t just useful and interesting, but actually fun and enjoyable for a target audience to read. And applying principles of journalistic accuracy, including correctly attributing information, relying on fact and detail and following basic storytelling structures, can eventually lead to content that is trusted by an audience.
Brand publishing teams should ask themselves the following questions:
The elements of a story
More Guides and resources:
- How to edit effectively
- Sample interview questions