I’m a better writer because I code. That is the plain truth. I think all content marketers and SEO professionals should think about these technical aspects. Having an understanding of the CMS we use is invaluable. Especially how its functions support our content and present it to the search bots.
We should think about how to make that content more findable. That means adding things like an XML sitemap or adding schema to your HTMl5 structures in your PHP template. WordPress theme development has been a hobby of mine for several years.
Here are five writing lessons that I learned from website development.
5 Writing Lesson Tips You Should Know
Anyone who has spent time coding knows that a small slip-up like using the wrong quotes or leaving out a semi-colon will cause issues. I mean, have you ever used WordPress and gotten the white screen of death? That is the danger of hacking a theme built in PHP. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try but you might want to install it locally first for practice.
The writing lesson here is obvious. Grammar is important because it makes your content work. A slip-up can cause people to lose interest in your writing. While using AI to generate articles is becoming more popular it still requires a human to correct mistakes. It isn’t perfect and won’t replace a human fluent in the right language.
My favorite resource for knowledge on grammar is Grammar Girl. There is a large archive of previous posts to look through. Search for anything that you may need some extra help with. There are also tools like Grammarly that can help you with your writing.
The writing lesson here is that people should understand the mindset behind our content. We shouldn’t have to make them guess what our article is about. You need fully formed thoughts as you are writing. If a concept is unfamiliar, take the time to explain it in simple terms to your audience.
You want to make sure your writing is not too complex to be understood. It should be free of jargon. A great tool for making content more readable is Hemmingway Editor. This is a free application available online for use. Simply copy and paste your text and it will identify phrases that could be made simpler. A lot of time, it identifies sentences that are run-ons and don’t make sense. They can be shortened into multiple sentences.
3. Modular Thinking’
One thing that coding has taught me is Object-Oriented CSS. This style makes us think of dividing our content by re-usable styles. We start thinking more modularly. Elements on our webpage are components. This is why we end with something like this in our code for a simple button. We might have the classes “btn” “btn-large” “btn-blue”. The class “btn” represents the style for all buttons on the website. If we want to make this button stand out we use “btn-large” which makes it bigger. Lastly, “btn-blue” would simply make it a blue background button.
You see that is just one element that makes up a larger component like a Newsletter signup. This way we build up our large structures from much smaller and repeatable things. We can also apply this to our content strategy.
The writing lesson here is that we can re-use and repeat our content in a similar fashion. I think of building content in blocks. We’ve got our larger post that has maybe more than 2,000 words. We break that down into its element of 500-word posts. Break them down further to the basics of having a question and answer maybe around 300 words. Break that down to the size of a social media update. You don’t need to rewrite anything. Just carefully edit what you’ve written to fit these new formats.
Make sure that you comment on that code. These lines stand out from what we’ve written to explain each aspect of our code and what it does. It acts as a reminder of what we are working on. It also lets someone reading our code know what we’ve worked on and how we were thinking about it. In practice, it should allow someone who has never seen your code before to collaborate with you. It is not uncommon for developers to branch and work on parts of your application. It happens all the time on Github.
The writing lesson takeaway here is that we should provide commentary for our thoughts. Share the emotions that they stir in you. Make it relatable so that someone else can understand what you mean. Make it a piece that people can build upon and provide their own opinions. It is good to be a little controversial as long as you can explain your reasoning.
What was the last article that made you think? Remember what it stirred in you. Think about how they presented their content and what connected with you. Try to replicate that in your writing.
The writing lesson here is to mind the way we use our words. We want to break up our paragraphs with related phrases so we aren’t repeating ourselves all the time. This becomes more important for SEO purposes so that we rank for related phrases and we aren’t just keyword stuffing our post.
If you are having difficulty a thesaurus can come in handy. You might find that a sentence you’ve written could be simpler if you use words with more precision. It can also more emotional impact if you use words that have a connotation and not just a denotation. Connotation refers to what we associate with words like blustery vs a breezy day. Blustery implies a more violent motion and shaking of trees. While breezy is a more gentle wind. A good writer uses a good reference.
What does it take to be a good writer?
This is a question that I am always thinking about. I think the qualities of a good writer are subjective. But I think there are a few criteria that we can bank on. I think that the content has to move you emotionally. Sway you to take action. That is certainly something we want to achieve if we are writing copy for a business.
How we do that is more questionable and there are a lot of theories behind it. There is the Dan Harmon Story Circle, the Hero’s Journey, there are the Greek Principles of ethos, logos, and pathos. Overall, my best advice is to read a lot and study the best writers out there. Their advice may not work for you but you can take away your thoughts about what makes good writing.