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Acquiring new talent is as thrilling as it is daunting for the content managers who must train them. New talent means new abilities and aptitudes, which a clever content guru could quickly put to work for clients’ agendas. However, proceeding requires caution and expertise in the fine art of training people who already have hefty egos.
For content managers who need assistance in refining their writers’ aptitudes to meet client goals, here is a simple guide to get started. The six elements of writing that should be studied and mimicked by writers for each client are explained below.
While voice is the most difficult element to pin down, readers most quickly recognize it. Voice is the ineffable quality in writing that is conveyed almost intuitively. If you read an article and presume the writer is a chatty gossip, then it’s because the piece has conveyed that voice to you. Technical writing is often devoid of voice, or personality, but all other forms of writing show hints of the writer’s self.
Revisit a piece submitted by the new writer (either from their portfolio or early works within the company): reassign this piece from a new perspective. For example, instruct them to write the same piece from the angle of an angry, outraged father or a forlorn widow. Tell them to carefully choose each word, each sentence layout, and each image for the article as though they were this person. This lesson will show them how drastically a piece can be modified by personal perspective.
Good people are locked up in lives that do not deserve them, for they are born unto slavery, chosen by their parents. It is not our choice to live well, for we’re well wallered into graves before we’ve born a first sentient thought.
Parents pick how their kids will live. But parents can’t be blamed for the societal walls that suffocate their kids, locking them into unsatisfying lives. Good people are trapped in subpar existences.
Clever writers are concise. Many of them have huge vocabularies, so they can effortlessly select the precise word to convey a complex meaning. However, some clients may have a word selection style that suits their audience. If a new writer chooses GRE-level words for a sixth-grade audience, the mismatch will be apparent.
Another facet of word choice is fluidity. Alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, and other methods of sentence fluidity can be used to create a sing-song like reading for the audience. Writers have been known to create flowing, rhythmic paragraphs that end with an abrupt break in style to concentrate readers’ attention on a specific phrase or conclusion.
Link the new talent to an online thesaurus and a random student’s writing. Instruct the writer to re-write the piece with very colorful adjectives without losing any meaning. More importantly, remind the writer not to add meaning. While upgrading adjectives is easy, it often leads to new, subtle shades of meaning that aren’t intentional.
Another option is to reassign the writer someone’s newspaper article, specifying that he or she must make it rhyme. Explain that the piece’s meaning must not change. This will stretch the writer to choose new, colorful words or drastically different sentence arrangements.
Donkeys are brown. They live in fields. Their lives are filled with hard work.
Every day bay hairs glint from the spines of drudging asses.
Does a sentence grasp attention immediately and suck you into the paragraph? Does it ramble endlessly and leave the most exciting tidbit for the last phrase? The sentence structure is greatly dependent upon a writer’s predetermination of sentence flow (or lack thereof) and skill level.
Assign a new writer a piece of writing, explaining that every single sentence must start with a punch. All important meaning should be immediately revealed. Then, reassign the piece with the opposite instructions: tell them to hide the meaning at the ends of sentences and paragraphs.
The girl ran down the street with her hair flowing behind her while she screamed, “Murder!”
“Murder!” a girl screamed, her hair chasing her down the street as she ran.
Journalistic writing starts with a bang and gets the point across as quickly as possible. As the piece goes on it spills details and less relevant facts. Technical writing evenly dispenses information to effect focus and learning. However, most clients prefer writing designed to attract readers, which means the writer must masterfully promise a lot upfront, and then carefully deliver in an outlined structure.
If a client consistently uses listicles (like Cracked) or always uses a journalistic structure (like The Wall Street Journal), the a writer should be cognizant of it. Assign a topic twice to a new writer, telling him or her to write it once as a straightforward process paper, and the second time as a thrilling email to a friend.
To make vanilla ice cubes you must first buy an ice cube tray and wash it. Then, you should prepare vanilla flavored water. Carefully pour the mixture into the tray and freeze it. These cubes are delicious in coke, rum or coffee.
Oh my gosh! I drank my Diet Coke with frozen vanilla this morning … Mmmmm! Try it! Just freeze vanilla water in an ice tray. I bet it’s awesome in coffee or rum, y’know?
While the content structure often reveals the audience to the reader or writer-in-training, there are other tell-tale signs. Comments should be studied to gauge the audience interaction level, educational composition and style. Also, the style of the website is often telling of the audience. For example, a chic and trendy layout might hint at educated hipster readers, whereas a dull and straightforward style could point at business professionals.
Give the writer a children’s book and ask him or her to re-write it for scholarly audiences. Explain that it should be written like a speech for a graduate symposium.
Jenny didn’t like baby sister! Mommy loved her more. Jenny pouted.
Regression in children is a common form of sibling rivalry: castigation moves the outward expression into the subconscious, which instigates adult manifestations of anxiety and inappropriate competition. Research indicates that personality is the determining factor in how a child will react to new nuclear family members.
Is the content pushy and pointed at sales pitches? Does the content barely suggest anything and merely convey stories, funny anecdotes or news? The agenda of the client might be surreptitiously laid out in one link per scarcely-relevant article, or it could be a call to action in every single sentence. Whatever their agenda is, or how loudly it’s touted, the writer-in-training should take note.
Show the writer different examples of Calls to Action and sales-y text, explaining the various levels of push. Tell him or her to re-write a TV infomercial in a subtle, mommy-blog style.
Buy now! This amazing deal won’t last long. With only three easy payments, you can own this life-saving device!
I paid a total of $49 for the device, which saved my baby’s life. If I hadn’t bought it, who knows what my life would be like today. I recommend it for all new moms, especially because it has an easy payment plan.
Completing these exercises will prepare any new writer to research and complement any client. While not every new talent needs help with every single element of writing, everyone would benefit from a refresher. In the end, mastering these style elements will result in happier clients and more clicks from an understood audience.