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The Ultimate Writer’s Style Guide for Freelancers and Bloggers

3 weeks ago

Discover the simple secrets of writing magnetic articles and blog posts that hook readers, increase engagement and maximize shares.


Writing that Gets Results

This is a great time to be a writer. Thanks to the Internet, there is now an  opportunity to reach a massive worldwide audience. You can write an article today, and thousands - or hundreds of thousands - of people may read it tomorrow.

But it’s also true that now is the most competitive time to be a writer, too. We all have the same opportunity to write and publish  online. Which means we are competing for attention in an ocean of content.

So how do you keep your head above water? How do you write in such a way that your work has the greatest reach and impact? Over the years, we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work with written content.

We have discovered the basic principles of powerful writing. These will work for you whether you are a:

  • Freelance writer contributing to a range of publications
  • Blogger writing for your own blog
  • Commissioning Editor managing a team of writers

Follow these principles in your blog posts and articles, and your writing will be incredibly effective in generating the interest of both website visitors and computers (such as search engines and machine-learning algorithms). As a result, you will be able to:

  • Attract attention by drawing people in to find out more
  • Engage interest and encourage people to read through to the end
  • Attract shares on social media, as people spread the word
  • Rank in search and generate thousands of readers from Google
  • Earn links from sites around the web

​Title (Headline)

The title (or headline) of your article is more important than anything else. If readers don’t find your headline compelling, they won’t click to read your story, and all your efforts will be wasted.

You can’t go wrong when using the ‘listicle’ format:

10 Ways to Save $500 on Your Food Budget This Month

...or with any ‘how to’ headline:

How to Get Paid to Do What You Love and Change the World

These formats have worked for generations, and will continue to work for decades to come. But if you want to mix things up with a different approach, there are many other effective headline formulas to try.

Be careful not to make your headlines too long. If they go over 65 characters, they may well be cut off prematurely in search result, email previews and social media shares.

Headline writing is a skill that can make or break your writing career. You will be well advised to invest some time into studying this important skills set. You can make a great start by learning how to write magnetic headlines that get results.

Meta Description/Intro

If you are publishing content on your own website, you also need to pay attention to the meta description and URL.

The meta description is not part of your main article, but is part of the web page that the search engines read. Google will often (but not always) include the meta description as part of the search result:

This means that the quality of your meta description is vitally important to getting clicks in the search results. And the more clicks you get (the higher your clickthru rate), the higher your article will rank in Google.

The simple way to handle this is write a short, compelling snippet that can double as both your meta description and your first line of copy. That’s exactly what we do in this article, where the following snippet does double duty in that way:

Discover the simple secrets of writing magnetic articles and blog posts that hook readers, increase engagement and maximize shares.

​Keep this snippet to no more than 132 characters, so that it doesn’t get truncated in the search results (especially on mobile devices).

URL/Slug

If you are publishing on your own website, you should also think hard about the slug - that is, the words that form the URL for that post. This is also displayed prominently in the search results, so it is far more important than most people realize:

​You don’t want a URL that is short and meaningless:

https://gofreelance/start

But neither do you want one that is too long and cumbersome, and likely to be truncated in the search results:

https://gofreelance.com/how-to-start-a-blog-and-make-a-six-figure-income-from-your-own-home

Think of the slug as being a sub-title; a second chance to grab the reader’s attention and indicate the goodies in store within the article:

https://gofreelance.com/how-to-start-a-blog-today

Attention-Grabbing Introduction

Hook the reader.

Every blog post must have a strong introduction that hooks a visitor to keep reading. Research shows you have about ten seconds to capture your reader’s attention. So the opening paragraph has to not only engage people, but make people want to read on.

The goal of the intro is to ‘sell’ the rest of the article to the reader. Here are some great ways to do that:

1. Start with a Story

The human brain is hardwired for stories. (“John Smith was days away from bankruptcy, when he stumbled across the simple business model that changed his life.”)

People love to read about people. The more human you can make your introduction, the more successful it will be.

2. Start with a Summary.

Look for a simple way to summarize your findings at the very start of the article. This may be in the form of a chart or list, which will draw the reader in. A great approach is to add a highlighted box at the top of the page, where it demands attention. A summary can be a:

  • definition (“What is Affiliate Marketing?”)

  • table or chart (“Top 10 Freelance Jobs Sites, Rated and Reviewed”)

  • bulleted list of instructions (“How to Start a Blog”)

3. Start with a Quote

A strong quote from a well-known personality or leader can grab a reader’s attention. These should be interesting quotes that are highly-relevant to the article.

​​​​​​The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

​Steve Jobs  

​Entrepreneur

Avoid using cliches, sweeping statements or quotes wrongly attributed to a famous person. For example, most of the quotes attributed to Albert Einstein were never spoken by him. But putting his name to them gives them an air of authority they don’t deserve.

4. Ask a Question

You can engage people very successfully by engaging in the conversation that people are already having in their own heads. Asking a question is perfect for this:

“Wouldn’t you like to know how to make an extra $1000 in the next seven days?” or “What if there was a way to get rid of cellulite forever?”

Asking a question is a very effective way of getting straight to the heart of the matter, and probing a problem the reader is already hoping to solve.

Strong, Persuasive Writing

Aim to write meaty, detailed content. Waffling your way through 1000 words of padding won’t cut it. You should have something to say, and be focused on saying it in the clearest way possible.

​​​​​The first sign of disintegration — in a writer — is that the writing loses the unique stamp of his/her character, & loses its inner light.”

​Ted Hughes

​Poet Laureate

​Don’t simply recirculate ideas that already exist on the web. Do original research and apply original thinking. Your writing should speak in your own voice, and have a clear purpose.

Keep it Simple

Don’t try to impress anyone by writing intricate, flowery prose. You are not writing poetry here - you are aiming to communicate ideas.

Employ a simple and straightforward style.”

​Mark Twain

​Author

Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” Prune your sentences.  

Write Short Sentences

Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. The Hemingway Editor app can be useful for helping you trim down wordiness. It can be brutal the first time you use it. You may be shocked at how many excesses you are guilty of in your writing!

Practice writing simple sentences that are light on adverbs and complex constructions. Your readers will thank you for it.

Write Well

Take care over spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple error such as an apostrophe in the wrong place can interrupt a reader’s train of thought and put them off reading further.

Write to Last

While it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and write about topics that are in the news, these will date your content very quickly. In most cases, you are better off writing evergreen content that will still be useful several years from now.

Be particularly careful when including references to time. A phrase like ‘by the end of this year’ may make sense when the article is first published, but no sense to future readers. Be specific about the time period you are referring to.

Make it Easy to Scan

Most people are now reading content on mobile devices, and this has a real impact on the way you write. Don’t expect all your readers to lovingly consume every word you write. Most of them will just scan through the article.

Because of this, you need to write in a way that allows readers to skim and still make sense of your writing. Here are some good principles to apply:

  • Create good subheads and use them frequently throughout the test. This breaks up your work visually into sections. 
  • Include "pull quotes" or "quick facts" as centered callouts, throughout the text.
  • Use plenty of bulleted lists, including both numbered and unordered lists.
  • Keep paragraphs short. Aim for 1-3 sentences. Single-sentence paragraphs are fine.
  • Summarize first. Think about an easy-to-read chart or summary at the top.

Smart Use of Keywords

Keyword research is a huge topic that is too complex to delve into here. But for most pieces of content, you will aim to rank in search for a main keyword phrase. There will also be secondary keyword phrases that you will want to include.

But you should not make the mistake of ‘keyword stuffing’ your articles. That is, you should not repeat your main keyword over and over to attract the attention of the search engines.

Apart from creating a terrible user experience, this just doesn’t work as an SEO strategy. It’s not the 1990s anymore, and Google (in particular) is way too smart to be fooled this way.

Instead, you should include your main keyword in your title, but only in a way that reads naturally. Your focus should be on creating a great user experience. Everything else follows from that.

Simply write naturally, telling the best possible story about the subject in question. If you do this, then a whole range of related keywords will naturally occur in the body of the article, and that is exactly what you need.

Always write for the reader. Never write for the search engines.

A top-quality, engaging article that answers all the readers’ questions will do far more for search rankings than any keyword stuffed content.

​Grammar and Style

In general, you should always aim for good grammar and usage. You don’t need to be pedantic about archaic grammar rules, but you should understand how to write copy that is easy to read and understand.

Be wary of excessive use of the passive voice, or redundant adverbs. The Hemingway Editor is great for rooting these out of your prose.

​​​​I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique."


"If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late."

​Stephen King

​Author

But it’s OK to break the rules to create simple, conversational English. Here are some pointers. You Should:

  • Use US rather than British spelling (unless writing specifically for a UK audience)

  • Aim for a conversational tone (one step up from a chat in the pub)

  • Feel free to start sentences with conjunctions such as ‘And..’ or ‘But…’

  • Use original metaphors and similes whilst avoiding cliched ones

  • Prefer the active voice where possible

  • Use present tense in quotes: ‘she says’ rather than ‘she said.’

In general, you should not:

  • Turn adverbs into adjectives (‘really quickly,’ NOT ‘real quick’)

  • Use complex words where simple ones will do (‘but’ is better than ‘however’)

  • Have more then three levels of heading and sub-heading

  • Use cliches such as the phrase ‘unless you’ve been living under a rock…’

  • Simply recycle content you found in a Google search

  • State the obvious; readers are quite capable thinking for themselves

N.B. Any contributor who writes ‘could of,’ ‘would of’ or ‘should of’ should be taken outside and shot. The word you are looking for is ‘have!’

Personal Pronouns

Sometimes, writing about people in the third person can cause gender problems. For example:

‘If the user is to succeed, then he/she must learn to…’

​The he/she construction is awkward, and choosing either ‘he’ or ‘she’ is not an ideal solution either. The problem can often be solved by changing to the second person:

‘If you are to succeed, then you must learn to…’

If that construction is not applicable, you may be able to avoid the issue by changing to the plural:

‘If users are to succeed, they must learn to…’

​Quality Research

Back up your claims with data. Your article will carry more weight - and reflect well on you as an author - when you link to sources to back up your claims. This “data” can take the form of:

  • Research studies (government surveys, scientific studies)

  • Authoritative publications (government agencies, trade associations)

  • Expert quotes (well-known authors, industry insiders)

  • Industry statistics (quoted from trustworthy, reliable sources)

  • Surveys or polls (taken by reliable sources)

Aim for at least two sources per article. Be sure to properly quote and link to the sources. Track down to the original source. Don’t link to a blog post that quotes some study or report: track down the original report, and link to it directly.

Use Images Creatively

If you are publishing to your own website, then the use of images can make a real difference to how easy your content is to consumed.

They help to break the 'wall of words' up into easily-digestible chunks, as well as bringing visual context to your work. In many cases, a picture really does paint a thousands words. You should aim to:

A striking image can really help you get your readers' attention.

  1. Include at least 2-3 relevant photos per article. Be sure to include a “featured image” at the beginning, which represents the article in a polished and professional way.

  1. Choose photos that are positive and inspirational. The photos make a huge difference in how your article is perceived. If you’re writing about student loans, choose the fat piggy bank instead of the sad college student with no money.

  1. Select images, not clip art. Only use quality photos, not clip art or images that look like they were made in Microsoft Paint. Ask yourself, “Does this image belong on a polished, professional site?”

  1. Use legal photo sources. Don’t be tempted to steal copyrighted images. You can get professional stock photos at a very reasonable cost. We love the blogger plan from DepositPhotos - which works out at $1 per image.

  1. Include captions. You can include a caption underneath the image if it works well.

Strong Call To Action

Every article or blog post you write should have a purpose. Once readers have finished reading, they should be encouraged to take the next step.

Your ‘call to action’ (CTA) should always be clear, relevant and compelling. For example:

  • For more information on our services, click here to contact us.

The whole point of the article is get people to take action, so don’t be afraid to be aggressive here.

Handy Checklist

The overall intention is create interesting, engaging content that website visitors love to read, engage with and share.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you achieve that goal. Run every article and blog post through past this list before you publish:

  • Strong opening: grab your reader within ten seconds.

  • Short sentences / short paragraphs: break it down into Web-sized chunks.

  • Easy to scan: make it easy to skim with subheadings, quotes, and bulleted lists.

  • Relevant keywords: write a good article on the topic; don’t “keyword stuff.”

  • Easy to read: write with a natural flow

  • An independent voice: have something to say

  • Actionable advice: give readers something they can actually DO

  • Authority sources: include reliable data to back up your claims

  • Carefully checked: double-check spelling, punctuation, and grammar

  • Strong call to action: include a compelling CTA in every piece

If you follow these style guidelines, you will consistently write strong material that your audience loves. You will naturally attract readers and followers, and your writing career will go from strength to strength.


This is a great time to be a writer. Thanks to the Internet, there is now an opportunity to reach a massive worldwide audience. You can write an article today, and thousands - or hundreds of thousands - of people may read it tomorrow. Read on to find out more.
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About the author

Rob Palmer

I have been a freelancer, blogger and online entrepreneur for over 20 years. We are lucky to live in times with so many amazing opportunities, and I love to share my ideas and inspirations with others worldwide.


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