10 Ways to Write Better Articles
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As we age, our physical and mental skills slowly diminish. But there is one vital skill that will improve if you take the necessary steps: writing persuasively.
Content establishes credibility, adds value for your clients and gets you noticed. To establish a blog, explore the power of social media, or just share your views on topics of interest, you need to generate engaging content. Here’s my take on how to do that.
For some advisors generating great content is easy. They are naturally gifted writers. For most of us, writing is hard work. Creating a piece we are proud of is elusive.
I was not a naturally gifted writer, although I aspired to be one. Fortunately, I had excellent high school English teachers and some very patient mentors who didn’t give up on me. They helped me overcome my tendencies toward redundancy, verbosity and muddled thinking.
I have written hundreds of articles and papers over the years and derive great joy from it. I still get excited every time something I write is published.
I have developed a number of guidelines that help me when I write. These are not ironclad rules, but they create a framework that keeps me on track. I shared them recently with some colleagues and they suggested that I share them more broadly, so here they are.
- Be genuine. Write in your own voice. Don’t imitate the styles of other writers if they conflict with the natural flow of how you communicate. If you are analytical, be analytical. If you are passionate, be passionate. Don’t be contrived.
- Know what you want to say. Don’t discover your own point of view through the writing process. Know your purpose and the central thesis of your article. Your path may evolve as you write, but know where you want to end up. It helps to write your conclusion before your opening paragraph.
- Keep it short. Most industry publications are looking for between 500 and 1,200 words. Once you have finished writing your article, no matter how long it is, go back and cut out everything that isn’t essential. Make each point only once.
- Be entertaining. An article is not a term paper. Don’t be boring. Even if you are writing about a serious topic, have some fun. Take chances. Make it entertaining. Tell a story. Use humor and metaphors. Write something you would want to read.
- Choose a good title. Our inboxes are flooded with publications. People screen what they read based on the title alone. Come up with an attention-getting title. Make sure it lets the reader know what you are writing about.
- Catch the reader’s attention early. Make your opening paragraph as interesting as your title. Give the reader a reason to continue. Don’t “bury your lede.” Make sure the reader knows your thesis and your point of view early in the article.
- Be clear. Avoid long sentences – never let a sentence be longer than two lines in a Word document. Don’t use obscure words or jargon. Avoid clichés (they make you look lazy and undermine your credibility). The goal is to communicate, not impress. Have someone who isn’t a subject matter expert review your writing for clarity. Even better, pay a professional editor to review your article for content, style and grammar.
- Paragraph structure is important. Start every paragraph with a topic sentence. Expand the topic sentence idea with additional sentences. In a perfect article, you should be able to read only the topic sentences and follow the logic of the story.
- Be focused. Pick a narrow target, rather than trying to cover the entire waterfront. The more specific you are, the more persuasive you will be. Use facts to support your ideas. Cite examples to help people relate to what you are saying. Avoid generalized rants.
- Tie it up nicely. Your closing is as important as your title and opening. Bring your point home. Don’t just stop writing when you have hit your word limit. You are telling a story. It needs to feel like an ending. A poignant punchline is ever better.
You may not win a Pulitzer Prize by following these guidelines, but they will help you more effectively communicate about the issues and ideas that are most important to you and your clients. While you may not be able to run as fast or solve puzzles as quickly as when you were in college, I promise that you can improve your writing.
Scott MacKillop is CEO of First Ascent Asset Management, a Denver-based firm that provides investment management services to financial advisors and their clients. He is a 40-year veteran of the financial services industry. He can be reached at [email protected]