Picture it—a Friday afternoon (or a Monday morning—you do you), the phones are finally quiet, and you have time to tap out that short blog, e-mail, or article that you’ve been meaning to write for days.
Not so fast.
If you really want that content to be effective, take the time to ask yourself a few things before you start writing.
"Who’s my audience?" This is probably the most important thing you can ask yourself about anything you write. Your audience could be one person (your partner or friend) or millions (everyone who has read all of the Harry Potter books). Your audience could even be a subset of a broader segment—for instance, say you write an industry specific blog, but you want to talk to people who are looking for jobs in that industry, or maybe just to salespeople in that industry. Define your audience first.
"What does my audience want/need to hear?" These can be two different things or the same thing. You can write one or the other or both at once. But always write with at least one of these two in mind. Not paying attention what your audience wants or needs to hear means your copy won’t have a very big impact.
"Is this the right medium for this copy?" Maybe this isn’t really a blog post. Maybe it would serve you better as a case study, white paper, report, guest article, etc. If that’s the case, shelve the blog idea for the time being. You can always come back and write the blog later as a way to market the longer piece.
"What’s the right tone for this piece?" Blogs have a different tone than marketing pieces, which are different than case studies and white papers, which are different than books or special reports. There is a specific tone for everything you write. If you aren’t sure what tone is right, look at some pieces of copy that are similar to what you want to write.
"How long should this piece be?" Knowing your target audience will help you figure this one out. If you know your audience will never read anything longer than 500 words, then for heaven’s sake, don’t write a blog post of 2,000 words!
"Do I need background information or research?" Again, this one could depend on your audience. If you know your audience is highly technical or tends to put a high value on outside sources, it might be a good idea to back up your writing with other sources.
"Should I let this one stew a while?" I’m a big believer in the “slow cooker” theory of writing. Sometimes, ideas need to simmer for a while in the metaphorical slow cooker before they’re really ready to publish. In fairness, this one might require some writing before you realize it—but you should definitely ask yourself before you hit “Publish” or sign-off on any final copy.
"Should I talk this through with someone else first?" Maybe the answer is “no”—and that’s fine! But it can be helpful to ask yourself if your idea could benefit from a bit of outside input before you start writing.
What do you ask yourself before you start writing? What do you wish people would ask themselves before writing?