The Best Way to Write Stuff People Actually Read

As a writer, this may sound familiar:

You write and publish content, but no one reads it.

This can be frustrating. I get it.

There are a lot of factors that affect read rates—from the publishing platform to your headline down to the publication time.

Luckily, there are proven ways to engage more readers.

In this article, I describe twelve ways to write better content that people actually read.

In full transparency, I wrote this listicle to satisfy humanity’s short attention span (i.e. shorter than that of a goldfish), but these ideas are adapted from a longer article I published on LinkedIn in December.

1. Ask why. When you write for an audience, the first question you need to ask is, “Why? What’s the goal of this content?” Content marketing can be incredibly effective, but you must define effective.

2. Write to a specific audience. Writing effective content is like giving a gift. Just like you don’t give your best friend a generic [impersonal] gift card, you should avoid publishing generic content. Great content is tailored to a specific audience.

3. Understand your voice. Let’s assume you’re ghostwriting for a person or company—you must understand the desired voice. Since written content is an extension of the company, the tone needs to reflect the brand. Does the company want to be an authoritative thought leader or a witty educator?

4. Listen to your writing. How many times have you sent an email—absolutely certain there are no typos—only to realize there was a fricken typo? Here’s a trick: Listen to your writing using text-to-speech technology. On my MacBook, the text-to-speech function is OPTION + ESC.

5. Create a strategic content plan. Effective writing rarely exists without a strategic plan. It can be as simple as a hub and spoke content map. Grab a piece of paper and write down your core message. That’s your Why. Then surround that core message with related ideas and subtopics. This can help you create consistent, branded content.

6. Be nonobvious. Here’s my theory: A single element of nonobvious-ness helps create good writing. Nonobvious is defined as not immediately apparent or ordinarily expected. Here are few strategies:

  • Write about familiar content in a new way. Tell a story only you know.
  • Combine two familiar concepts in an unfamiliar way.
  • Use an uncommon analogy or metaphor to describe a familiar idea.
  • Introduce a novel idea using a relatable story or analogy.

7. Engage, add value, and summarize. Is there a magic structure for an effective article? You’ll be disappointed when I say, intro, body, and conclusion.

  • INTRO: Grab your reader’s attention.
  • BODY: Add value and don’t waste your readers’ time.
  • CONCLUSION: Sum it up, call your readers to action, and simplify.

8. Fact check and cite sources. Do your research. Compare references. Cite reputable sources. Some of my favorites: Harvard Business Review, NPR, industry publications, and peer-reviewed journals.

9. Be consistent and reliable. I went to Applebee’s with my Mom and she ordered the Clubhouse Grille. A few bites in, she realized two ingredients were missing: mayo and BBQ sauce. When you eat at a chain restaurant, you expect consistent food—same goes for content. It needs to be reliable and consistent.

10. Short or long, make it good. Is around 1000 words good for an average blog post? It depends. I hate fluff. If I can deliver a message effectively in less words, I do. Short content can engage an audience, tell a story, and call readers to action. On the flip side, I’ve also written 10,000-word articles that hold immense value and improve SEO ranking.

11. Title your content after you write. My writing process: determine why, define the audience, understand the voice, choose a topic from the content plan, create a placeholder title, write, then finalize the title. Developing a great title takes time. But if you don’t write an irresistible headline, your content will never be seen.

12. Cultivate trust. Who do you trust the most? Probably someone you’ve spent significant time with. Trust is something we cultivate–and earn–over time. Your audience needs to know you (or the company you’re writing for). I’m not encouraging forced vulnerability, but I do recommend integrating snippets of your personality. When you reveal your personality, you build relationships. And meaningful relationships build trust.

It takes time to write stuff people actually read.

Good news: You can engage more readers and publish effective content.

But you need to know what effective looks like.

Do you want to generate leads?

Make people laugh out loud?

Or, generate leads who laugh out loud?

You got this: Ask why, write to a specific audience, understand your voice, be strategic, add value, cite reputable sources, be consistent, craft an excellent headline, and build trust.

Got questions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


Hey, I’m Laura. In October 2016, I quit my job (on purpose) and became a freelance writer (on accident). Now I share my experience as a freelance writer for 20-somethings. Because contrary to popular myth, you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 to become a successful freelance writer. I’m happy you’re here.

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2 Comments

  1. This was the most specific yet spot on how – to I have ever read. Beyond amazing – it was more like, fulfilling, if that makes sense!

    I want to begin freelance writing and had began collecting books to read on how it’s done. This quite possibly is the new day “cliff’s notes” to them all.

    Thank you beyond measure.

    1. Thank you for the BEST comment, Emmon! I’m so happy to hear you found this valuable. Love the feedback. And good luck as you prepare to start freelance writing. 🙂

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