11 Questions you Should be Able to Answer as a Content Writer

Originally published to my account on HubPages in 2014.

Call us web writers, web publishers (if you have your own site or blog), content writers or which ever phrase you choose – we all need to know some basic stuff about writing and publishing for the web. We should all have standard elements which make us authorities as someone who writes online. I looked at what businesses are looking for in hiring content writers and thought I’d share what I found.

What Ideas do you Have?

Before anyone hires a content writer they should find out what ideas the writer has for their topic. Not just that you have ideas, but where the ideas are going and are they on track for what the site/ blog wants? Do you have a sense of what the site is about, the style they like and the direction they want to grow in? Do you know who they are and can you fit in with them? Do you have enough of the right ideas?

Do you use a Style Guide?

Have you ever had a style guide? Do you know what a style guide is?

A style guide for writers is a collection of how-to notes, like a writing guideline about how to use the right words for the right things. It is used by newspapers as a reference.

Style guides were written for individual newspapers as a guide to keeping consistent and accurate standards with all their reporters when it comes to things like grammar, punctuation, titles, abbreviations, measurements, technical terms, forms of address, spelling, and so many other big and small things which come up in writing.

At some point, the Associated Press became the accepted style guide for all the newspapers, press, in the US. In Canada we have our own style guide which (last time I checked) originated with the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Working with Clients?

You may not have experience working with clients you have found yourself. This could be the first time you have had a serious interview about a paid job as a content writer online. So, think of work you actually have done and use the experience and knowledge you have. Don’t try to make something up or pretend you have all kinds of client experience under your belt.

Do think logically and practically. Think about what a client would want and how you could work with them to get them what they want from the site you are writing for (or building).

Professional Organizations?

I think this is debatable as a good thing. I do understand the point – a professional writer who takes their work seriously would be long to professional organizations. But, if you don’t have the budget for annual memberships are they worth it?

I have joined online groups of writers. Communities and networks are great too. I seldom have the time or the energy to put into them however. I’m not an extrovert.

Chances are professional organizations for writers will be less expensive and more interesting for you socially if you find them locally. Find out about writing groups, associations and networks in your location and see what they can do for the price of a membership. If you go to an interview where they ask about professional organizations you can say you belong to your local organization (or the national or international organization if you want to spend the money on them). You can be a lurking member after all. Someone who pays for the membership, carries the card around in your wallet and doesn’t do a thing with it.

Don’t forget to look for writer’s associations in you niche or genre too.

How well do you know Computers and Software?

How well do you know your own computer? Do you know how to use more than one OS (operating system like Windows or Linux or the Mac)? Do you know how to use the features of a word processor? Do you know more than just WordPress as content management software? Can you work on the HTML side of WordPress, type in the HTML code for a link, an image?

  • Do you know keyboard shortcuts?
  • Do you know how to reboot?
  • Do you routinely keep back up copies of your work?
  • Can you work with WordPress or Blogger?
  • Do you know basic HTML and CSS?

Content Writer Versus Copy Writer?

There is a difference between content and copy. I wonder how many web writers know this? The words content and copy have become mixed and usually it is all labelled content, like text based filler. It isn’t so.

Copy is traditionally sales copy. Written for advertising and marketing, to sell something.

Content is not sales based but meant to inform, entertain or explain.

Content is for readers and copy is for shoppers.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling?

Do you know the basics?

  • Do you know alot is not a word?
  • Do you know the difference between there. their and they’re?
  • Do you know when to use its and when to use it’s?
  • Do you know how to use effect and affect?
  • Do you know which letters should be capitalized in a title/ header?
  • How is your spelling – spellcheck doesn’t count.

Proofreading?

Spellcheck can’t actually read. Every post should be proofread, manually.It isn’t enough to skim what you have written. A good way to really test it out is to read it out loud. Don’t feel silly or skip this because you “know” you checked it twice already. When you have a really important writing project to work on the best way to be sure you wrote it well is to read it out loud the next day. There is always a snag somewhere when you don’t just read it in silence to yourself. Try it and see for yourself. I know you will be surprised.

  • Do you know how to proofread, what are your best methods?
  • Do you check your work for typos, wordiness and style?
  • What is your best proofreading method or trick?

Search Engine Optimization?

Do you really know your stuff? Working for someone else means doing more than you might for your own conent, it also means doing it their way. How adaptable are you? If your way really is better can you explain and prove it to them? Do you really know what you are talking about?

  • Do you know how to find great keywords?
  • Do you know how to use meta tags and blog post tags too?
  • How many social media accounts do you have and keep active?
  • Do you know how to add a summary to your post?
  • Do you know how to write a great headline for keywords and readers?

SEO is really not my favourite thing. But, it is a part of the online content writer’s world now. It has even begun sinking into print writer’s job descriptions.

What Blogs Do you Read?

You can mention the well known standards like ProBlogger, CopyBlogger and ReadWriteWeb. But, surprise your interviewer and name some sites they may not have heard of but would love to read. Stick to content relevant to writing and publishing online but find an amazing but not so well known blog to introduce them to and show them you know what you are doing out there.

What are you Reading?

I think this is a smart thing to ask. What have you read lately? Fiction or non-fiction? What kind of writer doesn’t have their nose buried in a book at least a few times a week?

It’s a good thing to read about writing, about publishing and topics related to the publishing industry. Read books, ebooks, magazines and blogs too.

Be well rounded when it comes to fiction. If someone talks about a book from classic literature won’t you feel a bit silly if you don’t at least know the general story?

What Kind of Software is WordPress These Days?

WordPress removed the Link Manager which had a simple built in bookmarklet to add links to your site, in existing categories, with tags. It was a nice, simple feature to keep a list of resources (links). But, it was removed from WordPress a few years ago.

I use the Restore Lost Functionality plugin for links now. He added the bookmarklet too. Might do the same for PressThis now that WordPress has decided to remove that function too.

Seems a silly decision when so many sites are using content curation. The bookmarklet made it easy to turn content from other sites into a full post without having to leave your web browser. I use it a lot.

However, I have found PressForward, which does have a working bookmarklet (and extra features) for WordPress content curation. I’ve been using PressForward for about two years now and suggest others take a look.

WP is really becoming software for developers only. I keep looking at other CMS which are more publisher friendly. WordPress is losing that.

On the other hand, the new function for adding links in posts really irritates me. It gets in the damn way! Why can’t they decide to get rid of that instead?

Is WordPress still the best choice for web publishers? I don’t think so but I have not found another CMS to trade up for, yet. b2evolution is my top pick and I would have kept using it if it handled images differently.  However, the way things are going it could yet be a trade off between WordPress not handling links well and b2 not handling images well. I probably use links more than I do images.

Planning for Your Future Self

I have memories of pure dread for the coming day. Something I didn’t do perfectly, something I put off, or something I did pretty badly and now… tomorrow would come, as tomorrow tends to do, and I would have to face everything. It is a hideous feeling as a child. It doesn’t get a lot better as an adult but, we can at least plan ahead better than our younger selves. At the very least, we have different options.

I learned to plan in order to avoid the looming dread of facing tomorrow. I’m not perfect at planning. I still procrastinate too. But, I keep working on it.

CopyBlogger is posting about planning for your future self. Making small changes to your habits now to avoid future problems.

How will things be for your Future Self?

When you’ve posted on your blog regularly for months?
When your savings account is nice and healthy?
When your regular workout habit has you feeling fit and strong?
When you’ve launched your side hustle?
When your novel is finished?
And of course, if you don’t get those habits in place — how disappointed, stressed, anxious, uncomfortable, or cranky will you be?

Marketing Headlines

I don’t like the trend to write sensationalist headlines. They over promise, over dramatize and disappoint. Headlines all about marketing are too common and just add to information overload. People can only read so much in a day. Too often these marketing based headlines lead readers in but don’t deliver any real information, nothing fresh, relevant or important. Fluff!

Headlines like those do not build you as an authority on your topic. Traffic to your site may pick up but, especially if you are running a business, trust in your business will go down. You don’t deliver as promised.

100 Great Tips for Whitening your Teeth your Dentist Doesn’t Want you to Know…. 

Sure there are 100 tips but most of them are things you already know and a lot of them are things the author has not tried themselves, so chances are they don’t work. As for the element of things being secret – that’s just hype.

How many of these headlines will people read before they go blind to them? How much mistrust will you build trying to get people to come to your site?

Propaganda and sensationalism are fragile shells to walk on. Once the shell breaks it is very hard to rebuild trust with customers, readers or the public in general. 

This post was inspired from Copyblogger’s Content Excellence Challenge suggesting people write headlines as marketing propaganda. I don’t think they thought the idea through.

Keep Features in WordPress Core to Keep it User Friendly

I’ve read about features being shuffled off into plugins instead of keeping them as part of the main WordPress (core files) which can be downloaded and installed for free (web hosting/ domain required). The problem with features being taken out of WordPress is where they go from there.

Premium versus Free

WordPress itself is still free. Plugins are less often free these days. There could be a free version, a limited version, and in a few cases just a pretty free face advertising the premium plugin. This is what I see happening to any features taken out of WordPress and left to develop as plugins instead. Wave good-bye to your features.

I do understand plugin developers want to be paid too. I have paid for plugins and usually lived to regret it. Paid plugins need to be supported. This does not mean people need to keep buying them, keeping the developer happy with a lot of sales. No, once I buy a plugin (or other software) I like to know it will be supported (if not actively developed it should at least continue to work). Paying for a plugin does not guarantee it will be there, functional, when you want it.

Features in WordPress core tend to be more reliable that way.

Software Conflicts

Another problem with plugins is discovering they are not what you expected and then trying several others hoping to find that one magic plugin that does the job. All plugins are not created equal. They conflict with other plugins and, they don’t always work smoothly with your site theme. Trying several plugins is risky, all that installing, activating and deleting leaves a load of junk on the back end of your site. You don’t see it, but it’s there, lurking, a possible conflict of interest when you least expect it.

Software Evolution

Features in WordPress core are far more likely to keep evolving and getting better than features taken out of it. That is just simple logic.

Look at post formats. They were taken out of WordPress and have been left as an empty little icon you can add to your posts, signifying nothing really because you can’t add style to the post formatting unless you modify the CSS/ HTML of your site files. Not everyone wants to do that. So post formatting is kind of a dead fish. It could be a better solution than page building plugins. It could have meant we did not need page building plugins.

Instead, page building plugins have evolved and page formatting has stalled out somewhere along the way. Formatting would have been less complicated, more user friendly. But, WordPress is run by developers who sell plugins. There is that bias towards being commercially friendly and less user friendly.

 

The New Potential of Documentary Film Making

Documentary film makers seem like the new bloggers, zine makers, and freestyle writers and publishers in general. I thought podcasts were the media with the most growth, freedom and potential. I am changing my mind as I look at the range of documentaries, in particular. Film making and documentaries are not new but there has been a lot of change since film went digital. For one thing, it’s pretty easy to use a camera you can keep in your pocket versus the video cameras you lugged around on your shoulder.

News Posts Need Dates

I wanted to read about a building project ongoing locally. I found a post about it on the website for the local newspaper. But, the post did not have a date. So, I could not tell how relevant the information was. The post mentioned the years the project had been going and how much time it was expected to continue. Without a date to reference however, the information was not useful.

Not only news posts need dates. Anything which relies on being current should have a date (when it was written about) for reference. Software comes to mind. I’ve started looking for software reviews or information with the current year added to my search terms. It helps eliminate the older posts and those without dates, which may or may not be older.

News needs a point of reference. Any post providing information should really have a date. Information becomes dated. Readers need to know the information they are reading is still valid.

Considering a Change from WordPress

Not for any special reason but, I am seriously considering changing my sites from WordPress. There are several reasons not to do this: transferring content, themes and plugins I have bought will no longer work, learning (and installing/ setting up) new software. But… I feel WordPress has lost individuals like myself. I’m not a web developer or designer. I don’t have clients to set sites up for. I just have my own sites and WordPress keeps feeling limited.

I am not so keen on changing. Though I do like change for the sake of change, sometimes. I don’t like being in a rut or following the pack.

It is not an easy decision to fully commit to. I’ve been looking at other software. I’m always interested in alternatives and options and new things when it comes to web publishing. But that’s more like window shopping than making a serious plan.

If you publish a site, with something other than WordPress (or Blogger/ Blogspot or other freebies which don’t run on your own domain) let me know. I’d like to set up Typo3 but so far it just will not install. Fancy installations are a hard limit for me. If I can’t even get the software set up I’m not confident in using it afterwards.

At least, it will be an interesting month – or however long it takes me to either change or decide not to rock the boat.

Considering a Change from WordPress

Not for any special reason but, I am seriously considering changing my sites from WordPress. There are several reasons not to do this: transferring content, themes and plugins I have bought will no longer work, learning (and installing/ setting up) new software. But… I feel WordPress has lost individuals like myself. I’m not a web developer or designer. I don’t have clients to set sites up for. I just have my own sites and WordPress keeps feeling limited.

I am not so keen on changing. Though I do like change for the sake of change, sometimes. I don’t like being in a rut or following the pack.

It is not an easy decision to fully commit to. I’ve been looking at other software. I’m always interested in alternatives and options and new things when it comes to web publishing. But that’s more like window shopping than making a serious plan.

If you publish a site, with something other than WordPress (or Blogger/ Blogspot or other freebies which don’t run on your own domain) let me know. I’d like to set up Typo3 but so far it just will not install. Fancy installations are a hard limit for me. If I can’t even get the software set up I’m not confident in using it afterwards.

At least, it will be an interesting month – or however long it takes me to either change or decide not to rock the boat.

Has WordPress Jumped the Shark?

I think WordPress is in danger of “jumping the shark”, becoming too complicated and loaded with too many features. Google has mostly forgotten all about Blogger, but it may become a better alternative for a lot of people who just want a simple business site. WordPress seems to be something for people who want to spend time and money on a fancy site with a lot of features. How many businesses really need all of that? Not many.

As someone who has kept sites for many years and used WordPress most of the time, I’m not planning to use a lot of customized posts. I don’t need them. I want to focus on content, not spend a lot of time on formatting.

I will add that if people are building a site to function as a web directory, job board, or any of a hundred other things – WordPress isn’t an essential element. It may even be a hindrance. WordPress is still a customized blog at heart.

Note: I posted this as a comment on WPTavern. The post there was about new custom formatting for WordPress posts. It got me thinking about how WordPress is used, who uses it and whether it is really still sustainable for the general blog user – people who are not web developers and may not want to spend that kind of time or money on a site for their business, or hobby, etc. Most of us have a limited budget. How important is it to have a fancy site with a lot of features versus just having a site up and functioning?

Is WordPress still a good option for putting up a site? Or, do you need to be (or pay) a web designer/ developer to work with WordPress?