Writing for the Content Age

The evolution of audiences from readers to ‘information consumers’ has fundamentally changed what counts as effective marketing writing. Rather than something new, meeting the demands of today’s content age actually requires the application of something classic: journalistic editorial principles.

‘Scannability’ is vital.
With more information to sift through than any generation in history, none of us could get by without skimming pages and screens for relevant content. We have become what Isaiah Berlin might have called ‘foxes’, darting from one thing to the next — versus ‘hedgehogs’ going deep into any one topic.*

Effective writing has to reflect this, giving prominence to the important stuff so scanners will catch it. This is what journalists have always done, delivering the guts of a story in a headline and top-loading articles with key content. Putting the big stuff first is called Inverted Pyramid style, and ensures people who read only the beginning of a piece come away with real information.

Substance trumps style.
People no longer have time for lyrical, persuasive reasoning. They’re convinced by facts presented in a context that means something to them. At best, readers will ignore rhetorical flourish; at worst, they’ll distrust it, undermining the credibility of the argument. With its emphasis on objectivity and lack of hyperbole, brisk, active editorial writing meets the expectations of contemporary readers head-on.

Hand in hand with editorial-style writing is good planning: knowing which messages are most important before putting them down in words — so the right highlights jump out at information-saturated readers.

*We’ve taken a slight liberty with Berlin’s fox/hedgehog formula. You can learn more about his essay on the topic here.