Content Writing Standards Revisted: A Framework

Yesterday, whilst talking with another writer who is a friend of mine, the conversation turned to how quite often clients fail to give a proper brief. This is not usually a problem, until there is some form of dispute over the completed work. I explained that some years ago, I had sat down with my editor at the time, and thrashed out a set of website content writing guidelines, that could be given to people who were working on various projects we were involved in. We wrote these guidelines to use as middle ground, when a client failed to specify a full requirement in their brief.

I actually managed to find the original version of these content writing guidelines yesterday, and I am going to reproduce them here in an abridged form. They are still entirely relevant today, if taken in the right context, and applied as a rule of thumb instead of a strict set of standards.

You will need to extract the usefulness yourselves, as I have simply copy and pasted them from the original team guidelines document, but you should get the idea. Feel free to take what you need and ignore anything you don’t think is relevant to the type of work you do.

Language and Voice

  • Unless the brief specifically states otherwise, always write in third person.
  • Unless the brief specifically states otherwise, always write for an international audience. This means American English spelling, and no localized terms. Examples of localized terms would include:
    • Chips – When speaking about French fries to a global audience.
    • Rubber – When speaking about an eraser to a global audience.
    • Petrol – When speaking about gasoline to a global audience.
  • Avoid opinions and recommendations unless the brief specifically calls for it, or unless you are writing an op-ed.
  • Avoid slang, unless you are called on to write something in first person.
  • Unless the brief demands it, all content should be timeless in the fact that it does not mention specific forward dates, or use terms such as today, tomorrow, or next week.

Writing Style

  • Avoid fluff content at all times, aim for factually correct, valuable content. An example of fluff content versus acceptable content would be:
    • Fluff: When visiting London, you can spend many hours visiting some of the excellent free attractions. The transport system is top notch, allowing you easy access to every place you wish to visit.
    • Non-fluff: When visiting London, you can spend many hours visiting some of the excellent free attractions such as the Tate Modern Gallery, and the British Museum. The transport system is top notch, comprising of the reliable London Underground rail network, and local buses, allowing you easy access to most places you wish to visit.
  • When asked to write several content pieces covering a similar subject, do not simply write one article, and then re-word it for the following articles. Instead, find different angles to attack the same subject from, and find unique ways to re-hash the concepts you have used previously.
  • Unless the brief specifically calls for it, keep the tone of the content piece fairly formal. No humor, no negativity, completely neutral in all ways.

Content Construction

  • Every content piece needs to have a proper title; the title should appear as the first line of the document.
  • If a content piece is designed to be read as a standalone document, then make sure it contains a viable introduction section, along with a viable summary section.
  • Do not be afraid to use section headings, headings are a nice way to split up a content piece in to easy chunks (both for you to write and for the website visitor to read).
  • Bulleted and numbered lists are also excellent, these really help with content pieces such as ‘Top 5 Tips for XYZ’, or ‘Reasons for Choosing XYZ as a Holiday Destination’ type articles. Quite often a bulleted or numbered list, with an introduction paragraph at the top, and a summary at the bottom, is the easiest way to write a short content piece.