Best Practices for Writing Content

Document created by CLoya-esristaff Employee on Jun 13, 2018Last modified by lfountain-esristaff on Dec 23, 2019
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Content is ever-evolving in today's digital world. So how do you keep your audience coming back for more of what you write? The below information are simple best practices for writing content for your target audiences. 



Evolution of Content Writing for New Media

New media is defined as content or communication using digital technologies such as the Internet, Intranet, mobile apps, digital advertising, and other human-computer interfaces.

Elements of New Media Content

New Media Content Types

  • Direct, clear, concise messaging
  • Clean grammar and spelling
  • Strong organization with an audience focus
  • Appropriate tone
  • Visual appeal
  • Benefits to the audience: "What's in it for me?"
  • Blogs
  • Social media posts
  • Email
  • Digital advertisement
  • Discussion threads
  • Web content


Reasons for Writing Content

The purpose of writing content is to provide a service or a function for the reader/audience. Content writing serves three functions:

  • To Inform
    • Giving the audience insight, education, information about something that he/she may not know or wants to know.
  • To Interpret
    • Providing an interpretation of the content the audience can understand.
  • To Entertain
    • Capturing the audiences' attention with content that entertains.


Nine Best Practice Tips for Writing Content 

1. Write with the reader's end-goal in mind. 

When writing content for any audience, keep in mind what the journey or end-goal you want them to reach.

Ask questions before writing.

  • What are they looking for in your content?
  • What knowledge do you have that the readers may want or need?
  • Why should they be interested in what you share?
  • What are the demographics of your audience? Age, education, culture, skills, etc.
  • What content-type do I need to use to convey my message? Choosing the Right Content Type


2. Write clear, concise headers and subheaders.

Your headers and subheaders are the first words your reader will view. These words should capture the attention of the reader and tell the reader a hint of what your content is about.

  • Headers allow the reader to decide if they want to continue to read on.
  • Headers and subheaders should follow a hierarchy and contain keywords for search optimization in search engines and GeoNet. 
    * Refer to Optimizing Content with Keyword Placement


3. Write a relevant first paragraph.Inverted Pyramid

Grammar school teaches students to write in a traditional pyramid with the Introduction in the first paragraph, followed by details paragraphs and a conclusion. New media content best practice for writing is written in an inverted pyramid because many readers spend six seconds or less actually reading the content. Most readers will scan content if they are interested.


The Inverted Pyramid Method

An inverted pyramid begins with a Lead: answers the 5 Ws and relevant information in the first paragraph.

  • Ask yourself, "what function do you want your content to provide the readers?"
  • Include important facts and details in the beginning.
  • Get straight to the point. What do you want the reader to know or do?
  • Categorize the content for the needs of the reader.

Any content below the first paragraph should be scannable and the less important details.


4. Write in active voice.

An active voice is when the subject of a sentence/statement does the action to an agent/object. A passive voice is when a subject is acted upon or receives an action from an agent/object in a sentence/statement.

Active versus Passive Voice

Example of Active Voice: The chef created the cafeteria menu.

  • "The chef" is the subject.
  • The action is "the chef" created.
  • The cafeteria menu is the agent/object.

Example of Passive Voice: The cafeteria menu must have been created by a chef.

Passive sentences use permissive and softer words in combination with actions.

  • Must have, should have, could have, may have, would have…
  • Was eaten, were typed, have been, has been

How do you write in an active voice?

Write the way you would talk in a meeting or a conversation.

  • Relaxed yet business-minded.
  • Avoid abbreviations, jargon, industry-speak, and fluff. Not all readers will understand it.
  • Remember the global audience.
  • Be welcoming in your approach.
  • Keep your content brief. Content should be only as long as it needs to be, keeping sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Omit non-essential words.
  • Use one idea per paragraph.
  • Readers scan text rather than reading the whole screen.


5. Make content searchable using keywords, tags, highly searched phrases, and SEO.

What does searchable mean?

  • SEO has two meanings - Search Engine Optimizer and Search Engine Optimization. When writing for the general population, as we are not all experts in the industry, it is best to write using words that the users will likely search for and that Search Engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, BaiDu, and other Search Engines will search for within content pages. The Search Engine bots will crawl and copy the content, cataloging the copies on the server for when a user looks for the content relevant to their search. Optimizing your content with key phrases and words that your audience is likely to use when searching will help bump your content to the top of the search.
  • It is the use of keywords or tags that help readers find content on the Internet and Intranet.
  • Adding keywords or tags to your content will trigger web-crawlers (Bots) in the search engine to find your content. These crawlers will find your content and make a copy on the search engine servers.
  • Remember that crawlers are not only looking for keywords, but they are also looking for relevant and quality content. What you write matters.


Using keywords and tags to make your content searchable.

  • Sprinkle keywords and phrases throughout your headers, subheaders, and paragraphs. Optimizing Content with Keyword Placement
  • Anticipate words and phrases your readers are looking for.
  • Tag your content. Tagging Content
  • Making scanning of content easy for the reader by using subheaders, bullet points, and captions.
  • Provide keyword-type links within your content to take the reader to related content or pages.
  • Be sure to also tag and add titles to your images or uploaded files.


6. Make your content eye-scannable using headers and bullet points that capture the audience.

Readers have short focus when reading on a computer screen or a mobile device — approximately 6-seconds.  

  • Using headers and bullet points that capture the audience.
  • Keep content relevant.
  • Use keywords that grab the reader's attention.
  • Hyperlink to relevant content. If possible, link to content that cross-references your content.
  • Use tables and lists when possible or relevant.
  • Use a Table of Contents to create anchor links to your headers and subheaders. Creating a Table of Contents for Anchor Links


Research suggests that the reader is more visually drawn to a hyperlink when it is embedded in “Call to Action” phrases. Using hyperlinks will guide your readers to where they can learn more about an important related topic. 


Tips for hyperlinking content

Don’t hyperlink an entire sentence.

Don’t hyperlink entire statements. Only link the "Call to Action" phrase.

Use "Call to Action" phrases at the end of content or paragraphs.


Examples of Hyperlinking

Call to Action Phrases 

Document Linking

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8. Encourage a culture of editing content before publishing.

You want to remain credible to your readers by keeping accurate, grammar correct, and up-to-date information. It is so important to create a culture of editing and error correction.

  • Check, check, and double-check your content.
  • Have at least one other person review your content before publishing content. Use peer-editing to check for grammar errors or accuracy of facts.
  • Use tools such as spell check or grammar check to catch common writing errors. Resources also include and Google Spell Checker Add-on for Chrome for spell check.
  •  Keep your content up-to-date and accurate.
  •  Follow the Esri Guidelines, Associated Press Stylebook, or Chicago Manual of Style for writing as a resource for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Other resources include the Yahoo Style Guide for  Content and the Microsoft Manual of Style. 


9. Use a pre-publication checklist.

A pre-publication checklist should help you confirm that your content is ready for publishing. Items in a pre-publication list include:

  • Organization
  • Sentence structure
  • Paragraphs
  • Appearance
  • Tone and Voice
  • Grammar and Spelling
  • Keywords and Tags



Now that you've got the best practices for writing content down, get started on creating content in the community! Click the pencil icon in the top right-hand corner. 

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