You might think that writing is all the same. In fact, I’ve had plenty of clients act confused when I seem hesitant to take on a project outside of my writing skill set. “But you’re a writer!” they’ll say as if that suddenly qualifies me to understand complex financial documents. There are many different types of writing and each type requires a different focus. Here are some of the biggest types of writing requests I see when I’m reviewing freelance job opportunities.
This is a hugely popular type of writing for freelance writers right now. Nearly every project description I read involves a mention of social media management. Clients expect fun, exciting, and helpful posts that will generate engagement with their customers. Often, Google Analytics and metrics will be pulled into the conversation, and you’ll be asked to hit certain targets. That’s a lot to put on a writer, and it can seem stressful.
Having a good understanding of their brand and values can really help you here. Knowing what the company cares about will give you writing inspiration. You can also research similar companies and see what the industry-standards are for social media. If all else fails, ask the client for posts they like from other accounts. What they find exciting might not be the same as what you were imagining. Social media management is all about learning about people – starting with a solid understanding of your client will keep you on track.
Here are some tips for specific social media channels:
- Facebook Posts – When a client asks you to write for Facebook, there are many types of writing they might be expecting. Keeping social media accounts current and interesting requires a regular stream of posts. Ask your client if they need general posts, which typically should be mixed in with promotional/sales oriented posts on the account. If a Facebook account is 100% selling something all of the time, no one will follow it. Give readers a reason not to unsubscribe with high-quality, regular content.
- Tweets – Writing for Twitter gives you 140 characters to make an impact. That’s not much room, so make it count. An easy way to get noticed is by using good hashtags. Research what is trending and what hashtags are used most often in that field and incorporate those hashtags into your posts.
- Snapchat – This form of social media is getting more popular by the day, and businesses are joining in droves. Using a fun image and short burst of text can quickly reach users and get your message across. This platform is about way more than quirky filters and funny stories – it’s simple and cheap access to a wide range of clients. Be careful, people are fast to unfollow if they constantly get annoying notifications that you’ve sent a Snap, so make them count!
- Instagram – This platform is popular for sharing photos and adding captions. The caption length is up to you, but it will be truncated after a few lines, and users will need to be proactive and click a button to expand the text. This means you have a few lines to really hook the reader, that is if they get that far. If you absolutely need to get a message across on Instagram, there are two things you should do:
- Write on the photo – You should use an editing app and write the text on the photo itself. An alternative to this is to post an image that is only text. You really can’t rely on users reading the text below your photo since most people casually scroll through their feed. Putting text on the image is the best way to get your message read.
- Use hashtags – The simplest way for people to find your post is by using good hashtags. If they already follow you, your images will show up in their feed. But getting new followers, likes, and clicks is all about finding the best hashtags for your content.
Note: Recently, the differences between Snapchat and Instagram have blurred a bit, so you may not really need both accounts. However, you can let your client choose which social media accounts work best for them, and modify your writing accordingly.
Blogs are everywhere, and if you’re a writer you’ll likely need to blog at some point. Freelancers are frequently asked to step in and blog for companies, but even full-time organizations sometimes have bloggers on staff. Blogging means different things to different clients. Some just want to increase traffic to their site, while others are more interested in giving their readers complex and thought-provoking content. Getting an idea of what audience you are writing for will help you blog most effectively.
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to blogging. I edited for a blog that was purely looking for traffic. If a dull or pointless post got tons of hits, more posts were churned out on similar topics. But I’ve also worked for technical blogs that cared more about delivering high-quality messages than focusing on clicks. I think you can tell which work I enjoyed more, but it’s important to know how to do both types of writing, especially if you are freelancing.
Honestly, this type of writing is a necessary beast that a lot of writers hate. Yes, it can stifle creativity and make writing into a chore. Cramming specific words into your writing can interrupt the natural flow and make the text sound forced.
Despite the rage that might be boiling in some writers because they are asked to shove keywords in their writing, I think we all know it’s necessary. At this point the internet is full of information, and it’s hard for anyone to stand out. If your readers can’t find you, then what you’re saying might get lost. Learning how to optimize the content on the site so that it reaches the right people is important. Making this type of writing sound natural is a challenge, but with practice you’ll start to be able to craft documents around specific words.
This might be my favorite type of writing. While you’re reading a blog and thus I am writing more conversationally, I really enjoy academic writing. Sure, sometimes it can be used to convey convoluted points with unnecessary gravitas, but this isn’t always the case.
Academic writing is your chance to collect thoughts, process them, and come up with new interpretations. One of the best ways to get into academic writing is to read what scholars are saying about topics you are interested in learning about. Visions of outdated history textbooks might be dancing through your head right now, please shoo them away. Instead, consult Google Scholar and look for published papers on things that interest you.
Finding solid sources that analyze or explain ideas you are passionate about will get you thinking about new ways to use academic writing. While you might be tasked with writing a simple brand assessment, adding research and citing sources can go a long way. You will be more persuasive and have more grounding for your thoughts and ideas if you can find concrete sources to back them up. There are academic studies being conducted constantly. Pull a few reports and scan them when you’re drafting your report. Including some relevant facts will make you look like more of an authority on the subject. Plus, who doesn’t like backing up a claim by saying, “Well, according to my research…”?
This is almost always the hardest type of writing for anyone to perfect. There are so many reasons why it’s tough, but mostly business writing is hard because every business is different. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to business writing, which can leave you frustrated and confused.
Say your manager approaches you and asks you to reach out to potential customers via a sales email. How do you even start what is essentially the modern cold call? Well, there are a few things you can do to break out of your writer’s block. First, fill up a blank document with keywords. What are the main things you need to get across? Maybe you will be giving these customers a discount, so type “30% off first order” on the page. It may seem silly, but putting down must-have’s in bullet form will help you to create your business email. It will also ensure you don’t miss any critical points because you are so focused on putting together nicely structured sentences.
Once you know what you have to say, you need to decide how you want to say it. Undoubtedly, this is the toughest part of business writing. Getting the tone correct takes time and patience. When I am working for a new client there are two things I pay attention to:
- How they communicated with me during our first interactions.
- What materials they like to read.
The first point will give you a sense of what they think is appropriate business language (in most cases anyway). Since they didn’t know you in the beginning, they likely used their best business etiquette, and matching that tone and style is probably going to work for you. To get a sense of the second point you will have to ask them for materials before you start writing. Asking for newsletters they find persuasive, business Twitter accounts they like, and things of that nature will help you to learn what types of writing they admire. Mimicking these styles while personalizing them to your company will go a long way to achieving a tone your client or boss enjoys.
I consider this “extreme business writing.” You need to put facts, personality, hooks, and professional tone all into one short informative piece of writing. Usually, you’ll also have a really short time frame to write a press release in, because clients tend to leave these until the last minute.
If you’re working for a client or company on a communications plan, you can get one of the biggest pieces of a press release written early. The company boilerplate information can be written early, and it is a critical piece of every press release you will write. Coming up with a boilerplate that is brief, describes the company, and gives a link for readers to learn more will give you an edge when creating your press release. A lot of companies will spend time mulling over boilerplate language a refining it, which can hold up your press release timeline.
Another thing to remember is that different distribution channels have different requirements. Make a list of places you plan to submit your press release, and check their sites to see if they have any specific do’s and don’t’s. This will save you time and angst if it’s returned because of something you would have caught if you read the guidelines.
When you’re a writer and someone asks you to write a speech for the first time, it’ll probably stop you in your tracks. A professional speech is a huge undertaking so I advise you not to take it lightly. If you haven’t written one before that’s ok, but be honest with the client because you don’t want them to expect a persuasive speech and instead be given a bulleted list of notes.
Speeches are easier to write if you know the person who will be delivering the speech. You will need to understand their tone, attitude, and how well they know the topic they are presenting. This will help you with constructing the speech. You will be able to choose words and stories that are appropriate for the individual, and give them helpful support materials if they aren’t too familiar with the topic (showing your research can be critical). I like to sit down with the client and discuss the topic with them casually. Learning why they are giving the speech, who they will be speaking to, and any points they consider important is easier if you have a discussion with them first. You will also be able to learn if they expect a fully-formed speech or just need research turned into speaker notes.
If you’re up for the challenge of speechwriting, then good! It can be incredibly rewarding. Sometimes I’ll sneak in the back row and listen to the speaker’s interpretation of my words. Partly to learn what I can do differently, and partly because it’s just fun.
You might think this is just the same thing as speech writing. However, they’re different enough that they absolutely deserve their own categories. This is mostly because while a presentation can contain a speech, it also has the added element of visuals. Generally, presentations are created in Keynote or PowerPoint, and then you can insert speaker notes if needed.
Writing a good presentation takes work. One thing you need to remember is that people tend to ignore the speaker and read the presentation if it is being projected. Making presentation slides brief and informative is a delicate balance. Try and include visuals that illustrate the speaker’s point but don’t distract the audience from listening to the message. I also like to focus the text in my presentations on short facts or persuasive statistics. It doesn’t take long to absorb 3 statistics in bullet-point form, but it will make an impact and add to the presentation overall.
Often, people are compelled to write every piece of information on the presentation slides. This leaves a bad impression and needs to be avoided at all costs. Concision is key! Here’s how I get around the urge to shove my presentations full of text: leave behinds. If you’re worried that people will forget key points from the presentation, make a well-designed factsheet and hand it out after the talk. You’ll get your message across, and give them details without detracting from the presentation.
There are so many types of writing, that it was hard for me to narrow it down to just these few. Still, in my daily freelance work, I come back to these writing types most often. Learning to master different writing styles will give you an amazing range of skills and abilities.
What types of writing do you find yourself struggling with most often? Do you have any good style guides or books that helped you hone your writing style? Tell us what works for you in the comments below.