What I'm Teaching My Intern This Fall

This fall, I’ll have my first *ever* intern through one of the local colleges.

Working alongside me, said intern will get some hands-on experience with writing, running a business, and working in the online/freelance environment (mostly with software and eCommerce companies.)

Now, I realize that getting an intern up to speed is going to be a big undertaking. That’s why I’ve been working hard to create some solid onboarding materials to get that person up to speed as efficiently as possible.

Call me Patti Planner, but ya girl loves to have a process and NEEDS a plan. I've tried to chill on this and am only just now becoming someone kind of fun to vacation with.

ANYWAY.

During the development process for the intern onboarding materials, I’ve come to realize: Many of the first few weeks are going to be a lot about learning and reading.

So do you wanna know what I’m telling my intern to learn and read?

Below, you’ll find a few sections from the actual onboarding document I've been working on.

My hope in sharing this is that it will help offer a look inside my brain at a few things I’d tell myself to learn if I were starting at day one again. Let's dive in...

Getting Started: Learning the Basics of Good Blog Content

Before you start writing, it’s important to get familiar with how effective blog content looks, sounds, and reads. Unlike a research paper or an article for a newspaper, blog content is aimed at educating a very specific audience to accomplish business goals—which means you have to write in a way that does that.

Read these articles (and take notes!) for a crash course on high-quality content creation:

  1. Storyhacking how-to
  2. Supporting copy with images
  3. Enhance your blog content
  4. How to write an irresistible blog post
  5. Writing well, fast

What do all of these blog posts do well besides teach valuable writing lessons? They have a very “readable” quality. The writing voice is engaging, there’s personality entwined, and it doesn’t feel like a boring, one-sided lecture. This is what we’re going for in our own blog posts.

Best Practices for Writing Blog Content

1. Always thoroughly read and review any creative briefs, style guide documents, and getting started notes before you begin writing. It’s also a good idea to look at past posts from the client to get familiar with the look and sound of their content. Your goal is to make your writing consistent with all other content, rather than to stand out with a unique/signature writing voice.

2. You’ll work from an outline in the beginning, so it’s best to start in the middle section and do the intro and closing last (once you know what all you’ve covered within the post.) More on this here.

3. When formatting a piece of blog content, be sure to mirror the structure and layout of past blog posts to maintain consistency. That means replicating the way past posts use:

  • Titles: Do they ask for 2-3 potential titles that can be tested to see which performs best, or just one?
  • Headings: The larger-font headlines that break the post into different sections (think of them as titles for each new section)
  • Pull quotes: Quotes from sources or clients, often indented and in italics
  • Link text anchoring: The highlighted text of a hyperlink to an external piece of content
    • Example: This post on content marketing shows how we define this marketing activity. (Notice that ‘content marketing’ is highlighted rather than ‘this post’)
  • Images: Do you need to include a link to the image source below the screenshot or image within the post?
  • Closing Call to Action (CTA): What action should the reader take at the end of the post, and how do they do it?

4. Before submitting a first draft, be sure to copy/paste your draft into Grammarly to check for grammar/spelling errors that were missed and make any necessary changes. Other free tools that may help the writing process:

  • HemingwayApp: Helps shorten long sentences and improve readability
  • ClicheFinder: To spot and replace cliches
  • Airstory: To organize thoughts/research before/during the writing process

5. Stay consistent with our brand writing quirks:

  • When you need to pause a thought mid-sentence, use an em dash (—).
  • If you need an aside with the reader, use parenthesis. Punctuation goes outside, unless it ends the thought.
  • Rhetorical questions (that get you and the reader on the same page) are your friend. See what we did there?

Things to do when writing:

  • Always answer the questions that pop up as you’re writing. If you have to pause and think, “What is that?” or “Why?” a reader probably will too. Answer those questions within the post.
  • Use images to illustrate ideas. Screenshots often work well for this when referencing good or bad examples.
  • Link to high-quality research, stats, and case studies. Wikipedia is not link-worthy. We always want reliable research from the past three years if possible so it’s current. Google Scholar is a great starting place.

Things to avoid when writing:

  • Referencing/linking to competitors of the brand you’re writing for.
  • Talking down to the reader. Most of the time, audience members are pretty well-versed in what they’re reading, so we always assume they’re at a novice level rather than beginner.
  • Staying at the surface level. We want to take a deep dive and answer all of the ‘whys’ around a topic when we write rather than writing a fluffy piece that the reader doesn’t learn anything new from.

As you can imagine, there's a lot more to this document—but what I've included here is what I'd tell myself if I were starting from scratch with content creation.

If you also have an intern/new team member on your content team, feel free to borrow/tweak these notes as a starting point.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.