What we learned from writing and editing many, many long-form articles

Writing down notes in a notebook

Over the past year, we had the opportunity to work with many clients to produce consistent and quality long-form articles.

From having just 2 writers purely supporting JIN Design’s UX projects, to holding our own client accounts, we took a huge leap of faith.

Creating long-form content has become one of our main crafts, and one of the best things we can help our clients do. But it wasn’t easy. We had to learn a lot and grow as fast as we could in a matter of a few short months. From what to do, what not to do, to basically relearning how to write (and it’s not like that was really taught in-depth in school). So, we thought: why not share what we’ve learned? 

We have a few tricks up our sleeves for aspiring writers who, like those who have just embarked on this career path, often wondered: how and where do I start writing? 

1. Have a general idea of what you want to share

Honestly, that’s enough for you to get started. All you need is an idea, undivided focus, time, and decent Googling skills. For example, for this article, we wanted to simply share what we have learned writing many, many articles for the past year. 

We took what worked for us when drafting our articles, and put it into proper pointers that we thought could be of value for someone like you—someone probably interested in getting started with content writing.

Drafting a long-form article with a pen and paper
Drafting is a key stage in the writing process

2. Do drafts 

As much as you hate this word and the process of writing something down, deleting and rewriting it, it’s the golden rule we’ve learned to create good content. 

On your first draft

Put down your thoughts and expand on that idea. “Vomit out” everything that you have understood from the topic. Let your writing flow until you reach a point where your thoughts trail off and there is nothing left to write.

Our brains work fast, and as writers, our hands need to work faster to catch up on whatever is spilling out. From thoughts to paper.

Do not overthink things. If that particular word your brain just spurted out is suitable for your writing. Write it down. Even if it’s exaggerated, even if your brain is SHOUTING THE WORDS. Write it down. You don’t want to miss out on your ongoing train of thought by hitting that backspace and overthinking that sentence. Keep it flowing. Write.

It’s always easier to take it down a notch than to amplify it later.

On your second draft 

Read back what you’ve written and you’ll be able to identify the key points you’re trying to convey. Remove sentences that are unnecessary and serve no value. With these key points, expand the information. Go into explaining the points. Even if it may seem straightforward and idiot-proof, explain it nonetheless. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to others.

On your third draft

With this third draft, you’ll be nearer to your final piece. Clean up your language, sentence structure, and grammar. At this point, your third draft should have a clear reading flow and proper formatting, leading smoothly from point to point.

Lastly, read it out loud

Yes, read your work out. Loud. To yourself. This can help you to identify awkward pauses and edit away weird sentences. 

That said, there is no fixed number of drafts. We sometimes go through several. Revise until you are done. Done meaning “Okay, this is good to go. It’s of publishable standard and I’m proud of this work.

3. Get a second pair of eyes

Well, not literally. And no, your glasses aren’t your second pair of eyes. 

To err is human. It’s easy to overlook mistakes when you’re too attached to your work. That’s why you should have someone else proofread your work.

At Oats, we run our content through Grammarly as a first checkpoint. Of course, Grammarly is not 100% foolproof. It’s a great tool, but it doesn’t always understand the context of a sentence or its structure, and spell checking tools aren’t perfect.

So, our next checkpoint is doing a round of feedback within the team. If you’re a solo writer, your proofreader need not be another writer, but it should be someone who can at least differentiate “they’re” and “their”.

Your team, or proofreader, will provide a fresh perspective. After all, you’ve been staring at the same piece of work for hours. They can help to give useful comments, or suggest alternative words that can better relay what you’re trying to communicate. 

Don’t underestimate this small step. An internal round of feedback can drastically improve the clarity of a point you want to get across.

Team discussing content over a meeting
Constructive feedback will help you improve your writing

4. There will always be feedback and comments

Writer’s pride says that the piece we are about to submit is the perfect piece. We’ve done multiple checks, addressed all internal comments — there shouldn’t be any more mistakes…right? 

Well, in reality, there will always be more feedback, no matter how good your work is. Regardless of how skilled we are in the field of research and writing, we may not know everything about the industries we are writing for.

It’s always good to keep your emotions in check, and your expectations realistic. One of the key lessons we’ve learned is to keep your craft and how you value yourself separate. Your work does not define your value. You just need to work harder in honing your craft. Keep practising, keep writing.

We digress. Back to the topic. 

Received minor feedback? Great! It means that you have a solid understanding of the content and topic you’ve written, and it’s a good piece of work. Give yourself a pat on the back!

Gotten major comments that are valid and warrant a rewrite? Well, back to the drawing board you go. In times like these, stay humble, be willing to learn from these mistakes, and don’t make them again. It should be stuck to the back of your head like an overly-adhesive post-it note.

Creating guidelines on what to take note of also helps. For example, if the comments talk about not mentioning specific words, it’s best to note them down in a general document. You and everyone in your team can then refer to it and apply it for future work. 

One oversight we made early on was addressing comments directly and only making a mental-note. Trust us, you’ll forget and make the same mistakes later on. It’s better to be organised and have everything documented properly. 

That’s all we have for now! We hope this was useful and we look forward to sharing more experiences and knowledge. 

Stay tuned for more!

Need help getting your content off the ground?

Get in touch with us! We'd love to collaborate with you