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Writer Training and Resources

Welcome to Compose.ly’s writer community! We’re excited to have you here.

As part of Compose.ly’s mission to deliver quality content to clients, we strongly value helping and training writers to improve their craft. No writer is perfect, after all.

Below, you’ll find our Writer Training & Resources guide, which includes best practices for client interaction, writing, and SEO. We advise reviewing this guide in its entirety before taking on any writing projects at Compose.ly, regardless of your years of writing experience.

Even if you already know everything covered, it never hurts to review these guidelines. High satisfaction from Compose.ly’s clients ensures that the platform can continue running smoothly and that you’ll receive a regular stream of projects.

Table of Contents

Client Interaction

Communication is key to a successful Compose.ly project for both the writer and client. For writers specifically, communicating with clients could mean less revising and editing. As such, please pay special attention to the following notes.

Read project guidelines thoroughly.

Before you begin drafting a project, be sure to carefully read and review your client’s instructions. Clients are quick to express their disappointment when they receive drafts that clearly do not follow the guidelines they have outlined.

Be responsive.

Whether clients provide feedback through in-line comments on your draft or through Compose.ly’s messaging system, it is important that you respond in a timely manner. Even if a client’s comments do not seem to warrant a reply, it is best to at least send a message of confirmation.

Why?

If you’re unresponsive, a client may be uncertain that you’ve read their message at all. Feeling ignored may cause clients to rate working with you poorly. 

Below are response templates you can use and modify when corresponding with clients:

Do not duplicate content for the same client or different ones.

It is imperative that you produce original content for clients. Even if guidelines for multiple projects are similar, do not duplicate your work.

If you feel that some work can be duplicated acceptably (e.g., a disclaimer statement at the end of an article), clarify with your client. It is ultimately on you, the writer, to communicate any questions or confusion about assigned projects. Proceeding without a client’s input may raise questions about plagiarism or deception.

General Grammar and Writing

The notes below are common issues clients have observed and brought up. Please keep these in mind when drafting or reviewing your work.

Use active voice.

Writing in an active voice tends to be more engaging than sentences written in a passive voice. Take a look at the following examples:

active passive sentence examples

(Image credit: Your Dictionary)

Can you see how the first sentence in both examples sounds more actionable? Meanwhile, the passive sentences read rather blandly.

That’s not to say that every sentence in your project should be active, of course. Do not force active voice when it may result in awkward phrasing, but avoid clustering passive-voice sentences together, e.g., four consecutive passive-voice sentences.

Use descriptive language.

Rather than repeating “good” or “great,” aim to use more detailed descriptors in your writing.

After all, generic words like “good” and “great” do not offer much information to readers. Try to find words that provide more specificity. Consider the differences here:

Using more descriptive language strengthens the visuals created by your writing, and it can also enhance clarity.

For help with finding more descriptive vocabulary, check out Thesaurus.com as you write. However, remember to double check that a new word and definition fit the context of your piece.

Keep continuous tense to a minimum.

For a quick review, continuous tense (also known as progressive verb tense) refers to actions that are, were, or will be in progress. There are three main types, as shown below:

Using continuous tense is appropriate in certain contexts—for instance, when describing ongoing actions. However, it should not be used in excess.

Consider the two excerpts taken from the same CNN article.

Excerpt 1:

CNN article excerpt

Excerpt 2:

CNN article excerpt

Excerpt 1 uses past tense to describe what has already occurred. This is more effective than using past continuous tense, e.g., “locals in the tiny village of Kulusuk, Greenland were hearing what sounded like an explosion.”

Meanwhile, Excerpt 2 uses continuous tense to describe ongoing research. It would not be appropriate to use past tense in this sentence, as the investigation is not yet complete.

Use a mix of sentence structures.

Here’s a quick review of the different types of sentence structures:

Using just one type of sentence structure will make your writing sound repetitive and even choppy. Aim for a variety to improve your writing’s “rhythm and flow.”

For an example, compare the two paragraphs below:

Unvaried Sentence Structures

The movie Titanic was directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. It is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Cameron’s inspiration for the film came from his fascination with shipwrecks. He felt a love story interspersed with human loss was essential for conveying the disaster’s emotional impact.

Varied Sentence Structures

The movie Titanic was directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. According to Cameron, inspiration for the film came from his fascination with shipwrecks, and he felt a love story interspersed with human loss was essential for conveying the disaster’s emotional impact.

Can you see how varying the sentence structures changed the flow of the paragraph? If not, try reading the two paragraphs aloud to better observe this difference.

Give details and specific examples.

Avoid general statements or “fluff.”

What exactly counts as fluff? Sentences that don’t give the reader much value. While they help reach your target word count, they read as pointless statements. Clients are quick to see through these and demand edits (or refunds) if you’ve written them in excess.

To avoid this, aim to provide rich detail and specificity that will benefit the reader. For an idea of how that might look, check out the two paragraphs below:

Good

The Chinese language actually refers to a group of related language varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. About 1.2 billion people (around 16% of the world’s population) speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Bad

Many people around the world speak Chinese as their first language.

Use gender-neutral language appropriately.

It was once common (and some people may still prefer) to use “he/she,” “he or she,” or even “s/he” when referring generally to a hypothetical person in the third person. Using singular “they” for this purpose is much less clunky and has support from multiple dictionaries, style guides—and even Shakespeare.

Verbs still need to agree with their antecedents in any case. If this is still awkward for any reason, try rewording the sentence instead.

Enrich your writing with facts and statistics—but also remember to give credit where it’s due. This means linking to any sources you’ve pulled information from.

When it comes to choosing sources, look for well-established sites, like universities, government offices, and companies that have demonstrated expertise in a subject. Avoid using or linking to unusual domain URLs (e.g., www.freewifihotspotservicez.info) that are more promotional in nature.

Formatting, Punctuation, and SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of content writing for the web. Keep the following tips in mind to make your work more search-friendly.

Use line breaks generously.

When it comes to formatting your writing, remember:

Writing for the web ≠ writing for print

Though print articles and books often feature lengthy paragraphs, their online counterparts tend to avoid these.

Check out the difference between the two articles below. Which do you think reads better?

two different articles juxtaposed

(Image credit: Simply Psychology / Neil Patel)

Use line breaks throughout your writing to make it more visually friendly. It’s okay to even insert a line break after a single sentence, as Neil Patel does in the example above.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid paragraphs with over 100 words; these tend to overwhelm readers.

Incorporate bullet points and numbered lists.

Like the aforementioned tip, web content should be easily skimmable. Incorporating lists into your writing will do this and ultimately make your work more visually friendly.

Composely writing toolbar with bullet and numbered lists highlighted

Use the appropriate formatting buttons on Compose.ly’s writing toolbar to make bullet point and numbered lists.

However, this does not mean lists should be forced into your article. Use them when relevant, such as when providing:

Use headings.

You can optimize your writing for better search engine performance by using headings to break up your text. This also makes your writing more scannable and easy to read.

Composely writing toolbar with headings feature

For SEO purposes, aim to include your client’s specified primary or secondary keyword(s) in your article’s headings whenever possible. This should be done naturally, however—do not force keywords when a heading does not call for it.

Limit your use of parentheses.

The use of parentheses breaks up the flow of a paragraph—readers have to settle themselves back in after reading them. For this reason, it’s best to avoid them in running text whenever possible.

Try other devices if you really want to use a parenthetical, such as commas or em dashes. Also consider whether or not you could just incorporate the parenthetical information into the text body itself—or, whether it’s needed at all.

Know the difference between em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens.

An em dash is not the same as an en dash or a hyphen. Please use the correct one.

Chicago style guidelines—typically followed by magazines and other non-wire informational sources—dictate no spaces on either side. AP style uses a space before and after. When in doubt, use Chicago.

Leave one space after a period.

Your typing teacher may have taught you to leave two spaces after a period, but it’s time to unlearn this rule.

Two spaces after a period is a holdover from the days of typewriters. Today’s word processing software understands that a slightly larger space is needed to divide sentences, so it is automatically added in the formatting.

Be selective about the stock photos you include.

Incorporate stock images into your writing with prudence. Not all clients expect images—in fact, it’s best to ask about this directly if your project guidelines do not mention a need for pictures.

If you do include images:

Optimize your anchor text.

Anchor text refers to the clickable text used in a hyperlink. Remember that you should include links to sources in your writing—and these links should be well-optimized.

To do so:

Examples of Acceptable Anchor Text

Samples of Common Errors

Below are common writing mistakes and examples our editors have seen when reviewing writer submissions. Please be aware of these errors.

Ambiguous parallel structure

“That said, if you don’t reach out to service and miss a payment…”

Editor’s Note: This can be parsed in two different ways: “If you don’t reach out to service and don’t miss a payment” or “If you don’t reach out to service and do miss a payment”. Confusing.

Comma splice

“They do not simply deliver your mail, rather they print your documents and envelopes, stuff the envelopes, and mail it without you even needing to leave your computer.”

Editor’s Note: “Rather” is not a conjunction.

Mixed metaphors

“A video’s script can tell a story, aim for the heartstrings, or even use humor.”

Editor’s Note: This is an example of trying to combine two idioms into one confusing thing.

Tautology

“Top-performing teams perform better than average ones.”

Editor’s Note: That’s what a “top-performing team” is.

Different form, same sentence

“…providing reliable, ongoing performance for any security and alarm requirements you require.”

Editor’s Note: Using “requirement” and “require” in the same sentence is awkward.

Additional Resources

To improve your writing and SEO knowledge further, we encourage you to check out the following resources.

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