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Why longform copy needs a different approach

If you’re used to writing punchy social media copy or tightly written press releases, switching to something longer might feel a bit daunting – especially if you’ve masses of often complex detail to pull together. 

Writing copy for anything over 500 words – blog posts, articles, opinion pieces, speeches, case studies, etc. – requires a very different planning, structuring and writing approach. Especially if you want people to read it from start to finish. 

For longform content to be compelling, you need: 

an original idea (or, at least, an original take on an old idea) 

the right mix of facts and opinion 

a structure that encourages your audience to read on 

and, above all, a way with words that makes your content a joy to read 

Many students and delegates on my writing courses tell me the biggest problem they have in writing compelling longform content is the subject matter. They say it’s dry, dull or complex and it’s impossible to be inspired, find new ideas and make the subject engaging.  

 But, as I always tell them, there’s no such thing as dull subjects, only dull writing.  

 If we get the audience right, if we approach the subject from their point of view, try to solve their problems and make their life easier, any subject can be riveting.  

 Take any subject. Picture your target audience as the princess and ask yourself what dragons does she face in her day to day life?  

 Maybe she needs to get a parcel delivered quickly but her dragon keeps throwing too many options her way – and charging a fortune for the pleasure.  

 Then consider your hero – your client, company, product or service. How is it helping the princess slay her dragon?  

Maybe your delivery management software can automatically select the best delivery method at the point of order? Maybe it can also print the label with all the info the carrier and international customs need to send it quickly? 

Don’t be lazy with research 

Whether you have no knowledge of the subject or loads of knowledge and strong opinions, you need to do your research if you’re going to keep your reader engaged from start to finish.  

Ask loads of questions. The six Ws (who, what, where, when, why and how) are a good starting point. Who are we talking to? Why would they be interested? Why are we writing about this now? What’s new? What’s different? What problems are we helping to overcome? How are we doing that?  

Build the intrigue 

 The more facts you have to support your own knowledge and opinion, the more you can intrigue your reader.  

But don’t throw everything at them at once. Set the scene (the problem). Present your argument (the solution). And deliver the evidence to support your premise. 

As soon as you’ve finished talking to someone, doing some online reading, digging out some stuff you or someone else has already written about your subject, write up your notes quickly – while they’re still fresh in your mind. 

 The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect 

It’s not easy finding time in a busy work environment. But if you don’t write notes quickly, your first draft will take longer to write when you do find time to get round to it. And if you’ve made handwritten notes, you might wonder what those illegible squiggles mean! 

Don’t try to write that beautiful final copy yet. Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. Just put some structure around your notes. And don’t get it right, get it written. 

You’ll need a beginning that pulls your reader in, that gets straight to the point and focuses on the ‘why’. You’ll need a middle that develops that point, shows the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. And you’ll need an ending that neatly ties everything together with a logical conclusion and/or ‘call to action’.  

Listen to the music 

Once you’re convinced your latest draft (you might need several) includes all the key points – and makes it clear how your hero can (help) slay the dragon – you can turn to the writing itself. 

Read it out loud. Listen to the flow. Good writing is like good music – it sounds right.  

 Break up long sentences and paragraphs. Add a few subheads and, possibly, bullet points. Remove any unnecessary words (usually adjectives) and replace those horrible cliched phrases with sincerity.  

 Aim for each paragraph to end with something that encourages the reader to read on. For example, ask questions or say “later, we look at…”  

 Think finale, not end 

When people are busy, they’ll often skim-read the beginning and the end of a piece of long writing to see if it’s worth reading. 

Make the end as strong as the beginning. Involve your reader. Relate to their problems. Show them there is a solution and how they can find it.  

Make them feel the time they’ve dedicated to your writing was worth it.  

 Lorraine Forrest-Turner MPRCA is an expert trainer in Writing Skills, running courses including the brand new PRCA course, Writing Compelling Longform Content, in August 2023. 


Take a look at Lorraine's upcoming courses here!