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October 1, 2015
The Six W's: The Questions a Writer Asks Before Writing
Thinking back to grade school, many of us remember the "Six W’s" that help in crafting a great story: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How. When it comes to crafting compelling web content, these same six questions can serve as a framework to help guide the structure of the content you're producing. Each question translates as a key element to any effective piece of content and helps frame the “type” of article that's produced in the end. Here is a deeper look at each of those six questions:

Who is Your Reader?
When writing to please everyone, you'll often please no one. Narrowing your audience to a specific reader and understanding that reader is essential to writing effective content. Are you creating content for prospective customers or existing customers? Are you creating content for the buyer of your product or the end user of your product? Answering these questions will allow you to modify the content, tone, and language of your writing to be more impactful. Catering your writing to a specific audience is essential in connecting with that audience.

What Type of Content Are You Creating?
For most in the content marketing space, blog articles are not the only “type” of content that needs to be produced. There are landing pages, e-books, presentations, product descriptions, social media posts, etc. Recognize that each medium has its own nuances and best practices. Working within the constraints each medium has can help shape how you approach your content and serve as inspiration for repurposing older content into new formats.

Where Will Your Content Live?
Think of the location where your content will end up. Will it live deep inside an application serving to answer an existing customer's technical question or will it live openly on a blog where both existing and prospective customers will read it? Content that is produced for “internal” use vs “external” use will have many differences. The most important difference is how you introduce brand language to the reader. Content that lives internally is inherently consumed by those who are more familiar with your brand and speak the language, allowing for a different level of clarity. Readers who are unfamiliar with your brand would require further explanation and softer introduction to your brand's terminology.

Why Are You Writing?
Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys), ask yourself why you're writing a particular piece of content. How does this piece of content fit into your larger goals as an organization? Are you writing to drive engagement and conversion to a specific website/property or to create general education and awareness? The notion of action vs education can be powerful in framing your approach to content development.

When is Your Content Relevant?
Are you creating copy for short-term promotions, events, and materials that will only live for a limited amount of time? Or are you creating “evergreen” content that is intended to stick around for years to come and serve as the foundation for educating your customers? Recognize that the timeliness of your content can have a big impact on both the length and language of what you produce.

How Are You Distributing Your Content?
Although many of these questions are focused more on the process of writing, understanding how your content will be distributed is a vital component to how it's crafted. Content that is distributed via short-form platforms such as Twitter or Facebook should likely focus on brevity and leverage imagery. Content that is distributed via longer-form platforms such as a blog or presentation can include further depth and rely more on text. Realize that the audiences of each distribution platform have different expectations of their content consumption experience.

In the end, these questions are solely intended to help you, as a writer, craft a clearer strategy for your work. They can serve as guides to your process and help you think through the different aspects of creating effective content.

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Ross Beyeler co-founded For Art's Sake Media, Inc., a technology company servicing the art industry, and Growth Spark, a design and technology consultancy focused on helping eCommerce and B2B service companies excel. (Growth Spark has completed over 225 projects and led Ross to a 2010 nomination as one of BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25).
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