Section Six: Writing Tips for Content Writers

Let’s start with using style guides and get that out of the way. Style guides are not just rulebooks for punctuation and formatting; they’re like blueprints that guide your writing so that it communicates effectively and meets the professional standards expected by your clients and their audiences.

Each style guide has its unique focus, making certain ones more suitable for specific types of writing. Here are more details and tips for understanding and utilizing style guides in your freelance writing career.

APA (American Psychological Association)


This one is mostly used in scientific papers, psychology, education, and other social sciences. It emphasizes the clarity of communication, the precision of word choice, and the reduction of bias in language.

Tip: Pay special attention to how APA style handles citations and references because proper sourcing is crucial in these fields.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

You’ll see this one requested for works in literature, arts, and humanities. MLA is known for its simplified approach to references and citations, focusing on the author-page format.

Tip: When writing in MLA style, remember that the emphasis is on the author’s names within the text, fostering a seamless reading experience.

Chicago Manual of Style


This style guide is widely used in business, history, and the fine arts. This is the style guide we try to adhere to because it’s known for its comprehensive guidelines on grammar and documentation and offers two documentation systems: notes-bibliography (suitable for literature, history, and the arts) and author-date (preferred in the physical, natural, and social sciences).

Tip: Familiarize yourself with both documentation systems and use footnotes or endnotes adeptly when the Chicago style is required of you.

Associated Press (AP) Style


The one I use most and the go-to for journalists, news writing, and marketing. AP style focuses on clarity, accuracy, and brevity, which, if you’ve been paying attention, are essential in creating engaging and trustworthy writing.

Tip: Keep the AP Stylebook handy where you write. You’ll consult it all the time, especially for guidelines on abbreviations, acronyms, and the use of numerals, to ensure your content meets industry standards.

Other Writing Tips

Making the most of the readability and engagement of your content involves more than just following style guides. Here are some of my own tips for creating the best content you can.

Active vs. Passive Voice

This will come up more than you think. Most online content performs best when written in an active voice, not a passive one. That means it directly attributes actions to a subject, making sentences more engaging and easier to follow (e.g., “My mom baked a delicious cake” vs. “A delicious cake was baked by my mom”).

Tip: To keep your writing active, identify the subject performing the action and place it at the beginning of the sentence. Use passive voice selectively when the action’s recipient is more important than the doer.

Tone and Brand Voice

Your writing should mirror the personality and values of the brand or publication you’re writing for. A tech startup might prefer a casual, innovative tone, but a law firm may require a more formal, authoritative voice.

If you’re working on a ghostwriting basis (no byline or credit, and the work is published under the client’s name), then you’ll likely have to try to match your writing voice to that of the client.

Tip: Immerse yourself in your client’s existing content to understand their brand voice. When in doubt, ask for brand guidelines or examples of content they admire.

Creating ‘Scrollable’ Content

What’s scrollable content? You might also see it called scannable content. Either way, it means large blocks of text broken up into easy-to-read (or scroll) ways using lists, bolded words, infographics, call-outs, and more.

This is because online readers have VERY short attention spans and will just scroll past large runs of text with little to no breaks. Go back to your early years of reading. As a kid, did you enjoy graphic novels or books with a good mix of text and visuals over big ol’ novels? That’s because the content inside was easier to digest!

Tip: Use the “inverted pyramid” structure common in journalism—start with the most important information and follow with supporting details. This helps make sure readers grasp the key points even if they don’t read the entire piece.