How Important is Form for Content?

We started our careers as freelance writers at Elance.com. One of the reasons we made such a name for ourselves was because we provided high quality content – something many buyers were looking for but few were able to find. At one point, our team of two was listed number 3 out of over 34,000 providers, and at the time we were still learning the ins and outs of content marketing. We provided quality, and we thrived.

Defining “Quality”

The question though is how to define “quality” in content writing. Excellent grammar and word choice are important, as is the ability to turn something relatively simple into something very interesting. Certainly imagery is crucial as well. There are many factors that go into the ability to write well for the web.

But there are a lot of new writers – writers with English degrees that are familiar with how to work with the written word – that try to break into copywriting and fail. Clearly writing ability itself isn’t the only skill necessary for becoming a content writer.

New Writers and Content Form

I believe that what new writers fail to understand is form. From a young age, we’re taught to focus only on the words. We’re given projects, like the “5 paragraph essay,” where the only criteria is that the content is five paragraphs and has a very specific flow. Quality of writing is important, but layout is limited. Every student writes five bulky paragraphs and turns it in for their grade.

Online, you don’t have the luxury of guaranteeing that someone is going to read through the entirety of your piece. That’s where form comes in. Form is the way that your pages are set up visually. It’s the idea that if you weren’t looking at words, and were instead looking at an art piece that uses text, the writing that uses form is the one you would want to look at more.

Form is how content is broken up. It’s formatting. It’s sentence length. It’s the bullet points and images and other tools that break up the monotony of content and make it more visually appealing. It’s the reason that this:

  • Words – Words words words words words.
  • Words – Words  words words words words words words words words words.
  • Words – Words  words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words.

Looks better than this:

  • Words – Words  words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words.
  • Words – Words words words words words.
  • Words – Words words words words words words words words words words.

The difference is subtle, but the latter is uglier. The latter blends together, with an ugly break before the next bullet point and little to draw attention to the eye. The former is inviting; it’s pretty. It makes you want to read further, and even though there is literally zero difference in content (since there is none), the first bulleted list is still more attractive than the latter.

Form is where good content writing becomes great content writing, and the main reason that new writers often struggle when trying to break into the content writing field.

Content Over Form

Form isn’t always something that can be harnessed in your writing. There are times when a subtitle, bulleted list, and other formatting tricks simply don’t make sense for the content. As much as I advocate for form, I’ve written articles that ended up being a large blob of text because there was simply no way around it (in this case, the content was based on one topic and focused on scientific exploration).

But the key takeaway here is that quality content writing isn’t just about writing. It’s about learning how to write in a way that is ideal for the web, and the reality is that the quality of writing is only one part. The form you use to write it also has a considerable impact.