When I was 19 years old, I self-published my first novel—a novel that I’d been writing for more than two years. It was a substantial piece that was very important and precious to me. It was also the type of book that I would have loved to read if I’d found it in a library. It had plenty of descriptions of places, people, experiences and emotions; a healthy dose of travelogue; and a lot of internal monologue. It didn’t follow the norms and principles of the classic novel.

But when I read that novel now—after more than a decade of trying to learn about user habits, expectations and behaviors—I just want to rewrite it. The thing that gets on my nerves the most is not the sentimentalism or overly detailed descriptions, but the fact that when I ask myself, “Who did I really write this for?” the answer is… me.

I never wondered if someone else would relate to it, or what another reader would get out of it. I was incredibly proud of my achievement and I wanted to keep that feeling of pride intact. So I never asked for real feedback, not even from my closest friends. 

As content creators, we tend to be too overprotective of what we create.

We invest time and energy in creating content, and we expect positive responses. But feedback is not always positive, and sometimes it seems easier to avoid criticism altogether. 

One way to navigate the murky waters of the dynamics between content creation and content response is, well, by taking the murk out of the water—by focusing on who matters most. Whoever will read your content is the main person you should have in mind when writing.

In this blog post, I’ve compiled a few tips to make sure that the content you bring to life is written to benefit its readers—not your own ego.

Define the user

First things first: who will read your content? Make a list of the features that define your readers by asking yourself questions such as: How old are they? What gender might they identify as? What kind of knowledge on the subject could they have? Are they technical people, artististic people, or a mixture of both?

The answers don’t have to be too specific—a rough sketch will suffice. The purpose is to get a better understanding of your target audience so you can create valuable content specifically for them. 

Now that you’ve drawn a mental picture of your reader, you can start assembling the skeleton of your piece: defining its scope, tone and type of language. You should also consider what types of media you’ll include (images, videos, etc.) to support your arguments and provide examples.

At this point you should also think about where your content will be shared and how people will access it. For example, will it be published on a company website? A lifestyle blog? Social media channels? The platform you choose will also influence the language, keywords and information you need to include to drive engagement.

How to create valuable content for your reader, not yourself

Defining the user will help you plan and prepare your piece, and pave the way to receiving the desired response.

It’s a bit like making dinner for friends—before deciding on a recipe, first you need to know what they like to eat, if they have any food restrictions or allergies, if they’re on a diet, and so on. Feed your users well to ensure a healthy relationship with them, and to make sure your hard work is not in vain. 

Prioritize the value you provide

Once you understand whom you are writing for, you need to identify what the reader will get from your content. Ask yourself: “Why am I writing what I’m about to write?”

To paraphrase the instructor of one of my User Experience Principles courses: “If you fail to answer the ‘why,’ you fail. Full stop.”

If you don’t understand why you’re writing your piece of content, maybe you shouldn’t write it in the first place—or at the very least, maybe you shouldn’t share it. (You could also write it because you’re out of practice and just want to flex that muscle, or to fulfill a more personal ambition, like I did with my novel.) 

To create valuable content for your reader, here are five things to keep in mind:

1. Your reader doesn’t have all day.

The user is a real person with their own interests, priorities and needs. They only have a certain amount of patience and time that they’re willing to invest in your content. If they don’t get any real value from it, they won’t read it.

Readers won’t waste time on whatever you wrote if you don’t satisfy some important and meaningful need for them—whether it’s the need for factual information, an insightful opinion or emotional catharsis.

Maybe they’ll give you a few chances to get it right, but if you keep failing to provide them with what they’re seeking, eventually they’ll give up.

2. Focus on the “why.”

Because your reader’s time is limited, every sentence you put out there should be relevant. As I mentioned above, in order to create valuable content that keeps your audience engaged, constantly ask yourself: “Why am I making this point?” and “How is my reader going to benefit from this?”

Going back to your “why” can help you stay clear and concise. It’s especially beneficial when writing a long and complex piece, where it’s easy to get off topic.

3. Content should create an experience. 

Connecting with users means dealing with human psychology. By giving the reader something to consume, you create a medium for them to involve their cognitive functions—but you also create an experience.

If you’re writing a piece that relies on your reader’s emotional response (like the novel I told you about), you have to pay special attention to establishing trust and interest. For this kind of content to work, the reader has to get emotionally involved in a specific way.

4. Content needs a sturdy structure. 

The flow and architecture of your content is paramount to ensuring an enjoyable user experience, and therefore to helping your reader unlock the value of your content. 

For the user to find your content useful and meaningful, you have to present it in a way that’s easy to consume. If it’s confusing or hard to follow, the reader will be put off and will likely decide to look for information elsewhere.

5. You’re part of a value loop. 

If the user sees value in consuming your content, that value will come back to you. In the long run, you’ll benefit from your content to the same extent that your readers do.

This is important to remember, especially if the content you develop is at the core of your business or project and you rely on your audience for revenue. It’s also helpful to remember that as a content creator, you have a mission: to deliver meaning and value that benefits the user first, and yourself second.

Be aware, be kind, and be prepared to fail

Content writers are humans, too—and we’re also users of content created by others.

We don’t always get it right; we might be influenced by other authors and their work or too eager to write something that’s not yet ready to be shared with the world. It’s okay to acknowledge our limitations and lack of perfection, as long as we constantly strive to improve.

To become a better content creator, you have to accept that you’re writing for someone else. You must create an enjoyable experience for them, avoid wasting their time and energy, and be prepared for the inevitable setbacks you’ll encounter along the way.

As content creators, we have a responsibility to serve our readers well. And by putting the user first, we can ultimately make our own lives easier; focusing on the output removes some of the pressure and often allows us to produce our best work.

Georgiana Patru has always cultivated a passion for writing. She self-published her first novel at the age of 19, just before starting her academic degrees in film studies and literature. She later began a career in the tech industry, where she’s been guided by her interests in project management, content creation, marketing communications and information design. Originally from Romania, she now lives in Northern Ireland, where she enjoys long walks by the sea, yoga and seal spotting.

You can connect with Georgiana on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

This post was edited by Melissa Haun, a freelance content creator based in Lisbon.