How to Un-Learn “College Writing”

As a content writer, my entire role is centered around my ability to write concise, well-informed content that achieves client goals. After a year in my first full-time marketing position, it’s safe to say that college didn’t prepare me for a writing career. Unlearning my college writing habits took time, patience, and above all, practice.

If you’re currently applying for writing careers or just want to improve your writing skills post-grad, this blog is for you. I’ll touch on three pitfalls of college writing and highlight ways you can write like a marketing professional.

Where College Writing Falls Short

Before you throw your degree away, know that not every college writing assignment (or professor!) is misguided and sets you up for failure. Attending college is an opportunity for students to continue their education, obtain a degree, grow their character and qualify for their dream job. That being said, I noticed three ways my post-graduate writing worked against me as I tried to write effective marketing copy for clients.

Prioritizing Length Over Everything Else

While college writing aims to provide a formal structure for written assignments, this practice inadvertently teaches students to stretch an idea as much as possible. Whether you’re writing two responses to a discussion post or a three-page anthropology essay, taking up space is usually more important than the content itself.

Just because something is longer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good—especially in digital marketing. Writing deliverables with strict character counts (like optimized paid search and social ads) requires your messaging to be short, concise and impactful.

Quantity Over Quality

The mechanics and fundamentals of writing are seldom addressed in the classroom. I can find bloated sentence structure, simple grammar mistakes, and an abundance of “scholarly” vocabulary words in almost all of my past writing assignments. When writing as a marketer, it’s quality over quantity—contrary to what college may have taught you.

Shorter, punchier writing engages readers faster. If you keep it simple, readers are more likely to remember what you said.

There’s a Lack of Purpose

Students aren’t writing to generate leads, spread brand awareness, or influence a consumer’s purchasing decisions. Most students write to explain or inform instead of to communicate and inspire. And when you combine a lengthy page requirement with little knowledge of how writing works, it’s no surprise that college writing is redundant, filled with errors and downright boring.

Steps for Writing Like a Content Marketer

While college writing may have its flaws, it’s not impossible to fix. By dedicating time to your craft and establishing a solid foundation for professional writing, you can unlearn any college writing habits you no longer need.

Find What Makes Writing Compelling

Writing for a digital marketing agency means that I write for a broad range of clients, audiences and industries. Part of that journey meant familiarizing myself with each client’s voice and how customers respond through different channels like paid media, website copy, blogs, social media captions and more. I’ve learned how different tones of voice are more effective based on the platform, such as a white paper, organic social posts or a homepage headline.

Nurture your writing skills by utilizing any resource you can. Scour LinkedIn for advice, take a deep dive into previous feedback or use tools like Hemingway Editor and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation to educate your writing process. To go further, try exploring the website of a competitor or a company in a similar industry to understand how they effectively communicate.

Analyze Your Audience

Knowing your audience is crucial to writing successful copy. In marketing, our copy is always written with a goal in mind, whether to educate about a brand or submit a form. Each goal requires a unique message, tone and call to action to resonate with your target audience.

Lukewarm copy that lacks intention won’t communicate value or hit KPI targets, so it’s essential that you know your audience profiles, their pain points and motivators.

Create Value

The meaning of valuable writing depends on who you’re asking. For your clients, your writing creates value by aligning marketing communications with their business goals. People consume millions of messages every day, so creating compelling copy that cuts through the noise and informs or entertains will make a brand memorable and grow loyalty.

Stuck on a writing task with a boring topic? Check out our tips for bringing snooze-worthy writing assignments to life.