I have been asked a lot of questions recently about ‘good writing’ and ‘professional writing’, as well as how to give people the confidence to write and share their ideas.
If you own a business or even just feel like you have something important to say, there is no need to hold back. However, there are things to consider to help your writing ‘work hard for you’. I truly believe content matters and its creation should be meticulous because the choice of words, style and formality make a massive difference. Most sentences, no matter what you are trying to communicate can be written in loads of different ways, and part of the reason I love language is trying to analyse how the choice of just a single word can make a huge difference. For example, for a simple greeting at the start of an email you could choose:
- Hi there!
- Dear Sir/Madam
- To Kate
- To whom it may concern
There are so many to choose from…but why would you pick one over the other? Primarily, it is due to five things – the reason (purpose), who you are writing to (your audience), the medium you are writing in (platform), when you are writing (your schedule) and how the email fits within the context of everything else that is going on (your strategy).
For example, I may choose ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ because I am writing to a business to ask a formal question (purpose), because they are a business and fellow professional (audience), because it is an acceptable way to start a formal email (platform), because I don’t have time to research or ring up and find the exact names of the people I am asking the question of (schedule) and I need to know the answer to my question in order for me to carry out a certain task so would really appreciate a response…I am not just sending the email because I have nothing better to do with my time and furthermore am keen to get a response and to be respected as a fellow business owner (whereas I worry ‘Oi mate’ might not have the desired effect!) (strategy).
This is a bit of a contrived example but I hope you can see that ‘knowing’ these five things, further discussed below, can help to make your writing better. It will have a better impact and it will work harder for what you are ultimately trying to achieve…whatever that may be.
1. Know your purpose
Please don’t ever start writing anything without truly knowing the purpose of the content. Not setting out a clear intent is the quickest way to a waffley, woolly piece of writing that leaves any reader thinking, ‘So, what?!’.
Write down exactly what you are trying to achieve. What do you want to communicate. Then, for a longer piece of writing, start with a plan. Get down the ‘key statements’. I then recommend playing with them, reordering them, add notes to them, add flesh to the skeleton, and see if everything still seems logical.
When writing pretty much anything professionally, there is no harm in using headings and subheadings – even in an email. They automatically act as a framework and work wonders for catching the eye when someone skims or scan something…which we do more and more especially on digital devices.
You can always remove headings once you have finished if you really don’t feel they are appropriate, but as I always say to my Blog Starters, if you can read just the headings and make sense of the post, see how it develops logically and garner at least one bit of useful information then you are on the right path for a well written blog.
Take this very blog as an example…even if you didn’t read a single word of this main text, I hope my readers will have five things (purpose, audience, platform, schedule and strategy) they can consider when writing for business…just from reading the headings (and perhaps feel a little inspired by the last heading!).
2. Know your audience
Whatever you are writing you have to consider who your audience is. This is a ‘two-way’ decision – who are you addressing in the piece.
It is really important that you truly feel that you know your target market in your area of business. You will have a ‘gut feeling’ and you may even have met who you perceive to be your ideal customer. However, it is so important to do your research, to understand habits, demographic, etc. Your writing needs to be natural to you (as pretending to be someone you are not is hard work), but equally you have to appeal to your audience. Know what level of formality they would expect from you. Note this is different to how they may talk or write themselves! Consider the language they would expect given the genre, platform or content of what you are writing.
I am an absolute advocate of plain English but there is no point dumbing down your writing if your target audience is fellow professionals, experienced and knowledgeable in the area you are writing about. And equally, don’t insult people’s intelligence. It is ok to show your expertise and to build trust through the way and what you write.
Again, it is about truly knowing your audience’s expectations. A good example is a doctor – we don’t want a doctor to talk about our ‘boo boo’ when we have hurt our leg, and to coo and make a sing-songy voice when she speaks to us, but equally telling most of us that we have a ‘hematoma presenting on the epidermis’ is going to not only alienate us but completely freak us out…until the doctor explains she means we have a a bit of ‘bruising on our skin’.
So always consider what language will best engage and appeal to your target audience.
3. Know your platform
Where is your writing going to be published? This makes a massive difference to how you craft your writing. Most social media posts don’t have limitations (except for Twitter) so they can be as long as you like…however, consider who follows you on social media and again, know your target audience, how do they use different social media platforms, for what purpose, how often, and specifically which ones! And then consider the ideal length of a post.
If you are writing website copy, it will be very different from a formal email or a journal article!
Consider what platform you will publish your writing on and what styles or ‘rules’ may constrain what you write. For example, many websites are now viewed on phones or tablets, therefore what looks like a relatively short amount of copy on a desktop or laptop screen (which spans the width of the page) can look like an everlasting paragraph on a mobile phone. This may not matter for a blog post or news article as it meets the readers’/users’ expectation, but for a home page this could make a big difference to the usability and the bounce rate.
4. Know your schedule
This can make a massive difference to how and what you write. If you don’t have much time then it is no good trying to write a really long piece. If you have more time, consider when you are going to get something drafted, then when you are going to edit and proofread it and finally when you are going to ‘publish’ the writing.
Taking time to consider the ‘publication date’ is incredibly important – for example, blog posts, emails and social media posts have ‘optimum’ times depending on your audience. You don’t need to get too wrapped up in exact minutes, but online usage varies depending on the time of day, as well as days of the week.
5. Know your strategy
If you run a business, every piece of content should ‘fit’ together as part of a broader strategy. If you are writing a blog post, you need to consider what social media you are going to use to support and promote it. If you have a newsletter, are you going to mention it there…or even as part of an email signature? If you are sending out an email newsletter, are you going to add any notifications to your website or a pop up to get people to sign up to receive it?
Whatever content you write really needs to be part of a broader campaign – what are you focussing on? What are you content goals? And coming back to ‘Know your purpose’ – how does this piece of content join with your broader objectives.
You’re braver than you believe
I hear so many people say that they are afraid to write. I agree writing can be frightening, it is committing your thoughts, your promises, your idea to paper for all the world to see.
However, you have so much to share I am sure and writing, especially in the digital age, is such a wonderful way to explain what you do, why you do it, how you do it and how your products and/or services can benefit people.
So be brave and start writing…