If you were drowning, you’d shout ’Help’.
You’re unlikely to say ‘Your assistance is required due to my imperiled state’.
Yet, often, we send bunches of words to do what one could achieve: have a meeting (meet), go down to defeat (lose), considered opinion (opinion), referred to as (called). Your message needs to hit home fast. You can’t afford any clutter.
Tip 1: Eliminate Clutter
Strip every sentence down to barest bones. Every word that’s not working hard is getting in the way. Scratch out every word that’s not earning its keep. You’ll be surprised how many words will disappear.
Cut, cut and cut again.
Tip 2: Find Your Voice
Who are you? How do you want to be perceived? How do you talk to clients? How do you talk to friends? Try to capture that voice in your writing.
Think about your audience. What do they expect? What is the appropriate style for your writing? Formal or informal? Scientific, or academic, or general? Use language that’s appropriate to the audience.
Imagine YOU are the reader or customer. What would you need to read or hear before you decide to buy, or invest, or sign-up?
Focus on benefits rather than process.
Tip 3: Get Organized
Winnie The Pooh’s advice is great: ‘Organization is what you do before you do it, so when you do it, it’s not all messed up’.
Don’t start writing without a plan. How will you engage the audience? What’s the big idea you need to plant in their minds? What structure will hold your arguments together?
At its simplest, structure can be chronological. You follow the time-line. Alternatively, break your piece into parts: hook (engaging the audience), context (essential background), development (building up to your main message), wrap (tying up loose ends).
Resist the temptation to say too much. Focus your thoughts, and deliver them in a logical framework.
Tip 4: Tell Stories
Story is a foolproof tool for organizing the nuts and bolts of information into a force for change.
Your facts are vital. But facts are forgettable. How do you make your facts sticky? How do you make information memorable? Story helps you persuade, inspire and influence others when the more familiar business tools of rational, objective analysis fail.
Any writing is made more memorable by the use of appropriate stories. In marketing copy, stories help by putting the customer in a ‘that could be me’ frame of mind.
Before your audience can believe in your facts, they need to believe in you. Telling stories is a good way of helping your audience get to know you – the first step towards believing you.
Tip 5: Use the Period
Fall in love with the full stop. The more full stops you have, the greater the chance your writing will be energetic and clear. Get to the period quicker and your sentences will get stronger. Resist the temptation to bolt two thoughts together with a conjunction. One thought per sentence is plenty. When you feel tempted by a comma hit the period key instead.
Scrutinize your longer sentences. Every time you see a comma or a colon, every time you see an ‘and’ or a ‘but’ or some other joining word holding two thoughts together – stop and think.
Separate those two or three or five ideas into separate thoughts in separate sentences. The payoff is more muscular sentences, easier to read and easier to comprehend. Try to keep sentences to 20 words or less. Your readers will thank you.
Tip 6: Write with White Space
Writing is visual. It catches the eye before it catches the brain. White space is good. It’s inviting and appetizing.
Keep paragraphs short.
Be strategic in the use of headlines, sub-heads, bold and underlined text, pictures and graphics.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.