Writing is a funny thing. Everyone can do it, everyone does do it. Yet lots of people lack confidence or get distracted when they need to write for work. Worries about grammar rules, not being able to summon the right words, and fearing other people’s criticism can completely take the pleasure out of writing.
If that’s you or someone you know, there are some really simple things you can do even before you start to write. They’ll help you feel more confident and avoid that ‘blank-page brain-freeze’ – whether you’re writing an annual report for a charity or an enewsletter for customers.
1: Work out what you want to achieve
Whoever your communication is going to, ultimately you will probably want to influence the way the reader thinks, feels or acts.
Begin by thinking about what you want to achieve. This could range from prompting an immediate response (what marketers term a ‘call to action’), to creating a feeling, attitude or change of awareness and knowledge. Ideally, work out the single most important objective.
- What does your reader need to know to help them think/feel/act in this way?
- What ‘message’ or messages do you want to get across?
- And do you need to adopt a certain tone of voice to help with this and to appeal to this reader (e.g. supportive, rousing, humorous, questioning …)?
2: Be clear who your reader is and what they want
That first bit is all about you, but the most important aspect of communication is to think about your ideal reader. The more you can put yourself in her/his shoes, and think of them as an individual rather than a mass of unknown people, the better you’ll be able to communicate with them. You might want to ask yourself:
- who do you want to read and respond to your writing?
- what is s/he like, what are her/his interests?
- what problems/concerns are on her/his mind, and how will what you have to say, help?
- what might they want from this communication – what’s in it for them?
- what might s/he think about your organisation/service/the subject matter – does s/he have any preconceived ideas you may want to change?
3: Remember what real people do when they’re reading
There are a few useful things to remember about your reader. Lindsay Camp has summarised these reader insights beautifully in his book ‘Can I change your mind? The craft and art of persuasive writing’, which I’ve paraphrased below. He says that s/he*:
• has better things to do;
• often doesn’t read all the way through from start to finish (particularly if you’re writing for online. Thank you if you’ve got this far!);
• always reads between the lines (listen to your own inner cynic for clues: ‘Do I really mean that?’, ‘Have I contradicted myself?’, ‘Am I being honest and authentic?’);
• is constantly asking her/himself ‘Is this useful/relevant to me?’, ‘Am I enjoying this?’, ‘Can I be bothered?’ and the killer question, ‘So what?’;
• may be reading in a variety of situations – on a mobile, on a computer, or with a print-out of your communication; at work, at home, in a quick break;
• probably has other options – both for reading, and for what you’re offering;
• is not an idiot. Showing both empathy and respect are fundamentals of convincing copywriting.
Spending a bit of time thinking these things through before you start to write will really help your writing – and soon this process will become second nature. In my next blog, I’ll share some simple tips to help you polish what you’ve written, so that it’s clear, convincing and easy to read.