State of Writing 2020: Quality matters [NEW RESEARCH]

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 19th February , 2020 in Content Marketing
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An overwhelming majority of business communicators know what successful writing looks like, but fewer than half think the content they publish is effective. Where are they struggling with their writing and, more importantly, how can they be more effective?   

These are just a few of the findings and questions we asked in the State of Writing 2020 report from Typeset and Mantis Research.  

(Download the whole report on writing effectiveness for FREE.)

We launched our first global survey into writing effectiveness to uncover where businesses are winning, where they’re falling down, and where they can improve what they write. We asked business people who rely on written communication –  marketers, communication professionals and small-business owners – to assess the results of their writing efforts. 

What we wanted to know is what habits, processes, and techniques make any business communicator more successful. How can we improve the return on the writing investments we make in our businesses?

What we discovered goes a long way to showing the importance of quality control  processes in business writing.  

Improving the effectiveness of business writing

There is clearly a disconnect between intent and results when it comes to how we write for business. While business communicators are confident they can identify effective writing, our research shows writers are struggling in a number of areas. 

If we assume the purpose of writing is to make a positive impact, it’s vital we understand where gaps exist in writing effectiveness. And let’s face it, would we spend time and money on writing projects otherwise? 

We can glean the most insight by examining the difference between moderately successful communicators and those who are experiencing high levels of effectiveness. According to our research, only 45% of communicators rate their writing as very effective or extremely effective.  

Full disclosure: Few respondents admitted to being ineffective in their written communication, an insight that could point to a lack of interest in taking a survey if effectiveness is not a priority in your organisation.  

Graph showing success rates for business writing.

Barriers to writing effectiveness

So, what is stopping us from realising success in producing highly effective content? 

1)    Quantity over quality

One reason may be because the majority of respondents are focused on quantity instead of quality. (We always guessed this, but now we have data to prove it!) Fifty-seven per cent say they plan to increase the amount of writing they do in the next 12 months but only 30% say they plan to increase budget. 

I want to repeat this as it’s so important: Almost 6 in 10 business communicators plan to write more, but only 3 in 10 plan to increase budget. How do these professionals plan to make their writing more effective if they don’t put money behind it?  

Data graphic showing business communicators plan to write more but not spend more one writing.

But it gets worse. When asked what they’d like to change about the content they write, moderately effective communicators put “more frequent publishing” (62%) at the top of their list. Only 31% of this group earmark “better quality/accuracy” as a goal in their writing. 

It’s easy to conclude increasing quantity, without a matching increase in budget, is going to put pressure on producing results. Factor in a lack of focus on quality/accuracy and the path to improving writing effectiveness becomes difficult to navigate. 

Our research found other areas where communicators are stumbling in their efforts. 

More information: Why every business should focus on writing effectiveness

2)    Lack of editorial oversight

Another reason could be a lack of oversight in the process of writing. Our data shows editing plays a big role in how well our writing performs. Nearly two-thirds of  communicators who are extremely or very effective in their writing have someone who oversees all their written content. By contrast, less than half of those moderately effective (44%) have a central figure to guide content production. 

Two-thirds (67%) of extremely effective or very effective organisations hold editorial meetings. This is compared to 43% of those in moderately successful organisations. Fifty-seven per cent of those moderately effective hold no editorial meetings at all. 

3)    Editor’s tools

The most effective communicators are more likely to use editorial tools than those who admit to being moderately effective. The most popular editorial tools for extremely and very effective marketers are the editorial calendar and a content strategy.

Bar graph showing editing tools used by business communicators.

Quality techniques for writers

The most effective communicators are also using more editing techniques for their writing and are committed to using them more often. The biggest differences between the groups is in logic and flow, and fact-checking. These two editing techniques have a direct impact on whether your readers trust your content or even understand what you’re trying to say. There’s no doubt trust and readability are essential to whether your target audience responds to your writing as intended.  

Image showing the editing processes used by writers.

More information: The high cost of poor writing (and what you can do about it)

Inexplicably, writers ignore search 

Alarmingly, little attention is being paid to optimising written content for search. 

Close to half of moderately effective marketers (48%) are giving no serious consideration to Search Engine Optimisation. This is concerning because the majority of respondents say more than 75% of their writing is published online. 

This is a major failure of business communicators who rely on digital content but ignore the need to make their writing attractive to Google. It’s puzzling because website traffic is the top evaluation metric for extremely effective/very effective communicators (78%) AND moderately effective communicators (75%).  

Bar graph showing SEO is not a priority for business communicators

More information: How to improve your blog’s Google ranking

The first steps to improving writing effectiveness

Many of the problems faced by moderately effective communicators can be repaired by instituting processes focused on editorial oversight. Fine-tune what you’re currently doing before committing to increasing quantity – or budget, for that matter. Implementing good quality measures may well reduce the need for “more”.  It can also result in better performance of your future and past writing projects. 

  1. Pause to evaluate what you’re trying to achieve with your writing projects. 
  2. Appoint one person who oversees all of the written content you publish. This could be a managing editor, a content strategist, or your communications or marketing manager. 
  3. Schedule regular editorial meetings. 
  4. Ensure your editors have the tools they need. 
    •     An editorial calendar goes a long way to encouraging quality workflows.
    •     Publishing templates help writers produce a better-quality product by setting expectations about process.
    •     A content strategy ensures all written production relates back to business goals, a key element in writing effectiveness. 
  5. Enlist the help of a professional proofreader so everything you publish is fact-checked and reviewed for logic and flow. 
  6. Find out what you need to do to make your content Google friendly.
  7. Don’t forget, re-examine the content you’ve already published and see where you can make quality improvements, especially for SEO. 

More research findings into writing effectiveness coming soon

Our research uncovered other areas where communicators want to improve. These include knowing what to write, how to determine effectiveness and evaluating the correct metrics. These are some of the topics we’ll be covering in more depth in the coming weeks both here and in the The Write Fit, the Typeset newsletter. We’ll be sharing additional insight into the differences between highly effective communicators and their moderately successful counterparts. 

Get the State of Writing 2020 report

Download the full State of Writing 2020 research report for complete details on the first annual survey. In addition to the data, you’ll find practical recommendations on how you can improve the effectiveness of all your written content. 

We look forward to revisiting this research next year to see how marketers are tracking.  Focusing on writing effectiveness is one of the best ways we know to serve your customers and prospects. It also helps impress upon them the quality of your brand. 

For more insight into writing effectiveness, subscribe to the Write Fit newsletter. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, especially if you’d like information on what you can do to improve the quality of writing in your organisation. 

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