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.
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.
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.
So, what is stopping us from realising success in producing highly effective content?
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
More information: The high cost of poor writing (and what you can do about it)
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%).
More information: How to improve your blog’s Google ranking
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.
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.
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.
2021 global survey into writing effectiveness is now open: If you’d like to contribute to our State of Writing research for next year, please take the State of Writing 2021 survey. All participants will receive an early copy of the report (before publication).
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.