Why every business should focus on writing effectiveness

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 2nd October , 2019 in Copywriting, Editing & Proofreading
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Like most writers, I’ve spent a long time honing my craft.

Recently, I wrote about all the ways you can improve your own writing while still working towards writing perfection. It’s a never-ending pursuit with every word putting you closer to perfection or opening a door to obfuscation.

(Side note: are you scratching your head over why I would us a word like obfuscation here? If so, I’ve proved my point.)

One thing writers tell you is there’s no such thing as perfect. You never stop learning. Work I once proudly called my own – even work that won competitive awards – now makes me cringe. I envy my business partner’s writing talent. (If you haven’t discovered Dan Hatch’s brilliant blog about his gardening adventures, you’re missing out.)

Great writing inspires me to do better, to learn more, to keep trying. Lately, I’ve been thinking less about me and my skills and a lot more about my readers, and readers in general. You don’t have to be a great writer to be successful. Often good storytelling makes up for poor writing skills, especially in popular fiction.

 

What are you trying to say?

If you’re writing for business, you don’t want to let down your brand with poor writing or sloppy habits. The flipside is the internet is littered with great writing no one ever sees. Or, if people do see it, they aren’t particularly interested in reading it. So great writing isn’t a guarantee of success. If you write for business, effective writing is what counts.

 

Call out: Take our survey on writing effectiveness. The State of Writing is a global research project to get to the bottom of what works, what doesn’t, and how to close the gap to improve your own writing.

Take our 5-minute survey!

 

Writing effectiveness goes to the heart of why we write. If you never had to put pen to paper – or fingertip to keyboard tile – imagine how much extra time you’d have in your day. We write to inform, to get things done and to lead. So why aren’t we more concerned about the effectiveness of our writing?

 

A robin in song, symbolising the White House whistleblower.

Writing lessons from the whistle-blower

Look no further than the Trump impeachment proceedings to find a crystal-clear example of the power of effective writing. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Jane Rosenzweig, director of the Harvard College Writing Center, outlines the precision of the whistle-blower’s complaint against President Trump. In The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write, she lists four key components of effective writing:

  • Get right to the point. I call this the ‘blurt it out’ method of writing. Too often, we get stuck on how to start or feel the need to be formal in our writing. No one has time for any of it in an age of too much information. It has to be good right off the bat or no one will hang around to read your whole piece.
  • Use subheadings. The more we read, the more we don’t read. Skimming has become an art form, and it’s up to the writer to bring back the reader to full attention. One good way to do that is with subheadings; these help connect the dots for the reader and also show them places where they need to zero in.
  • Make the first sentence of a paragraph count. In the ‘old’ days, we called it a topic sentence. Make sure it’s short, sharp and packs a punch to keep the reader tracking through the whole paragraph.
  • Use active verbs. The key to this is to make sure the people in your story (and, puh-leeze, put people in your stories) are doing things. In Rosenzweig’s example, it’s much better to learn, “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call”, than “all records of the phone call were locked down”.

I would add a few more elements required for effective writing.

 

Simplify your writing (without making it dumb)

Most writing for business is cluttered with buzzwords, jargon, clichés and all sorts of gobbledygook. It’s particularly cruel to treat your readers this way, especially if they’re not across the latest buzzword or get lost in an acronym jungle. This is particularly true in large organisations, where the internal language can sound almost cultish to an outsider.

 

Bees buzzing to their hive, symbolising buzzwords... and single-minded cults, come to that... althought that's probably unfair to bees.

 

Why good headlines are necessary for effective writing

One area often overlooked when writing is the headline or the subject line (for email). With consumers relying on Google Search- almost exclusively – to find the information they want, the headline has to pack a big punch. It has to be optimised for Google, but it also has to appeal to the reader. If one element is missing, chances are your content isn’t going to be found and, if it is, it’s not going to be read. The headline is one of the key areas where equal parts of art and science are a necessary combination.

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media published a fabulous blog post on how to write truly great headlines. He enlisted the help of some of the best content marketers in the world to provide examples of good headlines and their tips for finding headline gold.

There are many tools you can use to help you be more creative in picking headlines, including:

 

 

Call out: Find out about five free tools to become a better writer or check out this powerhouse post from Angela Hursh with nine tools to help improve writing clarity.

 

The essential function to guarantee writing effectiveness

One of the most considerate things you can do for your readers is to invest in professional proofreading. A proofreader is also the secret weapon of any writer interested in being more effective with the written word.

It’s also one of the best ways to improve your productivity as a writer. On an episode of The Daily podcast, host Michael Barbaro interviewed Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey about an op-ed she and six other House freshmen published in The Washington Post lending new support for a presidential impeachment. She spoke of the decision being easy to make, given the circumstances. What she said next floored me.

“Quite frankly, the hardest part of all of this was getting seven congresspeople to agree on the language of the op-ed. We had people putting commas in and taking commas out, so that was probably the hardest part of all of this,” said Congresswoman Sherrill.

 

The US Capitol Building with dark clouds overhead.

 

Can you imagine the cost to the American taxpayer to have seven legislators arguing about a comma? I mean, it’s great they care, but a proofreader could have done the job with precision, much more quickly and for next to nothing in cost comparatively.

If you’re still not convinced, here are seven reasons why we believe you need a proofreader.

 

How to become a more effective writer

We all want to be better writers. I’m focusing less on writing quality – call it writing perfection – and more on how I can help my readers by being more effective in my own writing efforts.

I’m on a mission to make the world a better place for readers everywhere. If you’d like help becoming a more effective writer, why not register your interest for Typeset’s writing workshop? We have public and private courses. (We can come to your office and work with your whole team.) Courses are currently available in Australia and the UK.

 

What tips do you have to improve writing effectiveness?

 

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