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.
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: Check out our State of Writing research to find out what works, what doesn’t, and how to close the gap to improve your own writing.
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?
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:
I would add a few more elements required for effective writing.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
We’d love to know about your writing efforts for the State of Writing research next year. Register your interest and we’ll make sure you are included in the survey. All participants will receive an early copy of the report.