Writing for impact means grabbing and holding your reader’s attention. Most of our readers are busy; they’re often reading because they have to, not because they want to. Your task as a writer is to make reading as easy as possible for them. If you can make it even halfway enjoyable, all the better.
Here are four techniques to help you do that.
Whether you’re writing an email or a blog post, the headline – or strapline, or subject line – is usually the first thing your reader will read. 20% of readers may go on to read your text, but 80% will read your headline, so it pays to spend time making it sharp and arresting. Are your headlines specific, memorable or persuasive? Do your straplines intrigue, fascinate, and make your reader want to read on?
Rapport is the bridge between people – and it should be easy to cross. We need to build rapport as much in writing as we do in conversation. Too many emails lack context: a simple opening sentence that sets the scene. Too much business writing fails to acknowledge the reader: their values, their priorities, even the kind of language they understand. Why should we bother to read bland corporate jargon written by someone who seems to have no interest in us? So: who is your reader? How can you make your writing appeal to them? The words you choose and your tone of voice matter as much as your content.
We’re hardwired for stories. We tell them every day; we listen to them, read them, watch them and think about them. We want to know what happened, what might have happened, what could happen, and what will happen. All these narrative ingredients can hook your reader’s attention. If you need to explain something or persuade your reader to do something, find a way to weave your explanations and arguments into stories. The creative and inventive use of narrative is one of the most powerful ways of maintaining your reader’s interest.
Most readers want to know what we have to say; and they want to know now. They don’t want to spend time trying to work out what we’re getting at. Writing in three stages can help you produce clear, readable messages. First, plan what you want to say. Then say it: write a first draft. Then, try to say it better by editing. Editing is like cleaning the windows: the reader should be able to see the text more clearly afterwards. The best way to edit is in sequence: paragraphs first, then sentences, then words. After a systematic edit, you’ll have ideas that are well placed, explanations that follow through, well-structured sentences and words that are concrete and precise. You’ll also have a willing and attentive reader.