In Journalism 101 (so many decades ago), my professor claimed that there were two laws every serious writer needed to embrace:
Law #1. People hate reading.
Law #2. They’ll go out of their way to avoid reading.
After hearing this, I thought maybe I needed to change my major.
But, thanks to that same professor, I soon learned the following five tried and true writing tips that draw readers in, keep them engaged, and even make them glad they read.
First, imagine someone you know who fits your target audience profile and then write to him or her. Your writing will be more open and conversational. And that alone makes your prose more enjoyable and your subject matter easier to digest.
Second, for technical pieces, start with your conclusion. It’s easy for readers to feel overwhelmed by the myriad details of technical articles. However, if they know your conclusion up front, they have the big picture that allows them to manage the supporting details like pieces fitting into a puzzle.
Third, keep it short. The shorter a written piece is the more likely it will be read (see Law #1). If you have a long piece, it’s essential that you find ways to break it into bite-sized chunks. Here are a few methods:
Fourth, keep the language simple. A complex word with multiple definitions strung together with other complex words with multiple definitions creates a sentence that can easily be misinterpreted. As a writer, your job is to create clarity so your reader doesn't have to guess at what you really mean. Smaller words generally have narrower definitions. Strung together, they can communicate a single idea, crystal clear. The more complex a subject, the more important it is to follow this rule.
Fifth, edit, edit, edit. Thorough editing is a writer’s best friend. Not only does it prevent embarrassing gaffes from being published, but it also ensures each written piece is honed to the highest level of readability. Multiple editing passes should include:
Before the final edit, put the piece away and do something else for at least a few hours or a day to refresh your ability to “see.” Otherwise, you can become “typo blind.” This happens when your mind is so immersed in what it thinks you’ve written that your eyes don’t see the mistakes in what you’ve actually written. Yikes!
If you have a coworker or friend who will read the piece before you send it out, take advantage. With their fresh eyes, they can spot errors that you may have missed. You know, like the dreaded “its” that's supposed to be "it’s.”
I've written thousands of communications since those days in college. And the advice above has served me well. So, whether you’re posting on Facebook, making a PowerPoint presentation, or writing a business report or news piece, try the five tips above. They can dramatically improve your chances of being read and connecting with the heart and mind of your reader. And making that connection is ultimately what writing is about.
Diane Dunning has over 25 years of professional writing experience, including news articles, press releases, social media, and marketing communications pieces.