There are three things you can be as a writer in business in 2021, and each of them will bring a little more success in the response you get to your writing.
It doesn’t matter if I’m coaching somebody in their business writing, writing the piece for them myself, or running a workshop for their team to raise their collective standard of writing, the principles of good writing in 2021 are more important than ever before.
I mentioned in an earlier blog post that one of the new rules for writing in 2021 is valuing your reader’s time.
Further to those four new rules, there are three things for a corporate writer to be.
These Bs give you not just the skill set, but a mindset to rethink your writing rather than just edit it or reshape it. Over the next few blog posts, I want to nudge you into being a good writer, as much as just writing better. Plus, these things to “be” will help your writing hit the mark, or muscle its way into your reader’s overcrowded mental state.
So here the first one.
#1 – Be direct
One of the issues that we face in 2021 when it comes to business writing is the fact that people just don’t have time. They’re rethinking how they manage a life impacted by a pandemic, and how to juggle pressure that come with it.
In that blog post on the four new rules, we looked at how you used to have three to five paragraphs, and now it’s down to three to five words. Or the amount of time you can fit into a fingersnap.
So don’t waste their time. Be direct.
Let’s be honest, they’re looking for themselves in your writing. They’re looking for benefits to them, usually based around time or money, and they revolve around their need for something, not your need for communication. (In fact, if you’re ever stuck for a starting point, you can pick one of those two.)
Your reader is looking for what they need, not what you have to say. So get to the point.
Readers in 2021 have reversed the usual order businesses write in. They are looking for benefit first which they’ll support by how you’re going to deliver it. The benefit gets their attention, then the rest of the writing enables you to sell them as you hold it.
Tips on being direct
Tip #1 – Use personal pronouns
People don’t scan text looking for your language. They are scanning for themselves. They see themselves, not customers, ratepayers, members or citizens. Do you know what they are looking for to find themselves in your writing?
The word ‘you’. So use it.
The other benefit of using a personal pronoun like you, is that it’s way shorter than all of those other options. In my writing workshops, we look at an example like this:
“Council expects all ratepayers to pay their rates on time.”
When I read that – even if I’m a ratepayer – my response is “great, I hope they do.” Even – and especially – if the council wants me to pay my rates on time. Why? I don’t identify as a ratepayer, and the word ‘they’ relates to everyone else. How do you write that to speak to me directly?
“We expect you to pay your rates on time.”
Tip #2 – Don’t start with credibility
This is what I mean… don’t start writing your business communication by leaning heavily on why you’re the best option because of your credibility. Or experience. Or background.
Here’s why – your reader doesn’t ask that question first. In fact, they’re only interested in your credibility if you’ve hooked them in with the outcome they’ll receive by picking you.
So if your web site/email/newsletter/pitch documentation starts with…
ABC Company has been in business since 2001 and has experience in hundreds of projects ranging from blah to blah …
Your reader has already hit the snooze button.
In 2021, credibility and experience is a supporting argument, not a leading one.
Tip #3 – Don’t start with background, start with a benefit felt in the now
If you want to reach people quickly – particularly those who are scanning your social media or web site – you have to start IN THE NOW. Not at the start of the project.
If your project delivers for me today or tomorrow, I’m not overly interested in when it started. You certainly won’t hook me if you start at the very beginning.
Just say your Government department can connect me to the networks I need to grow my small business … my questions relate to how that networking works, how many people I can connect with, what it might cost me or what other benefits might be available to my business. I don’t care when it started.
If this new road/train line/freeway shaves 20 minutes off my commute, THAT’s what I’m interested in, not when the first sod was turned.
So start your writing with an immediate benefit that is felt today, not the background to your project or process.
Tip #4 – Flip the narrative
You were taught to write a particular way in school, and it’s not at all helpful in business writing in 2021. In school, you were taught to write a narrative with a starting point which develop through exposition, and you would craft the story in a chronological order to get the story to the point where the action would happen and then there would be a conclusion.
People who are strapped for time don’t read these stories in business. Remember, your readers are scanning. They’re looking for words they relate to, and benefits they are interested in.
Narratives kill readership in business writing in 2021 simply because we don’t have time to read the story of the product, service or project. If you write a web page about when the project was greenlit through to when it was funded through to when it was… whatever… then I’ll scan straight past it.
When I worked with the university sector, I say to every academic, “I don’t care what size the beakers were, what did you cure today?” And this is why it works. If you explain to someone that your research has just cured bowel cancer their very next question is going to be ‘how did you do that?’. Then you can talk about the process all you like because YOU’VE GOT THEM HOOKED.
if you start with where you got your funding from, and what size the test tubes are, you’ve lost them. And you’ve also lost the opportunity to talk about the impact of what you do, which is the main reason for your conversation.
Here’s the good news: if you are direct in your business writing, you’re not just connecting with readers, you are also ahead of the curve.