In a previous article, I've suggested that most people are secretly asking to be led or guided in some way. Sometimes, we may lead. At other times, we choose to follow. Of the many tips experienced writers and web communicators can provide, the following guideline certainly comes close to the top of my list.
In your writing, speaking or presenting, perhaps amazingly, our readers, listeners, or website visitors may overlook or ignore a wide range of our perceived "faults". Some may not agree with us, yet still read, listen to or consider what we have to say. We can be thankful for such generosity of spirit, such intelligent patience to suspend judgment.
However, there's one trait, that probably few will tolerate. One of the worst "sins" we can commit is to be boring. I suggest that many readers will forgive other "mistakes" — some may not even notice them.
- Sentence after sentence of boring drivel gets noticed — for all the wrong reasons!
- Single paragraphs that stretch to half a page or screen, aren't usually welcomed. However, as more people are reading web pages, ebooks, PDFs, on smaller screens like smartphones, document designs may need intelligent sensing, that adapts layout for each screen.
Though, we can expect surprises. What is boring to one person can deliver ultimate excitement to someone else. Boring is personal.
So how can you truly know that you're engaging attention? The key is to first get to know and understand what your readers are looking for, what energises them, what reflects engages people on a deeper level.
Most importantly, appreciate that every reader is an individual who sees the world in their special way.
Key tip: while we write in the hope that millions of people will read what we want to share, we're really writing personally to each and every reader as an individual. Never forget that a readership or audience is not a thing, but made up of living, breathing people.
Then work out how to never to be boring, while appreciating that you'll never please everyone: nor should you try.
Each reader has a unique life, a mix of hopes, dreams, challenges, setbacks and successes.
When writing for business, we have additional obstacles to consider and barriers to covercome.
The Challenges Of Writing Corporate Literature
Key tip: every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on creating corporate literature, yet most documents fail to deliver on their promises. Why? I suggest that there is one overriding reason: not connecting to target readers in ways that are sufficiently relevant and engaging to each person reading.
Why? Some ideas include:
- Writing effective corporate materials is hard to create.
- Internal organizational teams are often too close, too invested in current failed strategies, and in keeping the status quo. The desire to "fit in" with a corporate culture, can be overwhelmingly strong. As a result, often more of the same gets delivered — even as company balance sheets are failing to improve.
- Available time in business to address the core issues properly is short.
- Companies often invest in the wrong "tools" and resources.
- Pride can be a problem. To ask for outside help is not always popular even, and sometimes especially at top management levels.
- Business impatience is rife. Rashness often increases as the losses continue to mount up. Yet amid failing communications, that is often precisely the time to pause, slow down, take stock.
Frequently, Publications Simply Focus Too Much on Presenting Faceless Features of a Product or Service and Neglect the Individual Human Connection
For products and services that are used by people, users are individuals and each reader or viewer naturally likes to be appreciated as a unique person.
In more recent years, as the blockchain and cryptocurrency boom continues, I've read many white papers for many different Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). The vast majority of these seem to be written to deliberately impress by confusion. A year later, are we surprised that most of those ICOs have failed?
Though I'm convinced that for many "first generation" white paper ICOs, "impressive confusion" might perhaps be the primary goal, rather than to create a viable product or service later. For investors, the only remedy is: buyer beware!
Marketing materials especially, that demonstrate clarity, also show consideration for readers, embed a likable, more trustworthy "personality" or provide a personal "feel" stand a far better chance at connecting with buyers or investors.
So aim to make your writing, speaking or presenting possess as many of the following traits as you can:
- Up to date, current.
To help illustrate further, below is a list of words and phrases that describe or provide clues to how successfully meeting any of the writing objectives above, can appear in practice. Documents and presentations that get noticed include some or all of the following characteristics:
Key tip: when writing, playing with words is both essential, and bizarrely, can introduce problems. Give your readers a break! How: watch out for excessive wordiness. Be clear.
How To Serve Both People And Search Engines
As writers and communicators, often, the temptation to ramble on is strong. Even so, today, with the close integration of the web, we need to keep in mind the requirements of "web balance", affected by demands that can appear to conflict with each other:
- Search engines absorb words, paragraphs, thoughts, and ideas, like a lion craves meat (higher word count can often create better results, though only up to a limit).
- Yet, people only want to read what is relevant to their need of the moment (lower word count is "easier on the eye" and the human brain).
Sometimes, more words are better than few words. The "trick" is to determine and decide the right mix. How: carefully consider your topic, your audience, and your message in depth. For best results, you need to match all three aspects to each other.
Most importantly, think about the purpose of your message, since understanding that key driver can often help you determine the best and most suitable general approach to take.
Though, pruning is not only good for gardens — good writers can cut, and cut again, yet still provide a delivery that is worthy of your readers' time and attention.
Using Headings, Chunking, Spacing, Images, And Videos To Help Skimmers And Scanners Find Their Preferred Path
Online, busy people especially, tend not to read sequentially as we might expect — at least at first.
Instead, these hurried folks may skim and scan pages, darting around, seeking our clues to what they think might be relevant or what might interest them.
Pictures, videos, and headings especially can provide strong, almost magnetic attraction.
Pictures and videos can:
- Help relax our eyes.
- Boost our attention span by instiling more interest and variety.
- Provide welcome contrast to a sea of words.
- Summarize one or more key points.
- Inform on a topic without any further explanation being required.
- Support the text.
Finally, here are 4 more important tips:
- Use meaningful, attractive, attention-getting headings and sub-headings, tuned for both people and search engines, regularly inserted into your written content.
- The most effective headings offer a mix of signposts and dams. Signposts tell you what's coming, or where to go next, while dams, urge you to pause and think about what the heading might mean.
- Make sure you break up your sentences into easily readable chunks.
- When writing, use lots of white space. Why: it's free, provides visual rest, subtle framing, and helps you fill your allocated space, while still presenting a professional, polished finish.