Writing – back to basics

These ideas are not new – they’ve been around ever since people began talking with each other.

But these principles of writing often get lost in a sea of clever techniques and gimmicks. Get these right and you’re well on the way to communication that makes a difference.

‘Man is a talking animal and he will always let himself be swayed by the power of the word.’ Simone de Beauvoir

Know your audience and what you want them to do

The person listening or reading is the starting point, you need to know what they are like.

  • What is important to them?
  • What do they fear?
  • What do they already know, or think they know?

The purpose of most communication goes beyond understanding and effectively transmitting ideas. It is more about influence.

Have a clear picture of what you want readers to do as a result of reading your document before you start writing.

Imagine your reader picking up the document for the first time. Imagine what might be going through their head.

  • How will they react to the words on the page?
  • What could stop them from acting in the way you want?
  • What can you do about it?

Know your stuff and organise it well

You won’t be able to tell readers everything you know, so don’t try. Figure out your key message – if you only had 30 seconds face-to-face with your reader, what would you say? Put this vital message early on, just in case your reader doesn’t get to the end of your document. Elaborate, justify and explain throughout the rest of your text.

Organise your material so that it makes sense to your readers. Start with what they know and move to the unknown. Start with simple ideas and move to the complex.

Write plainly and with passion

Never make people guess what you are saying.

Use words that are familiar to your readers, and use simple sentences. Even if some of your readers can handle complex text, keeping it simple won’t stop them understanding. But simple writing will make your material accessible to more people.

Passion is often hidden in business writing. Being objective does not mean you cannot be passionate, they are not mutually exclusive. Allowing a bit more passion in your writing will increase its power because you can appeal to the heart as well as the head.

If you have a good idea, or if you want to change the way things are done, inject some emotion. Of course you will need to back up your case with solid logic and rational argument. But it is passion that provides power.