What do uni students and business owners have in common? After marking sixty student assignments, as well as running some marketing mentoring sessions last week, I can tell you that students and owners share the same written communication DNA.
Many people have great ideas that they want to put into writing, but their words end up as word puree. There are fabulous ingredients in there, but when you zap them for 10 seconds in an anxious brain blender on high speed, everything sort of mushes together.
Unfortunately, some people forget to put the lid on their blender, so their ideas scatter and fragment across multiple pages. This type of brain explosion is about as engaging and useful for readers as playing “Where’s Wally” with a two-year-old who needs a nap. You can feel the “I don’t want to read it” tantrum bubbling as soon as you try and focus on the pages.
Here’s how to stop the word puree and brain explosions with your writing and copywriting.
Plan the Outcome
BEFORE you put your pen anywhere near paper (real or digital), start by working out the action you want someone to take after they have read your words.
Throwing a million dollars into your bank account while filling your office with thousands of pink cupcakes may be on the extreme end of possible actions someone could take on first meeting you, so you may want to focus a bit closer to home.
Do you want people to call you to book a free coaching session or to make an appointment for you to fix their lights? Do you want to get a High Distinction or are you happy with a pass? Do you want them to join your mailing list or connect with you on Facebook?
Set your communication goal and keep it realistic and focused.
One document, one action. As soon as you try to get people to take action A and B and C, they will end up doing none of them.
Summarise Your Thoughts
Next, work out the point you are trying to make through your written communication. Pretend you are writing a book synopsis for a literary agent, and you only have two sentences to explain what the book is about before they swish off in a cloud of expensive perfume and pursed lips.
For example, for this blog post my synopsis is “Written communication can be as simple as following a recipe. If you have the right ingredients, and follow the steps, you will achieve a quality result”.
By knowing the point you are trying to make, you are more likely to make it!By knowing the point you are trying to make, you are more likely to make it!Click To Tweet
Do Your Research
You can’t wing business success or uni assignments.
Read broadly to get the latest thinking and research. Scan over what your competition is doing by checking out their websites or marketing material. Get some examples of what has worked for other people in similar situations through a library or Google search.
Use your research as inspiration for your words. Remember to liberate the essence not plagiarise.
The world needs to hear your unique voice and style of delivery, and not hear you doing a bad ventriloquist impersonation of someone else’s words.
Review Your Recipe
Map out your written communication recipe before you head off with high hopes and your basket of word ingredients thrown across your back.
Work out a logical structure for your communication, with each section and paragraph gently leading the reader along the path to your desired outcome.
With this recipe, there is no doubling back to grab an idea or ingredient you left behind. You simply want a nice, calm progression of thought that builds to a mouth-watering crescendo.
Depending on your personal style, this planning could be a simple list of scribbled dot points or a fully worked through plan with points you want to include in each paragraph. Find what works for you, then stick with that approach.
At some point, you must sit down and simply write. Just like the archetypal bear hunt, you can’t go over it, you can’t go around it, you just have to go through it.
First drafts are designed to be messy, terrifyingly bad and incomplete. Get over your fear of imperfection and make a beautiful mess.First drafts are designed to be messy, terrifyingly bad and incomplete. Click To Tweet
Just get your words down on paper, and then sleep on your drafts (figuratively not literally unless you have a thing for the smell of ink), to gain psychological distance from your words. This helps slow the brain down and helps you to spot glaring errors and mushy bits.
Check out our bulletproof copywriting formula if you are struggling with how to write a first draft.
The Finishing Phase
Most people throw their words at the paper and do a cursory glance over them before hitting send/submit/the bottle. This isn’t enough. You need to do some serious presentation work to turn a basic dish into something spectacular.
Editing is where you round out thoughts, fix grammar and spelling mistakes and fill in all the missing bits.
Copywriters like me, do multiple edits of every document. We agonise over word choices the same way that a wine connoisseur agonises over wine pairings.
We are also known to throw out our first drafts in full when we realise how bad our beautiful mess is, and start again from scratch.
When we have finished with our editing, we often hand over our words to an external editor for another round of pruning and editing for extra piquancy for our words.
In other words, don’t skimp on the finishing phase as your presentation of your words can be the difference between an average and a superb result.
Check the Result and Adjust
Writing is a skill in the same way that cooking, playing the piano or kicking a football are skills. The more you do it, the better you get.
In life, you get feedback on anything you write. For uni, you get a mark. In business, you get the phone ringing (or not).
If you don’t achieve the results you set out to achieve in the first step, you need to identify the feedback, work out what to do differently and then adjust your approach.
You may have skimped on the finishing phase, or skated over some feedback that this approach is not the best one for you right now.
You may also simply need a second set of eyes to look over your words to help you spot where you may have gone off course or miscommunicated your intent.
On a plus, there are no failures in life. It is all simply feedback. The question is, what will you do to improve your communication?
What are some of the other tips for effective writing I may have missed? Share your thoughts in the comments.