Whether you are announcing news via the traditional press release or using only social media channels, be sure to write for your readers.
Understand your audience’s mind might be the oldest principle of communication, and yet, it also might be the one people continue to ignore the most. In part, it’s because writing is a self-centered activity, so when we sit down to write, there we tend to think from our own perspective: What do we want to say? What do we think is important? What do we want the reader to know? Digital readers want to know how it relates to them.
Connect with your reader
Ask an important question about the product, service, or person you are writing about. What will this do to make anyone’s life easier? How will this make a company more productive? Why would anyone want to buy this?
- Consider what type of information the audience will be looking for.
- Simplify information about technology, finance, and medicine by using comparisons and examples, enabling the reader to connect the unfamiliar with the familiar.
Pull readers in with clear headlines
If you are writing a blog post or an article on LinkedIn, here are three qualities of a good headline:
- It’s direct and clear: Tesla makes first foray into Middle East or Oil prices slip as producers pump more
- It stirs curiosity: How to zap annoying robocalls or Why China is beating the U.S. at innovation
- It’s useful: Everything you need to know for tax day or 4 things to know about Apple’s new products
In a Twitter headline, position eye-catching words up front. The Associated Press‘ tweets often begin with Breaking or The latest on … . If you are announcing a consumer product, let’s say a hair dryer, start with Save time and hassle.
Craft effective leads
The problem with many openings in articles is that they are too cumbersome, leaving readers squinting as they try to decipher, what is this about? Here are a couple of suggestions:
- direct leads – Have the discipline to make it one sentence, containing the core news and an added detail that puts the news in context. Anything else needs to be relocated, perhaps in the second or third paragraph. Direct leads are not only for news announcements; they are appropriate for many blog posts as well. Direct simply means that you provide the essence of the article quickly, rather than dragging the reader through paragraphs of blather before revealing what it’s about.
- indirect leads – You can use an indirect opening on a blog post or article as long as it’s effective. Many of them are not, because they fail to arouse curiosity, so the reader has no incentive to continue. Many blog posts go on for too long, only to disappoint the reader when she finally sees what the piece is about. Here is an example.
It seems like an unlikely pairing—Dunkin Donuts and fitness buffs was the opening line of an article about Dunkin’ Donuts teaming with health clubs that were willing to give out coupons for a Latte Lite, a new DD beverage. The lead works because there is an inherent conflict between Dunkin’ Donuts and fitness, so a reader is likely to want to know more.
Dump the buzzwords
Have the self-restraint to avoid the trendy words and phrases that are boring, because, like most cliches, they are so old. Digital readers want authenticity, which comes from being original. They want to hear your personality, the real you, coming out of the screen when they read your work. A writer who uses such words as bandwidth, robust solutions, skilling up, and shifting paradigms is not speaking to the reader.
Good writing is about writing visually, and words from everyday conversation tend to have more imagery and fewer syllables, so they are easier to grasp. Read blogs on respected news sites, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, and you will notice that much of the language that pervades the corporate culture is missing. Good writers know better.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.