One part of making good writing great is thinking strategically. In other words, as you reread your work, ask yourself whether it’s serving the intended purpose. What are you trying to achieve with your article, brochure, ad copy or speech? Who is the audience? What do you want them to do or think upon encountering these words? What is the overarching message? What are the supporting messages? Is there a call to action?
Asking — and answering — these kinds of questions is what differentiates great writers from good ones. After all, if companies are paying you to write something, they probably want more than punctuation, structure and rhythm. They want results.
To ensure your writing delivers, ask yourself these questions:
1. What’s the goal? To educate? Motivate? Improve employee engagement? Get people to buy something? As you reread your writing, make sure it’s serving the intent.
2. Who is the target audience? Ensure the content is tailored to the reader. If you’re writing about computers for chief information officers, then you probably don’t have to explain technical terms. But if you’re selling complex electronics to a layman, then you may need to use simpler language. In short, make sure you’re not talking over — or under — your audience’s head. As a quick check, put yourself in other people’s shoes. If you were the reader, how would you respond to this piece? If you were the client, would you think it’s effective?
3. What are the key messages? Ensure that the key messages are represented — and in the right order. If the most important part of the story is the date of an upcoming event, don’t put it in the last paragraph. If you’re promoting a car that’s positioned on convenience and affordability, don’t lead with environmental friendliness.
In addition, make sure your writing style is the right fit for the key messages. If you’re writing for Apple, a brand that’s all about simplicity and ease of use, no one’s going to take your copy seriously if it’s loaded with jargon and acronyms. Choose the right style for the job.
4. What is the point, and what is the story? For longer pieces such as magazine articles, newsletter stories or case studies, you’ll probably have a lot to say. That’s when it’s especially important to determine (1) the point and (2) the story. Say the topic is your client’s acquisition of a new, high-profile customer. This is clearly the point of the article, but the story may be how the sales team went head-to-head with a competitor and came out victorious. Or how one employee developed a clever strategy.
Many times, the story is more exciting than the point, but the point remains most important. As you revise your work, try to get to the point in the first few paragraphs; then build the story around that. Indeed, keep in mind that some people will only read enough of the article to get the basic gist. Deliver this gist as soon as possible; then offer the rest of the story for those who want it.
5. Does the content flow? Once you’ve confirmed that you have the right elements, consider the flow of the content. Does it tell the right story in a logical way? Does it have momentum? If you find yourself going into the weeds to explain something, look for ways to pare it down. Feel like it absolutely has to be in there? Try capturing it in a reference box or sidebar. Boxes can be used to define technical terms, offer bulleted lists or highlight other things that tend to bog down the flow.
Also consider using subheads to guide the reader. These can be especially helpful if you’re dealing with complex material or a meandering topic. Subheads and sidebars can also make your writing “skimmable” for those who want high-level information as quickly as possible.
With this kind of inquiry, you can take your copy from first draft to unsurpassed. Happy writing!