Writing is an art. There’s no single all-encompassing rule book or formula for writing. No two people write exactly the same way. We all do however seek to write with impact – to influence, prove a point, convey a message, educate, entertain or leave an impression. Here’s 9 simple yet effective steps for writing with impact that I learned by doing, and wish I knew earlier. They work for any form of writing from personal letters/ emails, business writing, articles, blog posts to formal reports.
Jan On The Blog’s 9 steps to writing with impact
1. Know your audience and intent
Who are you writing for?
It’s a critical question to ask yourself before starting to write. After all, what’s the purpose of writing without the readers. Therefore, make sure you know your audience. It could be someone, a group or multiple groups of people. The more detail in which you can define your audience, the better. Their demographics, interests, what they do, where they live, behaviour, goals – they are all important aspects to consider. Because that helps you better understand your readers. This is the very reason why businesses now define customer personas to better understand customers.
And when you know more about your target audience, you can write content that’s relatable, of interest and helpful to them. You can tweak your language, style and tone to write in words your readers understand. That’s when your writing will have an impact on the intended audience.
Why are you writing?
There’s a purpose behind any work of writing. It could be to inform, argue, convince, promote, defend, entertain or influence. Understanding the intention behind your writing is important because written words are just as powerful and full of emotion as those that we speak. The intent will help you decide on the choice of words, imagery, speed and tone of your writing.
2. Plan and organise the content
An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.DALE CARNEGIE
The beauty of writing is in the detail. Inspiration can strike anytime, but no masterpiece of writing can come about without a plan. Whenever you get a killer idea, by all means, let it flow and jot it down.
Start with bullet points
I love a good set of bullet points. It’s probably the easiest and simplest way to start putting your thoughts down. Don’t overthink it, just keep going – jot down all points that come to mind, relevant to what your writing. Don’t worry about if it makes sense or where it needs to go – that comes next. To start with, all you need is a good brainstorming session.
Structure and organise the points
Now comes the time to channel Marie Kondo to assess and organise your points. Start thinking about the logical order to structure your points. Make sure you prioritise and start with the stronger or most important points. Sometimes you might need to categorise points in to different buckets to make a better case. Remember to think from your reader’s point of view, not yours. For your writing to create an impact, the reader needs to be able to follow through it easily. Which means the points you make need to flow naturally. Once you’re done, read through your reorganised list of bullet points. If it convincingly captures your intent, you’re on the right track. If it isn’t, keep playing with it till your happy with what you’ve got in front of you.
Strengthen arguments with fact
For your writing to be impactful, it needs to be believable. If your arguments are backed by facts, your readers are more likely to be confident about them. Therefore, always do your research. Whereever possible, try to back the points your making with facts from credible sources. They could be from news articles, books, journals, industry/ government websites or research papers. They give your writing more credibility because it shows that you’ve supported your opinions with fact.
3. Give it an intriguing headline
Imagine this – if you were scrolling through a social/ professional networking website, what would make you stop and read a post/ article? Chances are it’s because of an irresistible headline, appealing graphic or both. The headline gives readers the first impression about your work of writing – and often you don’t get a second chance. That’s why above all else, you need to come up with an ingenious headline. It needs to spark interest in your readers and draw them in to read your work – which means it needs to clearly reflect what’s in it for the readers. If you can make it sound catchy in the process – even better. Remember that a headline shouldn’t be a paragraph so keep it short and on point. Here’s a great post I came across recently that gives 10 formulas for an irresistible headline The Art of Crafting an Irresistible Headline – written by Cristian Mihai, The Art of Blogging. I often start with a working title and keep improvising, with a final look right before releasing the completed work.
4. Grasp them right from the start
Ok, so you’ve written an intriguing headline and reeled the reader in. Now you need to deliver what you’ve promised in the headline, right from the get-go. The first paragraph in your work of writing needs to be spot-on. It needs to be compelling, succinct and clearly show readers what they stand to gain from reading the rest of your content. Therefore, spend a disproportionate amount of time to get this right. This Grammarly article has some good best practices for writing an introduction.
5. Keep it simple
For writing to have an impact, readers need to understand it with ease and clarity. The effort should be in the writing not the reading. That’s why as the writer you need to take every effort to make the complex simple. Sounds simple enough? Stay clear of any jargon, complex words or overly long sentences. Section the writing in to paragraphs and use sub headings/ bullets/ lists where possible, because they make for an easier read than a big chunk of text taking up three-fourths of a page. Assume that readers don’t know anything of the subject you are writing. If you can explain something clearly in fewer words, do that. If you can create imagery with your words, go for it, as it will help your readers visualise what their reading. Don’t refer back to other sections/ pages if you can avoid it, as it interrupts the reader – if you absolutely have to, use hyperlinks so the reader doesn’t have to go looking. Glam up your writing but stick to plain English.
6. Make it as long or short as it needs to be
What does the length of your writing have to do with its effectiveness? Nothing, in my opinion. A short well-written piece of writing can be just as effective as a longer one. Keeping it simple means less is more. That is not to say that a longer piece is useless though – not at all. The content needs to dictate the length. Consider the context for your writing and tailor the content to convey your message to the target audience in the best possible way. If the content needs to be elaborate with examples, analysis and/ or supporting facts – use as many pages as you need to. Don’t be scared to take up the length that you need to. If you write quality content with the reader in mind, they will read it. On the contrary, if you need to convey a message with urgency, then get to the point and keep it short.
7. End with a big bang
Endings tend to have a lingering effect on people – it’s what they end up remembering about something. Same goes for written work as well. As important as the beginning is, the end is even more so. It needs to be a big bang. The last paragraph/ section needs to capture the essence of what you’ve written, linking it clearly to the intent. Recap the key points you’ve made. If you started the piece with a question, spell out the answer at the end. Make it clear as to what message your writing delivered or what action you need the readers to take. The ending is your last chance to create an impact on readers. Take every effort to make it powerful and relatable to the readers.
8. Master the images, not just the words
Humans are visual creatures – we all know that from personal experience. That’s why a great piece of writing isn’t just about the words. Images play a vital role in writing for impact. Why? Because they appeal to readers. Sometimes pages of text can be effectively summarised into a single image – which is why I love infographics. Images can help readers visualise the points you’re making. They add colour to your writing. Therefore, don’t discount the value of using images. Be smart about what images you use – not only to avoid copyright issues but because they need to complement your writing, not steal the show. And don’t over-complicate. A simple table or chart could add value to your writing as well.
Write without fear, edit without mercyRogena Mitchell – Jones
9. Put the editor hat on
You’ve now done the hard work and finished your masterpiece – well finished for you, but not for the readers just yet. This is where editing comes in, whether you do it yourself or get someone else to. The goal is to check if your writing makes sense, fix any errors and solidify your arguments. If you write similar types of work repeatedly, putting together a checklist might help to make editing easier and effective.
Read out loud
I find that reading out loud (verbally or on Microsoft Word) helps me immensely with self-editing. Taking a printout of your writing could help with the process. Reading out loud will highlight any parts of your writing that doesn’t flow or sound right. It makes it easier to spot any errors or typos. You’ll find that some sentences are better reworded or removed altogether. You might want to elaborate on some points or re-order them.
Pay attention to detail
When you’re editing look at your work as a whole – not just the words. That means grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, language, hyperlinks and images, among others. This is the place to be a perfectionist.
Cite your sources
Always check that you have accurately cited any sources you used, and added credits to images where relevant. This completes your work, makes it more credible and saves you from any potential legal liability (due to copyright infringement).
In the right hands, words have incredible power. You can make a lasting impression on readers with your writing. First, know who they are and what the intention of your writing is. Map out the points you want to make into a logical structure. Write a headline that hooks readers and reel them in with a solid introduction. Always write in plain English. Don’t worry about length, let the quality of the content drive you. Write an ending that has a big bang effect on readers. Use images to complement and add colour to your writing. Before hitting send/ publish edit your work to make it as flawless as humanly possible. And that’s how you can transform words in to an impactful masterpiece.
Do you use any of these steps when you write? Are there other steps that you swear by?
© Jan Perera 2020. All rights reserved.