Welcome and thank you for being here! I’m David Burn and I am thrilled to be here today to help build our writing muscles. I’ve been a full time advertising copywriter for 20+ years. No matter how experienced or accomplished you are as a writer, it always pays to revisit the basics of business communication. Before we begin, do we have any writers in the room today? Also, let’s list a few of the most pressing writing problems you’re facing individually and as a team.
By writing everyday, we create patterns. Either bad patterns repeated over and over, or good patterns that start to make us better writers, thinkers, and communicators.
We write to connect with another human being. We do this by knowing what matters to the reader. This may require a research period before any writing begins. Or it may simply be a matter of focusing attention on the reader, instead of on your writing.
How a piece of writing begins is crucial to gaining and then sustaining the reader’s interest. Help the reader out by providing the who/what/where/why/when in the lede paragraph. It’s easy to assume that readers will know what we’re writing about and why it matters, but that’s rarely a safe assumption.
When you’re Melville, you can take your time getting to the point. In business writing, there’s no room for that kind of leisure or nuanced approach. Respect your reader’s time. It’s the least you can do for people willing to give you their attention.
Writing is a dance—a dance that leaves you naked and exposed in front of a crowd. It takes some getting used to.
Clever copy draws attention to itself. That’s never the intention in marketing communications, but it happens all the time. The focus must be on the product or service in question, not on the word play.
Use active voice whenever you can. He said, she said is something that happened, but it happened in the past. What about now? What’s happening now?
Great writing follows a classic story arc that we see in film, novels, drama, and elsewhere. This is where it’s important to “show, don’t tell.” A compelling story doesn’t drag on. The writer uses action, mounting tension and conflict, and then a resolution to take the reader on a ride.
Writers hate to admit this, but a high percentage of readers drop off after the headline, subhead, and lede paragraph. This is magnified with email and other formats that don’t lend themselves to thoughtful reading. Therefore, our writing needs to be top heavy. Make your key points known straight away. The remainder of the piece is for reinforcement.
Pause for questions.
Earlier we talked about the need to know your audience. This is a more advanced take on that principle. You need to also know what kind of writing is required.
Once you know your audience and you know what business you’re in, you’re ready to begin crafting a story. Like building a house, you must first lay the foundation and frame the structure. What are the bones and organs of your story?
Now, let’s move from theory to practice.
What can we see in this data? What might the headline be in the newspaper the next day?
Note how the full story is not evident in the raw data. The Chicago Tribune’s story is that their coach got an early boot and his team was consequently stymied.
Here we get more insight into the why the Cubs were able to finally rally in the 9th. According to the Pittsburgh press, it was the coach’s misuse of the bullpen.
In business we sift through mountains of raw data, and it’s our job to shape it into something useful. It takes a well told story to do that.
Powerful writing conveys the intended messages in an artful manner. Ask yourself why you love certain books and what these books have in common. You may never apply Toni Morrison’s style to your business writing, but you can build on her humanity and her passion for the written word.
In business, as in art, we strive to find our unique voice. We do this as individuals inside our organizations, and our companies do the same on a larger scale as an avenue to a strong brand.