We can all be better writers. And it doesn't even take that much effort to make some pretty noticeable improvements if you put your efforts in the right places. I've talked before about what I call the 20% Solution, which makes writing tighter. And we all know we should read our work out loud to find errors and phrasing problems, right? Right.
Other improvements come from focusing on voice and ideas, two aspects of writing that have more value than others. These two are mission-critical for communication success. But let's be honest, how often do you find yourself focusing on your (or someone else's) content for these traits? Of course you think about the concepts you want to convey, but do you check them off? Do you think about how you sound?
High-impact writing traits
If you're like most people, you focus more on SPUG (spelling, punctuation, usage, grammar) errors or word choice. Those are important, but voice and ideas are what make people pay attention in the first place. If you don't get those right, nobody's going to spend enough time with your content to notice spelling or grammar errors.
That's why I plan deliberately for voice and ideas.
First, think about the audience for the content. What do they care about and what kind of person would they trust to deliver that information? This not only helps you figure out how the content should sound, but it gives you some valuable clues about what ideas and details to include. I ask the writers I coach to actually write down/type up the audience persona so it doesn't get lost.
Here's an audience persona for a column I used to write for Match.com:
People working hard to align faith and romance who don’t feel they can share their concerns with friends and family, and maybe not clergy, either.
The next aspect of voice is yours, as the content creator. Based on what you know about the audience and what you know about the results you're trying to get, determine how you should sound. Here's the personality I used as the content producer:
A compassionate and non-judgmental person helping readers think through their situation without pressuring them to arrive at a particular conclusion.
Being deliberate about the personalities involved allows you to make a connection with the audience. It's this connection -- made by the voice/tone of your content -- that leads to believability and trust.
Of course it's not all tone. There does have to be some substance there, presidential debates notwithstanding. That's where the ideas and details come in. These are driven by audience questions, objections, needs and concerns; and by your purpose -- what you want them to think, feel or do after consuming your content.
Again, actually recording this information forces you to think harder about it and make sure it checks out. This is another thing I ask my coaching clients to jot down, like this:
These notes on voice and ideas form the basis for the content you'll create. Once you've vetted and revised your draft against these criteria, you're ready to focus on things like word choice and sentence fluency (both of which impact voice) and organization (which impacts logic and readability) and those pesky corrections.
Better revising & editing
And keep this in mind when it's time to revise: It's pretty easy for someone to correct SPUG errors, but it's a lot harder for someone else to fix problems you may have with voice, ideas and organization. You can help them give you better feedback by sharing your pre-writing with them [How to get the feedback you need]. Just another good reason to write this stuff down!
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