In this two-part article, we are discussing five tips that a professional writer would use to write anything from a cover letter or email at work, to an article or blog post.
We’ve already covered: how to reach your audience and ensure that they really hear your message, and how to craft a captivating heading and opening / closing statement.
Let’s continue on with the final three tips (including the single most important tip for writing like a professional):
3) Be clear
When you write your main message, the most important thing to remember is to use language that your reader understands.
This can be difficult for many of us, because when we learned to write at school and university, we were rewarded for using complicated English. The more we sounded like a professor, the better we did.
Luckily over time, the world has recognised that simple words and phrases (or ‘plain English’, as it is technically called) make for a much better reading experience!
This doesn’t mean that we should write like we are talking to a five year old.
Simply – that we should write more like we talk.
If you were talking to a senior manager, you would choose different words and have a different tone than if you were talking to a colleague or friend.
Write this way.
If your reader understands your jargon, use it. If they don’t, leave it out.
If your reader is your customer, say ‘you’ – don’t say ‘customer’.
If your reader will have questions about something you’ve written, answer it straight away.
Use clear, short words and phrases and make it impossible for anyone to misunderstand your meaning.
Because if they do, your writing (and your time) is wasted.
4) Be persuasive
What does your reader really want? It may not be what you think.
Does the employer interviewing for the job you are applying for want a super educated and experienced candidate?
Maybe. But why?
Because they want to know how you can make their job easier.
If you’re not super educated or experienced, but you can write an application that shows how you can take the burden and stress away from them, you have a much better chance at an interview.
What does your team at work want? Think about their personal agenda. It might be to advance their career, gain personal recognition or enjoy work more.
Potential customers on your website want to know how you can make them earn more money, live a little longer, keep them safe, and so on.
To be persuasive, you need to get into the mind of your customer and focus your writing so that it touches their emotions.
Another powerful persuasion technique is to create imagery through your writing.
Tell stories or explain situations in a way that helps your reader ‘live’ in the moment. Let them feel that ‘bone crunching tackle’ or the ‘team’s tireless efforts’. Paint a picture of life if your reader listens to your message. Or, if necessary, paint a picture of life if they ignore it.
Strong language can also be very persuasive (I don’t mean swearing!).
Verbs are stronger than adjectives, so rather than saying something like “I am an intelligent, hardworking individual”, you might say, “I create processes that drive results, and I lead a successful team.”
Lastly, these five words have been proven to be amongst the most persuasive words in the English language:
You, free, because, instantly and new.
More than any other words, these five words make us want to listen and take action. So infuse them into your next piece of writing and see how it works for you!
5) Get the layout right
This is the single most important tip for writing (anything) like a professional.
Layout is super important, as it is the first thing we see when we open a document and prepare ourselves to read it.
You can achieve a great layout by following these simple rules:
a) Keep your paragraphs SHORT!
As an ex-copywriter, I hate long paragraphs. They’re confusing and tiring, and I almost always forget everything I’ve read. However, I probably keep my paragraphs a little too short.
As an ideal length, I would stick to a maximum of five or six lines: a new line for every thought and if it’s a long thought, a new line for every mini-thought!
b) Use headings
For long emails, articles or reports, headings are essential. They make reading, navigating and sharing your information easy.
Make your headings clear and concise, and keep the information under them relevant.
c) Create speedbumps
This isn’t always appropriate (i.e: you wouldn’t do it in a cover letter). But when you need to grab attention in a long piece of writing, it’s ideal to use bolded, italicised or underlined words and phrases to draw your readers’ attention to the most important parts of your document.
“Speedbumps” slow people down…and when someone is skimming your document at lightning speed, you need to grab their attention with a change of format.
d) Make lists
When your reader sees a list, they are automatically attracted to it.
It is a break in the flow of writing, contains symbols, and usually denotes something of significance.
So if you have a series of things to say, making a list is the ideal way to get your information across.
e) Change the pace
If you continuously write long sentences, you run the risk of lulling your reader to sleep. Incorporating short, punchy sentences in between long, informative ones creates a “change of pace” in your reader’s mind, which helps keep them awake. And interested!
By following these five simple rules for layout, you have the power to change the way your reader absorbs your message.
And in the end, that is exactly what great writing is all about.
Sharing your information or ideas in a way that your reader can relate to.
This two-part article has been a ton of fun to write – and I hope an enjoyable read for you as well!
Put the tips to work for yourself and see how they can help you achieve success with your next writing task.
Be it a new job, a new customer, or respect from your colleagues at work – great writing can achieve great things.
Have these tips changed the way you view writing in general? Do you think they will help you in your everyday writing tasks? Please share in the comments below.