Good business communication — any communication, really — is about the reader. A lot of people may think it’s about their products, services or themselves. But really, it’s always about the reader. Changing your viewpoint on this is the single biggest and best way to improve your writing. Fast. Here’s why and how.
Advertising copywriters typically put an example of the product on their desks (or a photograph of it at least). Next they try to really understand it. Writing 20 things about the product — and not stopping until there are at least 20 on the list — is a good kick-off exercise. It helps alleviate writer’s block, too. But let’s put the product to one side for the moment and start with the reader.
Build a picture of your reader
The more specific your picture of your reader, the better. Where does your reader work? What’s their job title? What do they do day-to-day? Do they manage staff?
Very quickly you’ve established the reader’s company type, industry sector, location, job title, job purpose and management responsibilities. So far, so practical. But don’t stop there.
Think about what motivates your average reader in their job. What are their particular challenges? What do they find rewarding about their job? How can you help them do their job better? These are the golden nuggets that will help inform your writing and also connect with your reader.
Talking to your reader
Sometimes that’s the best way to do it: imagine a conversation with your reader.
Your reader is sitting beside you or across the table from you. How would you converse with them? It’s another great tip for alleviating writer’s block. It’ll also help guide your content and tone.
Quite simply, if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t write it down. This applies to the words you use, the claims you make and your tone.
More on language and tone
Use everyday language. Written communication has become less formal and starchy. Unless there’s a particular reason for using the I write with reference to your correspondence dated… style, try something more natural. But be careful not to cross the line.
By all means sound human, friendly and approachable, but be careful that this doesn’t become overly matey or jokey. If you’re in the business of selling professional services, you need to sound, well, professional. As well as knowledgable, authoritative and trusted. People generally don’t buy from clowns.
If your reader would be familiar with certain technical jargon or three letter acronyms, and they help get your point across, by all means use them. But be careful not to over-use them. The communication should still sound like English when read aloud.
Don’t talk up to your reader. Don’t talk down to them. Simply address them as you would when talking to them across the table.
Later posts will consider how to earn your reader’s trust, how to write well about products and services, and how to organise information.