These 5 keys can be used in any genre of writing. Whether you are writing for fiction or non-fiction readers, professionals reading your reports or websites, magazine readers perusing your articles or followers reading your blogs, you can craft compelling text over and over again with these 5 keys as your guide.
- Use clear, concise language
- Know your audience
- Use industry jargon sparingly and correctly
- Use active verbs
- Use grammatically correct, edited text
Key #1: Use clear, concise language
Clear, concise language allows you to say more with fewer words. I cannot emphasize enough how important this technique is for all your writing projects. Clear, concise language allows you to craft economical and highly focused sentences giving your readers a lot of information in a small amount of time and space.
Does this technique work for novel writing?
Yes, it does. Even if, for example, your novel has a very verbose main character or is rich with descriptive passages, the supporting story line can be refined and focused by reworking the sentences.
Here’s an example from my adaptation of the classic novel, Heidi. This is the draft opening paragraph I wrote for a children’s publisher in Korea:
On a clear sunny morning two figures climb the narrow mountain path. Detie is a tall strong-looking young woman leading a girl named, Heidi, by the hand. Heidi’s parents both died when she was very small and Detie, her aunt, has looked after her since she was a baby. Heidi is now all of five years old and Detie is taking her to live with her grandfather. Heidi’s grandfather lives high on the mountain where the land grows wilder as it ascends. The fragrance of the short grasses and mountain plants fill the air and lead the way up to the steep summit above.
Here is the final version of the same paragraph:
On a clear sunny morning two people were climbing the narrow mountain path. Detie, a tall, strong-looking young woman, was leading a girl named Heidi by the hand. Heidi had a heart-shaped face, short curly brown hair and had just turned five years old. Heidi’s parents both died when she was a baby and Detie, her aunt, had been taking care of her ever since. Detie had recently accepted a job in Frankfurt and could not take Heidi with her. She decided to take Heidi to live with her grandfather. Heidi’s grandfather lived high on the mountain where the land grew wilder as it became higher. Heidi could smell the short grasses and mountain plants as she looked up to the steep point above her.
Even though the final version is longer and includes more description, I refined the sentences and the language to express more with fewer words. I also described the surroundings through Heidi’s own senses bringing the reader into Heidi’s world. This allowed the reader to smell and see, through Heidi, what climbing that mountain path was like for her.
The intended audience was children between the ages of 9 and 12 years old. Being descriptive and using simple language were two essential criteria for this project.
Do non-fiction, business and blog writing lend themselves to clear, concise content?
Non-fiction, business and blog writing do lend themselves to simple, succinct language because the writer is explaining their ideas or telling their stories. The reader may not know anything about the subject matter before they begin reading, but they want to know and therefore the writer focuses on clear language to get their ideas across.
Magazines, business reports, websites and blogs all cater to readers who don’t have a lot of time to take in information they need and want to know. That is why writing in these genres should be the most focused of all, eliminating extraneous words, ideas or information that don’t specifically relate to the topic of the article, report, website or blog.
What do all these different genres have in common?
All these genres have in common writers who want their readers to keep reading and come back for more. Not only do writers want their readers to finish reading their books, articles, reports, websites and blogs, but they want their readers to come back. Getting to the point and staying on point is one of the key ways to keep your readers engaged and enthusiastic about coming back and reading more.
Key #2: Know your audience
Every piece of writing has an intended audience. Whether you are writing a sci-fi novel for adults, a report for your marketing staff, website content or a blog for your clients, the tone of voice should be focused on your readers. This may sound obvious, but I find a lot of writers overlook this very necessary component.
Do book publishers and magazine editors know their audiences?
Absolutely. Major book publishers and trade magazine editors target their readers very effectively. They know that if their readers aren’t getting what they want they will lose them as readers—it’s as simple as that. And it’s the publishers’ and editors’ jobs to make sure their writers know the audience and use the right tone of voice to appeal to that audience.
Do writers who write reports, website content and blogs know their audiences?
That depends. Professional business writers should be writing for an intended audience—that’s part of their job. Professional speech writers, for example, write a speech for the audience that will be listening to it catering to that audience’s needs, wants and questions. But many people who end up writing reports as just another part of their job description may not consider their readers. A lot of people who write their own website and blog content don’t aim their content at the right audience, or sometimes any audience at all.
Here’s an example. This website content is from an About Us page I found surfing the web:
ABC is a montreal web design firm. This Montreal web design firm had its humble beginnings in 2000 and is a privately held company headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. ABC has been providing high quality Web site design and development services for its clients in the Montreal area. ABC’s mission is to be a reliable, secure and quality-driven Internet based technology solution provider.
ABC consistently delivers high quality web design and outstanding customer service for its clients. ABC takes pride in its long history of completing web design & web development projects on time and within budget. Fundamental Web site design components often neglected by other Web development service providers, such as security, search engine optimization, and cleanly formatted source code are operational standards at ABC.
This text has obviously been written by a non-professional writer who is interested in optimizing certain keywords and phrases for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. This writer has forgotten people are actually going to read, or try to read, this content.
This is how I reworked their content to focus on their intended audience, real people, and the professional clients they are trying to attract. I still maintained some of the keywords they used for SEO purposes:
Welcome to our Montreal web design firm. We’ve been providing high-quality website design and development to our clients for over 10 years. Our mission is to be your reliable, secure and quality-driven Internet-based technology solution provider.
We consistently deliver high-quality web design and outstanding customer service. We take pride in our long-standing history of completing web design and web development projects on time and within budget. Fundamental website design components, often neglected by web development service providers, such as security features, search engine optimization (SEO) and cleanly formatted source code, are operational standards with us.
No matter what audience you are writing for it is very important to speak to them in the tone of voice they expect and that will grab and keep their attention.
Why is writing for your target audience so important?
If no one is reading what you’ve written, or if you are writing for an audience who will never be your clients, then why did you go to all the effort to write anyway?
Writing takes a lot of time, thought and effort so making sure you’re writing for your readers is an essential key to grabbing your readers’ attention and keeping it.
Key #3: Use industry jargon sparingly and correctly
Every industry or market has its own jargon. The most important thing to keep in mind when using industry or audience-specific language is to use it sparingly and correctly. Overusing jargon is a great way to turn off your readers. But what’s ever more of a turn off for your readers is using that jargon incorrectly. If you’re going to use it, know what it means.
Isn’t using industry jargon the same thing as knowing your audience?
Well, not exactly. When you use the correct jargon for your intended audience you have not only learned that jargon and how to use it, but you have also researched who your intended audience is first. For example, if you are writing for a high tech end user that doesn’t know very much about different operating systems you will use much more simple, matter-of-fact language than if your end user, your reader, is a computer programmer.
Why is using industry jargon necessary?
Using jargon is essential if you want to speak to your readers. There are some industries that use more jargon than others, but the necessity for it is quite obvious.
Here’s an example. This is an abstract that I wrote for an SAP white paper:
The complexity of the global economy is a powerful motivation for companies to look for new ways to increase efficiency and productivity. That’s why companies must have the ability to transform information into meaningful, accurate insights. Most importantly, these insights must be systematically interconnected, to align business strategy with tactics through a seamless integration of analytical, transactional and collaborative processes.
The two words ‘insights’ and ‘seamless’ are high tech jargon. But how would I rewrite this abstract without them? I couldn’t. Not without using a lot more words and losing my high tech readers who expect and understand this jargon. (Also I only had 457 characters to work with in the first place. Abstracts must be short!)
That is a very obvious example, but every form of writing has its own language. Novels for adults use more sophisticated wording than novels for young adults and children. Words that adults know and understand can mean nothing to young adults and children, and vice versa of course.
Becoming familiar with your audience’s jargon and using it correctly is one of the keys to speaking directly to your readers. If your readers feel understood and heard they will definitely keep coming back for more.
Key #4: Use active verbs
People in our current technologically driven society have even less patience than past generations as far as reading is concerned. They want information fast and economically and read a lot through ebooks, social media, blogs and websites. Readers want to be engaged in what they’re reading, if they’re not interested reading becomes a chore.
In novel writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, disinterested readers are a recipe for disaster. Readers may have purchased your book, but if they can’t stay focused on your story line they certainly won’t buy anymore of them. Keeping your writing fresh, alive and fast-paced will keep your readers coming back for more.
Here’s an example of a story idea I wrote for a magazine:
“Just stop it, stop yelling all the time. I can’t stand it anymore!”
“Well, it’s the only way you ever pay attention to what I say, now isn’t it? Otherwise you act like I’m not even here.”
“Everything is about you, you, you! I can’t give you attention constantly, now can I? Honestly, you drive me crazy!” He yelled, slamming the door.
Does this sound familiar? What was the point of this argument? The point was lost in time between two people that can’t get along anymore. Maybe this was the way it sounded in your house. Maybe the argument was different, but the outcome the same.
When conversations like this one become never-ending, where do they take you? Divorce court! And divorce means you are ‘officially’ alone. What are you going to do? Well, first of all, try not to worry—you will survive. How do I know? Because I survived.
Divorce is not the end, it’s the beginning.
Using active verbs, where the subject is performing the action in the sentence, draws your reader into the situation you’re trying to portray. This helps involve your reader in your writing by keeping them interested.
There are forms of writing that are very business oriented and utilitarian in their purpose, but that doesn’t mean the writing can’t be active. Even if you’re writing a report for a government agency, active verbs will help keep the text moving.
This is an opening letter from a government official in a report to his committee:
The work they have done will be a great help in promoting growth in our area, attracting tourists to our beautiful community and business to our small towns and villages. It will make our rural and urban areas a better place to live and raise our families.
This example is actually quite well written. I reworked the paragraph to make it sound more personal by adding ‘you have all’ instead of ‘they’ and added in another active verb for parallelism in the first sentence.
The work you have all done will be a great help in promoting growth in our area, attracting tourists to our beautiful community and increasing business in our small towns and villages. Your help will make our rural and urban areas a better place to live and raise our families.
It doesn’t require a lot of work to keep the content of your novel, magazine, report, blog or website flowing and engaging.
As with my other three keys, the goal is always to keep your readers coming back for more. Active verbs that draw readers into your work will keep your readers focused on the message in the text. This will keep your readers enthusiastic, focused and coming back for more.
Key #5: Use grammatically correct, edited text
Using grammatically correct, edited text is, in some industries, a standard. Almost all the books we read, whether they are mystery books, coffee tables books, graphic novels or almanacs, are all edited by professional editors. Magazines are also edited by professionals to maintain a style and standard that their readers expect.
Websites, blogs and in-house reports, however, are much less likely to be professionally edited even though their content is often representing a company, business or individual in a public forum.
The importance of grammatically correct, edited text is threefold:
- It is easier to read
- It gives a professional impression
- It increases your credibility
Why is grammatically correct, edited text easier to read?
As I mentioned in Key #4: Use active verbs, people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. People read less and want their information faster.
We have all been faced with unwieldy sentences or paragraphs that we have to read two or three times before we can figure them out. If you give your potential clients, blog readers or colleagues text that is unclear and grammatically incorrect you will lose your readers.
Here’s an example, this is actual text from a current website advertising hotel rooms:
A Montreal hotel situated in the Entertainement district
ABC a Montreal Hotel is a two star budget hotel located in the heart of the Entertainment District in downtown Montreal. We offer rooms with shared washrooms and modern studio apartments with private washrooms and kichenettes. All our rooms and studios have air-conditioning, tv and free access to wireless internet.
We are in walking distance of Montreal’s major tourist sites and international events: Place des Arts, La Vitrine ( the last minute ticket box office), Montreal’s world renowned festivals ( International Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs, FrancoFolies, Nights of Africa, World Film Festival), the Palais des Congrès ( Convention Center), Chinatown, the Old Port, the Underground City, the Latin Quarter and the Village.
Do you find this easy to read? I don’t.
It is difficult to understand, there are misspelled words and all the ideas run into each other because of lack of proper punctuation.
Does the above example give a professional impression?
My first thoughts after reading this text were, “Why would I spend money at this hotel when they haven’t even taken the time to make sure their clients can understand what services they have to offer?”
With this text on their website the hotel does not appear professional at all.
A loss of credibility
And not only do they seem unprofessional, but they have lost their credibility as far as caring about their clients and caring about what kind of impression they are making on those clients.
If they don’t pay attention to how they are promoting their hotel to the public, what does their hotel look like inside? Do you think they would consider the small details their clients might appreciate, such as including coffee makers and tea in the rooms or extra soap and towels, or shampoo and body lotion?
By reading their website you wouldn’t think so. But, that may be totally untrue. Their hotel may be nice, clean, have the small details included in the rooms and it may be very well run. My point is that we’d never know it by looking at the text on their website.
It is very important, whether you are writing a book, writing website text or writing a report for your boss, to take that extra time and effort to make sure you give the right impression.
You have taken the time and made the effort to write so that people will read what you have to say. You are increasing the chance that people will read your work, and come back for more, if you give them grammatically correct, edited text.
If you can’t do this alone, there are lots of professional editors, such as myself, to help you. Making sure that what you have written expresses what you mean it to, is invaluable.
Giving your readers a clear, professional and credible piece of work presents an impression of thoughtfulness, understanding and concern to your readers—and every reader appreciates that!