For the past few years, I’ve been working hard to increase my writing skills. It started when I got more into blogging/social media and increased as I took on freelance writing assignments. It increased even more when I started teaching a college class designed to help the students write college level papers.
What I’ve learned is that no matter what the goal is, the path to getting there will always contain the following components, regardless of the subject matter.
The Ground Rules
Start off by laying out the problem to be solved. Don’t put the solution out there until after you explain to people what you’re about to help them resolve. If you can present them with a situation that they can relate to, they will want to keep reading to see how you will get past it.
As part of the problem, it helps if you can share a personal experience with your audience so that they really know that you’ve been in their place before. Don’t underestimate the value of empathy. If you can’t share such an experience, then I recommend that you show how the problem impacts people, making sure to lay out the negative implications involved. Make it as personal as you can. People care about other people and that can be used to your advantage.
Keep in mind that whatever you’re writing, you always need to put yourself in the readers’ position and ask, “What’s in it for me?” After all, if they have nothing to gain, they will simply move on to another document. That means that it’s time to show them (explicitly) how you will help them.
Explain it to them in simple terms how you will be able to help them. Don’t talk down to them, but unless you’re talking to a bunch of Sheldon Coopers who will understand every aspect of your material, keep it simple, but be thorough! After all, Sheldon Cooper may have a Ph.D., but even his best friends, who are no dummies themselves, often have trouble understanding him.
Obviously, you don’t want to give away the specifics of how you will solve their problem, but you need to let them know what they can expect as a result of following your advice or working with you.
At the end of the paper, you will want to do the one thing that many people fail to do. You must include a Call to Action! Give them a way to reach out to you – again, keeping it simple. After telling them a story and presenting a basic strategy to improve their situation, you need to ask them to contact you. It may be implied, but after all of your hard work, you don’t want to assume that they will follow through. You also want to make sure that they won’t have to go looking for your contact information.
Otherwise, you run the risk of having your audience take in what you’ve presented, but fail to act upon it, perhaps even going to your competition. I am not a fan of online forms that I figure will get me placed on their mailing/e-mailing list. I prefer a phone number or email address. It’s more direct and more personal.
The Best Book on Writing You Will Ever Read
The first night of class, I introduce my students to the book that I consider the most important one that they will ever use at school –They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. The title may have you thinking that it will not benefit you, but it may be the single best book that you can read to improve your writing skills.
This book will provide you with specific techniques that you can use to accomplish the following:
Anticipate skeptics and counter them before they tune you out, as I did above when I explained about the title of the book.
Show your audience why they should care about a topic that they would typically ignore.
Understand the concept of meta-commentary.
Improve your writing style by providing you with writing templates.
A whole lot more!
I tell my students that this is one book that they should keep after the term is over, as it will help them throughout their entire academic career and beyond. It can help you write white papers that will get noticed and acted upon to improve your results. Go out and buy it – how’s that for a call to action?