Successful Writing: Five Common Traits

No matter what you are writing–whether it’s a blog post or a letter home, a multimillion dollar response to a proposal or a testimonial for a friend–all successful writing obeys these five basic rules:

  1. It is written for an audience and as specific an audience as possible. Only diaries and confessions are written solely for the benefit of the writer.
  2. It conforms to standard English so that no one has to decipher it to understand it. An exception is made here for fiction writers and lawyers.
  3. It has a purpose (for example, to entertain, educate, inform or intrigue), and it keeps to that purpose. It doesn’t ramble.
  4. It follows a structure, whether alphabetical, chronological, front to back, top to bottom or some other logical progression.
  5. It relies mainly on verbs and nouns, not adjectives and adverbs. That is, instead of phrases like “we are the world’s greatest company,” successful writing provides details (“we’ve won 20 industry awards”) that demonstrate greatness.

Successful writing is defined by its ability to communicate to others what the writer intended to communicate and perhaps more.

If your proposals, website and other marketing collateral are falling short of success, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re based in New Hampshire but our writing has brought us clients from throughout the US and around the globe.

Writing with Authority

Countless blogs have been written, for men and women, about speaking with authority in meetings and before groups of employees, executives and peers. When it comes to writing with authority, not a single writer speaks up! Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years as a professional writer:

Tip 1. Do not write to impress; write to communicate. You convey more authority if you contain the long explanations, self-congratulations and business jargon. (“In regard to your recent communication, we are proud to extend to you the following proposal for installing our state-of-the-art, quality engineered product….”)

Tip 2. Be kind to your audience. You are the expert at what you do. Explain or avoid technical terms and acronyms, especially if they are peculiar to your company. You may think that “everyone knows that” but if they don’t, you’ve lost your audience.

Tip 3. Deliver your main point in the opening sentence or paragraph. A few years ago, researchers collected emails from C-level executives and their employees and found that C-level executives communicated with fewer words and shorter sentences, primarily because they got to the point faster. If background and explanations are essential, let your correspondent know you have provided them after the conclusions.

Tip 4. Know when to stop writing. If you aren’t communicating by email, then stop communicating by email: pick up the phone.

If your proposals, blogs, letters to customers, emails to management or employees or marketing copy are not projecting authority, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words mean business.


Writing Technical Information for Non-Technical People

A while ago, a LinkedIn user complained that his non-technical audience insisted on understanding a technical issue but became frustrated or bored whenever he went into detail. This problem occurs in written materials as well: websites, manuals, reports, newsletters, presentations–wherever technical information is relayed to a non-technical audience. The solution?

First, as a technical presenter, whether speaking or writing, you have to understand that your idea of an adequate explanation is quite different from your non-technical audience’s. They do not want to become you. They hired or brought your product or service because you because you know more than they want to know about the subject.

Second, recognize that your audience’s concerns are not entirely aligned with yours. You want an technically elegant product; they want a solution to their problem. Think about the level of information you want from your doctor. You don’t want a medical degree in histology; you may not even want to know details of a procedure. You want to know what’s wrong with you in everyday language, what your options are and how soon you’ll feel better.

Third, when you must deliver details, it helps to use analogies, comparing the technical situation to something nontechnical. For example, “this process control simulator works like a video game; people think they are controlling the real plant but they aren’t.”

Fourth, use pictures. People understand diagrams, photographs and tables where words confuse them.

If you are having trouble translating technical information into everyday language, email me. I have 20+ years of experience writing white papers, websites, manuals, brochures, newsletters and proposals that communicate technical information clearly to non-technical people.