There's no such thing as generic "good" writing. Writing quality—and impact—comes from how well it fits its purpose. This video demonstrates how writing that works in one context misses the mark in others, like a joke in a eulogy. See how to find your own reasons for writing, letting them drive the words you choose and the tone you take.
- Let me tell you a personal story. For years, I had dreamed of writing a book about personal finance. I developed ideas, put together an outline, even wrote the first chapter, but ultimately it ended up in a forgotten folder on my computer. Then, I got a contract to write a book about real estate. It had a specific deadline, a well-described audience, and a publisher standing by ready to roll the presses and I finished it in about a month. The difference was purpose. In this case, this publisher had settled dozens of details long before I sat down to write.
Those decisions guided me while the lack of them stopped me from following through on my dream project, but let's get back to you. Here are some questions whose answers will guide your writing to greater impact. They fit nicely into the traditional six Ws of journalism. Why are you writing in the first place? Or to put it another way, what is success to you? Is it to get people into the sales funnel, or to close the deal, or for some other purpose? If you're writing for a cause, do you want people to oppose something bad or support something good? The words you use for each are quite different.
Who is the audience for your writing? How much do they already know about the subject? How much do they care? For example, compare people late in their finance careers to those who are just starting out. Jargon like leverage and amortization will have deep meanings for that first group, but your ideas will have more impact on the second group if you break those terms down. In what format will your writing appear? I have the perfect example. This course that you're watching right now.
I spoke each sentence out loud while I was writing my scripts and I often added words to make them sound better, but if this course were presented in a book, I would have written for the eyes rather than the ears. Finally, we have the last three, where, when, and how will your writing be distributed? These are related to the question of who your audience is. Let's say you're writing a blog post and your website's analytics say that many of your readers are in Asia.
You might write with simpler language, because your audience has a lot non-native English speakers and knowing that the post won't go up for a month will change just how newsy you make it. Formal education shows you how to write, but it doesn't show you why and I'd argue that the why is more important for there's no such thing as generic good writing. Writing is only good for it's rightness to purpose. Without purpose, you can still string together aimless sentences that sound good, which is like blindly swinging a hammer at a plank of wood, but only when you know where the nail is can you do the job right.
- Seeing through your readers' eyes
- Responding to what readers want
- Understanding how people read
- Quickly grabbing your readers' attention
- Getting to the point
- Untangling (and subverting) grammar
- Using sentence rhythm for effect
- Matching style to genre