16/08/2011

By Jackie Barrie, Copywriter, Trainer & Author at Comms Plus

When writing news, it can be useful to take a lesson from the newspapers and write in boxes of ever-decreasing importance.

Take a look at any newspaper, and you’ll see that the headline is probably the biggest thing on the page. There may be a sub-heading in a smaller font, and the introductory paragraph could be bigger or bolder than the rest of the text. The pattern will continue down the whole page, with smaller headlines towards the foot of the page.

Our readers are busy people, and if we don’t grab their attention and keep it, they will quickly turn the page.

So don’t bury your most important information at the end where it may never be seen!

The whole story needs to be summed up in the headline, with a bit more information added in the sub-heading, then the introduction, and then each subsequent paragraph.

Imagine that the person writing the content is not the same as the person who designs the page. If the copy doesn’t fit, it will be cut from the bottom up. It therefore needs to make sense even if the last paragraph is deleted, then the one before and the one before that.

To write a convincing headline, think of WWWWWH:

Who
What
When
Where
Why
How

For example, a main headline at time of writing, on the BBC news site was:

‘Police swell ranks to stem riots’

Who = Police
What = swell ranks
Why = to stem riots

The next bit of copy read:

‘Some 16,000 officers will police London’s streets after three days of violence, with rioters warned they will feel the “full force of the law”.’

This adds more information.

Who = some 16000 officers
Where = London’s streets
When = after three days of violence
Why = so rioters will feel the full force of the law

Ideally, you should write your introductory sentence using less than 30 words.

There are two other lessons you may find useful.

One is to include (real) quotes.

For example, from the main news story at time of writing:

PM David Cameron has told rioters: “You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.”

And finally, look at any picture and you’ll see it’s captioned underneath or to the right. This is because of the way we read (in English).

You may have missed this trick in your standard marketing material or business documents, but it’s well worth considering. Your reader’s eye can’t help going to the picture (and/or the headline) and they can’t help reading the caption to find out what it shows.

Jackie Barrie writes without waffle for websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures, leaflets and speeches, in fact, anything to help your company make more money. She is the author of ‘The Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing’ and ‘The Little Fish Guide to Networking’. Find out more at www.comms-plus.co.uk or 0845 899 0258.

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