By Melanie Dawson, Marketing Coordinator, Sage UK Limited
It can come naturally for some people to write, but to others it can be nothing more than a headache. Having to come up with something from scratch often leaves you in the dilemma, “where do I start”? Whatever you’re about to embark upon story wise, here’s some useful tips to help guide you through.
1. You have to start somewhere. State your purpose and outline what you’re trying to do. As simple as writing a letter to tell your customers about a special offer. Decide on the most important and less important details. If you’re really stuck talk it over with a friend, they may give you an idea on a starting sentence or paragraph.
2. Ask who is it for, where, what, when, how and why? And answer them. Start with the most important piece of information, and add to it. Try to stick to one idea per sentence or paragraph.
For example, if you are writing for someone in their 30’s, think of someone you know personally that age and tailor it to them.
3. The simple way to write something is just to write it. Banish your inner critic – at this stage no one cares if it’s spelt wrong or you missed an apostrophe. Just get on and do it. You can go back and refine things later.
4. Use an active style of writing. Choose the active, rather than the passive voice eg. ‘I am doing this’, rather than ‘this is being done’. It makes you sound more involved, interested and less shifty.
5. Sell the sizzle - Every time we write in business we’re trying to get a response. It’s not just about increasing our sales (though that’s a distinct advantage), but also about how people feel about doing business with us. So we have to write persuasively and that means talking about benefits not features. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’
Think about perfumes – their feature is they make you smell nice, but they’re sold on the benefit that smelling nice will encourage the object of your admiration to fall at your feet. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’
6. Leave it for a while - It’s easy, particularly when you know your subject really well to get really wrapped up in what you’ve written, to lose perspective.
Take time to get away from it and come back to it with fresh eyes. Even take a few minutes while you make a phone call, grab a coffee, whatever – just give yourself time. Do this at any point in the process – after your plan, after you just do it, or towards the end, but try to read it as though you’ve never seen it before.
7. Read through what you’ve written and look for places where you may have repeated yourself. Look for the businesses and doublespeak; the handy jargon and short cuts we might use everyday but that make little sense outside our own circle. Cut big, then cut small.
Pruning also means you have to let some areas grow. Sometimes it might be better to take a couple of sentences to describe what something does instead of referring to what it’s called. So rather than telling me it’s a personal GPS system, you might want to describe it as a gadget that helps you pinpoint exactly where you are.
8. Help your reader out by signalling where you’re going.
• New paragraphs help single out thoughts.
• Bullets and lists are great for drawing attention to things – and they’re easy to read.
• Subheadings help the reader to skim through to key points of interest, or to pick up reading from where they left off.
9. Ideally you shouldn’t proof read your own copy, but in reality most of us have to. Use your spell check if it’s an electronic document (make sure you’ve chosen English dictionary), but remember it’s not infallible. Take the time to read it through again.
Read it aloud from start to the end. Turn the paper upside down. Read every word one by one. If you spot a mistake, look for the one next to it.
10. Get someone else to check it for you. First of all does it do what you want it to? Get a second opinion. Does your tester understand it? Did they encounter any mental speed bumps? Bits where they had to go back and read it again? Did they spot any errors?
And there you have it, our top ten writing tips, so good luck and here’s hoping your story is a good one.
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