Spoiler alert…

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Sometimes, it’s best to lead with your main point .

Be upfront with your reader. Open with the punchline. Put your cards on the table in the very first sentence…

Wait a sec. In the first sentence? Isn’t it better to introduce the topic, explain the context and then gradually move onto the main point?

It depends. If you’re writing an academic essay where there’s a long argument to develop then yes, perhaps that would be the best approach. Are you writing an academic essay?

No…

As I was saying, sometimes you need to give the reader the main facts right from the start.

It might feel a bit strange to do this. Maybe you’re used to putting in a few introductory sentences before you spill the beans.

This can soften the tone of what you’re writing, but that’s not always a good thing. If you’ve got an important announcement to make, you don’t want to bury it under paragraphs of unnecessary waffle. Work out what your key message is and tell your reader right at the beginning.

Right at the beginning? I mean, spoiler alert! Don’t we want to keep the reader guessing so that they read on?

It depends. If you’re writing something where there’s a mystery to solve, then yes. Are you writing a detective novel?

No…

Most of us aren’t writing tense thrillers or ground-breaking scientific theses on a daily basis. We’re writing emails, customer letters, information leaflets, community news articles and so on.

What are you writing?

A council notice about parking restrictions.

Brilliant. Let’s use that as our example.

You could start your notice with some general information about the area and save the key point for later. Here’s what that would look like:

A notice for residents

The Wafflington area was pedestrianised in 1994 and has been a bustling hub of business and activity ever since. We have also seen a sharp increase in vehicles on the high street and surrounding roads. 

As a result of this, Wafflington Town Council have consulted town planning experts who have advised that certain parking restrictions are put in place. They have recommended a two hour limit for parking along the high street and we have agreed to enforce this from 1 June 2019. Thank you for your cooperation.

Now let’s try leading with the main point:

New parking restrictions on Wafflington High Street

From 1 June 2019 onwards, there will be a two hour parking limit along Wafflington High Street. 

This new restriction is due to the recent increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic in and around the area. Wafflington Town Council would like to thank you for your cooperation.

Starting with your key message gets the reader’s attention. It shows them that you’re not hiding anything from them. It gets the information straight to them without any fuss. It makes clear from the start exactly what you expect from them.

It may not be a great strategy for your next detective novel, but try it in your next email and see how it works.

Head it up

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Don’t be afraid to use headings and subheadings to break up your writing.

When you’re writing something that’s over a page long or that has several different sections to it, it makes sense to use headings to help your reader find their way through.

Headings and subheadings divide the text up into more manageable chunks and let the reader know what each section is going to be about.

Headings

You can use the title, headline or main heading of your writing to get the reader’s attention. For example, if you were writing an article for a local news blog, you’d probably want a title that highlights the drama of the story…:

Still Going for Gold: Wafflington Pensioner Prepares for New York Marathon

…rather than one that just states the facts:

Local Man Enters Race

This technique isn’t just for journalists. If you’re designing your marketing resources, writing an important paper or even just sending an email you really want your colleagues to read, make the most of the heading. A bold, dramatic or intriguing title can go a long way, so don’t be shy.

Subheadings

Once you get into the main body of the text, subheadings can help your reader find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s say you’re writing a letter to your customers to let them know about your new shop premises. In the letter, you’re going to explain where the new shop is, where they can park and the new range of products you have in stock. Adding a few subheadings will help the reader navigate the information and find the details they need.

Dear customer,

Thank you for supporting Woofflington Groomers, Wafflington’s award-winning pet grooming service.

Our new shop

We’re delighted to announce that we have now moved into new premises at 14 Wafflington High Street, WZ99 112 (next to Swish Cut Hairdressers). Our new shop is now open and we are accepting bookings. Please do pop in and say hello. 

How to find us

The new shop is on the number 5 bus route or the nearest car park is St James’s Street carpark, next to the Town Hall. You can find full directions on our website: wooflingtongroomerswafflington.co.uk

New in stock

From March 2019, we will be stocking the highly-requested ‘Furry Friend’ ferret combs and the all new ‘Beak It’ duck moisturiser. Please ask in store for more details. If you require a specific product, please do ask and we will be happy to order it in for you.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new shop soon.

Katherine and the Wooflington Groomers team

A good heading or subheading can make all the difference in your writing. Be bold, be clear and help your reader find their way.

Step by step

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Does your heart sink at the thought of reading an instruction manual?

Mine too.

Many flatpack furniture disasters and technology woes could have been avoided if only the instructions had been a bit more, well, instructive…

Today’s blog is about writing good instructions for your readers.

You’re probably writing instructions without even realising it. Whenever you give out information that you want the reader to respond to, you’re giving instructions. It could be in an email to colleagues, a letter to your customers or a poster for the general public.

Here are some basic rules to remember:

  • Break it down

Break your instructions down into simple steps. There’s no point encouraging your reader to do something if they don’t know how to do it.

For example, don’t just tell the reader to come to your concert. Give them instructions about how to buy a ticket. Otherwise they probably won’t come.

If there are lots of steps, you might want to number them in a list.

  • Start from the start

To set a wool cycle, turn the dial to number 7, making sure you have already pressed the ‘Slow spin’ button. Press ‘Go’ after the green light flashes. Always use wool-friendly detergent, which you should pour into the funnel before shutting the door.

These instructions are confusing because they’re not in chronological order.

The reader is going to have to unjumble them in his head and work out which steps to do in which order.

Good instructions will already have the steps in the correct order, so that it’s easy for the reader to follow them.

In this case, the correct order would be:

To set a wool cycle, pour wool-friendly detergent into the funnel (always use wool-friendly detergent for a wool cycle). Shut the washing machine door and press the ‘Slow spin’ button. Turn the dial to number 7. When the green light flashes, press ‘Go’.

Much better!

  • Test it out

It’s really important to check that your instructions actually work. You’re an expert in this topic, but your reader probably won’t be.

It’s easy to forget this and miss out details that seem obvious to you. Remember, the reader doesn’t know what you know.

Ask a friend or colleague to try your instructions out. Or imagine programming them into a robot. Would it be able to follow them correctly?

Good instructions make all the difference, so it’s worth testing them out. Your readers will thank you for it.

What your audience need to do

 

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Welcome back to the blog for the third post in a three part series. We’ve been looking at three important questions to ask about your audience.

Click on the links to see the previous posts:

  1. Who are your audience?
  2. What do your audience need to know?

And now for our final question in this series:

3. What do your audience need to do?

Whatever your message is for your audience, you probably want them to take action in some way.

This will be fairly obvious if you’re writing instructions. Most of your message will be about spelling out what action to take:

To replace the calculator battery, use a screwdriver to remove the back panel. Take out the old battery and replace with a new one.

But it’s not just instructions that should have a clear ‘call to action’.

Let’s look at an example:

Dear resident,

We are delighted to announce that our waste management scheme will be coordinated by Wafflington Waste Solutions from 15th April 2019 onwards. As a result of this development, there are new timings and restrictions for bin collection in your area.

Kind regards,

Wafflington Town Council

This letter has failed to direct the reader to take action. The writer hasn’t told them when they need to put their bin out or where they can find out about the restrictions.

Without any clear instructions to follow, the reader can’t respond as the writer wants them to.

Let’s try again:

Dear resident,

We are delighted to announce that our waste management scheme will be coordinated by Wafflington Waste Solutions. 

From 15th April 2019 onwards, your waste will be collected on Monday mornings. Please put your green bin out in the designated area before 8am.

For full details of what kinds of waste you can dispose of in your green bin, please visit our website: http://www.wafflingtoncouncil/waste

Kind regards,

Wafflington Town Council

I’m not saying that this makes for gripping reading, but at least the reader knows what to do next.

Your message will only be a success if your readers respond.

So what do you want your reader to do?

Apply for a job at your company? Pay their outstanding bills? Visit your carpet shop?

Whatever it is, make sure you spell it out clearly and simply. Give a direct call to action and your audience will follow.

 

What your audience need to know

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Welcome back to Write for Real People. Last time we looked at the first of three key questions to ask about your audience. They’re questions that can help you work out what you want to say. We started off simply with ‘Who are your audience?’.

This week we’re moving on to a second great question:

What do your audience need to know?

As a writer you have a message to communicate. Your job is to pass this information onto your readers. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazingly easy to miss out key details and leave your audience guessing.

Here’s an example of some information on a road sign:

There are road closures in this area for structural repairs. Diversions are available.

The writer has been quite stingy with the details here. Without good local knowledge, the reader might find it hard to understand this information. Which roads are closed and for how long? How do you find the diversion routes?

It would help if the writer could be more specific:

The Fortnal Bridge Road is closed from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs.

This is much more helpful.

Asking the question ‘What do the audience need to know?’ makes your writing efficient and effective.

Make a list of the key points you want to include in your writing and check them off as you go. Think of questions your readers might have about your topic and see if you can get all the answers in your written text.

Too much information?

There are some things that your audience just doesn’t need to know. As the writer, you have all the information, but only some of it will be important to your reader.

While some writers can be stingy with the details, others can be a little bit too generous…:

As announced on 18th March, the Fortnal Bridge Road has been closed by Wafflington Town Council from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs to the bridge’s left masonry joint and brickwork. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs. The councillors and local highway authorities would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

If this information was in a bridge enthusiasts’ magazine, the high level of detail might be appropriate.

For most people, these extra facts add nothing. They actually make it harder to pick out the useful information.

Good writers do this filtering first, and only give the reader what they need to know.

This is why we started with ‘Who are your audience?’ as the first question. It all begins with using your imagination and getting into your readers’ heads.

Work out who they are and what they need to know, and the rest will come naturally.

 

Are you stingy or generous when it comes to details in your writing? Let me know in the comments below…