How do you write for the digital reader? Here's a beginner's guide to writing with impact.
79% of people reading this, will drop-off halfway through this article. That is the reality, I, as a writer, have to reconcile with. Why is this important?
Right, so let's get started.
If you are thinking what is a chef doing in the featured image about a post on writing? Let me assure you there is more in common than what meets the eye. What do a chef and a writer have in common?
"It is all about the presentation!"
Having been a FinTech writer, marketing content writer, blogger, and presentation creator, I have come to realize and respect the value of the 'presentation.' People come up to me all the time and ask "but, isn't it about the quality of the content and the stuff therein?" Well, they are not wrong, so I tell them - that is only 50% of the contribution, in the end, it is all about appearance.
All said and done, we are human beings, and we are attracted to looks. We can contest the idea, but the reality is what it is. If you are looking to catch the attention at first go- then an eye-catching presentation is the only way to go. Great writers have realized this hack and used it to their advantage. In this post, I will try to elaborate some of the observations I have made as a writer and editor.
If you are writing for the general audience and unless you are writing a thesis paper, it helps to keep the content entertaining and straightforward. A writer in this segment must also have the ability to 'translate.' By translate, I am referring to being able to translate thoughts, emotions, and ideas into layman language.
It is not merely enough that you understand what you are writing about, or that there is a consensus about the topic in the community. You have got to tell a story around the focus topic and tell it like you are telling a story to a 5-year-old. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
As with every interaction, you need to keep in mind that writing too is an interaction. Therefore just like every other interaction, your success depends on the level of engagement that you can create and how soon you can create that engagement.
Writing with impact is all about the engagement - the first few lines are critical. The reader must feel invited to be a part of what you have written. Grab their attention --> Arouse the curiosity --> Tell a story --> Make the reader feel like they are a part of that story --> Give the reader something to take-away!
Do this, and you will have earned your reader's trust; over a period, they will look to you for more. Stories are a powerful tool, but an engaging story- there is nothing like it!
Your success as a writer depends on the level of engagement that you can create and how soon you can create that engagement.
Still reading? Well, that is good news for me. Popular studies have put the average attention span of a human at 8 seconds during 2013. This was 20 seconds in 2000. As a writer, you need to take this into account and keep the content, engagement and focus all on this attention span.
Attention can be made to linger if you keep the engagement just right. After all, nobody would want to abandon an exciting activity. As for paragraphs and wording - try to keep a section at three to four lines with a max of five. If you are looking at word count, then fifty would be ideal.
The true scarce commodity of the near future will be human attention. - Satya Nadella
There is a compromise that every writer has to make - go all out on your writing or make adjustments for your readers? Sometimes, a writer can get so engrossed in an article that they forget to factor in the reader's requirements or the readers perspective. A friend sent over an article for review - on first glance it was apparent that he was passionate about the topic. Below is an example to illustrate un-necessary detailing.
"I do not remember a time that we were not together. From breakfast in the common mess hall to sharing a bench in class - we did everything together. Moreover, this journey continued throughout the three years in college - we made posts in the cabinet and did some remarkable things that year. It was almost as if we were joined at the hips - not literally though!"
The above would have made sense if he were writing a novel, but since this was a blog post and more instances needed to be incorporated in this 1000 word article - the above was an overdo. When you write like you are having a conversation - you need to compromise on brevity and instead opt for a more extended format. You cannot have both. So I suggested an edit to the above, one that retained everything he was trying to say and yet kept the wording at the minimum required.
"I do not remember a time that we were not together. From breakfast in the common mess hall to sharing a bench in class - we did everything together during the three years of college. We even made it to the cabinet and boasted some great achievements that year. We were inseparable!"
An interesting thing about reading content on your mobile devices is that most reader glance at the headline, then scroll through the length of the article for no evident reason before deciding if the post is worth the read. It is hard enough trying to grab the attention with the headline, imagine having to do the same with the entire article.
By highlighting content through block quotes and bolden text, you are giving the reader key-takeaways without them having to read the entire article.
This is where 'Highlights' come into play. Pepper your article with highlighted text and block quotes of significance. These will catch the eye of the reader as they stand out from the rest of the text and the reader will thank you for the same. By highlighting content through block quotes and bolden text, you are giving the reader key-takeaways without them having to read the entire article. #InstantGratification is the norm of the digital era.
While instant gratification is the norm of the digital era and the readers are justified in expecting instant gratification delivered through short articles and engaging stories, as a writer you need to take the longer route. It takes time to build your brand as a creator of content.
You can start by building a portfolio of your writings on your personal blog, giving insights on platforms such as medium and LinkedIn Pulse. As you develop your portfolio and your content starts reaching out to more and more readers, your brand gets the recognition proportional to the effort you invest into its creation.
So, here's to writing with impact and to greater achievements ahead! Getting started is always the hard part, but hey, if you have a dream and are passionate about it, it doesn't hurt to invest time and effort. I always say give your passions and dreams the shot they deserve and don't worry about growth. At least you'll know if you're cut out for it or not.