A caveat: I initially wrote this for my internal team of writers when I noticed them straying off the “righteous” path – yes, it happens to the best of us. I then realized it could help other writers and business owners alike, so I decided to turn into a blog post and make it public.

 

If you’re a regular on the Idunn blog, then you already know that I advocate ROI-oriented writing (whether it content writing or copywriting). It’s what we do for our clients and for ourselves: we don’t really care about vanity metrics (like traffic or social shares). What we care for, instead, is that our writing brings us and our clients actual revenue.

It is my firm belief that you can only get revenue from writing if you respect your reader. Yes, we hire SEO writers and we do care for keyword research and optimization. But those are never our main focus.

Let me explain.

Out of my team of writers, some of them can easily grok new buyer personas. Others need to work harder at it and they sometimes forget who they are writing for. It’s not a flaw; it’s just something that they need to keep in check.

For instance, their writing pieces have great headlines, they are impeccably optimized, but, sometimes, they lack that personable feel. You know what I’m talking about – the slight sadness you feel when a great piece of writing is over and you would have liked just a few extra paragraphs. This is when I urge them to go back, take another look and re-do their work with the buyer persona in mind.

To me, respecting your reader translates to:

  1. Respecting their time
  2. Not taking them for fools (by offering crappy writing, unnecessary details or transparent ads disguised as content)
  3. Truly helping them (with valuable, entertaining informational. Or an extremely personal and relatable piece)

Now, if you respect them, this has to show in your writing. This is the guide for great writing I put together for my team.

7 Steps for Great Writing aka Writing that Respects the Reader

Just to be clear: respecting the reader and wanting to turn them into your customer are two different things. A correlation exists, though.

  1. Research #1 – Your Reader

Yes, there should be two types of research for every piece of writing we produce. The first one (and the first step towards really great writing) is getting to know your reader. The second one will pop up in a bit.

When we onboard a new client at Idunn, we start with the buyer persona. If the client doesn’t have one, we create it.

Then I encourage my team to write as if they spoke directly to that person. Mary, Robert, Joanna and Gus are a few of the personas we created for our ongoing clients.

We know all about them – what they like, what they read, their age and occupation and many other things. This makes it easy for us to adopt a tone of voice that really gets through to them.

Most importantly, this also helps us identify their pain points easier and explain how we can solve them.

Whenever one of our writers strays off from the kind of respectful writing I expect, I ask them a simple question:

Whom did you write this for?

If the answer is <name of the brand/company> or <name of the client>, I urge them to take another look and rewrite for the buyer persona.

And yes, in case you were wondering, we did have to clarify this for clients, too, on occasion. When the brief said “executive tone of voice” and the target was auto mechanics, for instance, we had to explain why it’s not top management who has to like and respond to the copy. It’s the end user.

In time, people come to terms with the fact that they don’t have to like the tone of voice or need the information in the articles we produce for them. They are not the buyer persona.

  1. Goal Setting

Another question each writer needs to ask before typing even a word is:

Why am I writing this?

This is a two-fold question: first, your answer needs to speak about how this is helping/entertaining/amusing your buyer persona. Next up, you need to align this with your business and marketing goals.

If you can’t get perfectly good answers in both cases, then you need to start again. Come up with a new subject and repeat the process.

Here’s why: if you don’t have a business or marketing goal in mind, then you’ll be working for nothing. Obviously. But then again, if you can’t align that goal with the readers’ best interest or need, then you’ll come across as insincere. And you can count on them picking that up.

What’s in it for your reader? How is reading your article benefitting them? (Important note: you can’t say “they’ll learn about our product” – that’s beneficial for you, not them.)

  1. Brevity

Again, if you’ve read some of my other articles, you already know that I’m an advocate of long form content. But not at the cost of wasting your reader’s time.

I believe that moderation and common sense should be the guiding lights of great writing (and almost everything else in business and life, really). Tell your story. All of it. Take as many words as you need. Add examples and relevant data. Heck, go all in and add a personal anecdote and a funny story (if relevant).

But do not add fluff.

The problem with pre-set word counts is that most writers know there’s no wiggle room there. The client demanded 2,000 words on the topic of choosing the best cat food, so this is what we must deliver. Fair enough, but what if you told the client he doesn’t need 2,000 words? It’s a topic that could be done in less than 1,000.

Why waste Internet real estate and reading time on 2,000 bloody words?

Yes, I know that long-form content helps you rank better in SERPs. It even makes you look as an authority in your field. But only if you don’t bore people out of their skulls after the first three paragraphs.

  1. Structure and Organization

A 100-word phrase? Skip! A page-long paragraph? Skip again. Huge blocks of text? Skip, skip, skip!

It may sound shallow, but it’s true: we no longer have the time to decipher phrases that would make even Kant envious. We need to be able to skim the text and get the gist quickly. If we’re talking about online, functional writing, of course.

When you switch to creative writing, by all means, go all Garcia Marquez in The Autumn of the Patriarch if you think this helps you bring out the best in your opus.

But I digress.

I remember that I, too, used to think one-sentence paragraphs were shallow (and borderline incorrect). I still love lengthy explanations and endless phrases in philosophy and even novels. They challenge me and I like that. However, when it comes to reading online (especially to reading texts that are supposed to be useful or informational), I have come to understand the usefulness of short phrases and short paragraphs.

And your readers will, too. Remember that most of them are probably reading your copy from a mobile device. They already have to deal with tiny fonts, don’t make it even harder on them!

  1. Research #2 – Your Topic

Hondas are the best cars in the world.

Oh, really?

What third-party data or supports this? And “best” in terms of what – safety, comfort, durability?

question everythingImage via Reddit

Whenever you make a claim, be sure to have something to back it up. Your readers won’t ask you the questions above. They’ll simply close the page and move on. You don’t want them to do that, do you?

So, don’t give them a chance to question your recommendations, suggestions or information. Speak from your own experience, pull data from surveys and research reports, quote thought leaders in your field. The more independent research, the better.

One important note here: writing or marketing are not sciences per se. As professionals in either of these fields, we are accustomed to bend turns of phrases our way, to use key features for campaigns and to always underline the positives. We are also accustomed to finding research studies that prove our point.

I strongly believe we should borrow a page from the exact sciences’ book. In other words, treat everything as a hypothesis to be proven. Not a thesis, mind you, a hypothesis.

Why?

Because whatever you are trying to prove in this field, you will be able to find a study that supports your views. It may be an obscure one, with a questionable methodology, but you will find one.

Does this mean you respect your reader?

Not exactly! It (almost) means you are spreading wrong information or fake news.

Let me exemplify:

Want to prove that babies should be vegan from day 1? You’ll find plenty of studies!

Want to prove that babies should eat meat since day 1? You’ll also find plenty of studies!

These are extreme (and highly controversial) examples, but you get the point. Closer to home, you can easily argue that companies should invest all their marketing budget in video. Or blogging. There are separate studies that prove both of these points (and, better yet, make the alternative sound irrelevant). Of course, they are made or financed by organizations that have a direct interest in the outcome. But that’s another story for another time.

My point is that true honesty stems from working backwards (than we are accustomed to). Following up on the example above: if you truly want to help your readers make the best decision, you will, at the very least, present studies that support an opposing view (even if briefly). You can proceed to argue why you don’t agree with the conclusions, but you shouldn’t sweep it under the rug altogether. Remember that readers do have minds of their own – don’t treat them as fools.

  1. Re-Read, Proofread, Edit

Whatever you call it, just take another look at your masterpiece. Or have someone else do it – it’s up to you.

I have to be honest: I Hate (yes, with a capital “h”) proofreading my own work. I have lost marks in various exams and tests or contests because I couldn’t stand reading my paper before turning it in. And guess what? There were typos and other small mistakes.

However, typos and grammar issues aren’t my main concern when I urge my writers to re-read. We have editors for that.

I am mostly concerned with what I wrote about above. Tone of voice, flow, organization, and, above all, adaptability to the buyer persona’s needs and wants. I urge them to re-read and empathize with the target audience. Did they answer important questions? Did they do their very best to be useful/funny/entertaining? In other words: is their work valuable? Not to them, but to their readers.

  1. Call-to-Action

What is the reader supposed to do after they finished reading? Buy, sell, act, contact you, go for a walk, go into therapy, eat, pray… (OK, I’ll stop here)?

Maybe we shouldn’t even be thinking about it as a CTA. Just as a final recommendation. You see, we all assume that people know what they have to do. You landed on my blog, you liked my content and my points, so, you know, pay my agency to do the same for you.

Well, maybe you’re smarter than me or maybe you’ll be just as surprised as I was a couple of years ago when things didn’t exactly go like this. Quite the opposite: I got emails asking us to help with various aspects of digital marketing. I replied with quotes and was met with stupor:

Wait, you mean I have to pay for strategy? It’s just a short chat, it’s not too much work.

Wait, I have to pay for writing? That much? But you love it; it’s not really work for you.

What can I get for free?

You get the point.

And this is not just about encouraging people to spend money on your products or services. You can direct them to check or download additional resources, signup for a webinar, call you or donate to a cause that you are not directly affiliated with.

If someone made it to the end of your piece, odds are you stirred some emotion in them. It doesn’t even matter what type of emotion it is, you deserve congratulations. This is what great writing is supposed to do. In that case, you have a good chance of people acting on your call – you already have a relationship with them.

This last bit is directly connected to your initial goal (remember, the one that correlates to your buyer persona’s needs?). This is your final chance to make it happen. Grab it!

 

Final disclaimer: you may have noticed that I tried to avoid terms like “copywriting” or “content writing” as much as possible. That’s because I think that any piece of writing should respect the reader. Email copy and white papers to blog posts, social media copy, even the tiniest of hashtags – when you write them with nothing but sales on your mind, it will show. And people will not come back. Not to buy and not even to read.

On the other hand, if you write them with a sincere wish to help, entertain or give comfort, people will come back. And yes, eventually, they might also buy something from you.

 

 

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