My friend Ken Gordon is a writer.
In his response, Ken emphasizes the hard work of writing and recommends that designers aspiring to write crack open some great works in order to hone their craft. As he puts it, “Our finest works of literature remain, now as ever, our best writing instructors.”
As much as I love the canon (I once read Ulysses three times in one year), I fear that such advice may not be the most practical for people who want to get better at writing in, shall we say, a commercial context. After all, John Maeda wasn’t suggesting that designers need to become the next Nabokov.
Instead, he was saying that creative professionals can become more valuable to their clients, and more successful in their careers, if they became better at (not necessarily masters of) writing.
Indeed, the first “key observation” of Maeda’s Design in Tech Report 2017 frames the conversation fairly explicitly, “Design isn’t just about beauty; it’s about market relevance and meaningful results.”
Non-literary advice for people who have to write for money
Marketers, particularly those on the marketing communications side of things, spend a lot of time writing. The results can be found in the “demand gen” emails they send us, the white papers and ebooks we download, the blog posts that catch our eyes on Twitter, and the web copy we wade through in order to uncover what their products and services do.
Having written a lot of this sort of stuff myself, and now spending my days editing and trying to improve the writing of others, I’ve developed some basic principles that, in my humble opinion, marketing writers (and others) can apply in order to improve their writing chops (assuming you do not have time to take a deep dive into Melville’s Pierre; or, The Ambiguities.)
1. Remember: Nobody Reads
Before you write anything for the purposes of marketing, you have to remember that people online don’t read. Let me immediately amend that: Nobody reads the whole thing. When Slate analyzed scrolling patterns on their site, they found that 38% of visitors left the page without reading (scrolling) at all, and that the majority of people only read half of any given article.
2. Lead with the Point
It is not surprising to learn that people don’t read articles to the end (or at all). But, what about email? Well, research shows that slightly more than 50% of emails get read in their entirety. Twenty-two percent get skimmed and 26% “glanced at.”
Given that even in the best case scenario you are only getting eight seconds of attention, you better make them count! In other words, skip the “Technology is changing faster than ever before” and the “As a [fill in the blank] professional, you know that…” Just get down to it!
3. Edit Yourself
Learning to write (or learning to write better) really means learning to edit what you’ve written.
You can do it!
I’ve definitely had my moments of dividing people up into those who can write and those who can’t, as if writing ability were a gift from on high, rather than, as my friend George says, “a master craft.”
If you can write at all, you can learn to write better. And, specifically, I mean “learn to write in a way that is relevant to your market and produces meaningful results.”
Speaking of email, why don’t you check out B2B and B2C Email Marketing: Insights for Success in the Inbox and Beyond?