What is the point?
What is the point of our writing? It’s so easy to lose track of that. People start writing and it all spills out. A company president wants to write about how successful his company has been, or how much product the company is selling. A politician wants to write what he or she has achieved, and wants establish a legacy.
The reader is often forgotten. And what we want the reader to do goes out the window as well.
And the reader is the point. Do you know your intended reader? Does your writing bring value to the reader?
Because nobody will read your copy unless they think it has value – for them. They don’t care how many widgets your company sold last year, or your market share. They probably don’t even care about widgets.
Most likely, the reader has a problem. We all have problems, don’t we? Maybe your widget can solve that problem. If that’s the case, who cares about market share or how many you sell in however many countries?
Your copy must present value.
A common copywriter anagram is AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Value.
This sort of talk is generally confined to marketers (and widget sellers), but it is applicable to just about anything you write where your goal is to spur the reader into action or change their mind about something. Love letters, policy proposals, campaign literature, charitable fund raising, courtroom statements… if you think about it, most of what we write is aimed at persuasion. First we have to persuade that reading our writing has value (and do it quickly). Otherwise the reader will skip over it entirely. Your email will be deleted, you proposal will go on the stack of dead letters, or directly into the trash, or the reader will click away to the latest funny cat video on YouTube. In other words, you need to grab the reader’s Attention.
This can be done by an image, for example, or by a question that addresses a concern the reader already has. If you are selling widgets, you don’t talk about widgets here, you talk about the reader’s problem. That will get attention (if you know your reader).
Interest might be the first place your widget comes in. You’ve gotten attention by flagging a problem the reader has. You get the reader’s interest by making them believe you may have a solution. (You notice I said “making them believe.” A solution will not work unless people believe it enough to try it.)
Desire will come if you manage to keep the reader, and not lose the battle for attention with the myriad of distractions in today’s world. Once you have interest, you keep it by persuading the reader that you have a solution to their problem. You offer value.
Which brings us to the essential step of Action. You want the reader to send an inquiry, buy something, provide their email address, sign a petition or vote a certain way.
Now that you have their interest, how do you get them to move? (Humans are naturally lazy – we need motivation to do anything.)
None of this is easy, and writing needs constant tweaking and editing – always with the reader in mind, always aimed at getting the reader to take an action. Every single word needs to be used or discarded based on whether it is bringing the reader closer to this desire action.
So step outside your writing and ask if your words are really communicating the message you want. Not so easy to do, but essential.