Have a point: Five tips for improving your writing

“You know when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Steve Martin

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Storytellers and writers have a lot in common. They both need to get a point across. The best writers not only have a point, but they get to it quickly, reinforce it with examples or supporting logic, and reemphasize the point in their conclusion. In a world in which anyone with a computer and Internet connection can claim to be an author, you can make your written words stand out if you follow these tips.

  1. Have a point. What are you writing about? Every piece of business writing should have an objective. If you aren’t sure what yours is, take a moment to identify it before you start putting fingers to keys.
  2. Get to the point. Known in the journalism trade as “burying the lead,” writers who dilly-dally and don’t let their reader know what their piece is about risk not only confusing the reader, but losing them altogether. Don’t leave them thinking that your piece on emerging South American markets is really an anecdote about a guy from Guyana that you met on a plane, because the reader didn’t get beyond the first paragraph.
  3. Says who? Reinforce your point. Today, everybody has an opinion, some of which are based in fact and some of which aren’t. Unfortunately, while “that’s the way it is” may have worked for Walter Cronkite in a simpler time, it doesn’t cut it today. If you can’t cite facts or reputable reports or quote respected sources, you’re really just flapping your digital gums.
  4. So what? Why does what you have to say matter? What’s the impact on the reader or on the broader world? Give your writing context so the reader understands its importance. For example, “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicks over lantern in barn” has no importance. “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicks over lantern in barn, burns down Chicago” answers the “so what?” question quite effectively.
  5. If it’s worth writing once… Advertisers claim that consumers need to hear a message as many as eight times before it connects with them. The least you can do is give yours twice. Conclude your piece with a restatement of your key themes so that the most important information resonates with the reader.

Distinguish yourself as a writer by remembering your point, getting to it, reinforcing it, contextualizing it and repeating it. And then let it go to the audience for which it is intended.

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