What makes written communication work?

What do quotes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Julius Caesar have in common with the National Trust handbook or even Nike’s iconic mantra, Just Do It?

According to my colleagues at i.creation they are all great examples of getting a message across in word form.

As part of our latest weekly team meeting, I tasked everyone with thinking about a piece of writing that communicates effectively.

I have to admit, some of the feedback surprised me. We had everything from corporate brands and advertising slogans, to the works of romantic poets and even Bon Jovi lyrics.

Both factual and fictional examples were included, some were entire books and other were just simple one-liners that featured on posters.

Despite the variation in styles, genres and the time gap between many of the examples, we agreed that all of them did draw on a common strand – they had found the formula for conveying their message brilliantly.

For me, this can be broken down into three main areas – three requirements that any communicator should fulfil before embarking on a piece of writing:

1. Know you audience. How you’d write something for a mass circulation newspaper could be very different from how you’d pen the same article for a group of employees. Also, understand how they’d prefer to receive the information e.g a 250-character message on Twitter or a long read in a printed magazine.

2. Be clear about the message. If you are not sure what the desired outcome is how can you be clear with your audience? Better to take time and plan out a road map for what you want to achieve rather than diving straight in. And if you are writing something on someone’s behalf be clear you know what message they want to convey – and if you aren’t sure, ask.

3. Keep it as simple as possible. In the context of your audience and the subject matter, you shouldn’t try to over-complicate matters. That’s not to say everything you write has to be dumbed down, more that over-embellishment can be in danger of fogging the message.

So, there you have it – not rocket science but three simple tests that can really aid your communicative writing skills.

That said, if good writing was this easy everyone would be a best-selling author or comms guru. So, there must be a missing element.

The fourth factor that underlines all these tests is craftsmanship. Yes, you could DIY build your new kitchen but getting a professional in will yield a better result (well, it should do!). The same principle applies to communicating, which is where companies like ours come in. We are well versed at taking a brief, applying the above tests and coming up with creative solutions that exceed expectations.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on how the written word can be complemented by great photography, design, illustration and other media… but that’s for another i.creation weekly team meeting and another blog.

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