Writing is a skill that can be honed, not just a talent. Ann Handley’s “Everybody Writes” is a valuable guide for improving your writing in various contexts, with a focus on marketing. It provides insights on crafting high-quality, useful, creative, and reader-centric content. The book also delves into creating a brand voice and adapting it to different formats. Handley’s process for effective content creation is outlined, supplemented by tips from other writers and a look at the psychology behind her recommendations. This revised edition offers a comprehensive resource for enhancing your writing skills in the modern business world.
In the digital age, our connection with the world relies heavily on written words. Ann Handley highlights three essential ingredients for great writing: usefulness to your audience, a foundation in creativity or data, and a strong connection with your readers.
Usefulness to Your Audience
Your writing must offer value to your readers by addressing a specific problem. Before you start writing, establish the purpose, main idea, and significance to your audience. Your content should be clear and purposeful, guiding your readers toward a solution.
Grounding in Creativity and Data
Creative writing stands out and connects with readers emotionally. Tell stories, appeal to the senses, and evoke emotions to make your content memorable and persuasive. However, ensure your writing is based on facts and accurate data to maintain credibility and trust.
Connection With Your Audience
Establish a strong connection between your writing and your audience. Make your reader the protagonist of your story and address their needs and desires. Advocate for your audience, understand their concerns, and represent them in your writing.
By incorporating these three ingredients, your writing can become a powerful tool for marketing and communication in the digital age.
Developing Your Brand Voice
In addition to the fundamental elements of good writing, crafting effective marketing material requires honing and expressing your brand’s voice. A distinctive brand voice not only gives your customers something to connect with but can also influence their decision when choosing between you and your competitors. It serves as a window into your business culture and the type of clientele you’re targeting, making your brand more attractive to your desired audience and signaling to others that you may not be the right fit.
To create a brand voice, Ann Handley suggests starting by defining the characteristics you want it to embody. Determine the level of formality, emotional tone, and humor you wish to infuse. Choose specific adjectives such as “energetic,” “down-to-earth,” “instructional,” or “zany” that encapsulate your desired voice and expand on them with sentences that describe it and reflect your brand’s identity.
Once you’ve identified your ideal brand voice, establish a style guide that documents the rules and principles for maintaining it. This guide ensures consistency, especially when multiple writers contribute to your content. You can adapt an existing style guide that aligns with your brand’s purpose for convenience.
Tools for Crafting Your Voice
You can employ various tools to establish and enhance your brand voice, including humor and analogies. Humor should be relatable and align with your audience’s interests, fostering a sense of connection that builds loyalty. When using humor, ensure it’s in line with your audience’s values to avoid alienating customers.
Analogies are another powerful tool for clarifying ideas, making your writing more memorable, and conveying your brand’s essence. They can help simplify complex concepts or demonstrate scale. Craft your own analogies to connect with your audience, avoiding clichés and ensuring relevance.
By refining your brand voice and using these tools effectively, you can create marketing material that resonates with your audience and sets you apart from the competition.
Adapting Your Writing to Different Formats
In the realm of business and marketing writing, the content you create can vary significantly based on the format and your writing intent. Ann Handley underscores that the rules differ when writing emails to superiors or colleagues, crafting messages for customers, composing social media posts, or scripting videos. To navigate this diversity effectively, you should consider the purpose of your content: whether it’s informational, instructional, persuasive, or transactional, as each has its unique objectives and target audiences, shaping the suitable format.
While maintaining a consistent brand voice across these formats is vital, it’s essential to adjust your tone accordingly. For instance, if your brand voice is cheeky and irreverent on your website, you should still maintain professionalism when addressing customer complaints. Likewise, if your social media tone is relaxed and easygoing, you must ensure that email newsletters include a strong call to action.
Let’s delve into specific formats and how to tailor your writing for them:
Social Media: Social media necessitates a distinct style of writing, emphasizing connection and engagement. It calls for an inviting and friendly tone, even if your primary voice is formal. Utilize your social media presence to forge a personal connection with your customers and establish a unique public image.
Video: When writing scripts for videos, traditional grammar rules take a back seat, as the content is meant to be heard rather than read. Storytelling gains prominence, and visuals play a vital role in conveying the narrative. Write your script with the spoken word in mind, using punctuation like commas and ellipses to indicate pauses and natural speech patterns.
Commenting on Social Causes: Brands increasingly express their stances on social issues, which resonates positively with consumers. However, tread carefully in this territory, being mindful of potential misinterpretations or unintended consequences. A well-intentioned post can backfire if not executed properly, as demonstrated by Burger King’s controversial tweet on International Women’s Day. Before posting, consider how your message may be received and whether it could be misconstrued by individuals seeking to provoke a reaction.
Effective Writing Strategies
Having learned about essential elements and adapting your writing to different formats, it’s time to dive into the practical writing process. Ann Handley emphasizes that there’s no single correct method for creating content, but she provides valuable tips and processes to help you kickstart your writing journey and develop a writing routine.
Make Writing a Habit: Handley’s first recommendation is to make writing a daily practice. Most of us engage in regular writing activities, like work emails, social media posts, or journaling. However, improving your writing abilities requires consistent practice. While Handley doesn’t specify a daily time commitment, aiming for around an hour a day is a good rule of thumb, starting with shorter sessions if necessary.
To maintain this daily writing habit, consider various approaches, such as journaling, writing prompts, or stream-of-consciousness writing. Collaborative settings like writer’s workshops or classes can also provide structure and motivation to help you stay on track.
Identify your optimal writing time, whether it’s in the morning, evening, or late at night, and write during your peak creative hours. Additionally, consider slowing down your writing process by using pen and paper, allowing for deeper contemplation and reflection.
Draft 1: Once you’ve established a daily writing practice, you’ll be better prepared for other writing tasks. Handley outlines a writing process that begins with defining the format, purpose, and structure of your piece. Creating a list of key points and ideas can help you organize your thoughts effectively.
Next, gather information from primary sources to ensure accuracy and credibility. Utilize recent sources for up-to-date facts, keeping a record of your sources as you go to avoid accidental plagiarism.
Begin the writing process with a rough draft. Remember that this initial draft doesn’t need to look perfect; it’s about getting your ideas on paper. Take a break before revising it.
Draft 2: Editing: Editing is the next step after your initial draft. While eventually, you’ll need external help for editing, start by reviewing your work independently. Different types of editing exist, including developmental editing (larger scale) and line editing (detailed).
During large-scale editing, focus on clarity, logic, and a strong lead to captivate your audience. Remove any extraneous information, ensuring that every element supports the overall piece. Be attentive to missing research or logical connections.
Detailed editing involves scrutinizing every word, eliminating unnecessary ones. Pay particular attention to redundant adverbs and clichéd phrases, and ensure each word adds meaning to your piece.
Grammar Rules: Handley offers a range of grammar guidelines for you to apply as you see fit. While the rules learned in school don’t always apply to brand writing, consider these points:
- Use active voice over passive voice.
- Avoid buzzwords and excessive jargon.
- Write in the present tense and second person to engage the reader.
- Make every word count, consolidating weak phrases into stronger ones.
Remember that your style may vary depending on the medium and genre you’re writing for, but adhering to principles like using active voice, clear language, and making every word count will enhance your writing in various contexts.
Understanding the Evolution of Writing Rules
The “rules” of writing, as outlined by Handley, are often rooted in school teachings. However, these rules are not as rigid as they may appear. Delving into their origins reveals that many were born from critiques of English language usage, which sometimes contradicted common language practices.
For instance, the notion that splitting infinitives is grammatically incorrect stemmed from the 19th-century writer Henry Alford, who didn’t declare it wrong but found no need for it, despite its widespread use. Similarly, the idea that ending a sentence with a preposition is erroneous can be attributed to a few 17th and 18th-century writers who sought to align English grammar with Latin, although English is fundamentally a Germanic language.
Language rules continually evolve to reflect how language is used in practice. As language adapts to our usage, rules adjust accordingly. In the end, the primary purpose of language is to convey meaning effectively, making the strict adherence to rules a matter of preference.
The Editing Process: Drafts 3 and 4
After completing large-scale and detailed editing for draft 2, move on to draft 3. In this stage, focus on connecting with your audience. Imagine a specific reader and read through your work from their perspective. Identify any potential misunderstandings or questions and ensure your reader can relate to your writing.
Draft 4 is where you infuse style and voice into your piece. Incorporate elements like humor and figurative language, writing in the second person and keeping sentences and paragraphs concise. Eliminate sentences or words that hinder the piece’s flow and consider using formatting tools like bullet points, visuals, and blank space to enhance visual appeal.
The Final Edit and Publication
Once draft 4 is complete, enlist others to help with editing. Use automated editing tools first to catch overlooked mistakes. For human editing, collaborate with someone familiar with your style and voice who can correct errors, fact-check, and rephrase while preserving your voice.
Before publication, read your work aloud to identify errors and refine phrasing. Visually assess its format to ensure it’s reader-friendly for various platforms. Avoid large blocks of text and incorporate white space and visuals to enhance readability.
When your work is published, detach yourself from it. Published writing serves the audience, not the writer. Any regrets about the final product should be viewed as lessons for the future. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment, even if it required letting go of certain parts of your writing in service of the reader.