Write With Clarity and Impact

Readers appreciate documents that are clear and concise. No one ever complains that a document is too easy to read. And it is a proven fact that clarity and impact go hand-in-hand.

If your writing is not clear, its impact will be reduced… it won’t have an impact on your reader’s opinion or it won’t convince him or her to take the action you want them to take.

There are several things you can do to improve the clarity of your writing and ensure that you have an impact on your readers:

  • Use a writing structure that fits your topic
  • Be consistent in your use of grammar, style and all the other elements of good writing
  • Write in a conversational style
  • Make your copy easy to read

Writing Structure

You need to organise your writing so that your article, essay, paper or whatever is easy to read and easy to understand. To achieve this end, the first thing you must do is choose a structure that fits the topic.

The type of structure you use will vary depending on what kind of writing you are going to do… a brochure, a short story, a manual and so on.

Choosing the correct structure is not very difficult and it becomes easier and almost instinctive with experience.

Here are four common ways you can structure your writing:

  • Using a chronological order works in most situations, especially stories.
  • But stating a problem and then giving the solution is probably the most sensible way to write a case study.
  • Alphabetical order makes sense in booklets about things such as vitamins and directories.
  • A sequential order is vital for manuals that describe processes and work instructions where the reader needs to follow particular steps.

There are many ways to structure a piece of writing. Look around at all the things you read every day… brochures, newspapers, magazines, notices and so on… and you will soon notice how their structure is dictated by the subject matter.

Another trick that always seems to work is to organise your writing into short sections and sub-sections… you can make your ideas easier to scan and digest by using headers, subheads, numbered lists and bullet points.

Numbers and bullet points make lists more readable. You can use bullet points if the order is not important. But use numbering when information is sequential.

If you are using a numbered list to structure an article (eg, 5 ways to develop your charm), put the number in the title or deck (first paragraph or summary)… this will pique the interest of readers, grabbing their attention and compelling them to read your document to find out.

But be cautious not to overuse bullet points and numbered lists. Page after page of bullets and numbers become monotonous and many readers will skip them, rather than reading them closely.

Another tip on structure… material that interrupts the flow of your document, such as checklists and long fill-in forms, is best put in an appendix in most cases.

Be consistent

Being consistent means always using correct grammar… and being consistent in how you spell words and in your writing style, as well as the symbols, nomenclature, units of measurement and so on you use.

If your grammar is weak, brush it up. You don’t really have a choice in this matter. Grammatical errors can put readers off and lead them to doubt your knowledge of your subject matter. So have your writing checked by someone you trust and, if necessary, take a revision course on grammar.

After you have finished the first draft of what you are writing, use your spell-checker to search for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Above all, check that all subjects and verbs are in agreement and make sure your use of pronouns is correct. Use your spell-checker to get rid of all typos (typing errors).

Style refers to your use of type font and size, bold, italics, underlining, indenting, and highlighting. You need to make sure that these are all used in the same way throughout a document. For example, if your titles are in 14-point bold flush left and your subheads are in 12-point centred, make sure you use this scheme consistently throughout the document.

When to Emphasise Features Rather Than Benefits

I can think of at least five situations in which features should be as prominent as benefits in your sales copy or, indeed, should top the bill in your copy… for example, when selling:

  • equipment
  • home and office systems
  • to experts
  • to engineers and scientists
  • to enthusiasts

How to sell equipment

Copy whose purpose is to sell equipment should stress both features and benefits in equal measure. Note also that copy that fails to highlight all the key features of a piece of equipment can cost you sales.

For example, if I buy a professional journal, let’s say Accountancy Today, I do so because I expect that I will benefit from the information I will find in it. I don’t really much care about anything else. All I want is information that would help me in my accountancy practice.

But if I want to buy a particular piece of equipment, such as a piece of office furniture, the sales copy, once it has mentioned the benefits, must list complete specifications so I can make an informed decision whether to buy.

For example, if the copy relates to furniture being sold on mail order, it should show complete dimensions… otherwise how could I know whether it will fit in my living room or whatever space I expect it to fill?

The takeaway: Benefits may generate an initial interest in a physical product… but your copy must also show how it works and what it can do. Leaving out a particular feature can mean that you fail to convert the initial interest into a sale.

How to sell home and office systems

Another time features expensive systems such as kitchens, heating systems, car maintenance kits, and so on.

For example, if a person were thinking of having a new oil-fired central heating system installed in his or her home they would be likely to concentrate on the technical features of the various systems available in their local market.

In this kind of situation, your copy would have to explain key technical features, such as installation costs, running costs, warranties and so on, to build consumer confidence in the performance of the product and the reliability of the manufacturer and the installer. These features and technical specifications would be the key ingredient of successful copy.

The takeaway: Detailed features are absolutely necessary to persuade potential buyers of home and office systems to buy your product.

How to sell to experts

The copy you write to address experts in a particular field is usually very different compared to the usual business-to-consumer writing.

Suppose, for example, you are writing copy to sell home insulation products.

If you sales copy is directed at home owners, you should highlight benefits such as reductions in fuel bills, how your house will be made warmer with fewer draughts, the effects of insulating the attic floor rather than the roof and so on.

But if your copy is directed at building contractors and installers of insulation systems you would ignore all these benefits. Contractors are already fully aware of them.

They are only interested in whether your products are what they need to do a good job and turn a decent profit… features like types of materials, installation techniques, prices and volume discounts, and so on, ie the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about your insulation products.

The takeaway: Treat experts as experts and just give them the information they need to make informed decisions about your products or services.

How to sell to engineers and scientists

Writing copy for engineers and scientists is similar to writing for experts.

Write Benefits-Oriented Copy

It is a truism to say it … people who buy from your copywriting clients are not interested in your clients or their products or services per se. What they are really concerned about is what those products or services can do for them … the benefits they will derive from using them.

Any product or service can be viewed at four different levels … features, advantages, satisfactions and benefits.

Each of these four levels has its own set of characteristics. These will vary depending on the type of product or service you are writing about and the market for which it is intended to cater.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Suppose you have been asked to write some persuasive copy for a new suite of accounting software.

  • Features … are what products or services have. “This accounting software has a reporting feature”.
  • Advantages … are what products or services do. “Key personnel are provided with real-time, on-demand, up-to-date mission-critical information.”
  • Satisfactions … are what products or services deliver. “Cost-savings, greater control, increased production, better decision-making”
  • Benefits … are the boon the user or firm obtain from a particular product or service.

To get from features to benefits you can use the “so that” trick, viz:

“This accounting software has a reporting feature so that key personnel are provided with real-time, on-demand, up-to-date, mission-critical information, so that cost-savings, greater control, increased production, better decision-making are achieved, so that managers are able to keep their finger on the company’s financial pulse at all times, thereby reducing costs by as much as 50%, maintaining greater control over expenditures, increasing their output by 10-20 times at any given time, and avoiding making decisions that could cost thousands if not millions of dollars – all in just a few clicks.”

As you can see, you use “so that” three times to get from features to benefits. The purpose of the trick is to help you clarify you thoughts and marshal your argument.

But then, of course, you now have to rewrite the message to make it flow better.

“This accounting software has a reporting feature that provides key personnel with real-time, on-demand, up-to-date, mission-critical information. The result is that cost-savings, greater control, increased production, and better decision-making are achieved. By enabling managers to keep their fingers on the company’s financial pulse at all times, costs can be reduced by as much as 50%. In addition, manages can maintain greater control over expenditures, and avoid making decisions that could cost thousands if not millions of dollars – all in just a few clicks.”

This simple “so that” trick can be used with all products or services to bring a reader gently from a feature to its benefits. Try it … it really works.