Have you ever been excited to pick up an article or report that seemed like it was going to be full of great nuggets, only to find it was mostly fluff? Or so disorganized or dense with jargon that it was a chore to wade through? Have you ever reached the end without coming away with a single action item or one good takeaway?
What’s worse is knowing you’ve written one of those pieces. Writing is a time-intensive endeavor. No writer sets out to write something that is going to be ignored. So why is it so hard to develop an idea into a point? What’s the difference between a powerful, vigorous piece of writing and one that fails to convince? The secret lies in doing the groundwork up front.
Look at it this way. You wouldn’t host a backyard cookout without deciding first who to invite, would you? How many people are coming? Will you need iced tea, soda, lemonade, beer? Is it a potluck or are you making everything? How will people know when to arrive? Have you been to the grocery store yet? How much meat will you need? Are any of the guests vegan? Where is the ring toss set? Where is everyone going to sit? What if it rains?
Even something as simple as a small barbecue needs quite a bit of planning before you actually start to “cue.” The same is true of writing. A lot of the process takes place before you actually start slinging nouns and adjectives onto the grill. Try these four steps to sharpen your idea into a point with real impact:
- Believe. Zig Ziglar says, “If you believe your product or service can fulfill a true need, it’s your moral obligation to sell it.” Conversely, there’s nothing more painful than listening to a salesman with a bad product. To develop a powerful point, start with a belief statement you can stand behind. I’ll use an example from one of my customers, a company that offers voting equipment. A belief statement might be, “We believe that election jurisdictions must find and fix security vulnerabilities.”
- Build your case. So far so good—but few people would disagree with your basis premise. The next step is to ask a simple question: “Why?” What’s going on that makes security such a priority? Is the problem technological? Human? Who are the various players? Where does your solution come in? What is the competition offering? The ideas you generate in this step will end up as the meat of your “barbecue.”
- Narrow it down. Chances are that if you started with an important belief statement, you have surrounded it with a lot of different “side dishes.” It might seem like it would add value to your piece to throw them all in. In fact, that approach dilutes the impact and relevancy of what you are trying to say. Choose one singular focus for your piece. To continue with our example, choose one specific strategy or tactic that is the strongest, and set the other ideas aside.
- Make it substantial. Finally, spend some time building out your idea. Most business writing avoids controversy, but that doesn’t mean you should pull your punches. Dig for precise, substantive information that will have a powerful impact on your chosen audience. What specific advice do you have for your customers? What anecdotes, testimonials, or case studies bolster your claims? See how you can champion your original belief statement and become a genuine resource for your target audience.
A final thought—these days, most of us are drowning in content. To set yourself apart, invest the time and effort up front to craft a powerful and worthwhile message, and see what a difference it makes in your writing.