How To Retrain Your Brain: Write Like a Professional
December 29, 2020
Retrain your brain to write like a professional.
Do you long to write succinct emails that paint your colleagues and customers a clear picture? And do you wish you could find the right words and fit them together to create a sentence as smooth as silk? Perhaps you want to write a winning business proposal to get that well-deserved promotion?
Here are my top tips that you can start using today to help you write like a professional:
I have compiled these tips from my own (often painful) learning curves, and from Cambridge University Professor, Clare Lynch’s “Writing with Confidence” – which I will link at the end of this post!
Don’t waste any time in grabbing your readers’ attention
I didn’t realise quite how writer-centric my work was until enrolling in Professor Lynch’s course. Look at me now: still starting sentences with ‘I’. It’s something we’re all guilty of! Making your opening as reader-centric as possible guarantees you capture their focus!
One easy way to do this: use the word ‘you’!
According to research, you have just over 8 seconds to interest a reader. And if you don’t? Instead of reading every word of your hard work, their gaze tends to follow an ‘F’ pattern across the page.
8 seconds isn’t a lot, with the average reader getting through just 19 words in that time. Look back at something you’ve written that didn’t have an obligated reader (as an essay or business report would). Then, ask yourself: are the first 19 words impressive enough?!
The F pattern is the typical route of a scan reader. It begins with good intentions and slowly withers as it attempts to find something worth absorbing. Making their first 8 seconds AMAZING will minimise the number of people who will read your writing in this detached way. Professor Lynch says there are other things you can do to help your cause:
Add more white space – dense text just looks intimidating to most of us, so why not break it up a little?
Guide your reader’s focus with headings and subheadings;
Use the word ‘you’ twice as many times as you use the word ‘I’: human nature is self-serving and, boy, do we read like it! If it doesn’t directly affect us, we probably don’t care.
Reinforce your priority with meaningful subject lines when writing emails – make them want to open it!
Use graphics, visuals, and structuring variations – like bullet points!
Your reader’s most valued asset is their attention. Once you have their attention, don’t waste it, and don’t let them down: write like a professional!
Structuring your writing with care
Throughout primary and secondary school, my teachers taught me to write in chronological order: beginning, middle, and end. “Set the scene”, they said; “the reader needs context!”
This order isn’t so logical when your reader is in a hurry and their focus is in demand. They need you to get to the point.
Chronological is so last decade: prioritise your points in order of what’s going to interest them the most!
Whilst we’re on the subject of structure, look more closely at the organs inside the whole text: your sentences! Like the brain, the kidneys, and the liver, they cannot survive on their own. However, the whole organism isn’t able to survive without them either.
To maintain homeostasis within the text, make sure each sentence introduces a new point and is vital to the message. If a point can be taken out then it probably should be – because whilst you’re busy being hilarious, they’re just looking for the point.
Having said this, the number one factor that influences the readability of a text is sentence length. You can see from the well-known extract below that it really does matter:
Explain their next steps to them
Have you ever read an article or seen an advert that was really clear in the fact that they wanted you as a customer, but didn’t actually tell you how to become one?
To avoid this, give your reader something actionable to do, after reading your text. Map out the steps for them to take you up on your offer and make it as simple as possible. Your customer may have decided to buy but their attention is still in demand: how many shopping carts have you filled across the web and never returned to?
In business, this is often called the ‘call to action’ and shouldn’t be buried six paragraphs deep with the hope that they will get there. As this is normally the purpose of your text, you’ll want to stamp it ‘IMPORTANT’ and get your call to action in there near the beginning!
Don’t be afraid to use resources to improve a draft
There are free and useful tools out there that can improve the most basic of writings:
So, that’s it! Grab your reader’s attention and hold onto it with a reader-centric perspective; structure with consideration; be clear in how you want the reader to proceed, and use the tools around you! Follow these tips and you’ll be set to write like a professional in no time!
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