It’s not often that we put actual pen to paper but many of us write everyday: reports, creative briefs, blogs, social media posts or emails to colleagues. The rise of digital communications, websites, social media, white papers, means that we are all writers in some capacity.
I recently delivered a training session ‘Writing for Everyone’ presentation which aimed to help a city based not-for-profit organisation give all their team members confidence in writing. There were lots of different levels of experience and abilities in the room but it was great to see everyone working together to complete the tasks, designed to get them thinking about their writing. Here are the 6 quick take aways from that session:
Who are you talking to?
Marketers and fundraisers are experts in knowing their audiences but when it comes to writing up evaluations, reports or testimonials, how many of us actually think about who is going to be reading our content?
Take a moment to consider about all the different people you might communicate with in your organisations, both internally and externally, I bet its quite a few.
You’ll need to tailor your writing to each different audience adapting sentence length and your use of jargon or specialist language. You may want to have a look at the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests which indicate how difficult a passage is to understand, and look at word and sentence length. If you have a tendency to write long, complicated copy it’s a very valuable tool to make your content more accessible.
If writing for a specific audience isn’t something you are familiar with try this trick I was taught by a BBC producer: imagine you are talking to someone specific, maybe your nan, or kids, I always imagine it’s my brother!
What platform are you writing for?
It seems pretty obvious but writing digital content is very different from producing a research paper or funders evaluation report. Tailor the length of your written piece to the platform you’ll be publishing on, it doesn’t need to be lengthy to illustrate your point. Technical and academic pieces will have a specific structure you will need to follow whereas blogs, for instance, are much more informal and Instgram posts should be short and snappy.
Whatever you are writing though you’ll want to keep it clear, consider and readable.
And don’t forget that you can recycle content; a report or paper for a conference can be cut down into a 500-word blog, which can be reused as a week-long series of social media posts.
Know what you’re going to say
Ever sat a looked at a blank screen or piece of paper, unable to write anything? My advice is always ‘just get something on the paper and edit later’!
However, not many of us would set out on a long journey without a map or sat nav, so why when you have a blog, or report or paper to write would you not think about having a plan?
It might be a list or a mind-map. Post-it notes or written on the back of a coffee shop receipt but find a place to gather your ideas and organise them into an order;
- Plan what you are going to say.
- When you are going to say it.
- And why you are going to say it!
Tell your story in your own words
Whether you are writing up an evaluation for a funder, report on an event for your fundraising committee or a social media post to attract visitors to your project you can still inject your own journey or story.
Using your organisation’s key messages to keep your writing consistent, especially when it’s used externally, is important but there still should be the flexibility to talk about your own experiences and impact.
Structure your stories, case studies or testimonials. Remember how teachers used to say every story should have a Start. Middle and End? There are several different formulas or structures you could use: protagonist/problem/tension/hero/mission/action/conclusion or problem/context/solution/outcomes.
If you are sharing your experiences or knowledge with other colleagues, either within your own organisation or across your sector, give context. Talk about your own feelings and challenges, as well as what went well. You might want to also include quotes or some basic statistics.
Curate and collect the stories about your project or organisation
It can be difficult to get stakeholders to share their stories. Take time to explain why their story is important to helping your organisation help others and give plenty of different ways people can share their stories with you; social media, questionnaires, vlogs or face to face interviews.
This way you can gather some powerful content, it will help you find out what is important to the people that you work with, as well as provide some fantastic case studies going forward.
For instance, a dad talking about how he struggled with a new baby and how he was helped by the ‘Baby-Steps’ project can be more powerful than stating facts and figures from a piece of research.
Embrace the power of images
We all know the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and that social media posts with images will have higher open and engagement rates.
However, don’t forget to use images in reports, evaluations or white papers. Feedback to a funder about a project helping children will be much more powerful with drawings by the children themselves or photos of the sessions they have funded.
If resources are tight why not work with media students or new businesses who may be willing to produce images for free or at a reduced rate? Writing a strong creative brief will help keep them on track and mean you get images to sit alongside your key messages content.
Keep it targeted. Keep it consistent.
Writing, even for those who write for a living, can often be challenging, but hopefully you’ll now have some ideas to get you started and help you write with confidence.Two absolutes, though, to keep in mind; keep your writing targeted and keep it consistent.
If you or your team would like to kick about some creative ideas, want to set up team training or one-to-ones to help you explore some of these topics more fully why not get in touch? Give me a call on 0177 177 57 381.