Marion Scher

Media Mentors

Mentoring people on all aspects of media

Marion Scher (www.mediamentors.co.za) is an award-winning journalist, lecturer, media trainer and consultant with 25 years' experience in the industry. For more of her writing, go to her Bizcommunity profile or to Twitter @marionscher.

What’s the point of writing words no-one wants to read?

08 Mar 2011 11:12:00
Those of you reading this who are aware that no-one actually reads the newsletters or magazines sent to your client base, take note.

Just recently, I had a young lady on a writing course who sent through beforehand an article she’d written for an external newsletter. This was about the importance of eating well. A valid, newsworthy subject.

The problem was this article was written in solid text – a couple of pages of heavy wording devoted to the subject of good nutrition. In terms of good English language and grammar, there was nothing wrong with the article – but would anyone read it? Very doubtful.

Here are a few tips to get people to actually read your article:

  • Write in conversational, plain, readable language
  • Use bullet points to get across key facts
  • Keep the information short and to the point
  • Make sure you understand the subject matter before you even start to write on it
  • Avoid jargon – for instance, in an article on nutrition, avoid medical terms
  • Keep articles, where possible, to 300 – 350 words – people get bored with more
  • If it’s a newsletter, give bite-size chunks of information, laid out in an appealing, eye-catching way
  • Use pictures or diagrams where possible – with short captions to explain

And while we’re talking about readability, don’t forget emails. When you go to check your emails, what’s the first thing you do? You quickly look to see which ones you can delete, which you do speedily – and happily. What makes you choose which to delete and which to open and then to read? Generally the heading, so make sure this is to the point and catchy enough to make people click on it.

Then to get them to not only answer your email but come back to you with the information you’ve asked for, make sure you stick to one topic per email. Again, here are a few tips:

  • One email - one topic or request
  • Write in clear, plain language
  • Be careful of using your industry jargon outside the industry
  • Judge the tone you should use by your relationship with the person you’re writing to
  • Make sure there are contact details (phone numbers etc) on the email in case the person needs to reach you quickly
  • Keep it as short as possible – three paragraphs maximum, if possible
  • As well as running spell check, try and ALWAYS read it through (out loud) before sending it to check whether you’ve left any words out – you know what you wanted to say but will the recipient understand this?
  • Don’t worry about fancy fonts – worry about whether it’s readable.

That should become your mantra – readability... Remember, whatever you write, some poor person has to read – or do they?

[8 Mar 2011 11:12]

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Caroline Hurry
headlines are vital-
Thanks for a great post on a topic very close to my heart. I have just started my own travel website and intend sending newsletters out to subscribers pretty soon. Just wanted to add: headlines are a key factor in grabbing attention ... or seeking that delete button!
Posted on 19 Mar 2011 14:51
nguyen khac
Thanks a lot.
Posted on 6 Apr 2011 05:25
Vera Aluso
Really great Marion.For e-mail marketing newsletters and magazines 300-350 words is easy to peruse through and assess whether or not you are interested. Knowing your audience is crucial and I believe you can stretch the word count to between 500-750, especially if you want to hard sell a product.
Posted on 31 May 2011 16:31
Warren Rodel
Yes, right on target! Thank you.
Posted on 1 Jun 2011 11:25
Frank Gainsford
Frank Gainsford
This is an important lesson for many, and many proposal writers should also take note, as proposals are too often long winded and full od industry jargon making it difficult to read if you are out side of that specific industry
Posted on 10 Jun 2011 14:06