When you’re communicating you’re also writing! 🖋 Writing is at the heart of our job, which is why the We are COM team recently met with Mathilde Aubinaud. As a writer in her own right, as well as a teacher and communicator, she shared her thoughts with us on the subject. Besides fundamentals like grammar and spelling, which best practices do we need to implement in order to spark our audience’s attention and curiosity? 🤓 Follow us inside this literary interview: there once was a We Are COM Club workshop dedicated to writing…
Before anything else: the fundamentals of writing
At first glance, writing can seem simple. However, it’s not enough to be proficient in one language in order to communicate successfully. Writing requires real technical skills and training. Before you start, it’s essential to ask yourself what story you want to tell. Will your content carry any intrinsic value? What will your audience gain from it? 🤔 You need to do serious research on your audience first. Gary Halbert, American copywriter and writer, likens the process to a “shoebox technique.” 🗃 The idea is to tidy and sort the information you’ve collected on your recipients into “boxes.” By making these theme cards beforehand, you can keep in mind your recipients’ needs.
Once you’ve properly defined your initial strategy, the writing process itself can take place. Once again, you must take time to reflect. A reader’s attention follows the 5 laws of proximity. ✅ So a message’s attractiveness also depends on these laws.
- Geographical proximity: we are more likely to be interested by what is happening near us, something local news understands.
- Temporal proximity: Hot news elicits more interest from people. Daily news depends on this principle.
- Emotional proximity: You must captivate your audience. This is at the core of tabloid media.
- Practical proximity: People appreciate ease and simplicity before all else. That’s why we enjoy consuming small news items in the free information press.
- Useful proximity: Tangible is more attractive than abstract. That’s why we have service and leisure press.
Once you’ve identified your specific audience, their needs, and you have these 5 laws of proximity in mind, then the content writing can start. You must first define content structure and a logical progression. The easiest way to do this is to follow the inverted pyramid rule, which advises to start with general topics, going down to the more specific ideas. Indeed, by leading with essential elements and answering the 5W (who, when, where, what, why) on the way, you will progressively reach more detailed and characterized content.
It seems in writing that we appreciate pentagons, so here are the 5 rules for optimal writing: 🙌
- Write clearly! Don’t forgo the basic structure of “subject-verb-complement,” or forget connecting words.
- Follow a strict main thread, which will help you not to stray while writing.
- Structure your ideas: each paragraph must embody an idea, just one. If needed, write a detailed outline.
- Organize your content in order to highlight a progression or an idea’s development. It’s important to paint a clear path from point A to point B.
- Highlight your fundamental thesis, your content’s main idea. It should be both identifiable and proven. To do this, don’t hesitate to add reinforcing elements (examples, quotes, key numbers, etc.) that will support your rhetoric.
📢 Expert advice
👌 Mathilde, what are the best questions to ask yourself for a flawless editorial policy?
When communicating, always take a step back.
The secret to writing rests in knowing your audience completely. You must define “personas” according to who your communication recipients are. Are they a specific audience or multiple stakeholders? Where are they? When do they connect online? What are they looking for? What’s their comprehension level? What’s driving their searches? What can you offer them that’s “new”?
When communicating, the recipient matters the most. Social and demographic criteria are not enough, you need to be extremely attentive to their wants, needs, interests and pains. To achieve this, nothing beats studies and polls to discover your target audience and their expectations. You must also adapt your writing depending on how well they understand the topics discussed. Finally, if the main topic is not a given for the target audience, avoid using any technical jargon, acronyms, etc.
Once the recipient has been meticulously identified, take some time to review your intentions. Indeed, why share this or that information? A clearly defined main goal will save you time and ensure quality: it will help you to stay on course and avoid the superfluous.
Finally, you must question the content itself. What are you writing about? What’s the main idea to get across? And most of all, what do you want your readers to remember? One tip to get organized is to summarize your content in a few lines. Once again, this will keep your editorial policy cohesive and meaningful.
📡 What about communication channels? What are the best practices according to each medium?
All writing must adapt to its media channel, and vice versa. A common editorial policy can come in handy. However, content should, first and foremost, adapt to its channel of distribution, the audience’s preferred media. To do this it’s best to monitor channels closely and chart their progress, paying attention to your previous publications. Continuity leads to better quality and reader comprehension. Your content should create the constant illusion of a single identity, and even carry a vision. So what should you concentrate on? Themes, angles and tone. Each audience has specific expectations and it would be unfortunate to miss out on them.
Best practices for online writing
When writing specifically for the web, it’s important to keep in mind that reading patterns are never linear. Reading has become hyper-text, following the magic of serendipity, or the vagaries of your searches when you land on different websites. However, these paths are not purely random, they are a product of backlinking between sites, and from page to page. Pay close attention to your co-text and how it could be received by your audiences. Backlinks, whether internal or external, help grow your awareness and your online SEO positioning. Don’t neglect them!
People increasingly consume content on their smartphones, sometimes without sound… Take this context into account and always test your content for different display formats. Implementing a SEO approach is key because your first reader is Googlebot.
When it comes to content, be straightforward in order to optimize your audience’s comprehension. Be careful not to plagiarize: if you want it to hold strong value, your content must be original. For unequivocal content, illustrate your writing with useful and concrete examples. Quotes and key numbers are real assets, as much for comprehension as for SEO referencing.
Forget long sentences, dates, acronyms, jargon, complicated stylistic effects, word play, exclamations… Stay clear and simple. Finally, it’s good to bold the important elements, but remember to ban underlining from your writing altogether (it could be confused with a hyperlink).
When writing for the web, keep the F-pattern in mind: users reading online most often follow this pattern with their eyes.
Best practices when writing newsletters
Newsletters are vital content channels for many communicators. However, not all writers are experts in their construction. As is often the case with online copywriting, newsletters are very distinctive and require specific techniques.
One of the characteristics of this content, is that it’s recurring. It is therefore essential to create a real appointment with your reader. A consistent sending schedule is key, and make sure the editorial structure and sections are recurring and pertinent. Don’t hesitate to add flavor by adding playful segments: quotes, key numbers, offbeat portraits… Pick a style that reflects your brand and be faithful to it.
Ideally, information should be organized from top to bottom, going from most significant to secondary. Be careful when crafting your titles and opening hooks: they outline the right pyramid structure for good reading comprehension.
The email subject is not to be forgotten either: it should set you apart from the competition, other emails and of course encourage a good opening rate. The trick is to use an enticing or even mysterious subject, and workshop it when you resend the newsletter to non-openers. Finally, play with format: text, videos, gifs… Monotonous content doesn’t build interest.
Best practices when writing for print
Opt for the right print format: mooc, magazine, book, print object… whether co-branded with a media or not. Keep in mind that your readers are expecting a unique user experience, a way to personalize their support as they wish: folding pages, highlighting, etc. Paper media is meant to be long-lasting, so it’s important for you to take full ownership of the object. Last but not least, you must transform the chosen format into a space for imagination that also represents your brand identity. You can customize this project based on events, such as a customer opportunity or a special edition for your collaborators.
Best practices for text formatting
Once again, put yourself in your readers’ shoes and follow their user experience. It is important to create visual cues: titles, paragraphs, bold text, colors… All while staying consistent, of course. And always remember that spacious text formatting is the current preferred standard. If you can, add some quote excerpts, visual content, short videos, anything that will encourage users to keep reading. And don’t forget the summary as a necessary outcome. Another best practice: slide in a line opening towards more content.
Best practices for illustrations
Since text is not the be-all and end-all of content, stay on top of your illustrations. Your writing must be illustrated in an original way. Take advantage of all the free image databases! In this digital age, be careful with HD images and file weight (excessive loading times will push your users to leave your page, and Googlebot will too).
If you have striking visuals, don’t hide them from the world! They are extremely appreciated as long as they are titled, explained (if needed) and sourced. Including an illustration can boost your organic indexing.
🔎 Do you have some infallible tips to generate interest and curiosity in this competitive field?
Here are my 5 tips to increase content performance:
- Title: It’s the front door to your content. It must be informative and attractive. In other words, the reader must instantly understand what it’s about, all while feeling a sort of kinship that will make them click on the content. The title should hold promise and create an event. A good title sticks in your mind.
- Hook: It’s akin to a lobby. The user has already clicked but they can quickly turn back if you aren’t able to make contact or surprise them. Key numbers, quotes, pop culture references… It’s up to you.
- Stylistic devices: They create sounds or images and will bring depth to your content: juxtaposition, analogies, amplifications, preterition, etc. Interaction is key in communication. By calling on emotions, you are generating empathy.
- Word choice: Be wary of repetitions! Choose your words very carefully. Search for synonyms, come back to etymology, define your lexicon and don’t forget to use adjectives, they can help detail your thoughts.
- Spelling: It’s not always a fun task, but you should edit your work. Inattention quickly breeds mistakes, which will hurt your work’s credibility. Don’t hesitate to ask others to review your content, both those familiar and unfamiliar with your topic.
💡 Do you have practical tips to improve style?
Let me share three techniques that I always recommend to those who want to improve their writing style. They don’t take up much time, and they totally work:
- Reading: Before all else, the tip I give to every aspiring writer is to read! Keep reading and read all sorts. On top of discovering the world and gaining more knowledge, reading will help you build a fabulous vocabulary, widen your lexical fields, enrich your style and also improve your spelling.
- Writing: To improve your style, reading isn’t always enough. The trick is to start by writing short texts. Write up a few lines on news items, films, events, passions… Anything works. And read over your work on a regular basis, asking yourself which word you’d change, which sentence you’d write differently.
- Structure: To maintain a clear editorial policy, which guarantees optimal content, a memo pad can come in handy. My most common advice is to write down the questions we discussed earlier, about audience, key messages, progression… This document must always remain close to you and will help you keep impeccable structure.
💻 Which best practices help when speaking online and on social media (familiarity, inclusive writing)?
These are the remaining questions. Once more, you must ask yourself who your recipients are and what they expect from you. Anything is possible as long as you base your work on hard-earned research.
- Using a familiar tone: Do some studies on readership, while keeping track of the message and its source. Is your audience made of corporate leaders, public services or young people? How do they wish to be considered by the sender? Does the brand you represent hold any institutional authority or have affinities with your target audience? Does your content lean toward official business or leisure? It’s important to find the right balance by constantly questioning yourself. On social media, it’s now custom to call users by their first names, especially when it follows their “@” handle, but don’t be overly familiar.
- Inclusive writing: This is a hot topic open to debate. Administrative and institutional sectors have settled on some answers. When it comes to communication, you must once more ask yourself these essential questions: by whom, for whom and why? You must keep in mind the stakes at work behind inclusive writing practices, and be careful with the position statement they can represent. An editorial charter is the best way to clarify your policy.
Thank you Mathilde for sharing your thoughts on writing. The We Are COM team hopes that you are now an expert writer. 💪 How about a little summary cheat sheet for the road?
Always monitor and care for your audience, according to your proximity plan. 👀 Rhetorical tools are major assets when you can use them with style, and to achieve this nothing beats practice. Finally, as with any communication project, don’t forget to use consistent tone as an inherent part of your brand identity. 🎯
Join the We Are COM Club !
The Club We Are COM allows Corporate Communication teams to progress together through moments of sharing best practices only between peers, across all sectors. Objective: 1h30 of immersion once a month on practical cases and concrete answers to the major challenges of the COM. A transparent and independent exchange based on feedback: 0% self-promotion, 100% conviction.