In all the recent coverage celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, one of the stories that most stood out was the archived speech written for Richard Nixon, in case the Apollo 11 mission failed.
The story goes that speechwriter William Safire was contacted by Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, who suggested he might want to prepare “some alternative posture” in case there were problems with the lunar landing. Safire didn’t understand what Borman was getting at, so he quickly dropped his formal language and said: “Like what to do for the widows”.
His speech, thankfully not needed, is a beautiful tribute referencing in part Rupert Brooke’s World War One poem “The Soldier”, which includes the line “there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England”. Nixon would have said: “there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind”.
While we hope none of us will ever need to write for such a tragic situation, it serves as a striking reminder of the importance of the key principles when writing for impact.
Taking a strategic approach to writing
Understanding the needs of your audience is key. In the example above, as soon as he was told who to write for, Safire was able to gauge the message and the tone. Who are you writing for? Make sure you’re focussed on engaging them.
Start with the end in mind
Good communication is more than just relaying information. The most effectual writers start by thinking about the impact they want to make and what action their words need to generate. By starting with the end in mind, writers can quickly engage, persuade and influence their audience to get better results.
Know your audience
Have you ever sent an email with plenty of context and granular data, only to discover that no one bothered to read it? Or sent a simple message that’s been totally misunderstood. Understanding your audience, who they are, what they need to know and their communication style is key to getting your message across.
Great ideas lost in the ‘telling’
When we have a great idea to share, our excitement and enthusiasm is key to getting others on board. But have you ever let your passion overwhelm your reader, loosing you credibility and merit, as you got swept up in the moment? Learning to write with balance, creating enthusiasm that is backed up with fact is key to engaging your reader and getting buy-in for your ideas.
Use a strong call to action
You can enhance the impact of your writing with a call to action. Identify the action you want the reader to take after reading. State your call to action clearly and simply so that you plant the seed in your reader’s mind early on.
Structure helps create clarity
Every piece of writing, whether it’s a letter, article or presentation, needs a structure, which must be appropriate for the scenario and hold your reader’s attention.
Some popular structures for writing with impact include:
- Problem/solution – Start with a problem that your audience faces and then provide a solution i.e. Having trouble with difficult conversations? Attend our assertiveness in communication course
- Tell a story – Share an example of how someone has benefitted from your product or service – why they needed it and how it has helped them.
- Different views – Present the same situation from a variety of different viewpoints.
Or use a numbered list…!
One sentence at a time
We love Emma Tsai’s bitesize approach to teaching creative writing. She asks her students to pick an article from the New York Times and highlight sentences they think are particularly well written. They then pick one in particular, evaluate the structure and rewrite a sentence from one of their own creative pieces so it follows the same structure. Give it a try – it helps you identify what it was about that sentence that drew you to it in the first place, so you can then use these techniques in your own writing.
If you think you could benefit from some help with writing for impact, make sure to look into our BiteSize Learning course on written communication.