I might be no Dan Brown, but I do work for a big company as a corporate communications writer, and have been published regionally as well as nationally. I’m also a former newspaper reporter who’s won two Associated Press awards. Therefore, here are my top 5 writing tips when drafting content for the general public. They’ve NEVER failed me!
1. Keep all article leads less than 30 words (and aim for 25). Trivia question: How many words does the average person read in a sentence before they might begin losing comprehension? Fourteen. . . 14 words! And the average American reads at a 4th-5th grade level. Case in point? The shorter and more engaging your first sentence, the better chance you’ll keep your reader reading your content.
2. Keep your paragraphs short and choppy, and use bullet points and/or subheads. I know, I know, we all love getting creative with our alliteration and descriptive genius. However, we are living in an age of “scanners.” People want to scan for the facts, and they can’t do that while swimming through endless paragraphs upon paragraphs. Break it up, and give your reader the luxury to scan for topics. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
3. Keep your articles less than 500 words. I learned this neat little tip while writing for the paper. Studies have actually shown that the average reader will begin losing interest in a story after 500 words. Personally, I suggest aiming for 400. It will get your message across while helping it stick in your reader’s mind.
4. Put a face to your message, story, or content. The bottom line is this: People love a good story. Whatever you’re writing about, people will relate much better if you have a human interest angle. Interview someone. Quote them in your content. Relate their personal story to your facts and stats. Then begin your article/blog with their greatest struggles. Trust me, people will cling for more.
5. STAY AWAY FROM JARGON! This is one of my biggest pet peeves. So often, especially in business or corporate communications writing, people get caught up in their profession’s “jargon.” However, the average reader won’t know what they’re talking about, and they’ll cease to care. They’ll simply go elsewhere for the information. While writing your content, ask yourself if you’re explaining your message in a way that a 5th grader can understand. If not, go back, revise, and SIMPLIFY.