Add this missing ingredient to make your everyday writing more effective

We are all writers.

And no matter what you write — marketing copy, financial presentations, HR documentation, emails to colleagues — you are competing for time and attention against a ceaseless tsunami of content streaming from our TVs, laptops, and phones.

But you can compete. You can get attention. Because so much of that content tsumani consists of low-value, self-involved writing that doesn’t put the reader first.

You can stand out, make everything you write hit with more impact, by simply respecting the reader. Everything we write is an opportunity to put someone else first, which makes our writing a tool to help us meet our goals faster.

Respect for readers improves the outcome

If you truly value your reader, you will find a way to deliver value in everything you write. Entertain a little bit. Use some humor. Enlighten and inspire. Tell a short story that makes the reader the hero. Make your writing matter to the other person.

All the good outcomes we want from our writing — recognition, attention, sales — are more easily achieved when we respect the reader. So much of what I read today in marketing is the verbal equivalent of the selfie stick: LOOK AT ME.

When we write with respect for the reader, we:

  • Value the reader’s time. We clarify our intent and remove superfluous words and thoughts.
  • Make the reader the main point of our writing.
  • Know who the reader is and how to write for them. We don’t spray boring or imprecise content all over the Internet, hoping we manage to ensnare a few of the right fish in a widely-cast net. We don’t CC everyone in the universe on an email that only impacts a few colleagues.

In marketing, I wonder if our growing dependence on data has crowded out the human element. Are we forgetting that our readers — our customers — are actual individuals with far more to process and worry about than our own needs? Do we even care anymore? We work to optimize the outcomes, to push for every minor gain, and forget that optimizing starts with putting the reader first.

I’m guilty, too, in my everyday business writing — a rushed email, a presentation slide that’s too wordy. I miss opportunities to be better.

A tremendous opportunity exists for people and companies who want to slow down just a little, that want invest time and money to craft copy that is more thoughtful, deliberate, and helpful.

In marketing, respect for the reader starts with knowing who the reader is, what she values, and what she is interested in. Where her self-interest lies. It continues with carefully written copy that is thoughtfully produced and ruthlessly edited in the name of respecting the time and interests of the reader. It continues with reviewing the results to see what she is telling us about our work. Then we re-write and edit to keep getting better. The process never ends.

Gain an advantage

No matter your line of work, you have to persuade with words. You have a share a story with colleagues and get them to buy in. Working on your writing — taking it on as a personal core competency — offers you a strategic advantage.

Start a small writing habit. Write 100 words per day about what you learned the day before. Read more books. Continuously get a little better, and you will gain an advantage.

The business world often — and erroneously — values speed over craft when it comes to writing. But the underlying truth hasn’t changed a bit: people and companies who tell compelling and crisp stories have an advantage over those who can’t be bothered to invest the time or money to write well.

When we respect the reader, we create more respect for ourselves and our companies. When we believe what we have to share is valuable, then we should take the time to write about it in a clear and compelling way that respects those we want to persuade.

The saying is that respect is earned, not given. So be different. Give respect first, and you'll earn far more respect -- and other rewards -- back from your readers, whether they number two or two million.