High Impact Writing
November 14, 2021
These days everything competes for our attention. If we want our opinions to be heard we need to build high impact arguments.
Thinking about your reader
Ask yourself the following questions before you do anything else at all:
- Who is/are the reader(s)?
- How much do they know about the subject?
- What are the particular issues, if any, that concern them?
- What is their likely attitude towards what you’ve got to say?
- What do they want from you (eg how much detail)?
- How important is the subject to them?
- How interested are they?
- Write the subject in the middle of the page.
- Draw lines radiating from this word for every aspect of the subject line. At the end of each line, write the name of one of the aspects. This unlocks the folders in your brain.
- Look at each folder and think about what it should include. Draw a line for each new idea or piece of information. Continue this process, radiating outwards.
- Keep asking questions such as Why? How? What? until you’re satisfied you’ve put down everything you know on the subject.
- Classify each item in the diagram as an ‘A’ (essential to everybody), ‘B’ essential (to some readers or supporting information), ‘C’ (not important)
- Pick one of the As as your starting point. Take a different colour pen and number the remaining As in a logical order.
- Do the same for the Bs.
- Cross out the Cs.
Use As for the body of text and Bs fro your boxouts, appendices, sidebars and graphics. You can also put some As in boxes or appendices but don’t put Bs in the body of the text.
Making the information flow
- Use signposting. Subheadings should be able to tell the story by themselves.
- Structure paragraphs. Keep them short and one argument per paragraph.
- Use linking words and phrases to connect the paragraphs.
- Firstly, secondly etc
- On the other hand
- In conclusion
- In addition/additionally
- An example of
- As a result
Building a persuasive argument
Good arguments, like stories, have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning (the Position) sets out where you are, the middle (the Problem) explains why you can’t stay there, and the end (the Proposal) proposes where to go next.
The Four Ps of Persuasion
- Position – establish where you are now. Make sure you and the reader is starting from the same point.
- Problem – set out why you can’t stay here. This could be negative (problem) or positive (opportunity).
- Possibilities – set out places where you can go with respective merits and drawbacks. Skip this if only 1 option is available.
- Proposal – recommend which direction to take together with reasoning (why).
The reason this structure works is it guides the thinking of the reader. You need to carry the reader with you, so that, hopefully, they reach the same conclusions as you.
- Be direct
- Address the reader directly. Use ‘you’ or at least imply it.
- Use the active voice
- Keep it short and simple
- Cut out redundant words
- Replace long words with short ones
- Replace long phrases with short ones
- Delete meaningless words
- Avoid -tion words
- Delete ‘who’ and ‘that’
- Use prepositions sparingly (of, on, in, by, to, with)
- Be as specific as possible
- Pay attention to sentence structure
- Keep your readers reading.
- Make sure they need to read each sentence only once.
- Get your message across.
- Primary clause first. Put WHAT before the WHY.
- Keep sentences short (15-20 words; max 35 words).
Plain English Dictionary
Use plain English wherever possible. Here are a few good dictionaries: