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Writing To The Point

December 04, 2017 | Natalie Frei | Methods & Tools |

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What is the message? Finding the answer to this question is harder than expected, but the struggle pays off, and not just when writing a journalistic text.

By Markus Mugglin
translated from German by Natalie Frei

 

 

Internal dossiers, memos, concept paper, mission report and other documents are daily affairs at SDC. The terms correctly suggest that these are no light and sweet stories; they don’t follow the rules of storytelling by dragging a hero into the limelight. They lack the emotional touch of the human interest section. It’s about facts and figures, dry information, summed up in differentiated and analytical ways to convey as precise a picture as possible to peers and superiors. Fortunately, some people might think. This seems like a last fortress against screaming headlines and especially against Twitter.

 

Chaos in a text is the reader's worst nightmare (credit: PEXELS)

Chaos in a text is the reader’s worst nightmare (credit: PEXELS)

 

Factual, objective, unemotional, lengthy, detailed, unexcited. Those are the adjectives generally associated with administrative writing or “officialese”. Does this mean that there is automatically no learning from journalism for these text formats? For instance, is it really useful to start off a “Dossierbeitrag” with the context and a look into the past? Can you really expect the reader of a concept paper to fight their way through preface, context, institutional embodiment and five more subchapters before finally reaching your “next steps”? Is the question “what now?” a satisfying punchline? I have my doubts.

Structure is your friend

Even – or especially – extensive texts should learn from journalistic structures in news stories and reports. They should start by answering the five “w-questions”. Who has done what, where, when and why? The answers to these questions make for a nice lead text, placed directly under the title and before the main body. They tell the prospective reader in a tight space what this text is about and why he or she should read it.

 

Structure is one of the most important quality criteria in every text (credit: bandi / Flickr)

Structure is one of the most important quality criteria in every text (credit: bandi / Flickr)

 

Love your reader

Finding the right phrasing is hard. Who doesn’t know the occasional fear of a blank sheet of paper? There are different ways of overcoming this fear. Most importantly, keep in mind that your first try doesn’t need to be your last. Counterchecking, revision and rephrasing are helpful steps in the process of condensing your key Messages.

 

This procedure is not simply due to the common pattern. It expresses that a text is addressed to an audience. The thoughts are ordered and weighted. These measures ensure the reader-friendliness of a text, which should be the goal of every writer. The reader is the writer’s customer.

 

Always take the reader's point of view when writing (Flickr / Kate Ter Haar)

Always take the reader’s point of view when writing (Flickr / Kate Ter Haar)

Readers should not have to decipher your text. Try to focus on what exactly you want to say instead of what else you always wanted to mention. This doesn’t mean that you need to get rid of differentiations, complexity or the greater picture of a subject. However, the complexity of a topic should not be spread first. It follows later.

 

This is not just a rule taken from journalism. Even the sciences have structuring that ensures reader-friendliness; abstract, introduction and conclusion. This clear structure is also suitable for administration internal dossiers, memos, concept papers or mission reports. Success is almost guaranteed; the clearer a text is written in a short as possible form, the greater its Impact.

 

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Credit portrait Picture: Daniel Rihs

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