The first point that we have to acknowledge is that postmodern society has moved away from the written word towards visual mediums. We see evidence of this everywhere on social media. We watch and like animal videos on Facebook. People have made or enhanced their careers with helpful videos on YouTube. Blog posts are often peppered with photographs, since we know these posts get more views and more shares.
From this we can conclude that it would be wise to add visuals to our material, whether we are bloggers or those making a corporate presentation or submitting a formal paper. Illustrations, charts, graphs, videos and photographs help clarify and enhance the experience of our audience and keep them from becoming bored.
Time and Technology
The next thing we have to consider is that our reading habits have changed since the advent of the Internet. With smart phones we are primarily engaged in scrolling and skimming. The leisure of the 19th century is over for the reading class, and the pressures of modern life give us little time to indulge. We know that Hemingway using his typewriter wrote in a very different style than did Dickens or Tolstoy. Keep that in mind when you consider your presentation or blog post. Succinct is always preferable to long winded and wordy. Catchy headlines are also important to engage reader interest. Sadly, often it’s the only part of the article people will read.
Should your tone be formal or informal? First, you must determine who your audience is. We don’t speak to our employers the way we do to our friends. A blog about the joys and travails of being a working mother will read far differently than a white paper.
Choose your tone accordingly. This blog post would read far differently if I were to change from addressing it directly to You to writing things such as:
‘When one writes for the board of directors, one should remember to …’
Depth and language
Is your audience expert in their field or are you going to be explaining a topic for the general reader? If the latter is true you will have to explain your topic in depth minus the familiar jargon. In truth, few scientific and tech writers can overcome this hurtle and resort to a convoluted, academic style which is impenetrable for the most part, and is often deadly dull. Remember, explain your topic or paper as you would to an intelligent high school student. You’ll be a standout and your colleagues will actually read what you have written with interest.
Most online readers are searching for solutions to their problems-and they want quick answers. Make the content easy to understand and bullet or number it. Use large catchy titles, small paragraphs and illustrations. Your audience will be engaged and receptive, resulting in recognition of your product and your expertise.
In truth, you know who your audience is whether it is a board, shareholders, laymen, colleagues, or the general public. Pick the audience and you will be able to choose the proper voice. I’ve never cared for the advice that you need to imagine your ideal reader and write to them. Most of us are too constrained and self-conscious to begin with and further censoring ourselves with a potential inner critic is overwhelming. Imagine a broad audience and tailor your writing to them instead. If you get stuck, Google! Don’t plagiarize, of course. Simply getting ideas from those who have tackled your topic before is extremely helpful before you begin to think about how you will structure your own work. Above all, keep practicing. In time, all this will come easily to you.