When you write an op-ed, a speech, or even correspondence, you begin by asking "What is this about?"
Instead, ask this: What do I want the reader to do after they read it?
All professional communication should create a response in the physical world. If yours doesn't, don't send it.
Even if you're just sharing information, ask yourself why, then tell your readers or listeners what to do with it.
Do you want them to start or stop some effort? Change a habit? Reply? Say so.
If not, consider whether you need to send it at all.
This changed everything for me. Maybe it'll help you, too.
Most of us edit a few pages then stop to admire our work. After that we resume editing -- but we return to the beginning... again and again and again.
Result? You're editing the opening over and over while the rest gets short shrift.
Do this instead: print it out. Go through the whole thing with a pen and mark what needs attention, but don't make the changes. Just circle 'em.
When you reach the end, *then* go back and make the changes. Do it only after you've circle-marked the whole thing, not until.
Now your entire document gets serious attention, not just the top.
(Sleeping puppy -- name, Mark Watney -- pictured below in shameless attempt to draw your attention.)
It's not a law until it is passed by the legislature and signed by the executive. That's true (with a few exceptions) for both federal and state governments.
So while you're waiting for passage, what else can you say besides "the bill"? Try these:
Be sure not to call it a law until it is one.
The goal of a press release is to get a callback from a reporter. Nothing else matters. A document with any other purpose is not a press release.
To write a strong press release, you need a clear purpose and a well-defined method that advances your purpose. Here's an interview I did with PR Daily a few years ago with my "Seven Tips for Writing a Killer Press Release." Check it out!
The strongest communicators spend most of their time being quiet.
It better be perfect, because that's the only part your readers read and your listeners hear.
A sentence with "but" in the middle announces a contradiction or even an attack, and it puts your audience in a defensive posture. That means they are looking for any reason to dismiss it.
Here's a way to improve what comes after the "but": in your mind, cut everything up to and including "but". Now you're stating your exception as an assertion. Is it needlessly provocative? Adjust accordingly. Dial things back to civility.
No one won any argument by starting out with "Hey, stupid."
JERRY SEINFELD AND THE COKE MACHINE. Jerry Seinfeld said that breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You don't do it with one big push. You keep rocking the thing a little at a time until it eventually goes down.
Same with persuasion.
This is part of what I'm getting at when I say persuasion is not about reason or emotion alone. It's about how you think about yourself and each other. Persuasion occurs in the context of a relationship.
ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT how to tear down your opponent's argument?
Stop. You'll never change minds with that. Instead, try this.
Are you open to having your mind changed? Probably not. With that realization, you've now met your opponent in a practical way.
To persuade someone else, start by asking what it would take to persuade you to their side. You don't respond to bullying or character assassination, do you? Neither does anyone else.
Ask yourself what would open your mind to considering a new point of view, or at least respecting it.
If you can't do that, give up. For real. Persuasion is achieved by human connection, not just reason, and never hostility.
Effective writing isn't just about other people's attitude. It's mostly about yours.
Back when I did standup, the manager of the club where I started took me aside. He told me I should take a particular bit out of the act because it wasn't getting laughs. "I know," I said. "But I like that bit." "You're not up there for yourself," he said. "You're up there for the audience. Cut it." He was right.
It's the same for writing: the purpose of writing is to provide value to the reader. It's a simple lesson that takes discipline to follow, but the payoff is big: if it doesn't work, cut it. Don't write for yourself. Write for the reader.