So, a man walks into a workshop and hires the wrong writer.
“Wait, what do you mean I hired the wrong writer?” he asks.
“You hired a book writer,” I say. “What you need is a social media writer.”
I look again at his LinkedIn profile, the one he had paid $600 for her to write. It describes his humble beginnings, his growing ventures in business, and finally his success as a business coach. It is a masterfully written story that slowly bulges with details. If I want a writer that really understands how to build a story for a book, this woman is clearly the real deal.
But this man needs someone who knows how to write a LinkedIn profile.
“Aren’t all writers the same?” he asks. No, they are not.
LinkedIn is no place for a story that simmers to a satisfying climax. No, LinkedIn bucks traditions and flips stories on their heads. Good social media content starts with a climax and follows with a story.
And the kind of writer you hire needs to know this.
You see, most professionals on LinkedIn aren’t going to wade through endless paragraphs to find out what you’re about. They’re busy, and they don’t want to work for information. When they open your profile, they want to know three things within seconds: What do you do? Are you good at it? How can you benefit me?
A writer who has had experience with social media will understand how to adapt her content to the fast pace of LinkedIn readers. She will take your glorious story, shave it down, flip it on its head, and reach your audience quickly. In other words, she will speak to your audience in a way that grabs them.
Before you hire a writer for social media, find out about her experience. Has she written anything like what you need? Can she provide a sample of her writing? Does she have a proven track record?
And then when you’ve found her, prepare to be flipped.
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.
Writers are strategists. A well-written story looks deceptively simple but actually requires a great deal of planning.
One of my favorite ways to approach the structure of an article is the Diamond Method. This method mimics the shape of a diamond: The focus of the writing starts small, grows to span more information, then returns to its original small point.
This method provides two benefits to your reader. First, it allows the reader to slowly ease into your information. As a result, he or she is able to fully absorb your message. Second, this method establishes trust with your reader. Starting small entices your reader to follow you to larger, unfamiliar places. And when you return them to their original location, they are glad they went on the journey.
Here are six steps to a well-structured article.
1. Find the heart.
Dig through your notes and find a small, single, most poignant item. An item works best when it includes a satisfying result.
For example, I was hired by a nonprofit art organization to write about its volunteer efforts at a home for neglected teenagers. When I visited the home, I felt most inspired when a group of teens — some troubled residents, some volunteers — set aside differences to record lyrics together into a microphone. I decided to use this as my “heart” of the piece.
2. Open with a small anecdote.
After you identify your heart, give your reader a glimpse of it in a personable first sentence. Consider your first sentence a “tease” with which you can appeal to the emotions of your reader to get his or her attention.
This was the first sentence of my article about the nonprofit art organization:
“I’m nervous!” says a Fort Bend County high school student as she steps up to a microphone.
3. Take one step back to provide informative context.
Now that you have the attention of your reader, you can give slightly broader information about your anecdote.
The next few sentences in my article provided more information:
She is one of 150 student volunteers who have mobilized across Fort Bend County one Saturday. One group records spoken word compositions alongside foster children at Parks Youth Ranch in Richmond; another group stamps clay designs at an ARTreach studio in Sugarland. A third group cooks traditional meals with teenage refugees in the community of Rio Bend in Richmond.
4. Zoom out to include the big picture.
The role of the next few paragraphs is to step further and further away from your anecdote until you have covered all of the information that you need to get across. These paragraphs reveal the big picture to your reader; they are less emotional and more informative.
Because my article covered the collaboration of several groups, my writing zoomed out several times. Each paragraph covered a different aspect of the collaboration:
These emerging leaders are part of the Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) team, a group of 11th and 12th grade students selected by the George Foundation to experience volunteerism and philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. “Every Fort Bend County high school is represented by these kids,” says YIP coordinator Dee Koch. In addition to developing students’ generosity, leadership skills, and connections to the community, Koch says participating in YIP is an eye-opening experience for the students. “Many are surprised at the commitment it takes to be a true volunteer.”
The unifying thread between these programs is ARTreach, a nonprofit organization that is celebrating its 10th anniversary of partnering with social service agencies to provide art-related programs to the underprivileged and underserved. Executive Director Terri Bieber says collaboration produces many benefits. “When we partner with others, we share resources and expenses, are more efficient, and combine our creative energy.”
5. Tell medium-sized details.
After you have reached the widest, or most informative, part of your story, now you can scale back from the information. Give your reader some examples, stories, or quotes to warm the article and make the topic more tangible. This part is not as big as the big picture, but this is not as small as your heart; it is an area of the article that supports the two parts and serves as a sort of bridge.
For example, in my article, I dedicated the next six paragraphs to telling about specific people in and results from the nonprofit organization. I told about the contributions of a regional director, the feelings of a teenage resident, the observations of an executive director, and other happenings at the event. I also talked about ways that readers could donate or contribute to the cause.
6. End with the small anecdote.
This is the step of the Diamond Method that makes this approach so satisfying to your readers. Now that you have teased the emotions of your reader, have zoomed out to provide big pieces of information, and have told medium-sized stories, it’s time to deliver your reader back to the familiar starting point. End the article by providing the second half of your heart, or anecdote.
Remember the nervous teen who was recording a song into a microphone at the beginning of my article? My article concluded with the rest of the story:
At the end of the day, Gamez plays back the words and music that were recorded by the group at Parks Youth Ranch. The students clap, hoot, and high-five in celebration of their completed product, talking excitedly as they file outside and back to their lives. The record continues to play, even after the room is empty, a lingering legacy:
“To my dreams I strive;
Determination is where truth lies.
Love is here; love is now. Love will never leave you down. . . “
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritche.
I’ve observed one basic difference between the Spanish and English languages: The languages handle the order of their nouns and adjectives differently. And this one difference can be pivotal in writing effectively for an audience.
You see, the English language places adjectives before nouns. English speakers tell all about something before they tells what it is they are talking about. Take this sentence, for example: The skinny, white, male cat sat by the door. Listeners hear three descriptors — skinny, white, male — before they discover that the sentence is about a cat.
The Spanish language, on the other hand, places nouns before adjectives. Spanish speakers tell what they are talking about before they tell about it. The Spanish version of that sample sentence is translated literally as: The cat skinny, white, male sat by the door. Listeners are told that the sentence is about a cat before they hear the three descriptors.
Although I speak English, I’ve always been impressed with this difference that makes the Spanish language more friendly to its listeners. Spanish speakers give their listeners a heads up as to what they are talking about before diving into details.
So, what does this mean for writing?
When presenting information to readers, consider shifting your mindset to that of a Spanish speaker. In other words, look for opportunities to place your nouns before their descriptions to make your writing more reader-friendly. Your readers first want to know what you are talking about before wading through details.
Take a look at this sentence before and after one of my clients considered the order of his nouns and adjectives.
The largest contributor to information security related regulations is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
The largest contributor to regulations related to information security is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
In the second draft, the writer puts the focus on the word ‘regulations’ before telling more about it. The noun gives the reader something solid to which he can hold on before delving into details.
Look at one piece of your writing today. Where can you change the order of your nouns and adjectives to make your sentences more reader-friendly?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.
At the grocery store yesterday, a preschooler threw a tantrum that was quite impressive. Head back, mouth wide and wailing, he dropped to the floor in a lifeless heap.
His mom calmly surveyed the dead weight at her feet. She cupped her hands under her son’s arms, pulled him upright, and firmly instructed him to stand on his feet. And stand he did, though his whimpering trailed behind them as they moved to the next aisle.
Editing is a very similar experience.
Blogs, for instance, can look more like blobs. Great subject matter more often resembles a shapeless heap of words than a strong piece of writing.
The job of editors is like that of mothers. Our task is to pull up a piece of writing by the shoulders, brush it off, and make it stand up. Even the shortest blog post begs for structure that allows it to stand on its own.
How can you edit your blob into a strong piece of writing? Here is a process that I follow with my clients to transform their jumble of ideas into a structured piece:
1. Identify the few defining words or points you want to communicate.
Read these first few sentences of my client’s blog:
Do you know what enables you to dream? Is it solitude? Is it prayer? Is it the beach? Is it music? Whatever it is, embrace it more and dream more.
We narrowed the point of those first few sentences to the word dream.
2. Give each point a mini beginning, middle, and end.
My client surrounded his point about dreaming with supportive sentences. He began with the purpose of this point, followed with details, and then ended with a tiny conclusion drawing his sentences together:
The first step to creating the life you want is to identify what enables you to dream. Is it solitude? Is it prayer? Is it the beach? Is it music? It is different for everyone. Find out what enables you to dream and then embrace it more in order to dream more.
By leading his reader from an introductory thought to a concluding thought, he is helping his audience connects the dots of his thoughts.
3. Give each thought its space.
Since that first paragraph represented one point, my client then put a space between that and the next paragraph, which began:
The second step to creating the life you want is . . .
The space indicates to his readers that he’s moving to another thought. Spaces also make his page look less crowded and more appealing to the eye.
4. Reconsider your title.
After defining three key points and adding structure to each, my client realized his title no longer applied to his writing. He changed his title from Imagination and the Myth of Motivation to How to Create the Life You Want.
His new title is more effective and appealing to readers – because his structured material is now more effective and appealing!
When you follow this process to clarify, support, and give space to your ideas, your readers are more willing to follow you to the end of your thoughts. What other tips do you apply to add structure to your writing?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.