7 vital ways that (good) writing matters
If you know anything about us whatsoever, you’ll know that we at Intelligent Ink are passionate word people. Our slogan and go-to hashtag of choice is ‘clever things with words’, various Inkers have had variations of ‘wordsmith’ in their job titles – basically, we’re dyed in the wool word nerds.
We’ve been blogging about just this since our earliest days – even back in November 2012, when the company was only a year and a half old, we wrote about how ‘we have, for a long time, believed in the power of words…’
It’s who we are, it’s what we do.
But we know that not everyone feels the same enthusiasm as we do. And that’s okay! We’re here to do the heavy lifting, after all. However, one thing remains true – no matter what your opinions are on all things grammatical and vocabulary-related, the fact of the matter is that words are important. It’s both our opinion and straight-up, cold hard fact.
Speaking of science…
Before we get to the business end, let’s look at things more broadly. Psychology backs up the fact that word choice can make a huge difference in what is being conveyed – even if it’s the same basic information.
In an experiment undertaked by psychology and marketing staff at the University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill, 400 people were given one of two versions of the same sentence:
‘Surprisingly, ingestion of the substance produces endocrination of abdominal lipid tissue.’
‘Surprisingly, ingestion of the substance causes endocrination of abdominal lipid tissue.’
The participants were then asked whether ‘endocrination of abdominal lipid tissue’ was a good thing or a bad thing. The only word that changed between the two sentences is produces/causes. The word ‘cause’ isn’t inherently negative. The meaning of the sentence is the same.
But in this medical context, ‘cause’ is associated with bad things. ‘Caused pain’. ‘Causes cancer’. ‘Produces’ is a word that suggests results. So even though the sentence was in essence the same, 73% of participants thought that this ‘endocrination’ was something bad when framed as something ‘caused’, while only 48% of people thought that ‘endocrination’ was bad when framed as something ‘produced’.
Spoiler: ‘endocrination of abdominal lipid tissue’ isn’t actually a real thing. But the UNC experiment still shows us that nuance of word choice can have a huge effect on how people interpret information.
It’s just semantics!
You’ve probably heard someone brush off a correction with ‘ugh, that’s just semantics’. But did you ever stop to think about what ‘semantics’ actually involves?
Basically, semantics is the study of the meanings of words and sentences – and the understanding of them. It’s related to psychology and to linguistics, and it’s not something to take lightly. Making sure that what we are saying is the same as what someone is understanding is integral to effective communication – which is in turn integral to effective marketing, and to running a business effectively full stop.
That applies equally to the spoken word as to the written word. If we can’t communicate with clarity and mutual understanding, then things will unravel very quickly – on a business level as much as a social or societal level.
The perils of English
We’re living in an increasingly global world – and with that comes an increasing number of interactions with people who don’t necessarily have the same language background as us. Even if your business operates on a local level, our population is growing more and more richly diverse every day. So it’s important to think about whether or not the way that you’re communicating will be accessible to readers from all relevant walks of life.
English grammar is nightmarishly complex compared to many other languages. For every rule there seems to be an ever increasing list of exceptions to that rule, not to mention our vocab is vast and ever growing – full of differences from one Anglophone country to the next.
So keep that in mind when it comes to creating written content. It’s not as simple as slapping together a few things and calling it a day. If your audience is likely to include many people for whom English is a second, third or even fourth language, keep things simple. Use ‘plain English’, and make sure you stick to proper grammar – avoiding too much in the way of local idioms and lingo, or explaining those phrases if you do use them. By writing in a way that is accessible to a wider audience, you’re setting yourself up for higher demand, as people turn to you rather than competitors whose websites they can’t quite understand.
Think about it…
All the words you read anywhere were written by someone. Whatever is being communicated to you, someone, somewhere wrote the words that are doing the communicating. From road signs to guide books to menus, writing is at the heart of so much of how we communicate with one another – especially the initial communication that happens before a one-on-one interaction.
If you’re looking for a plumber, do you look up the number for a plumber and give them a call straight away? Or do you check out their website to see if they offer the services you’re after, if they seem like trustworthy professionals, if their prices are reasonable? That website was written by someone, and everything that you learn from it will have been carefully thought through (we hope!) and written by a person wanting to ensure that the business communciates what it is and what it does effectively.
Clear communication isn’t a guarantee of quality – anyone can make claims about what they do – but it lays down the path for further conversation. The framework is in place to demonstrate that this is a competent business – because, at the very least, you subliminally know they’re a company who bother to communicate what they do professionally.
Finding the key
We have written at length about key messages in the past. But it’s bears repeating – especially if you haven’t been following our blog for very long. Key messages are those important snippets of information that you want to relay to your potential customers, ensuring that they get the essence of what you’re about. We’ve discussed in the past how when you think Subway, you think ‘eat fresh’. You think ‘healthier’ fast food (in theory!) It’s no coincidence that we all associate the brand with those particular ideas – they’re part of the key messages that they have decided to push through their marketing.
If you’ve done business with us already, you’ll know that key messaging is a core part of what we develop. It doesn’t matter if we’re reinvigorating a website, writing a book or creating ongoing blog content – all aspects of a business’ content should be underpinned by carefully considered key messages.
Key messages also equip you with elevator pitches and soundbites to throw out there when people ask you about your business. Rather than fumbling for the right way to frame something, you (and your team!) can have a couple of core sentences in your back pocket, ready to go. But you need to take the time to plan and write those key messages first, in order to be prepared in that way.
Doing it the old-fashioned way
Look, we’re like anyone else. The vast majority of the writing we do – day in, day out – is on a computer keyboard. Maybe it’s at a desktop PC, maybe it’s on a laptop in a meeting, but it’s all the same tip-tap-typing.
But there’s also something to be said for putting pen to paper. Jotting notes, making plans, just occupying a different space from the screen we spend so much of our working lives focused on. Research has suggested that old-school handwriting lets us fire off more complex brain power. Sure, it’s not as speedy as using a keyboard, but if you’ve got a creative or complex task to work through, it might help your brain to access its magic.
Physical handwriting integrates visual, motor and cognitive function – even though you’re only using one hand instead of two, you’re working harder and potentially getting better results. So next time you’re stuck, pull out a notebook and a pen and get scribbling! Stream-of-consciousness writing might take you to conclusions or answers you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
Having an impact
It’s not just comprehension and trustworthiness that quality writing convey. The language we use – both in speech and in writing – plays a major part in how people perceive us and our businesses. If your business’ website is full of technical jargon that is impenetrable to someone who isn’t an expert in your field, potential customers might be intimidated and unsure as to whether or not your services are appropriate to them, a layperson. On the other hand, if your website communicates clearly, with occasional technical terms (and explanations) peppered throughout, it will be both accessible and suggest that you really are the experts in the field.
Find the balance that is appropriate to your audience – you want to ensure that you sound super informed and competent, without making people feel like they’ve fallen into a technical manual. Good communications support can help you find that sweet spot – where jargon gets translated into something appropriate to your target audience.
We could go on and on (and on and on) about the different ways that words matter, and the different ways that writing is powerful. But with some of this key information under your belt, go out there and examine what you’ve got going on. And if you want support from the word nerds who have proven time and time again that we understand businesses of all shapes and sizes – as well as their audiences – book a free consultation with the Intelligent Ink team today.