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If nobody reads what you’ve written, does it make a sound?

By John W Prince

Today you’re an editor. Writers send you stuff because they want to be read. You have to make choices. Here’s the question: What are the big picture qualities that make a good written piece—article, story, essay, blog, or whatever? One that will get read.

Any kind of writing is about communication. If you fail to communicate—for any reason—then you’ve just wasted your time. Unless, or course, you’re writing in your personal journal. Then there’s an excellent likelihood that, other than you, nobody cares.

A few years ago, I analyzed numerous written pieces to discover that makes me want to read/publish them.

I came up with three overarching qualities that, in happy combination, make for good writing and good reading.

#1 INTERESTING (Is this something I actually care about?)

You’ve probably recently run into a piece that made your eyes glaze over and skip long paragraphs that scream, “Nobody cares!”

If the piece is boring, dull, long, tedious, or uninteresting you’ve lost your reader. Not only will they immediately move on, you’ve wasted gallons ink and entire woodlots, or zillions electrons died in vain. Or both. A good editor will spike the piece instantly to prevent this from happening.

Considerations:

First: Who is your audience? Second: What are the latest trends in that audience? Third: Structure your piece to speak to your audience about subjects they really care about in their unique language and style. Fourth: Never have a fourth thing. Nobody cares about whatever comes fourth. Ask any Olympian.

#2 RELEVANT (Is this something that might impact my life?)

If you’re writing to an audience of model train enthusiasts, it’s likely that they don’t care much about blood flow in the human body. However, if you compare blood flow to an intricate model train layout with stations and switches and trains coming and going on complex schedules, you might get some traction.

Written material must be relevant to the reader and their unique interests.

Considerations:

First: Know your audience. Second: Describe or explain processes or facts in terms and symbology that they will understand and to which they can easily relate. Third: This is tricky; if you don’t know the language and history (of model railroading, for instance) you could come off looking stupid. Fourth: Don’t look stupid!

#3 INFORMATIVE (Do I really want/need to know more about this subject?)

Nobody cares about stuff they already know everything about.

A travel editor friend ran a piece every year titled “So, This Is Your First Time in Europe.” Same article every year—with a minor update here and there. He knew that any reader who had already been to Europe wouldn’t read it.

They already knew that information and weren’t going to waste their time.

Considerations:

First: Know your audience. Have they ever been to Europe? Second: Understand that your audience wants new/fresh/informative/creative news that will be truly useful for them in their personal lives. Third: Structuring a headline appropriately can immediately segment your audience to your specifications. Fourth: You know that one!

Of course, IRI is relevant whether you’re writing an article for National Geographic, a book or short story, or a letter to Mom.

Interesting. Relevant. Informative. IRI. My personal take on the business of writing. Here’s a little graphic you can print and put on your laptop or computer monitor to help you remember.

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