Writing an effective message

When you have a message to communicate, especially if it’s an important one, it’s tempting to leap straight into the writing. Slowing down a little and thinking before you write will make the actual writing easier.

Plan

Who is your audience?

Who are you writing for? Make sure you know who your target audience is before you start writing. This will help you choose the right method to use and will focus your energies on communicating to them in a very direct and specific way.

What’s in it for them?

When you are very involved or close to a topic, it’s tempting to tell your audience what you think they should know, rather than what they actually want to know. A good way to avoid this is to focus on the benefits to your audience, instead of the features that you are proud of, have worked hard on, or think they should appreciate.

Ask ‘So what? Why would they care?’ When you can confidently answer that question, you have found an effective approach that will engage and interest the reader.

!Many students don’t read all the content in the messages we send them.

What do you want them to do or understand?

Once you have the audience’s attention it’s time to be very clear about what you want or need them to do. This is your purpose or your ‘call to action’.

Sometimes this information is buried at the bottom of the message but it’s much better to put it right up the top. Your readers will appreciate the clarity of that information and they are also much less likely to miss it.

TIP

Focus on the benefits.

The headline on the Apple’s advertising campaign for the very first iPod – an extraordinary piece of new technology – was ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’. Rather than explain the iPod’s features, they simply told the audience how it would benefit them.

That’s why the course finder on our website says ‘Let’s find your dream career’. Instead of talking about the wide range of courses FedUni offers, the focus is on helping visitors to our website achieve their goals.

Draft

Start by writing a rough draft of your message. Concentrate on the message you need to communicate and think about the best way to make it relevant and interesting to your target audience.

Don’t worry too much about getting the words exactly right to start with. If you find it hard to get going, jot down the main ideas as bullet points first and then turn them into sentences later.

Put the important information up the top, then fill in the details below. Background information or links to more information can be inserted at the end.

A useful tactic for writing long messages is to write the subheadings first, making sure they are structured logically, and then fill in the sentences and paragraphs underneath each one.

Less is more

Limit your message to one single idea or piece of information. Use the tips in the writing toolkit to shorten your message by cutting out unnecessary words or phrases and choosing simple words over complex ones.

Writing in short, simple words doesn’t mean you are ‘dumbing down’ the message. It means you are communicating as clearly and effectively as possible.

TIP

Beating writer's block.

If you find yourself staring at a blank page or screen and can’t get started, adopt writer Anne Lamott’s approach of giving yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.  Don’t edit or overthink your writing.  Just get the words down and fix them later.

Edit

Read through your work with a critical eye, checking each of these elements:

  • Will the audience care about this message?
  • Is the call to action up front?
  • Are the main points ordered logically?
  • Is the subject line clear and interesting?
  • Can you cut out unnecessary words or phrases?
  • Can you replace a complex word with a simpler one?
  • Are there any mistakes in the grammar, punctuation or spelling?
  • Have you repeated any information unnecessarily?
!One in seven students think our communications are too long.
Less than five per cent think they are too short

Review

Test

Testing your message with someone from the target audience is a great way to check how effective it is. Even running it past a colleague, after giving them a clear brief about the audience and the purpose of the message, will help you determine if you need to make changes.

Rework

Consider the feedback and rewrite or restructure your message if necessary. If you are making substantial changes, you may need to go back and edit your new content.

Always save your drafts, just in case you need to go back to an earlier version.

Proofread

Before you send anything out, make sure it has been thoroughly proofread. Always use Word’s spellcheck tool, but don’t rely on that alone. A spellcheck won’t pick up a correctly spelt word used in the wrong context, or a confusing sentence.

Ask someone who hasn’t read your earlier drafts to proofread the final message. A fresh eye will often pick up mistakes that you might miss.

Design and layout

To make sure all of our material looks consistent, your document should follow the brand guidelines.

For material produced inhouse, use the Microsoft Office templates provided.