The most important characteristic of a successful piece of writing

April 24, 2017 | Writing

What makes a story, or any document, successful? I’m with Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute, a newspaper think tank and research organization, who reasons that a successful story should give readers a single, dominant message.

What is the single, dominant message of your story, report, white paper, staff memo, etc.? If you don’t have one, reconsider your approach. Are you going too broad and trying to make too many points? Is your document a scattershot of information? The dreaded “data dump” inevitably leaves readers confused and searching for the point the writer is trying to make.

Successful stories have a narrow laser-like focus; only then is it able to deliver that single, dominant message to the reader. That is how we achieve clarity with our writing — by delivering to the reader a single point. Yes, that point is supported by several other points or examples of bits of data. But in the final analysis, the reader understands with absolute certainty the point of our document.

Follow this simple four-step format. 1) Figure out your single, dominant point. 2) Make that your lead statement. 3) Provide information in the body of the document that support that point. 4) End your document by circling back to your lead by reiterating and reinforcing that point.

This cannot guarantee that people won’t take exception to your conclusion, but it will guarantee they do not say, “What are you trying to say?”

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