Writing as a Designer

desk-and-penIt is ironic that a time when we have so much content in various formats and on different forums, there remains a vacuum in information.  It would appear that instead of sharing knowledge, there is a lot of noise generation.

The herd mentality has taken over the content creation arena.

People seem to think that throwing around popular (often misunderstood) terms such as “personae”, “editorial calendar”, and “reciprocity”, they can magically transform poorly researched article into insight.  Not so.  The truth is that no matter how many catch phrases they mimic, the underlying shallow creative process shows through.  This begs the question:  why do content marketers bother investing time and financial resources in a strategy that will not deliver on business integrity and growth?

As business writers and content creators, we need to drop the charade.  We need to invest in more credible motivation.  If we can’t find it within ourselves, we can borrow from other practitioners.  I have looked around and I’m happy to say there is an abundance of good practices business writers can adopt to nurture our skill.

My latest source of inspiration is the design field.  Somehow we all know when things are “designed right” – they give us a glimpse of what makes good design.  It turns out that it is no accident; there are fundamentals of good design.  I imagine all good designers know them and consistently deploy them in their craft.

I think good business writers need to define and commit to some fundamentals.

Before we begin stringing together our words, we need to start with basics like questions.  What is the problem? Why is it important? Why is it important that we understand it correctly?  What are the consequences of addressing the wrong issue or providing the wrong answer?  Is this a ground-breaking topic?  Is there a current consensus on solutions?  The more questions we raise, the more open we are to critical thinking.

Questions help us clarify.  Questions help us uncover what we might otherwise miss.  They help focus on the essentials.  They help us define the parameters of best solutions and write convincingly about them.

My search has shown me that good designers are skilled at asking questions.  For them, no question is silly if it helps the design process.  I am honing my question-asking skill and learning some of the basics of design, which might help me do a better job as a business writer.

Here are 3 things I have learned so far:

  1. Design is truly a process; not a task.  Process denotes a method, intent, a procedure, a course of action while a task often denotes a chore or an assignment.  The way I see it, adopting a process approach is more likely to expand expertise and efficiency.  It is more likely to diminish reliance on rote mentality inherent in a task approach.
  2. Even if the project is not an original idea (it may have been done a million times before), it is important to find a way to instill some creativity.  I agree that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.  However, it is important not to simply echo others.  Good designers replicate purposefully.  The challenge is to make each final product memorable.
  3. You are on the right track if your process includes these 3 fundamentals:
  • Looking        →  see/prioritize/understand
  • Thinking      →  research/sort/organize
  • Doing            →  informed action/draft/edit/finalize/share

It is fairly obvious that skipping any of these basics undermines the design process.  In terms of good business writing, failure to pay proper attention to the LOOK, THINK, DO aspects weakens the impact of the content we create.

My challenge to my fellow business writers is to toss that template that promises to help you generate a-hundred-and-one unique articles and white papers effortlessly.  Sounds great, but (always) true.  Let’s spend a little more time (I know, who has more time?) on the fundamentals.  It may mean that we write less volume, but it could mean that what we do write will be a cut above the rest – and memorable.

 

 

©Rachel Agheyisi, Report Content Writer, Report Content Writer’s Blog

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How to Take Somebody Else’s Good Idea and Make it Your Own — Legally

Get your "Mo"Sidebar:  Here is an article I think we all can relate to as professional writers.  It was written by Jennifer Stevens, a master copywriter for American Writers and Artist Inc. (AWAI).  If you’ve ever had periods of creative inertia (a.k.a. writer’s block), you might learn a thing or two.  I hope Jennifer’s suggestions help to re-ignite the flow and keep your pages filled consistently.

Here is Jennifer’s take—

 Recently I read an article with somebody else’s name on it that sounded an awful lot like something I’d written.  Most of it had been lifted word-for-word.  The writer apologized profusely.  Case closed.

Still, it got me thinking about the ways you can successfully approach a topic when lots of folks have written about it before.

Penning articles can be a great way to build your credibility, promote your expertise, and woo clients.  But, copying somebody else’s text — in addition to being illegal — makes you look lazy.

Lifting ideas, though … that’s a different matter.  Ideas cannot be copyrighted.  When you pluck one — and you make it your own — you look enterprising.

It’s not that hard to do.  The trick is to “cook” an idea your own way.  Think about it like this.…

Say you go to an orchard to pick apples with a couple of friends.  Baskets full, you each head home to whip up a dessert.  One friend makes an apple pie.  The other makes an apple tart.  You make an apple cobbler.  You all start with the same raw ingredients: those apples… plus sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon.  But, you each make something unique.

You can do the same thing with ideas.

An easy, surefire way is to draw on your own experiences.  Here are four ways to do that:

Come up with an appropriate analogy that’s all your own.  My apple-picking analogy here?  It came to mind because some friends and I recently took our kids to Happy Apple Farms.  I had apples on the brain.  Lots of people have written about plagiarism, but I seriously doubt any have discussed it in the same breath with apple cobbler.

Peg your ideas to a recent experience you’ve had or to a current news item.  An easy way to freshen a “classic” idea is to relate it to something you just did or read or to some recent newsworthy event.

For instance, if I were to pen an article titled, “How to Write Good Descriptions.”  I could begin by referencing a piece I read recently in The New York Times.  The descriptions were particularly strong.  I’d explain to my readers why they’re so engaging.  I could talk about what that writer did so well — and show my readers how they could do the same thing.

Often you’ll find great jumping-off points in the news.  Say, for example, that you want to write an article about how best to handle a public-relations challenge.  You could open your piece by referring to the recent Toyota scandal.  What lesson would you have your readers learn from the way Toyota handled their crisis?

Aim for a fresh audience.  An idea that might feel pretty standard-issue to a certain group of readers can be truly eye opening to another.  So, think about the ways you can take the know-how you use every day in your own area of expertise and find new folks to share it with.

For example, take an idea like using “picture, promise, proof, push” in a promotion.  That’s not new to you if you’ve studied copywriting technique.  It’s a “classic” idea to an audience of copywriters.  But if you’re a travel writer, in all likelihood that’s new to you.  So, I could write about how you take this proven copywriting technique and apply it to travel articles.  And, that would be a whole new take on the subject.

Start with somebody else’s idea, say it’s their idea… and then refute it, agree with it, or build upon it.  Start with an assertion somebody else makes and react to it.  Say you read an article about how to use vinegar to remove laundry stains.  The author asserts that there’s no more powerful natural stain-fighter.  You could agree, maybe even quote the writer and send your readers to her piece.  But, then your piece might continue, “But vinegar is good for a whole lot more than laundry.  Here are five household hassles vinegar takes care of instantly … ”

Have you ever found yourself reading an article and nodding vigorously in agreement?  Well, begin there.  Tell your readers that you just read this piece, and it’s spot on.  Tell them they should go read it, too.  But then explain why you feel that way.  Use an example from your own life.  Share a story that further supports that other author’s idea.

My point, finally, is simple: You don’t need to copy somebody else’s words.  Even if the idea you want to write about has been written about thousands of times before.  Look to your own life.  Look to what’s going on in the world around you today.  Share your reactions.  Your opinions.  That’s how you take a “classic” idea and make it your own.

End Note:   This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Golden Thread, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on the best wealth careers, lifestyle careers and work-at-home careers available.  For a complimentary subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/signup.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.