You’ve probably been doing it since you were five years old. By the time you graduated high school, you’d spent thousands of hours practicing it. If you went to college, you can probably add on several thousand more.
But no matter how long you’ve been doing it, or how strong a writer you might be, you’re going to need more than just a way with words to capture your audience, win their interest, and bring them around to your point of view.
You’re going to need to make sure your writing brings the steak, as well as the sizzle. In other words, you’re going to need evidence. You’re going to need data. But not just any data. You need the kind of evidence that will persuade your particular target audience, and you need to know how to use that evidence effectively.
Understand Your Audience
If you’re going to write, chances are you’re not going to be writing to yourself. Whether you’re composing a school assignment, a business letter, a social media post, or a personal blog entry, you’re going to be writing for a particular audience. The first step to writing well is figuring out who your audience is, what they want, what they expect, and what they care about.
If you’re writing for your business, for example, then that means figuring out who your target customer is and tailoring your writing content to their interests and requirements. When it comes to data, you need to figure out what your audience needs to be persuaded to your point of view. What does your target audience talk about? What kinds of things do they research? Is your audience looking for hard numbers and statistics, or are they looking for customer reviews and testimonials?
Monitoring your social media accounts can be a great way to learn this important information, but it’s not the only way. There are a host of free and low-cost analytics tools to help you identify what your audience needs and wants to know. And once you know that, you have the power to answer their questions before they even ask!
Know Your Stuff
Learning who your audience is and what they want isn’t the only research you need to do when you’re preparing to write, however. You also need to know your subject. In fact, you need to develop enough expertise, or at least enough proficiency, to write knowledgeably on all the aspects of your topic that your customers care about. Pay attention to that last phrase. It’s not that you need to know everything there is to know about your topic before you can actually write about it. That would take years — if it were even possible.
What you must do is make sure you address, with clarity and accuracy, those issues that your target audience cares about. For example, if you’re a business owner doing market research, then it’s a good idea to explore your nearest market competitors so that you can use your text to explain to your readers exactly why they should choose your company over the competition.
That also means you need to put your money where your mouth is. You need to back up your claims with well-chosen evidence. And, again, you need to use the evidence type that will most appeal to your audience, whether that’s hard data or first-person accounts. Ideally, in fact, you’ll mix it up, using different kinds of data not only to appeal to a broader audience base, but also to make the argument more convincing because you’re providing support across multiple fronts, from personal testimonials to hard numbers.
Be Smart and Strategic
As important as data is to making your argument, there comes a time when it’s just too much. Make sure that you set a limit for when you stop researching and start writing. This will not only help to get you started on the actual writing process, but it will also ensure you’re not going to overwhelm your audience — or yourself — with too much data.
It’s absolutely essential to support your claims and prove your argument, but if you just throw statistic after statistic and quote after quote at your reader, not only will your own voice get lost in the text, but your reader is probably going to get bored, exhausted, or confused. Your best bet is to select a few of the most important, most memorable quotes and statistics, and then provide hyperlinks to the original source. This way, you prove your data really does exist and that it’s credible.
Make Your Argument — Responsibly
No matter if you’re writing for business or for pleasure, your personal blog or your company’s website, your writing MUST serve a purpose. In writing parlance, we call it exigency or the “so what” of the text. If your readers don’t know immediately what your text is about or why it should matter to them, then you’re already dead in the water. So you need to start with a hook, something that’s going to grab your audience’s attention and compel them to keep on reading.
Remember, though, that the promise you make in the hook has to have a payoff in the body and the conclusion. Your writing won’t be engaging, effective, or memorable if you’re not serving some clear, meaningful purpose that matters to the reader. In other words, no matter what you’re writing, you need to be making some kind of argument.
That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be taking on controversial issues and arguing one side or another, though that’s certainly likely to be a lot of what you will do as a writer. But even when you’re not overtly taking sides, the choice to write about a specific topic and the effort to get your audience to read what you have to say is, in itself, a form of argument. It’s an effort to persuade your readers that the topic should matter to them and why.
Making an argument that expresses and defends a unique point of view is going to help ensure the originality of your text. After all, if you’re just rehashing other people’s material, then why does your reader need to waste time reading your text? Worse, irresponsibly borrowing from — okay, stealing — content, purposely or not, means you not only risk losing your readers’ trust, but it also opens you up to charges of plagiarism and theft of intellectual property. It’s imperative that you always credit your sources, whether through citations or, more likely, through embedded hyperlinks. This also means acquiring the proper permissions before you use copyrighted material. Finally, it means making sure that your sourced content is used to support, but not replace, your own original content, your own unique ideas and innovative argument.
Online writers have a virtual sea of competition as they try to win their audience’s attention and trust.
Integrating evidence into your text is essential to crafting a high quality, persuasive text, but doing this effectively means understanding what kinds of data your audience needs to be convinced. This typically will require you to incorporate a blend of sources and source types, from statistics to personal quotes. You’ll also want to embed hyperlinks and citations to prevent plagiarism and to ensure that you have the proper permissions to use copyrighted material.
All this might require a bit more effort, a bit more due diligence, but it will pay off in the quality and the integrity of your text — and your audience will reward you for it!