Every morning at around 7.30 AM, I’m greeted by the friendly – although somewhat anxiety-inducing – ping of my Outlook inbox. As I struggle to keep my eyes open, around 35 new emails demand my attention with their little blue unread bubbles. While sifting through my inbox, I notice how different each piece is. From long, detailed notes to agency stakeholders to internal newsletters to large corporate announcements, each communication has a particular style. Some have a very stuffy and detailed voice while others are more conversational. Although all of these pieces have a different purpose and voice, they all are forms of business writing.
Digital media has changed the way we create and communicate stories to one another. From Snapchat blips to WordPress blogs, content creators need to conform their message to the stipulations of the platform. Natively, shorter more impactful content has been shown to perform better with audiences. Although long-form pieces have been regaining their popularity and effectiveness, not every reader will want to dedicate the time to mull through a 1,500+ word article.
Although we live in an era where 280 characters can recount an amazing moment, it is impossible to beat a full-length story. Long-form content, or content that is more than ~1,200 words, is steadily coming back into the limelight as an important form of digital storytelling. Social media and technology have skewed our attention spans to be short and obsessive. The shorter the content, the zingier (and more popular) it was, but with that came fatigue. Now, we are seeing traditional long-form content sneaking back into content strategies – and with great success. Readers are becoming increasingly more invested in what they are engaging with and who is writing.
When crafting an important piece, it is likely you will become intertwined in the classic writer’s dilemma: who are you writing for? According to author William Zinsser, you should be writing for yourself. Although he is the self-proclaimed evangelist of brevity and simplicity, Zinsser emphasizes that the audience – or the idea of who your audience is – should not have an effect on your writing. In chapter 5 of his book On Writing Well, he describes this paradox. A good writer should be a master of the ground principles of writing and confident in their personal style. Here, the difference between technical craft and unique attitude is key.
According to my colleague, writing is a cruel and unusual form of punishment – and those who are very good at writing are all indulgent masochists. This very same colleague also happens to be a recipient of the prestigious PRSA Atlas Award for Lifetime Achievement. If there is anything that she has taught me in our two years of working together, it is that writing is not something that simply flows out of your brain and onto paper with ease. I’ve shared in her frustration as last-minute changes were made to press releases. I’ve seen how it can take hours for even the most seasoned professional to crank out an important document. But most importantly, I’ve learned that even those who love writing are actually secretly exhausted by it.