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.
A picture is worth a thousand words. This is a phrase we have all heard at least a thousand times, but sometimes we need to be reminded that a picture is more than just what meets the eye. Only a little over 100 years ago, people believed that everything they saw in photographs was true. As long as the photograph was taken where and when the caption says it was, it was generally thought to be accurate and, at times, even more reliable than the testimony of a human eye witness (Ritchin, 1985). This mindset is now few and far between in today’s society. Nothing – not even a smiling selfie – can be published without meeting extreme scrutiny from the receiving public.
We live in a reality where nothing is reality. From the posts on Instagram we mindlessly scroll through, to the news we consume from major media outlets – nothing is as “real” as we would hope it would be. Falsities have become a new economy. Just like bootleg designer pocketbooks, fake digital content has been all the rage with people, and large organizations, using it to boost their social status, following, and engagement. So what do I mean when I say fake?
In my previous blog post, I discussed how psychologist Richard Gregory’s work in visual perception (Top-Down Processing Theory) and psychologist Robert Plutchik’s work in mapping emotions (Plutchik’s wheel) provides us with the framework to record and react to visual stimuli. Emotions, and how we express them, is key to our ability to create relationships with others. The easiest way to create a relationship with someone is to meet them in person. You can see how they move, get a feeling for their personality and how they speak, and you can notice little telltale signs that they might be bored by you like a yawn, an eye roll, or fidgety fingers. To really put this into perspective, think about a first date.
What makes being human so much fun is that we are constantly expressing ourselves. From the clothes we wear, to how we exercise our vocabulary, we are screaming – either with our voices or with subliminal cues – how we feel or choose to identify. As humans, we are barraged every single millisecond with stimuli. Because we are equipped with a very efficient brain, the detritus of each waking moment is filtered through and what we actually end up processing is a very nominal amount. Psychologist Richard Gregory argues that 90% of the information our eyes see is lost by the time it reaches our brains. Though this might be a shocking amount, the brain needs to perform and prioritize other tasks at the same time it is absorbing everything presented visually, auditorily, and otherwise.
In the early 2000s, I remember sitting in my 4th-period health class listening to the teacher drone on about nutrition, exercise and what would happen if you did drugs or alcohol. The framing of all of this information was exceedingly mind-numbing and as a 10-year-old, I didn’t care to pay attention to it longer than I had to. One week stood out to me in particular though. When we were going over the topic of obesity and nutrition, I remember my teacher wheeling in a television and a DVD player on one of those carts. Excited for what I thought might be a Disney movie, I perked up. She inserted the disc and that was when I watched one of the most disgusting and eye-opening videos I had ever seen.