Beginning, Middle, End: Writing For The Real World

Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Case Studies, White Paper Marketing | Comments Off

The Real World?

I have been in positions to hire people for a variety of roles in business and have served as communication director with a number of not-for-profit projects and organizations. I have also written a number of books that I was paid to write (an important distinction- if you don’t want the oversight of an editor and an audience, by all means write any way you want!). As a professional writer my job is to ensure that the public writing people do is not only coherent, factual and accurate grammatically but also that it is compelling to the reader regardless of whether it a marketing piece, a blog post, an email or a web site.
Good writing is an important skill in a world where content is king and we all consume it non-stop. But it is not an easy skill to acquire quickly. However, there is a relatively simple model for learning write well, regardless of the type of writing you are doing.

What is ‘good writing’?

When someone tells you that you are a good writer, it is a big compliment whether you’re relatively new at it or an experienced pro. A pro knows, even more than a beginner, how challenging it is to make that impression on people. So what is good writing? In my experience it is two things:

  • It is simple, as simple as you can make it.
  • It tells a story. Always, whether it’s a business memo or the great American novel.

Easy enough, right? Not based on the awful writing I see everywhere. Writing where the writer is trying to sound intellectual. Writing written for some kind of mythological ‘business’ person. Writing where every point is obscured by metaphors, asides, dead-ends, big words, etc. Writing where unnecessary complexity obscures whatever story the writer is allegedly trying to convey.
Every major writer, without exception, aspires to simplicity and great story-telling. While writers from other periods, like Dickens for example, may seem longwinded because of the language of the day, on inspection they seldom are. There is very little ‘filler’ in Dickens’ great work, in spite of its length. And he is a superb story-teller. And that is the key.

Story Structure: Beginning, Middle, End

It’s all about telling a simple story with a beginning, middle and end. I don’t care if you’re writing corporate case studies, ad copy, press releases, short stories or email newsletters. They all follow this format if they want to be successful with the reader. The simplicity comes in as we learn to remove anything that does not move the narrative through these stages from initial concept, to execution to the final result: Beginning, middle and end.

Take the classic case study or white paper used in business. The format for these stories is:

Problem (beginning)> Solution (middle)>Results (end)

  1. Once upon a time there was a person who needed to do this.
  2. We showed them how our solution could help them and then we helped them by doing this.
  3. This is how it worked out.

Or how about a 30 second ad:

Tired? Not Sleeping Well? Tossing and Turning?

Our Holistic Pillow is Proven To Make You Drowsy- Safely and Gently.

ZZZZ…

That’s all you need. You don’t need to shout about how wonderful you are, you just need to tell a story that resonates. When you write, find this structure and then remove anything that is not directly supporting it. You’ll be a lot closer to ‘good writing’.