Writer-Focused Writing

Joe Bellavance
Joe Bellavance

As you go about your workday writing marketing materials, reports, emails, guidelines, web copy, and more, all the work is being done in the service of business goals and company mission.

But does that mean your goals and mission as a writer should be the main topic of the conversation?

Sometimes, you do need to stay focused on your own perspective, like getting across why a new policy is in place. But especially when projects are being completed in a rush, it is possible to be too focused on your own perspective as the writer. Achieving the business goal with the audience is sometimes only possible when we commit to distraction-free writing, making space to revise our work with feedback.

In this post, we want to define writer focused writing and establish when it makes sense for a business writer to be a little self-centered in their messaging. Plus, we’ll highlight a cross-platform writing app that makes it easy to write distraction-free and achieve your intention.

What is Writer Focused Writing?

Writer focused writing is what you produce when writing to yourself as the audience. For instance, if you need to document a new process in your department, you might write instructions for your eyes only, so you keep track of the requirements or steps. In these notes, you might use your own shorthand, skip steps, or even include affirmations or jokes for yourself.

If the same documentation was going out to the entire department, you would revise and edit the content to be useful to others. You would take it from being writer focused to audience focused.

Another example of writer focused writing is when content puts the concerns and experiences of the writer or speaker at the center. Let’s illustrate this with an example of how this can go wrong for a business.

Imagine you just won a prize from your favorite online retailer.  Which email would you prefer to receive?

  • An explanation of why the BUSINESS chose to put on the promotion and a request for you to review the products you just won?
  • Or an announcement YOU have won the contest and a list of the benefits coming your way?

The first of these messages is writer centered, while the second is reader centered. Writer centered writing focuses on the needs, values, and/or expectations of the speaker. The other example focuses more on the person who is receiving the message.

While you will be excited to win the contest, either way, the first email might give you a moment of pause. It could feel like the business only did the giveaway to get something from you—and while that might be true, it certainly doesn’t need to be said. This is an example of why writer focused writing isn’t always ideal from a business perspective.

More Writercentered vs Readercentered Examples

A marketing example like the one above clearly illustrates how writer-centered and reader-centered writing differ in their impact on the audience. The audience may not feel as included or welcomed by content that is writer-centered. 

But are there ever times in business where writer-centered messaging is preferred? How can you tell the difference and edit your work to be one versus the other? Let’s answer these questions through some more examples.

Example 1: Revised Employee Handbook (Too Reader-Focused)

Padma is a human resources professional working on a complete revision of the company’s employee handbook. Thanks to a recent round of investment, there are some significant new policies being added, including new compliance mandates. Padma has been with the company for a while and is worried that some of the established employees are going to be frustrated by the changes, putting the business at risk of losing key talent.

As a result, Padma is careful to explain the exceptions to the new rules and the finer points of when compliance is necessary in her new handbook. She shares the draft with her boss, who immediately addresses the tone and some of the content as being insufficient. Padma is reminded that the handbook is intended to protect the company from liability as much as the employees. She is instructed to leave out the exceptions to the new policies and leave it up to the employees to ask their questions or raise concerns on their own.

In this example, Padma was not writer-focused enough. She was concerned more about the reaction and perspectives of her audience, which limited the opportunity to get key messages across. Introducing too much reader perspective made it seem like the position of the writer was not completely correct or defensible. Though the handbook must involve the reader and try to achieve buy-in where possible, its main function is to be a single source of truth about the company policies, popular or unpopular.

Example 2: New Website Copy (Too Writer Focused)

Ty is in charge of developing the web copy for a new landing page. This webpage will be a microsite for the promotion of a professional conference Ty’s employer is sponsoring. There have been months of planning and work up to this point, and Ty has tons of pre-existing conversations, email chains, and documentation to draw on. They complete the web copy, underscoring all the effort that has gone into planning the sessions and what the sponsors hope attendees will walk away with.

The campaign does a great job of driving traffic to the site, but very few people are filling out the interest form at the bottom of Ty’s landing page. Ty asks a friend who also plans events to take a look at the webpage and share their thoughts. Their peer observes that the first third of the page is very text-heavy with the story of why the event is happening, with the benefits and elements the reader cares about buried further down the page. Ty is able to make edits to the copy, and with the direct value to the reader becoming more obvious, the conversions from the web page grow.

In this case, keeping the web page focused on the perspective of the company was a misfire Ty was able to correct. Audiences care about what the content means to them and the opportunities it represents.

Example 3: Internal Committee Presentation (Requires Both Approaches)

John is preparing to summarize and report on the work of his internal sales enablement committee at an upcoming Board of Directors meeting. His mind is full of priorities about the messages he wants to communicate and the strategy he recommends moving forward. He writes an outline of the presentation, including sections “What We Learned,” “What We Plan,” and “What We Need.” He copy-pastes the outline sections into the headlines of his slides and fills in one or two slides per bullet point. Before he knows it, the presentation is ready.

The conversation gets off to a great start the day of the board meeting. The directors are incredibly interested in what the committee learned about sales and how it connects to other departments. But when John transitions to his strategic recommendations, the ideas don’t seem to be resonating. By the time he gets to making his ask for resources, he isn’t feeling nearly so confident.

Luckily, the board approves his major requests, but doesn’t fully buy-in to John’s vision. His supervisor later shares feedback that it wasn’t totally apparent how the finer points of the strategy would improve the bottom line and benefit the business. John realizes there was a point in his presentation where he needed to pivot from explaining what he and his colleagues believed to thinking about the business at a high level. In this scenario, the writer-focused portion of his presentation worked for as long as he and the board shared perspective. But when their priorities started to diverge, John needed to adopt audience-centered messaging, not self-centered messaging, to make his case.

Each of these are examples of focus in writing at work. All these people had the right information available and the skills to do the work. They just shared their messages from the wrong perspective.  

What Does It Mean to Write for Your Reader?

Writing for your reader means asking yourself if the reader needs or cares about the information you are sharing. If they need it but don’t care, how can you make them care? If they care but don’t need it, maybe include it anyway to keep them interested. And if they don’t need it and don’t care, why include it at all?

Writing for your reader boils down to ego vs. empathy. A business often has a lot to say about itself, from its corporate story to its achievements, philosophy, services, and products. But how much of this is something a reader needs to hear? Well, that depends entirely on context and the goal of the writing. Slice is specifically created to help writers to stay focused on the contextual information and to achieve goals. 

Certain things might really seem like they “need to be said” from the perspective of ego. But with a pivot to empathy, trying to see things from the reader’s view, you can trim and tailor each message to be right for the moment. An employee needs to know different things than a customer. Loyal customers need different information than new customers. 

It is hard work involving your reader, meaning writing so that the reader wants to continue reading. Both writer-centered and reader-centered writing can end up involving the reader through examples, data, and even the structure and skill of the writing.

How Do I Keep My Readers Engaged?

Here are some tips and strategies to make sure readers are interested, even when you must adopt a writer-centric perspective:

  • Give Value: Use anecdotes, statistics, and advice to make sure the piece gives the reader tangible, lasting value.
  • Stay Focused: We recommend working from what is called a focus statement in writing, which could be compared to a thesis statement but is a little different. If you are wondering how to write a focus statement, it should include who the audience is, what needs to be communicated, and why it is important to communicate it now. Writing a focus statement can help you detect early if you are creating the piece from the right perspective to achieve your goal.
  • Second-Person Perspective: You-centered writing examples are some of the most engaging types of content to read because the reader feels fully included, even when the message is writer-centric. For instance, our friend Padma who was working on the employee handbook could try adopting a “you” perspective to speak directly to the employee and help them visualize following the policies. This might help staff recognize their concerns or questions more easily.

These are just some of the strategies to write engaging content, whether you are centering your perspective as the writer or aiming for more reader-focused writing examples.

Slice: A Distraction-Free Writing Enablement Platform

When you’re tackling a new subject area or trying out a new structure of professional writing, a first draft is likely to be more writer-focused than the final product you want to put out in the world. That is okay! There is a saying in professional writing: “Good writing is rewriting.” This quote has been attributed to a variety of historical figures, including Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote. Whoever said it, they were certainly correct!

Slice is a writing app created by writers, for writers, to address many of the pain points of content creation and revision. Logging into the Slice platform welcomes writers into a distraction-free zone when their sources, notes, comments from other stakeholders, and the writing itself can all exist in a single, simple interface. No more clicking between tabs or searching your inbox for feedback. Slice enables you to focus on the project and create compelling content that works in all your key points without losing sight of the goal—persuading your audience.

Try Slice free for 30 days, with a 60-day money back guarantee, and see what is causing our users to report 10x productivity gains using our platform. Happy writing!

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