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Writing for the reader’s mindset

A lot of reading

What can we learn about engagement/reader’s mindset from the Government’s approach to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill last week?

Every piece of writing should have an objective behind it. When we’ve published it, we need to ask the same question: did it produce the right result? Looking at the Government’s recent attempts to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through parliament, the first thing to do, apart from setting aside the politics for a moment,  ask “Did the approach work?”

It’s hard to say if the approach to the approach to the #WAB succeeded or failed as we cannot be certain of the inner workings of Government. But, let’s assume that their objective was genuinely to get the Bill through Parliament. In which case, the approach failed.

Then the next question to ask is “Why did it fail?” Again, setting aside all the political reasons, our experience is that asking an audience to read too much information in too small a timeframe is almost always bound to fail. There’s a mismatch between content produced and the reader’s mindset.

In the case of the #WAB and its supporting documents, the word count was around 129,251 words or 10 hours 25 minutes and 38 seconds of Total Read Time.

Was it possible to read all the WAB documents that in the timeframe requested? Yes, just as it’s possible to read For Whom The Bell Tolls when you get home tonight (they’re about the same length). But it’s a tall ask and probably going to impact on your routine and result in a lack of sleep.

However, asking an audience to read and reflect on something, to buy into what you’re trying to achieve, well that takes a bit longer. Try writing an essay extolling to virtues of on Hemingway’s masterpiece the morning after cramming it for one night. It’s unlikely to be a classic.

Writing for the reader’s mindset

When reading a piece of writing, the reader:

  • Is only just finding out about the issue; and has a mindset to match (This is the awareness phase: “I’m not ready to make a decision yet, I’m just finding out about this.”); or
  • Is actively looking at the topic and beginning to consider their options but it still in questioning mode (This is the consideration phase: “Why is this an issue for my organisation?” “How do I resolve it?”); or
  • Is ready to act and the piece agrees with a thought/opinion that they already have (This is the decision phase.)

Writing for people at different stages of engagement is essential in order to produce the right result. Look again at the approach to the WAB and you’ll see it was served as a fait accompli and the lack of sufficient opportunity to digest it and then question it or input into it was high risk and quite likely to it fail.

What does this mean for those of us in the legal sector who write?

Turning to the writing and events in the legal sector, our experience is that law firm activities aren’t always drafted for the right phase of the buyer journey. They are also often delivered as broadcast messages and don’t provide opportunities for questions and feedback. One topic may need as many as five or seven articles written around it in order to take people from “I didn’t know there was a problem” to “I need to act”.

In short, do your firm’s articles and events achieve your intended outcome? Do they help your clients and targets take the next steps towards instructing you? Is your article helpful? After all, as Hemingway wrote in his tour de force:

“For what are we born if not to aid one another?”

Something for the Government to think about too.

If we can help or you have any thoughts on this, then please do get in touch.


P.S. Last week, I wrote a piece on how long it would take to read the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and associated documents, which you can find over here.

P.P.S. We’re running engaging writing courses in December and January to make good writers great and help everyone become a social media expert.

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