Why You Need to Write About Readers and Their Needs

Learn more about scientific approaches for writing messages that readers want to read. Join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Catch Your Readers, our persuasive-writing workshop, starting April 5. You’ll leave with tips, tricks and techniques for writing messages that draw readers in and move them to act. Save $100 with coupon code PRSA21! APRs: Earn 4 accreditation renewal credits.

It feels so good to talk about ourselves.

Talking about yourself activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as food, money or sex, according to Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir and her colleague Jason Mitchell, whose research on the topic was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

No wonder some 40 percent of everyday speech is devoted to telling others about our favorite subject.

For the study, Tamir and Mitchell used an MRI scanner to see which parts of the brain responded when people talked about themselves. When participants were sharing their own pizza preferences and personality traits, researchers saw heightened activity in regions of the brain associated with the rewards we get from food, money or sex.

Avoid institutional narcissism.

I don’t know whether institutions also have pleasure centers, but they certainly seem to suffer from the same self-centeredness that afflicts we mere mortals. Consider their messages:

  • XYZ Company today announces that…
  • Our ABC is the leading doohickey in the blah-blah market…
  • At LMNOP, we believe…

The problem with writing about us and our stuff is that, as Tamir and Mitchell’s research shows, your readers don’t want to talk about you. They want to talk about themselves.

So stop We-We-ing on your readers. Instead of writing about us and our stuff, write about the reader. Here’s how:

1. Use the magic word.

Instead of using the first-person pronoun — we — why not focus on the second, you?

Your communications will be more effective if you do. Because while first-person pronouns reduce communication success, the second-person pronoun:

So repeat after me: Your organization isn’t the topic. Your products and services aren’t the topic. The topic isn’t the topic. The reader is the topic.

2. Change the we-you ratio.

One way to make the reader the topic is to change the we-you ratio. To do this on your own piece in Microsoft Word, simply use the Find function to:

  1. Highlight all instances of the word you in your message, then all instances of the word we.
  2. Find the name of your company or the name of your client.
  3. Cover all the other terms you use to refer to your organization and to the reader.
  4. Put the reader first.

Instead of putting your organization first, lead with the reader. Start your sentence with “you,” and watch readers line up to learn more about their favorite topic.

  • Instead of “ITT Hartford announces a new disability insurance program,” use: “You’ll get back to work faster, thanks to ITT Hartford’s new Ability Assurance.”
  • Instead of “Trainingnet.com helps you improve productivity,” use: “You’ll get all your work done in half the time, be the office hero and go home early with TrainingNet.com’s new webinar.”
  • Instead of ” XYZ company offers SuperPlantGro,” use: ” You’ll grow bigger, lusher plants — and never have to water again — with XYZ’s SuperPlantGro.”

Focus on the reader’s favorite subject.

Instead of writing about your favorite subject, write about the reader’s.

They’ll love it. They’ll read it. They’ll open it, click through it and share it.

And that feels so good.

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com. Get FREE writing tips here. Get more than 2,000 writing tip sheets at RevUpReadership.com.

Copyright © 2021 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

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