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If You’re Going to Write a Manual, Write a Manual. Otherwise…

Unless you’re a friend or family member reading this, I don’t know how old you are. In which case, I can’t really guess on the kinds of educational material you studied growing up.

Were they solemn and serious?

Or were they written with flair (and perhaps a little lacking on facts)?

Again, without knowing the decades you attended school, there’s no way for me to tell. Though that's only here or there if you haven’t gotten the 21st century memo that old-school writing is out and engagement is in.

Snippy as that last statement may sound, it actually isn’t meant to disparage anyone.

First off, there are plenty of intelligent, very interesting and/or very pleasant people who maintain traditional writing styles for the textbooks, articles, informational guides and other professional writing pieces they seek to promote.

Nor is there a writing law out there that says you’re not allowed to do any such thing. You are. Of course.

It’s only a matter of how much readers are going to want to interact with you if you do.

For the record, I’m sure that some readers will willingly interact with whatever formal text you may produce. There’s an audience out there for just about anyone and anything if you look hard enough.

However, the audience of people who prefer more matter-of-fact, technical, no-frills, straight-forward writing are dwindling fast. That’s thanks to forces that are largely out of our control: swirling powers of writing energy that go where they go and do what they do without stopping to ask our permission first.

No, honestly, I have no idea who decides these things. I’m sure that someone somewhere does. Maybe there’s a meeting of the publishing minds once a year? Or perhaps it’s all part and parcel of the dictator-wannabe style guides’ desire to take over the world one comma at a time.

Regardless, it is a fact that the number of industries sticking to the old-school straight and narrow aren’t so dominant anymore.

Really, there just aren’t that many of them left out there.

Unknowingly or not, readers are being trained more and more to expect written information that’s packaged the same way spoken information is. This goes beyond using contractions or starting sentences with “and” – two topics I’ve covered before.

It’s more a matter of adding some frills and fun, or at least extras, to the written word.

So, instead of simply stating fact, point or statement A; fact, point or statement B; and then fact, point or statement C… you engagingly intersperse those facts, points and statements with relevant and appropriate stuff like:

  • Stories

  • Questions

  • Scenarios

  • Sarcastic or silly speculation

  • Assumptions about who your reader is (e.g., “If you’re reading this report, you no doubt think you have a green thumb.”)

If you were writing a downloadable guide about parenting, for instance, a likely story might be about the really bad mommy moment your best friend had last week when she was so tired she almost made off with someone else’s kid, thinking he was her own.

Decent questions might include, “Are you (and your wallet) exhausted keeping up with the ‘latest and greatest’ toddler toys?” or “Has your pre-teen kid come up to you yet with a question that practically begs for ‘the talk’?”

And so on.

If that seems too frivolous for you, that’s okay. In this regard, to each their own. Just understand that, by today’s standards, you’re not really writing anything other than a manual or an intensely academic study. Which means that your reach will be limited.

If you’re fine with that, then keep on writing the way you prefer. And let old-school live on.

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