How to be Informative When You Write to Inform

We usually identify three main purposes behind every writing piece, and we can do one, two, or even all three in a single piece. Ultimately though, there’s a primary reason why we write something:

  1. We want to inform our audience about a topic or idea, or
  2. We want to entertain or inspire certain feelings in our audience, or
  3. We want to persuade our readers to agree with us about something.

Of those three, “informing” is generally seen as the most straightforward. Invoking emotions can be tricky (unless you’re going for blind rage, I guess), and persuading someone to agree with you can be even more difficult. But just telling people facts?

That seems pretty simple.

Well, yes and no. Setting aside the complicated nature of gathering accurate facts, just slapping them together in a random list isn’t necessarily going to cut it. Rather, effective informative writing should be organized in a way that helps your readers absorb and comprehend what you’re saying.

Basically, you want your readers to be able to understand the topic so they can explain it to others or make use of it in their own lives. Clear, strong informative writing is especially important if you want to convey expertise on a subject.

After all, explaining and educating is essentially Sounding Like an Expert 101. As such, here are three tips you can employ to compose efficient, concise informative writing.

Tip 1: Choose One Major Point You Want to Make.

While long-form works like books could have several big ideas you want to convey, short-form writing is generally more effective if you focus on discussing a single major point.

  • Describe the best way to set up a wireless network at home? Yes.
  • Describe the best way to set up a wireless network at home and examine the differences between fiber optic vs. cable Internet? Probably not.

Also, keep in mind you want to be as precise as possible with your primary point or idea. The specificity helps you ensure you’re including relevant information without overwhelming your readers with too much data.

  • Explain the importance of tanks in World War II’s Battle of Kursk? Yes.
  • Explain the importance of tanks, airplanes, and codebreaking in World War II? I wouldn’t.

Now, it’s not that you can’t tie different topics together in a single, short-form piece; it’s that your main point needs to be focused on something fairly specific. So, looking back at the above example:

  • Explain the importance of tanks in World War II’s Battle of Kursk? Yes.
  • Explain the importance of technological innovation in World War II? Yes. You could then use tanks, planes, and codebreaking as three examples of technological innovation.

Having multiple, different “moving parts” in your whole piece is fine, but you want to tie them together with an overarching premise.

Tip 2: Summarize Your Content in the Opening Paragraphs.

Borrowing from a principle our friends in journalism adhere to, don’t bury the lede in your informative writing. Put the most important information up front so your readers know exactly what they’re getting.

And just what is the most important information? The topic, how you’re defining it, and what they’re going to get out of the piece by reading it.

A good rule of thumb is to introduce your major point and its most salient context within the first couple of hundred words. If your piece is pretty short (fewer than 500–600 words) or if your headline is more esoteric than obvious, the earlier the summary will need to come.

So, for example, the name of this particular blog article is pretty straightforward, and my main idea comes within 170 words of the beginning. But, even before then, I’ve laid the groundwork for the entire piece.

Had the title of this post been “How Informative Are You?” or something similar, I would have gotten to the point even earlier than I did.

Tip 3: Start with the Foundations, Then Build to Details.

Among the many learning and instructional design theories we have, I have found the concepts in elaboration theory to be quite useful for informative writing. Basically, the idea is you start simple and then build your way toward more complex or nuanced details. As you guide you readers along the way, you provide relevant context to help integrate each new piece of information they learn.

Here’s an example of how you could organize an informative essay by relying on elaboration theory.

Let’s say you want to write a blog post about cartography in the 21st century; you could organize your informative article in the following way:

  1. Introduction – identify cartography, provide a definition, and explain its uses
  2. Body paragraph 1 – summarize the most relevant historical aspects of cartography (how the process/discipline came to be)
  3. Body paragraph 2 – discuss recent advances in cartography and how technology is changing its applications
  4. Body paragraph 3 – explore how these recent advances are helping society
  5. Conclusion – re-state the most important details

With this set-up, you will lay out the most foundational concepts for your readers first. Then, as you explain the history and development of cartography, you’ll provide increasingly specific information.

By the time they get to the last body paragraph, your audience will have a solid understanding for how cartography is useful and important in the modern era. They’ll know what it is, how it’s developed, and how it’s changed, thus setting the stage for them to appreciate how the science is currently relevant.

Can You Persuade or Entertain While Informing?

Yes, but as I’ve said before, I recommend choosing one, primary purpose for what you want to accomplish. The reason for that is persuasive or entertaining writing will have different types of information, different organizational schemes, and different tones of voice.

More to Come!

Join me later this week as we shuffle along the road of good writing. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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