You never know who will read what you write. Even if your initial purpose in writing is not to market your firm, what you say and how you say it could have either a positive or negative effect on the reader. The person who reads your blog, article, letter, press release, marketing email or web page could be your next biggest client…or NOT! Don’t take a chance! Consider these tips for persuasive writing in almost every written document that leaves your office. And of course, remember to use Spell/Grammar Check!
Begin with something that grabs attention and makes the reader want to keep reading. A busy reader might only read the first 2-3 sentences you write. If it’s boring and all about you or your firm, chances are they won’t go any farther. Or they will just skim the contents to find something they have to know.
Put the most important information first. If your reader does stop after the first paragraph, will he/she have the most important information that you want to communicate? Another trick in a longer piece is to make bold headers for related paragraphs that, by themselves, tell the whole story. Are you ever guilty of just reading the headers? I thought so! And do your eyes go straight to the PS., if there is one? Include a PS. in bold at the bottom, when there’s an important point you want to add or repeat.
Begin paragraphs or sentences with words like “You,” “Your business,” or “Clients,” rather than the name of your firm or pronouns like “We, Our or I” that refer to you. Write about your firm in terms of what you can do for the reader, not what ”our firm” has done for others or what “we” have been recognized for. Point out how the reader will benefit from what is different or unique about your firm. Remember, you’ll keep prospective clients or even current clients reading longer if it’s all about them!
Use as few words as possible to make your point. Go over what you’ve written and look for “filler” words and phrases that don’t really add anything to the content. Examples are: “You should know,” “Also,” “At this time,” “In other words,” or “As previously stated.” This sentence, “We have successfully collected upon judgments from other states where the judgment debtors moved to ______ (sister state judgments),” could be shortened to, “Your sister state judgments are promptly collected.”
Watch out for unneeded repetition of words or phrases. In legal documents, it’s often necessary to use exactly the same words in the same order over and over again, or order for there to be no doubt as to the legal veracity or accuracy of what is being said, and that no loopholes are possible in the meaning of the content. But that doesn’t have to be true in everything you write. Did the author of this webpage really need to say “Payment(s)” four times to get the point across? “Using our Payment Center, you can make payments, get payment information, or utilize our forms to submit the information you need to make payments,” How about “Payment Center: Information and forms needed to make payments available here.”
Translate most legal jargon into “plain English.” Think of your least sophisticated readers and whether or not they will easily understand what you or saying, or if they will feel like they need a legal dictionary close at hand. This paragraph is an example of both unneeded repetition and legal jargon: “Special rules requiring actual service of notice of exemption rights on judgment debtors exist that require service of the court system’s judgment debtor booklet on the judgment debtor prior to, at the time of, or within three days after the levy on the judgment debtor’s property.”
Use action verbs and the present tense whenever possible. “We collect…,” vs, “We have been collecting…,” or Our mission is…” vs. “Our mission remains to be…” will make your writing seem more authoritative and relevant. Lists of action verbs that can aid your marketing efforts can be found online.
Okay! Think about it! Did you read the bold headers first? Did your eyes go straight to the bottom when you saw there was a PS.? Did you skim some of the longer paragraphs in this blog? I rest my case!
By Marti Lythgoe, NL Editor
PS. Keep it simple. Get your point across, while you save time for your readers and yourself!