Are You Too Theoretical for Your Market?

I’m guilty as charged!  This is my weakness!  I trained as a scientist and to write as if for a scientific journal is ingrained.  It’s how I think, which makes storytelling difficult!  It is little comfort that many business-owners are too theoretical.

Types of Writing

Let’s start by defining the problem.  There are four types of writing.  They differ in emotional impact, have particular uses and appeal to people in different ways. 

Theoretical Writing

This is default for many writers.  I’m following it in this post.  Theoretical writing is difficult to read because it is, well, boring!  The ideas it expresses may be exciting but the writing is mostly dull.  Why?

The strength of theoretical writing is accuracy.  So, it considers all options and justifies the recommendations it makes.  This makes for cold, clinical, objective language.  It works as background information, equipping the reader with unassailable arguments.  We read to be informed but rarely inspired. 

Technical Writing

This is easier to read than theory but mainly because we have to read it.  Technical writing answers the question, How?  Think of a recipe.  If you follow it, there’s likely to be numbered steps so you keep track of where you have got to following instructions.  Governing documents and legal agreements are other examples of this type of writing.

People read this because they have to.  They applaud instructions that are easy to follow and deplore anything unclear.  So, it shares accuracy with theoretical writing.

Transformative Writing

Transformative writing aims to change things and so packs an emotional punch.  This writing includes stories. It aims to inspire and motivate around a particular problem.

It can be ideologically driven.  Any transformative writer has something in mind they want to change and there is no barrier to taking it to extremes.  This is why this third category should interest business owners more than the first two.  If you want followers, people who take an active interest in your business, use this type of writing.

Transcendental Writing

The focus here is on seeing things differently.  Poetry and religious writing fall into this category.  This writing can be challenging and so for business owners the message is, use it sparingly. 

Mind Your Language!

All four types have uses for business owners.  The trick is not to be confined to one.  Too many, myself included, default to theoretical language and that means people don’t understand us.  Why?  Well. It is hard, especially on a screen, to concentrate on closely argued text, where language is unfamiliar.  And if writing is dull (hard to avoid), where is the incentive to keep reading?

Ideally business owners default to transformational writing and venture from there into other types as appropriate. 

Let’s look at some practical steps:

  • Use stories. Stories convey a lot of information if you prepare them that way and also convey emotion.  They are by far the easiest material to read.
  • Avoid jargon.  Jargon has uses because jargon often has specific meaning.  However, it depends on the reader knowing its meaning.  Even if you provide a glossary with definitions, the reader has to remember what the unfamiliar word means, let alone familiar words with new meanings!  Remember jargon is often used to keep non-specialists out!
  • Use your customer’s language. Even without jargon, text can be incomprehensible because it expresses things in a way unfamiliar to your target market.  How do they describe the things you write about?  It’s not only words that differ.  Your customers may understand the problem you address in a very different way to you.

Too Theoretical?

You may have the solution to a real problem but it is easy to be too theoretical about it.  Don’t assume people are interested in the method you use.  At first they want to know what it does for them.  Do they have the problem?  Would they welcome a solution?  It really doesn’t matter what it’s called or how it works.

Some people want theory before they decide but they ask for it or you offer it.  If you provide proof your approach works, many people take it on trust.

Perhaps this is one of the milder causes of business failure.  It limits the people who listen to you.  They may think you always talk like that, they’ll never understand you and so your offer is not for them.

You need to find a space where people understand your business and make a decision where they sense a good fit.  Your problem may be you expect too much of yourself and of them.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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