Ask An Editor: How Do I Make My Writing Great?

From editorials with no paragraph breaks to sentences with no subjects, there are a lot of writing mistakes that an editor can fix.

We’ll do all we can to help your writing. We can add punctuation, citations, and helping verbs; we can fix your grammar and correct your spelling—but there’s one feature of writing that even the best editor can’t provide for you.

As I do more and more editing and reading, I’ve noticed one element that immediately separates a professional from an amateur. It’s what turns “pretty words” into real, valuable narratives. It’s what turns drab presentations into powerful speeches. It’s what makes readers buy your next book, or click to your next blog post, or look for your column in next week’s paper. It’s what makes your writing great.

This feature is what sticks with your audience long after your “pretty words” have faded in their minds, and your characters’ names have become distant memories. It’s what my dear middle school English teacher called your piece’s “so-what”—and it’s what you need to include in your writing at all costs.

What is a “so-what”?

Your so-what is more than just your purpose in writing. It isn’t about what you’ve written, or even why you’re writing. It’s why your readers should care that you’re writing it.

Sometimes, the content speaks for itself—like in a breaking news report. In this case, the so-what isn’t the news anchor; it’s the newsworthy event.

Other times, the information isn’t so exclusive, and the so-what revolves around who is speaking. Why would readers turn to a politically charged rant from a blogger about the latest bill to make its way through the House when they could hear from the lawmaker who introduced the legislation himself?

In your writing, it’s important that your so-what shines through. Whether you are proving your content or yourself, it should be done early and plainly. Prove to your audience—whether that’s blog viewers, voters, or even your English professor—that they should care before they click away, close the book, or change the TV station. It’s up to you to make sure your readers don’t have to say, “So what?”

So how can you make your audience care?

It’s not as simple as just adding in a sentence or two, and every piece you work on will be different. But here are three ways to help convince your audience that they should care about what you have to say:

1. Have some sort of expertise.

Have you ever read a heated political rant from one of your friends on Facebook who was clearly uniformed about the topic at hand? It’s happened to all of us—and sometimes, it’s better to just to let it go than try to argue.

But you’re less likely to ask “So what?” if you’re hearing an argument or reading a column from someone who has real authority in the field. Maybe they’re a seasoned political journalist or White House adviser, or perhaps they’ve spent their life studying gun policy or climate change.

Part of what makes people credible is their ability to back up their arguments. You’d expect an expert to cite facts and statistics to make their case. If your Facebook friend had included data to back up their own views, would you have been more likely to hear them out?

2. Have a creative, new angle of approach.

Just recently, I was offering some advice to a promising new blogger about what she could do to expand her audience and improve her writing. She was running a blog about feminism, a topic that has admittedly been done over and over again—but she had a new angle.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she had a unique perspective to offer on domestic policies and social restraints on women’s rights. But instead of telling this story, the blogger spent many of their posts regurgitating standard feminist arguments while only sharing a sentence or two about her own perspective.

My advice to her was simple: make the post about you.

Any blogger can pull together an article compiling data—your goal should be to offer your readers something innovative, something they’ve never heard before.

Find a new angle—make it unique, and make it personal. Then when someone asks, “Why should I care about what you have to say?”—you can tell them exactly what this topic means to you, and how your perspective adds value in a content-heavy world.

3. Have new, unique information.

If your opinion lines up with the majority of your readership, then it can be difficult to have a new angle. In this case, it’s time to bring out the big guns: real facts.

You can sanction a study, take a poll, or interview an industry expert—all of these things will give you new information that you can share with your audience (and help you avoid just copying what your competitors are writing about). In addition, providing unique data will help you appear credible to others in your field.

Will this boost my sales/traffic/grade/etc.?

The short answer is a resounding yes. Having a so-what in your writing changes everything for your readers. They’ll not only be more engaged, but they’ll be much more likely to hit share, or recommend the book to a friend, or give you an “A” on the essay.

So before you hit “publish” or send your piece in to be edited, remember to ask yourself: Why should my readers care what I have to say? If the answer shines through in your work, you know you’ve done your job.

How do you stop your readers from asking, “So what?”
Share with me in the comments!

Hey there, writer! Looking for a copyeditor to help you take your project to the next level? I’ve spent the last five years helping authors and businesses optimize their content and connect with readers. Click here to learn more and get in touch.

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