Acquiring readers and developing their loyalty via editorial empathy
Let there be no mistake: a well-presented text is not enough. Once the reader is comfortable with your page layout, the real reading process begins… but can quickly be cut short if your content doesn’t resonate with your reader. A staid style, a sensationalist approach, vague information or even overly-dry storytelling, and the internet user immediately gives up on your article. Why are they here? What do they expect to get out of your content? How can you offer them an enjoyable and rewarding read? Empathic writing consists of concentrating on reader expectations from start to finish.
Writing is like tightrope walking. Identifying where reader expectations and your own objectives meet. If they are overly conspicuous, internet users flee, and if they are concealed, your content is shorn of its raison d’être. Empathic writing consciously shifts the balance in favour of the reader, without forgetting the desired goal after the content has been consumed. Siding with readers enables optimal identification of key messages, style, story, etc. that will appeal to them, then win them over to your point of view.
Humans are naturally self-centred. They will more easily be interested in issues with a close connection to them - geographical, professional, recent and relevant to their daily lives. If possible, introducing a local touch to your writing will inevitably increase interest. The most common factor is impact on everyday life: what will this event / this product / this fact change in your reader’s life?
Hearing from humans in your writing is a good way to create a close connection: personal accounts, interviews, quotations, etc. allow real people to speak. They then address readers, either throughout the article or occasionally. This creates interest and reinforces the truthfulness of your writing: someone who directly witnesses a situation is more trustworthy and credible that an outsider.
Appealing to emotions and senses in your descriptions creates immediate complicity with the reader. If the narration is gripping, your article turns into a story… and you a storyteller! Unlike the rules of traditional writing that require concision (see below) storytelling aims to hook readers using the passion stirred up by its prose. This narrative method is widely used to tell anecdotes, the history of a business, a journey, an experience, or even a look behind the scenes of an event.
But favouring effectiveness over storytelling is necessary if you’re targeting busy readers. In this case, concision and immediacy are what we need. Are your readers short on time? If so, key information should be included at the start of your article, even if this isn’t what you want to do or are used to doing. In fact, it’s better for an internet user to read only the first third of your article than nothing at all. At the same time, feel free to cut down the first draft of your text via successive proofreading, improving awkward turns of phrase, eliminating generalities and avoiding going off-topic.
There is no editorial “magic spell” that will guarantee your readers are happy. Writers have a large number of tools and methods, but they won’t all be suited to the type of content being written or the group of readers being targeted. Never forget that you’re writing for them and through them. Some people like the sound of their spoken voice, others their written voice. This attitude must be abandoned: in empathic writing, writers place their readers ahead of themselves.
The empatic editorial charter, or how to pamper your writers
An editorial charter is a document used to formalise the practices to be followed regarding the editorial line of a communicating organisation. It is designed for writers and is the key to your editorial flow, from collection of raw information to the finished article. Too often perceived as austere and restrictive, a charter can be made empathic, based on writers’ actual expectations and practices.
More than a mere collection of good practices, it then becomes an essential standard used positively on a daily basis. Empathic writing can be used when drawing up an editorial charter. After all, writers are the main users of this document: as readers themselves, why wouldn’t they be entitled to the same benevolence as their target readership? For there to be overall editorial consistency, the raison d’être of a charter, this reference document must be empathically designed. Essential in a multi-writer logistical set-up, your editorial charter examines the following issues:
- I.D.: this marketing-oriented section is very to the point and highlights your target readers, your positioning and the objectives of the related communications medium. Feel free to include the description of the personas and reading scenarios in the appendices.
- EDITORIAL LINE: the heart of your charter, listing the information used by writers every day. This includes the key messages, tone and style to be used, lexical field and syntax rules. If there is a glossary of business terms, it should be included in the appendices.
- LOGISTICS: the description of your editorial production line, used to identify who does what and when, the input/output of each stage, and the expected frequency of publication. If necessary, your annual communication plan will be included in the appendices.
- GOOD S.E.O. AND ACCESSIBILITY PRACTICES: the full list of editorial rules to be followed to guarantee accessibility for blind/visually-impaired readers and optimal SEO. These rules are not hard to follow, are a question of editorial common sense, and are very easy to understand with a moderate effort.
How can such dense content be made empathic? An austere and nondescript charter will be unattractive and rarely used, due to disinterest and lack of credibility. On top of presentation and content, which must comply with good editorial practices, there are three key points to keep in mind: Think “reading levels”, by including the data consulted in the appendices from time to time, so as to leave space for useful everyday information in the main document. Adopt a resolutely writer-centred approach, by interviewing people on their working habits and / or observing them in real-life situations.
This will improve your document’s organisation and presentation. Ideally, directly involve writers in creating the editorial charter (consultation, opinions, workshops, etc.) Stick to r al-life situations as much as possible, by drawing parallels between the writing process and the writing tool. For example, it’s worth illustrating good SEO practice by drawing arrows to the relevant input fields in your back-office screenshots.
It’s also worth directly including context-relevant charter information summaries in the content management tool. Following these few recommendations will prevent your charter from being austere, making it more attractive and practical. An editorial charter must be “bedside reading” for your writers, the document they instinctively turn to whenever they have questions about their writing.
Providing an enjoyable charter, designed for them, will favour this approach. In brief, empathising with writers in the charter designed for them goes hand in hand with reader empathy, the spearhead of your editorial line. This contributes to spreading a positive philosophy to every level of your logistics, from production to writing. Your writers need to embrace editorial empathy to practice it naturally, including in their everyday work.
Illustrator: Julie Vuillaume, Web designer – SQLI
Published in Siècle Digital