If you are writing in business, you will be writing about something – providing instructions, explaining technology, or promoting products. To do this effectively, you not only have to write well, but you also have to understand how people read – you will have to know something about page, web, and graphic design because your words will not just appear in book or ebook format. Information about how people read is readily available if you do a little research.
Know the “Best Practices”
While working as a contractor recently, I wrote some online newsletter articles according to what professional writers in business call “best practices.” For example, I used subheads because people do not read a web page in the same way they read a page in a book. Thinking everybody knew this, including the client, I was astonished when the agency called me, asking me to remove all the subheads from the articles.
Normally I do what I am told, but this was just too wrong. I jumped on the internet and within 15 minutes had a dozen articles explaining why subheads on web pages were important based on recent eye-tracking research. I copied the one with the most scientific-looking charts and diagrams and shot it back to the agency, which in turn sent it to the client, and the subheads stayed.
Using Research in Company Power Games
I knew what to do in the subhead situation because I had seen this power play before. When I first started out in a relatively new company, either management or the engineers were always telling us how to set up our documents. Finally my manager got disgusted and assigned me to do research on how people actually read the printed page (what kind of typeface to use, how much spacing to allow, etc.). We found, for example, that engineers prefer san serif while other readers tend to find serif easier to read.
I was able to compile a nifty little report from both government and industry sources (publishers want their pages to be as readable as possible, at least in hardcover editions), and after my manager presented the report, we were instant experts and were never questioned again. We had won the power game. A happy coda to this story is that one of my colleagues applied for another job and took the report with her to show to her prospective bosses. She told me (after she got the job) that everyone at the new company was extremely impressed.