Honing your message: 4 steps to effective communication


So you’ve finished your first draft – congratulations! If you’re like me, it’s a relief to have something down but, chances are, your words don’t come across quite as convincingly as they could.


Welcome to your next mission: honing the message. Whether you’re writing a book, a report, an application or an article, now is the time to reflect on what you are saying and why. To communicate effectively, you need a strong sense of purpose, to know what you want to say and to whom, and a logical structure.

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it’s surprising how often we write without clarifying the why, what, who and how. And our message ends up half formed, tangled between paragraphs and obscured by superfluous detail. 

Once you have a draft, go through these four steps to distil your ideas into a focused and compelling narrative:

Step 1: WHY? What is your purpose? For example, is it to:

  • guide readers (e.g. on how to garden, invest, or parent effectively)?
  • demonstrate something (e.g. success of a particular project)?
  • open people to a new way of thinking?
  • persuade?
  • tell a story?

Step 2: WHO is your audience?

Clarify the people you want to reach as specifically as you can. What will affect the way they read? For example, are they time-rich or time-poor? How educated are they? What sort of language or tone is appropriate? How much will they know about this subject area? And – crucially – why would they read this book/report/article?

Step 3: WHAT is your message? (What do you want readers to take away?)

Summarise your work (be it a book or one-pager) in a sentence or, at most, a short paragraph. This is challenging! But spending time on the process is worthwhile: it forces you to get to the essence of your message. This will keep your writing focused. 

Step 4: HOW to say it most effectively:

Plot out the structure of your work. (The examples below come from a book I’m currently reading: The Strength Switch, by Lea Waters.)

For each chapter/section/paragraph, write down:

  • the purpose (e.g. ‘to show why we slip into negative parenting, and how to override our negative defaults’)
  • the main message (in one sentence – e.g. ‘The Strength Switch is a circuit breaker that helps you focus on your child’s strengths instead of their weaknesses.’)
  • a dot-point summary of your argument/narrative.  

Revise the structure so that:

  • it’s logical
  • it’s easy to navigate
  • similar information appears together
  • repetition is avoided.

These four steps give you the scaffolding around which you will build a logical, compelling narrative. Refer to it often – as you would a blueprint – to focus during subsequent drafts.

May your words pour onto the page,

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