Story time isn’t just for kids
A picture paints a thousand words, but what if you only have words to create engaging content? Can you still draw your reader into the story you’re telling? Of course you can. Examples and anecdotes add colour and personality to all types of written communication from corporate reports, blogs – even technical writing.
When it comes to business communications, a good anecdote, or real-life example, can turn what may have been a bland, highly technical slab of words into something to which any reader can relate.
Recently I had to try and teach a group of students how to use evidence in writing essays. I’d lost their attention within two minutes so I had to find a way to re-engage them quickly. Rather than death-by-PowerPoint, I decided to tell them a story about how I had to make a pitch to a funding body so we could get money to run a breakfast program. Showing them, not telling them, how I had to craft a persuasive argument backed up with evidence, taught them more than any whiz-bang presentation could ever do.
As well as making your copy or presentation more engaging, using anecdotes and examples to back up statements of fact can add value to your writing. They help make statements clearer, give readers more information, and decrease the chances of the idea being wrongly applied to real-life situations. Even one anecdote can transform drab copy into something that resonates with the reader.
The easiest way to keep your writing specific and concrete is to use specific examples or anecdotes whenever possible. For instance, if you’re writing something extremely technical, try to incorporate into your copy an example of how whatever it is you are trying to explain is used in the real world. Or find an anecdote about how an individual has experienced what you are highlighting, in their work or everyday life. Put more simply, write about people and what they actually do, not just about ideas or concepts.
Examples and anecdotes focus your readers’ attention on the specifics, and because they are usually more entertaining than generalisations, readers will pay more attention to what you are trying to convey.
A well-written anecdote or example lets the reader see and hear something that really happened – it illustrates how people may act or react in certain situations and gives the reader a sense of being there and living through the experience.
Using personal recollections, fieldwork, or research stories is a great way to introduce readers to what you’re going to write about. Although it goes against the grain of most business communications to make it personal, showing your humanity can work for you, rather than against you. As well as adding a little oomph to what might otherwise have been ‘vanilla’ information, a good anecdote or example can help find that common ground between the personal and the technical.