Writing about your ideas – ten rules to keep it simple

30 March, 2021

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to continue this series about writing for the web.

But then I spotted an article in Property Week that asked eight practices to ‘rethink’ a 80,000 sq ft department store, and gave each around 400 words to explain their ideas.

This was a brilliant opportunity for the practices including HOK, Hawkins/Brown and TP Bennett, to pitch their concepts to the PW audience – some of whom are actively looking for solutions to the demise of these huge stores.

This is not a critique of their ideas – someone else can do that – but purely my observations about some classic traps practices fall into when they are asked to write for a non-architectural audience and some basic rules to follow.

All the text examples are taken from the practices’ submissions.

Rule One 

Fit your writing style to the audience.

In this example, the purpose is to provide a lively article for Property Week, a well-known business to business magazine while showing architectural expertise.

A quick look at the publication will reveal that its tone is approachable and comprehensible, even if it’s dealing with quite complex subjects. You do not need to copy the PW style – no one is expecting you to write like journalists – but you do need a style that will resonate with the PW readers, busy, commercially-minded people who have a healthy disregard for flummery and bullshit.

Rule Two

Make a note of the points you want to make in a logical order. And before you do ask yourself the following:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • What is unique about my idea?
  • What are the essential points you need to make?

This will help you craft that all important first paragraph.

Rule Three

Remember, most people don’t read, they scan.

On average only 28% of text is read so your words need to grab attention immediately.

So do not open with: “The agora was a central public space in ancient Greek city-states. The literal meaning of the word agora is ‘gathering place’ or ‘assembly’. It was the centre of the athletic, artistic, business, social, spiritual and political life of the city.”

Or

“The ‘Department of Digital Futures’ brings complex technology and information science to town centres, reactivating department stores to serve multiple facets of the local community.”

Rule Four.

Be simple and use familiar vocabulary.

Avoid buzzwords – and these are all taken from  the PW submissions –  such as “ecology of start ups”, “innovation hotspots”, various types of “hub”, and “curate” because you think they sound more profound than workspace, meeting place or someone who puts on events.

Nothing annoys people more than a simple idea dressed up in pretentious language.

Rule Five

Avoid over-complicated words like “neo-essentialist community enclave” – whatever that means – and verbs like ‘blurring’ and ‘condensing’ in the same sentence, which are ill advised when talking about bricks and mortar. And words that make you stop half-way through the sentence such as “foregrounding staircases”.

Rule Six

Avoid all the following words:

Relevant, iconic, curated, energetic, interconnected, vital, bijou, animate, social loci, seamless zones, unique opportunity, multifunctional, innovation hotspots, dynamic learning spine.

Rule Seven

Steer clear of specialist jargon,  such as “perimeter lift shaft” and “building envelope”, even if you think it will be understood by the PW readership.

 Rule Eight  

Leave your opinions for opinion pieces.

What is happening to department stores is dramatic and will take decades to resolve. Stick to the brief.

Rule Nine

It’s always useful to imagine you’re talking to your audience about your idea in person and then ask yourself would you really start with an opener like:

“Offering high street access to powerful digital intelligence and data, usually exclusive to innovation hotspots, levels the playing field for opportunity between regions”.

Rule Ten

Simplicity is difficult. But it can be just as intelligent and sophisticated as complexity – if not more so.