In this episode, we talk about how to engage readers right away, even in technical communication. Host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire discuss how we use the Editing Code FRONT to grab attention and keep our readers engaged.
This is the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At OSP, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.
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Identify your main point up front — FRONT Editing Code
The FRONT editing code falls in phase A, the scope & narrative structure phase of the process. It’s about having a clear opening.
Clearly identify your main point or idea up front, in the opening section.
FRONT helps to answer the existential question about why a given piece of content exists. What is its purpose? Set readers’ expectations. State clearly what the next chunks of text are going to be about; don’t waffle or otherwise waste your reader’s time.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but put the FRONT at the front. Sometimes it’s tempting to start with background — a little story about how or why this topic came into creation, but save all that for later. Start with the point. Then follow up with background if you think it’s necessary.
++ FRONT: Smart DevOps practices can help keep you on the right course, now and in the future, by giving you the option to scale smoothly and effectively as your needs and infrastructure grow.
++ FRONT: Creating wireframes and prototypes based on target persona research provides a firmly user-oriented foundation, whether for an entirely new site or a redesign.
As a writer
FRONT is one of the most important parts of a piece of writing, so take your time in articulating what you’re about to say. It helps to get in the heads of your readers to understand the challenges and pain points you’ll be addressing and, hopefully, solving.
FRONT also helps you figure out scope (what you’re not going to say). Communications Consultant Felicity Brand agrees, “As a writer, FRONT is not about small things like word choice. It's a broader, structural look at a piece of writing.”
As an editor
Editors, like writers, should take their time with FRONT. Make sure it really is at the FRONT, and also that it’s as CRISP as can be. Check the brief to make sure the content is on target.
Inventor of the editorial codes Jeffrey A. “jam” McGuire says, “As an editor, FRONT comes in the structural phase of looking at a piece, but I often find myself working on it right at the end.” To be like Jam, scan your entire article from top to bottom and make sure it sums up:
- What the piece was all about
- What readers could do with our information next
- A clear call-to-action or a call-to-value
As a reader
We’ve all seen the statistics about how many milliseconds we have to capture a reader’s attention online before they bounce (spoiler alert: it’s not many!). FRONT is crucial for engaging readers’ attention and ensure they know what the piece is going to tell them right away.
Jam says, “At OSP, we're focused on explaining the business value of technology to a primarily online audience. So I'm very clear and straightforward about what readers are getting into. If you read it and it’s not relevant to you, that's okay! I’m certain we have a different article that would benefit you.”
Creating attention-grabbing communication takes practice — join us!
Using FRONT means putting your important ideas up first, engaging your reader’s attention early on, and setting expectations of what they’re about to read.
We hope you'll come and join us as we keep nerding out about writing, editing, and all things communication!
Building photo by Fernando Lavin.
Transcript thanks to our new robot transcription overlords, who are very helpful, and at least as imperfect as we are. May contain (hilarious or unfortunate) errors.
Carl Richards 0:07
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate Connect grow the OSP podcast.
Carl Richards 0:29
On today's episode, we're talking about presenting your main point upfront with the editing code front, about our podcast if you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about presenting your main point upfront with your writing with our editing code front, the front editing code falls into the scope and narrative structure phase of the editing process. It's about having a clear opening in our documentation about this code, it says, clearly identify your main point or idea upfront in the opening section.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 1:24
My name is Jeffrey A. McGuire. And I very cunningly made it easier to spell by reducing it to three letters, which I am. And I spend a lot of my time at open strategy partners, trying to reduce my tendency to write a lot of words into writing fewer better words, in our editorial system, we need to keep in mind that the majority of what we do is somehow web writing web pages, blogs, landing pages, that sort of thing. And we need to capture someone's attention. And we need to convince them that what we have to say is interesting, or if it's somebody we don't need to be talking with, show them that they can move on and do something better with their day. So front means putting the important ideas up first. And it's really the telling you what I'm going to tell you apart. And I think it goes hand in hand with the other code from the classical editing world, which is lead and not varyingly.
Felicity Brand 2:25
Okay, my name is Felicity brand. And I am a communications consultant at open strategy partners. The front editing code is about putting your main point up front, it's a structural editing code. And that means we're not really looking down at word choice here. We're looking at the way that you've structured your content. So I guess we're talking about the existential question of this piece of content, why does it exist, you want to put that right at the start. And so it's about managing expectations of the reader, you want to engage their attention early, and you want to be clear about what they're about to read.
Christine Beuhler 3:06
I am Christine Bueller. I'm a communications consultant at OSP. I do a lot of writing and editing, making landing pages, blog posts, all that good stuff. So the front code is just about putting your main point of the piece you're writing, just putting it ahead of everything in the opening and just smack, put it right there.
Carl Richards 3:38
Now we're going to look at how this code is used in your typical workday as an editor.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 3:44
As an editor, this idea comes in the structural phase of looking at a piece, but I often find myself working on it right at the end of a given piece. And by that I mean that once I have gone through something from top to bottom, and maybe bottom to top and made sure it's logical and done, whatever else suggested, whatever else I think is needed, I really want to make sure in that case, when I get to the bottom of the article, we sum up what it was all about. And we're very clear about what someone could do with our information next, and then we have a call to action or a call to value. The very last thing in many cases I do is then go back up to the top and look at the introduction and see if it really matches what I just figured out by going through everything and condensing it in the end. And often, I find that there's some tweaking to be done to get the point across in a couple of sentences in one or two or four sentences. To really set the stage for someone who is short on time maybe or like I said needs to decide whether or not to read
Felicity Brand 4:51
this as an editor. When I'm looking at front. I'll be looking at the brief. I'm going to check back to the brief which will articulate the reason for this piece of content existing, then I'm going to go back to that piece and just make sure that we've encapsulated that right at the start. Sometimes it can be tempting to put a background at the start to add context. But really, that can come after, you really want to state the reason for the existence of the piece. At the front, also, as an editor, what I will check is I'll jump down to the last bit of that content. So if it's an 800 piece article, or jump down to the summary, at the end, I want to make sure that that summary is linking back to the front, they kind of need to marry up. And that should be a nice little encapsulated piece that's very clear for the reader to understand, I think,
Christine Beuhler 5:51
as an editor, using the front code is pretty straightforward, you just have to check is the main idea of this piece, is it accurately represented at the very beginning.
Carl Richards 6:08
Let's explore how you can approach this code as a writer.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 6:13
I guess we might say this every time we do this now, but as a writer, the most important thing, especially in the beginning, is just to get the ideas out in in the right order. And we have our own helper technologies for that we have a structured approach. And I'd love to show off our brief and template systems sometime soon and share that if you're self editing or when you're thinking about things. Make sure that in the end, your article is phrased in a way this is what I'm going to tell you this is the important stuff, this is what you can get out of it, all of that right up at the top. And then whatever your article needs to be, and logical and beautiful and perfect. And then the conclusion is, this is what I told you. So I'm going to tell you, I am telling you I told you call to action at the bottom. And the other shot we have at this information is if we're in control of the metadata for the page, the meta description of a page, it's a really good chance to rephrase that point. And so for example, if you highlight the challenge in the opening of your article or the opening of a case study, you might want to highlight the benefits in the metadata. And it's the same set of things. But phrase with a different focus
Felicity Brand 7:23
as a writer, front is important, it will come through from the brief, you want to take your time to get front right front is going to tell you as the writer, it's going to help you with the scope. So you're going to be scoping out your piece at the start knowing what to put in. But also, this is key, what to leave out front is going to help you with the scope of your content. Something else that I wanted to touch on, it's not about word choice. So it's a broader look at placement of paragraphs, placement of sentences within a paragraph. The front editing code encapsulates other editing codes like lead whom and with them. So don't bury the lead home, identifying your audience and with them, what's in it for me. So listeners, please check out our other episodes about those particular editing codes. But the point I wanted to make there was just really about how front is a broader code, looking at the structure of your of your writing, and where the placement of that content is, rather than individual word choice.
Christine Beuhler 8:32
As a writer, I definitely use front at the very beginning when I first start drafting, because you want to clarify to the reader what it is you're about to read about. But for me, it also gives me clarity on what I'm about to dive into the beginning is really the place where you first capture and engage readers interest got to make a good got to make it engaging because they're making the judgment call of Am I going to keep reading this or not?
Carl Richards 9:07
Now this writing code is important to readers for many different reasons.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 9:12
When we do our writing at OSP, we're focusing on Developer Relations and communications, we're focused on explaining the business value of technology to the audience who might be able to make the decision and have the budget and in each case, their needs are a little bit different. We also want people to self qualify or self disqualify themselves. I don't need you to be reading my stuff if you're not interested in whatever the topic is. So if I'm very clear and straightforward about what you're getting into, when you read the teaser for my article or the first paragraph, if that gets you excited, go for it and we'll talk after and if you just don't think you care, then that's also okay because you can come for the next one or find the thing that you that you need. So for me, as a reader, I don't want to hear a whole bunch of backstory and a whole bunch of contexts and conditions and everything. Before we get to the point of the story I need to know, up ahead. So it's kind of the opposite maybe of telling a story somewhere with friends, right? Get to the point, hook them, then be fun and clever. I think as a reader, I appreciate that so I can make quicker decisions.
Felicity Brand 10:23
Front is important to readers, it's about engaging attention early, we live in a digital world, attention spans are short, you want to grab that, which means you don't want to start with your background. It may be tempting to start with context, don't do it. Start with your front upfront. Everything else can come later. However, be authentic, make sure that what you're saying is the front is indeed what that piece of content is about
Christine Beuhler 10:52
the front code is important to readers, because it almost kind of like goes without saying, I think it's still a good reminder that writers always should have at the top of mind, because we've just spent all this time and effort crafting whole piece, I think we kind of like to think of you know, everybody's gonna make it to the end. But that's not always true. And so focusing on the very beginning of the piece, and making it interesting, is really critical. The front code is just a good reminder of that.
Felicity Brand 11:33
Although front is a structural code, make sure you use word choice that makes it compelling, you want to stay crisp, that's another editing code. Engaging readers attention at the front is a structural code, but also you need to make sure you've used some wise word choices in there to capture attention of the reader. Front is a structural editing code. And that can apply to an 800 word article. It can also apply to a one sentence tagline, it can apply to a tweet. It doesn't really matter the size of the piece of content. Whatever the unit is, you can still arrange things so that the main point is up front.
Carl Richards 12:20
I hope that you noticed we put the front at the top of this episode. It's tempting to start with a background story, but more impactful to grab your reader's attention with the point first, then follow up with the background later. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com.
Carl Richards 12:58
This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. We'll be sharing more of them as we go. If you'd like to learn more. In the meantime, come over to open strategy partners.com Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick golmaal for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear from different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover strategic approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful, positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication, connection, and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, thanks for listening To communicate, connect, grow the OSP podcast