From editorials with no paragraph breaks to sentences with no verbs, there are a lot of writing mistakes that an editor can fix.
We’ll do all we can to help your writing. We can add punctuation, chapter breaks, and helping verbs; we can fix your grammar and correct your spelling—but there’s one feature of writing that we editors can’t (and won’t) fix for you.
As I do more and more editing and reading, I’ve noticed one missing element that immediately separates the professional from the amateur. It’s what turns “pretty words” into real, valuable narratives. It’s what turns drab presentations into powerful speeches. It’s what makes readers buy your next book, or click to your next blog post, or look for your column in next week’s paper.
This feature is what sticks with your audience long after your “pretty words” have faded in their minds, and your characters’ names have become distant memories. It’s what my dear middle school English teacher called “your piece’s ‘so-what'”—and it’s what you need to include in your writing at all costs.
What is a “so what”?
Your so-what is more than just your purpose in writing. It isn’t about what you’ve written, or even why you’re writing. It’s why your readers should care that you’re writing it.
Sometimes, the content speaks for itself—like in a breaking news report. It matters less who is giving the news (so long as they are decently credible), and more about what’s being told. In this case, the so-what is the newsworthy event.
Other times, the information isn’t so exclusive, and the so-what revolves around who is giving the information. Why would readers care about a political rant on a low-audience blog, when they could hear the State of the Union right from the President’s mouth?
In your writing, it’s important that your so-what shines through. Whether you are proving your content or yourself, it should be done early and plainly. Prove to your audience, whether it’s blog viewers or a grading professor, why they should care before they click away, close the book, or change the TV station. It’s up to you to make sure your readers don’t have to say, “So what?”
So how can you make your audience care?
There are three ways:
1. Have (or convince your readers that you have) credibility.
Have you ever read a heated political rant from one of your friends on Facebook and thought “who cares what you have to say?” (Let’s be honest: we’ve all done this.) It’s because the person you saw ranting likely has no credibility in the field of political science—so you can’t bring yourself to care about what they say. So what they don’t like the President’s new bill? So what?
For you to care about this friend’s rant, they’re going to need to have some real authority in this field. Maybe they’re a seasoned political journalist or White House advisor or even a legislator. That would be an easy route to credibility.
But your average friend could also “fake” credibility by implementing some basic rhetoric. Perhaps they could use some facts and statistics, or real quotes to build their ethos. Maybe including a video from a political leader would make them seem more knowledgable about the subject. Would you care about what they had to say then? More than before, at least?
2. Have a creative, new angle of approach.
Just recently, I was offering some advice to a promising new blogger about what she could do to make her posts better, and the first thing I noticed was that she was missing a huge opportunity. You see, she was running a blog about feminism, a topic done over and over again—but she had a new angle.
She belonged to the LGBTQ+ community—meaning that not only was she a woman talking about women’s issues, but she had no relationship to a man that she relied on that tied her down to any opinion. It was golden: she could argue about the wage gap, saying that her children with a fellow female lover should have the same opportunities as children with two fathers, or heterosexual parents; she could argue so many new angles—but instead of making the posts about her side of the story, they were just regurgitating the same old information we always see about feminism, with maybe a sentence or two at the end about her side.
So my advice to her was simple: make the post about you.
No one cares about a small, new blogger who can copy facts from mainstream news sites—but they do care about a writer who can offer them something innovative, and something they’ve never heard before.
You can do the same thing in your writing. Find a new angle—make it unique, and make it personal. Then when someone asks, “Why should I care about what you have to say?”—you can say, “Because I provide an opinion that no one else has.”
3. Have new, unique information.
If your opinion lines up with the majority of your readership, then it can be difficult to have a new angle. In this case, it’s time to bring out the big guns: real facts.
You can perform a study, take a poll, or just talk to important people—all of these will give you new information that you can spread to your audience (and help you avoid just copying what your competitors are writing about). Think about it: would you rather watch a newscast just repeating what you’ve heard all day about an event, or watch an interview with a new source?
(Bonus: new info makes you more credible for future pieces!)
If you can spice your writing up with never-before-seen facts, your readers will be interested in what you have to say, and may even come back for more.
Will this boost my sales/traffic/grade/etc.?
The short answer is a resounding yes. Having a so-what in your writing changes everything for your readers. They’ll not only be more engaged, but they’ll be more forgivable to petty mistakes, and much more likely to hit share, or recommend the book to a friend, or give you an “A” on the essay.
So before you hit “publish,” or send it in to be edited, remember to ask yourself: Why do my readers care what I have to say? If the answer shines through in your work, you know you’ve done your job.
How can you stop your readers from saying, “So what?” Share in the comments!