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Wednesday Genius

Wednesday Genius

Jessica Barnaby

Aug 22, 2019


How to Journal for Business Success: The Ultimate Guide

Techniques that power-up your business strategy.

I killed another ghost last week.

I did it with a notebook and pen, and the deed was done in half an hour.

A business journal is one of the most powerful resources in your business toolkit:

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Our Exclusive Writing Notebooks are HANDMADE IN ITALY with premium thick 70g IVORY PAPER to ensure NO bleeding and EASY writing with a pen or pencil. The luxurious hardcover DOESN’T have any bad smells and the durable CRAFTSMANSHIP protects your precious ideas.

The handmade GOLD & COPPER hardcover makes you WANT to write, draw, express yourself WITHOUT limits and soon you REALIZE that all the 224 lined pages are FILLED your beautiful ideas which would have been LOST otherwise.

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The first thing I enjoyed when I received my 2020 planner was opening the package. It was like opening a gift. A real box, then beautiful color wrap, then my journal. Dont get that "unwrapping" experience any more. Then a thank you note offering a free pen. For the planner itself, it is a perfect size for my purse but larger than pocket size, the pages are high quality. I wanted a pen loop, so thats a great feature. The one thing I wish were different was that the back cover inner pocket was sturdier. The full month pages are grouped together instead of each month being with the weekly pages, which is not what I'm used to, so dont know yet if that's a plus or minus. The planner starts with December, so I can start using soon (thank you). My # 1 reason for ordering this was how it has the weekly view on the left page, and the entire right side can be a "to do" or whatever list/notes. If I dont get a task done on one day, I dont have to move it to another day, but more of a list for entire week. The quality is exceptional. Extremely worth the price. I'm excited!!

Jeanne Moses

I ordered this journal in lieu of a card to congratulate the President of our company on moving into a different position within the company after 26 years. Every associate wrote a memory, good luck in the new position, or just plain old accolades to this person. We are presenting to her this afternoon at a company wide celebration party. I'm sure she will love the comments, thoughts and encouragement provided by everyone. It's definitely a perfect keepsake.

As another reviewer stated, it really is like unwrapping a present! Everything about this journal is beautiful - from the lovely packaging to the journal itself. I purchased the Baroque-Gold and already have the Baroque-Copper in my cart! I'll definitely be giving several as gifts this holiday season as well as birthdays! ***Please continue to add more designs to your collection and keep making these exquisite journals! They'll easily find loving homes! ;-)

Craft Your Content

How Writers Can Use a Business Journal to Achieve Their Goals

business writing journals

Let’s be honest, the world of writing and entrepreneurship can be lonely, confusing, and sometimes downright difficult and scary. 

It’s hard to stay motivated and inspired all the time, no matter how experienced you are.

Writing and entrepreneurship each have their unique challenges. 

On the one hand, as a writer, you need to master the craft not only of writing, but the type of writing you do. 

And on the other hand, as an entrepreneur, you need the skills to build and grow your business, such as marketing, getting clients, and managing finances. 

It’s easy to get caught up in one and ignore the other. But to build a business and be successful, writers and entrepreneurs have to combine these two mindsets and skill sets. 

Imagine asking two strangers to get married. And then expecting them to be compatible, uplift each other, and be successful. (No pressure.) 

The reality would likely be very different. 

For many, merging writing and entrepreneurship is like this marriage of two strangers—it’s tricky to marry the two worlds. You’re usually good at one and lousy at the other. And yet, fitting them together is essential to your success. 

So what can you do? 

Since ancient times, maritime captains have kept logbooks. Each journal contains detailed accounts of every aspect of the vessel, crew, and journey. It provides essential information for problem-solving in the event of difficulty or disaster. Plus, it is a treasure chest of resources for future trips and generations. 

You’re a captain, too, steering the ship of your writing business to a destination you’ve envisioned. 

Logbooks have faithfully served countless captains past and present. Plus, they’ve made meaningful contributions to the development of vessels and the way we travel. 

A captain’s logbook is a worthwhile companion for you, too. 

In other words, I’m suggesting you keep your own version of a captain’s logbook—a business journal.

What Is a Business Journal and Why Should You Use One?

business writing journals

A business journal is not the same as other types of journals you may keep for a brain dump, self-reflection, or free writing. 

It has a specific purpose.

Like a logbook, it helps you maintain a holistic focus on all aspects of your skills and business. It tethers them so you don’t get lost in one and neglect the others. The result is that you’ll keep moving in the direction of your vision and goals. 

Keeping a business journal lets you merge the worlds of writing and entrepreneurship. It helps them to get along and enrich each other so you can achieve the life or business goals you planned. 

Think of your writing as your ship; it’s the vessel taking you to your destination. How you manage and operate your ship and adapt to the conditions around you is the way you run your business. It will determine how (and if) you get there. 

What Can You Include in Your Business Journal and How Will It Help You?

A captain’s logbook contains essential sections that need to be recorded. Think of it as the vital statistics (and then some) of the journey. Capturing all these details is what makes a logbook such an effective document. 

The same applies to your journal. To help you make the most of your journal, here are some guidelines. You may choose to leave some of these sections out or add in others. It’s up to you to adapt it according to your needs and your business.

Vision and Goals: What Is Your Destination and How Will You Navigate?

business journaling

When a ship sets sail from the harbor, the captain’s sights are set on the final destination. 

All captains have a route planned with navigation points to guide them on their journey. Even the brave explorers who were sailing new routes and exploring for the first time planned ahead. They may have adjusted their course, but they had a plan to work from. 

You’re in the same boat (pun totally intended). Your vision for your business is your destination and your goals are your navigation points to keep you traveling in the right direction.

Keep your vision and goals in your journal so you can refer to them easily. Check in regularly to see if your work aligns with them and make sure they’re still relevant. From here, you’ll see your progress and if you need to adjust your course. 

Ideas: How Will You Adjust Your Sails?

A captain adjusts their sails according to the weather and the winds. They may hoist the sails, adjust the position, or drop them. Knowing where the sails should be keeps the ship moving. 

Keep all your ideas in your journal. No matter how big, small, or absurd, when something pops into your head, put it in your journal. 

You’ll free your mind from the burden of trying to remember your ideas and create space for more ideas. 

When you have time, return to them and flesh them out in greater detail. This gives you the chance to see if and how they’ll work. It helps you to make connections as well as see which ideas you should develop and which can be thrown away. 

You’re identifying which ideas to hoist up so the wind can take you forward and which ones to drop to prevent you from sailing in the wrong direction.

By keeping a chest of ideas, you’ll always have fresh material for new projects. As one project ends, you are able to pitch and get started on the next to maintain a steady flow of work. You’ll also keep your work and business interesting with new ways to grow and prevent you from stagnating. 

Insights: How Do You Make Sense of the Weather and Waves?

business journaling

A ship is at the mercy of the elements. A captain must constantly observe and track the weather and ocean currents to make the most of the conditions and continue forward. As they do, they learn more about sailing in all types of conditions and can add this information to their bank of experience and knowledge. 

Experience is one of the finest teachers, and the best way to learn something is to do it. At the intersection of theory and practice, you gain insight and understanding. 

If, for example, you decide you want to write better headlines, you’ll learn and practice how to do this. As you practice what you learn and focus on writing and reading more headlines, you’ll likely observe why certain techniques work and others don’t. 

Record your insights and “light bulb moments.” This helps you remember, process, and integrate these lessons for future projects and strategies. You’ll also reinforce what you are learning.

Reflection and Feedback: What Is Your Ship’s Position and Movement?

The ship’s position and movement in the ocean is recorded daily. If conditions are bad, they’re recorded throughout the day. It helps the captain and crew to preempt and adjust their actions and course if necessary. They’re solution-focused.

Your reflections help you understand your line of thinking during a project and the decisions you made. 

When you slow down and take notice of them, you can see their impact on your business. As you move forward, you can avoid repeating mistakes, identify methods that worked well, and improve your process and productivity. 

You can record your reflections at any time—that’s what a journal is for. But there are significant times to reflect. For example, when you hit a snag, overcome a challenge, reach a project milestone, and when you complete a project. 

To make the most of your reflection time, there are three important questions to ask yourself:

1.  What worked well in this article or project?

2.  What didn’t work well?

3.  What can I do differently next time to make it better? (Even if you list one thing, that’s fine.) 

These questions give you clarity and material to work with to keep you moving forward. 

Also, record your achievements, wins and losses, and feedback from clients, whether it’s good, bad, or otherwise. 

Feedback from clients helps you identify what worked well and what didn’t. It helps you pinpoint preferences and quirks specific clients have. 

You want to learn from your mistakes and repeat processes that worked. 

Collectively, this information helps you serve your clients better. You can use it to get repeat business, build long-term client relationships, and find better clients.

Content and Material Reservoir: What Is in Your Inventory?

business journaling

Whether on a voyage of discovery, trade, or war, the ship’s inventory is vital. The health and survival of the crew and the success of the journey depend on a well-run inventory. 

Logbooks even contain details of the ship’s inventory and how it’s used. They definitely don’t want to run out of supplies in the middle of the ocean. The crew knows what they have available, what to replenish at the next port, and how to plan for future trips. 

When you work on a project, you often have material left over. It could be extra content that didn’t make the final edit. Or it’s great ideas that weren’t the right fit. Maybe you have interviews you couldn’t incorporate, but they contain valuable information.

Don’t let it go to waste. Keep it in the hold and do stock checks regularly. 

Brainstorm how you can use it or repurpose it for future projects ; it could work for existing or new clients. You can pitch new ideas to clients or use it to add to and extend existing projects. Clients may appreciate it if you’re preemptive.

Think ahead and use your extra material to keep your project pipeline full.

Inspiration: How Will You Refuel Your Creative Tank?

Life aboard a ship can be tough, so it’s important to find inspiration. 

There are many captains who steal a moment at sunrise or gaze at the star-studded sky and capture their thoughts or the beauty around them in words or pictures. It helps them remember what they love or why they sail the oceans.

These moments give them motivation to sail for another day. 

There are times when you’re tired, busy, or unmotivated. Even the Energizer Bunny runs flat sometimes. 

Collect things that inspire you in your journal. It could be a quote. You may love the way someone wrote a paragraph or the design of a website, or a picture or logo—anything that sparks a light and joy when you see it. When your enthusiasm wanes, you have inspiration at your fingertips to refuel your creative flame.

How Do You Start and Keep a Business Journal?


A business journal is as unique as you and your business, so there is no exact or right way to keep one. Here are some tips to help you get started and maintain your journaling discipline: 

Paper, Digital, or Both?  

Using a paper journal is powerful. The action of writing is slower and makes you and your brain slow down, too. You’re able to process the thoughts you’re writing and connect with them on a deeper level. 

A business journal is meant to make you slow down, think deeply, and reflect on your work. Working on paper complements the purpose of your business journal.

A business journal is only effective when it’s used. Keeping a digital journal may be easier and more convenient. You can save information, screenshots, links, emails, and feedback from clients (for the awesome work you’ve done). Plus, you may find it’s quicker to type into a digital journal and be able to access it from any device when you need to. 

There are many note-taking and journal apps you can use. If this method works for you, go for it. 

If you can’t decide if you prefer paper or digital, it’s okay—use both. Many people combine a paper journal with a note-taking app and find it works well. 

And if you’re a stationery addict, like many writers are, this next bit of information will get you excited. 

You can get a smart notebook so you don’t have to choose between methods. This specially designed journal gives you the best of both worlds. You write on the pages of your journal with a smart pen (which feels like a normal pen) and your work is uploaded and saved to your device. You can return to it later, edit it, and share it, making it easy to toggle between paper and digital. 

Make It a Discipline 

To get the most out of your journal, use it regularly and make it a habit. You may start out with enthusiasm, but when that runs out or you’re busy, it can fall by the wayside. 

Have a system in place and decide how often you will use your business journal. It doesn’t have to be every day, but do have set days and times to spend time with your journal. 

Have a Template 

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Does the thought of keeping a journal make you want to squirm and run to bathe the cat instead? It’s probably the fear of the blank page. Having a template is a great way to conquer the blank page and get you writing.

For each section of your journal, have a few headings, questions, or prompts. This way, when you journal, you “hit the page writing.” You don’t have to think about where to start or what to write. A template makes your journaling session more focused and productive. 

Make It Easy to Use 

Before you rush out and buy an expensive journal, think about whether you will use it. There are countless people who buy them and then feel that what they have to write is not worthy of their fancy journals. Or they don’t want to deface their beautiful pages with their chicken scrawl handwriting. 

Journals want to be used. They’re begging you to fill their pages with the ruminations of your mind. So, if a fancy expensive journal will make you think twice before using it, get a cheap one that you won’t be afraid to use. 

Have fun and make it easy. It’s your logbook. It doesn’t have to contain award-winning writing, good grammar, or proper sentences. Your journal will understand whatever you write in it, as long as it makes sense to you. It can be a mind map, bullet points, doodles, or have pictures and notes on napkins stuck in it. 

You may write about certain things in depth but use bullet points and mind maps, too. They’re quick to get on the page and easy to scan when you review your journal. 

How Will You Make the Most of Your Business Journal?

business journaling

There are several projects underway where logbooks from voyages in the 18th and 19th centuries are being transcribed and captured digitally. 

Scientists discovered that these old journals contain meticulous notes about climate and the environment. They’re using this wealth of information to study and understand weather patterns and improve their knowledge and predictions of climate change.

Once the pages are full, a logbook should not sit on a shelf and never be opened again. It’s a living, working document. These projects prove this.

Your business journal is also a living, working document meant to be used and reviewed again and again. 

Keep your journal in a place that’s easy to get to. Once the pages are full, don’t pack it away. Put a date on the spine and the cover. Use it as a reference and textbook, and return to it regularly. It tells the story of your growth and development and will continue to help you build and grow as you move forward. 

As a writer and entrepreneur, you have many balls to juggle. Your journal gives you a complete view of your business and helps you keep an eye on all the balls. This will help you give each of them the attention they need.

With a business journal, you also become more intentional about the way you run and grow your business. By giving yourself regular pauses to use your journal, you focus and think about what you’re doing and how it affects your business. Instead of getting caught in the busyness trap, you’re more purposeful in your actions and decisions. 

To get started, use one or two of these suggestions, if it feels overwhelming, or all of them. Add in your own. It’s yours and is as unique as you and your business. 

Remember, you are the captain of your ship. Try journaling for one month and review it to see how it helped you. And when you find yourself sailing off to the horizon to live happily ever after, it will be a total win.

About the Author Hayley Michaels

Hayley Michaels is a freelance content writer for hire. She creates blog posts, content and articles for the beauty, wellness and self-development industries. She has also run her own beauty and wellness business for the past 18 years. But what she loves most is the challenge of using words to persuade, motivate and inspire. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her with her nose in a book or hanging out with her gorgeous kiddo and their four crazy pets.

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The Science of Strong Business Writing

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Lessons from neurobiology

Brain scans are showing us in new detail exactly what entices readers. Scientists can see a group of midbrain neurons—the “reward circuit”—light up as people respond to everything from a simple metaphor to an unexpected story twist. The big takeaway? Whether you’re crafting an email to a colleague or an important report for the board, you can write in a way that delights readers on a primal level, releasing pleasure chemicals in their brains.

Bill Birchard is an author and writing coach who’s worked with many successful businesspeople. He’s drawn on that experience and his review of the scientific literature to identify eight features of satisfying writing: simplicity, specificity, surprise, stirring language, seductiveness, smart ideas, social content, and storytelling. In this article, he shares tips for using those eight S’s to captivate readers and help your message stick.

Strong writing skills are essential for anyone in business. You need them to effectively communicate with colleagues, employees, and bosses and to sell any ideas, products, or services you’re offering.

Many people, especially in the corporate world, think good writing is an art—and that those who do it well have an innate talent they’ve nurtured through experience, intuition, and a habit of reading often and widely. But every day we’re learning more about the science of good writing. Advances in neurobiology and psychology show, with data and in images, exactly how the brain responds to words, phrases, and stories. And the criteria for making better writing choices are more objective than you might think.

Good writing gets the reader’s dopa­mine flowing in the area of the brain known as the reward circuit. Great writing releases opioids that turn on reward hot spots. Just like good food, a sooth­ing bath, or an enveloping hug, well-­executed prose makes us feel pleasure, which makes us want to keep reading.

Most of the rules you learned in school—“Show, don’t tell” or “Use the active voice”—still hold. But the reasons they do are now clearer. Scientists using MRI and PET machines can literally see how reward regions clustered in the mid­brain light up when people read certain types of writing or hear it spoken aloud. Each word, phrase, or idea acts as a stimulus, causing the brain to instantly answer a stream of questions: Does this promise value? Will I like it? Can I learn from it?

Kent Berridge, a pioneering University of Michigan psychologist and neuroscientist, notes that researchers originally believed that the reward circuit largely handled sensory cues. But, he explains, “it’s become clear in the past 50 years from neuroimaging studies that all kinds of social and cultural rewards can also activate this system.”

Whether it’s a succinct declarative statement in an email or a complex argument in a report, your own writing has the potential to light up the neural circuitry of your readers’ brains. (The same is true if you read the words to an audience.) The magic happens when prose has one or more of these characteristics: It’s simple, specific, surprising, stirring, seductive, smart, social, or story-­driven. In my work as an author and a writing coach for businesspeople, I’ve found those eight S’s to be hallmarks of the best writing. And scientific evidence backs up their power.

“Keep it simple.” This classic piece of writing advice stands on the most basic neuroscience research. Simplicity increases what scientists call the brain’s “processing fluency.” Short sentences, familiar words, and clean syntax ensure that the reader doesn’t have to exert too much brainpower to understand your meaning.

By contrast, studies have shown that sentences with clauses nested in the middle take longer to read and cause more comprehension mistakes. Ditto for most sentences in the passive voice. If you write “Profits are loved by investors,” for example, instead of “Investors love profits,” you’re switching the standard positions of the verb and the direct object. That can cut comprehension accuracy by 10% and take a tenth of a second longer to read.

business writing journals

Tsuyoshi Okuhara, of the University of Tokyo, teamed with colleagues to ask 400 people aged 40 to 69 to read about how to exercise for better health. Half the group got long-winded, somewhat technical material. The other half got an easy-to-read edit of the same content. The group reading the simple version—with shorter words and sentences, among other things—scored higher on self-efficacy: They expressed more confidence in succeeding.

Even more noteworthy: Humans learn from experience that simpler explanations are not always right, but they usually are. Andrey Kolmogorov, a Russian mathematician, proved decades ago that people infer that simpler patterns yield better predictions, explanations, and decisions. That means you’re more persuasive when you reduce overdressed ideas to their naked state.

Cutting extraneous words and using the active voice are two ways to keep it simple. Another tactic is to drill down to what’s really salient and scrap tangential details. Let’s say you have researched crossover markets and are recommending options in a memo to senior leaders. Instead of sharing every pro and con for each market—that is, taking the exhaustive approach—maybe pitch just the top two prospects and identify their principal pluses and minuses.


Specifics awaken a swath of brain circuits. Think of “pelican” versus “bird.” Or “wipe” versus “clean.” In one study, the more-specific words in those pairs activated more neurons in the visual and motor-strip parts of the brain than did the general ones, which means they caused the brain to process meaning more robustly.

Years ago scientists thought our brains decoded words as symbols. Now we understand that our neurons actually “embody” what the words mean: When we hear more-specific ones, we “taste,” “feel,” and “see” traces of the real thing.

Remarkably, the simulation may extend to our muscles too. When a team led by an Italian researcher, Marco Tettamanti, asked people to listen to sentences related to the mouth, hand, and leg—“I bite an apple”; “I grasp a knife”; “I kick the ball”—the brain regions for moving their jaws, hands, and legs fired.

Using more-vivid, palpable language will reward your readers. In a recent letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos didn’t say, “We’re facing strong competition.” Channeling Tettamanti’s research, he wrote, “Third-party sellers are kicking our first-party butt. Badly.”

Another specificity tactic is to give readers a memorable shorthand phrase to help them retain your message. Malcolm Gladwell coined “the tipping point.” Management gurus W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne came up with “blue ocean strategy”; essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “black swan event.”

Our brains are wired to make nonstop predictions, including guessing the next word in every line of text. If your writing confirms the readers’ guess, that’s OK, though possibly a yawner. Surprise can make your message stick, helping readers learn and retain information.

Jean-Louis Dessalles, a researcher in artificial intelligence and cognitive science at Télécom Paris, conducted an experiment that demonstrated people’s affinity for the unexpected. He asked participants to read short, unfinished narratives and consider different possible endings for each. For example, one story read: “Two weeks after my car had been stolen, the police informed me that a car that might be mine was for sale on the internet….The phone number had been identified. It was the mobile phone number of….” The choices were (a) “my office colleague,” (b) “a colleague of my brother’s,” or (c) “someone in my neighborhood.” For 17 of 18 stories, the vast majority of people preferred the most unexpected ending (in this example, the work colleague). They didn’t want a story that fulfilled their predictions.

So reward your readers with novelty. Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, of the Wharton School, saw the impact of surprising content when they examined nearly 7,000 articles that appeared online in the New York Times . They found that those rated as surprising were 14% more likely to be on the newspaper’s “most-emailed” list.

Readers appreciate unusual wordplay, too. A good example is John McPhee’s characterization of World War II as a “technological piñata.” Or consider how a Texas-based conglomerate described itself in its 2016 shareholder letter: “Think of Biglari Holdings as a museum of businesses. Our preference is to collect masterpieces.”

Stirring Language

You may think you’re more likely to persuade with logic, but no. Our brains process the emotional connotations of a word within 200 milliseconds of reading it—much faster than we understand its meaning. So when we read emotionally charged material, we reflexively react with feelings—fear, joy, awe, disgust, and so forth—because our brains have been trained since hunter-gatherer times to respond that way. Reason follows. We then combine the immediate feeling and subsequent thought to create meaning.

How sensitive are we to emotion? Experiments show that when people hear a list of words, they often miss a few as a result of “attentional blinks” caused by limits in our brain processing power. But we don’t miss the emotionally significant words. With those there are no blinks.

When we read emotionally charged material, we reflexively react with feelings—fear, joy, awe, disgust, and so forth. Reason follows.

So when you write your next memo, consider injecting words that package feeling and thought together. Instead of saying “challenge the competition,” you might use “outwit rivals.” In lieu of “promote innovation,” try “prize ingenuity.” Metaphor often works even better. Canadian researchers Andrea Bowes and Albert Katz tested relatively bland phrases like “What a very good idea!” and “Be careful what you say” against more-evocative expressions like “What a gem of an idea!” and “Watch your back.” Readers reacted more strongly to the latter.

Just a small touch can drive the neural circuits for emotion. So before you start composing, get your feelings straight, along with your facts. Zeal for your message will show through. And if you express your emotion, readers will feel it.


As humans, we’re wired to savor an­tic­ipation. One famous study showed that people are often happier planning a vacation than they are after taking one. Scientists call the reward “anticipatory utility.” You can build up the same sort of excitement when you structure your writing. In experiments using poetry, researchers found that readers’ reward circuitry reached peak firing several seconds before the high points of emphatic lines and stanzas. Brain images show preemptive spikes of pleasure even in readers with no previous interest in poetry.

You can generate a similar reaction by winding up people’s curiosity for what’s to come. Steve Jobs did this in his famous “How to Live Before You Die” commencement address to Stanford University’s class of 2005. “I never graduated from college,” he began. “Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.” Are you on the edge of your seat to hear what the three stories are?

So start a report with a question. Pose your customer problem as a conundrum. Position your product development work as solving a mystery. Put readers in a state of uncertainty so that you can then lead them to something better.

Smart Thinking

Making people feel smart—giving them an “aha” moment—is another way to please readers. To show how these sudden “pops” of insight activate the brain, researchers have asked people to read three words (for example, “house,” “bark,” and “apple”) and then identify a fourth word that relates to all three, while MRI machines and EEGs record their brain activity. When the study participants arrive at a solution (“tree”), brain regions near the right temple light up, and so do parts of the reward circuit in the prefrontal cortex and midbrain. The readers’ delight is visible. Psychological research also reveals how people feel after such moments: at ease, certain, and—most of all—happy.

How can you write to create an aha moment for your readers? One way is to draw fresh distinctions. Ginni Rometty, formerly IBM’s CEO, offered one with this description of the future: “It will not be a world of man versus machine; it will be a world of man plus machine.”

Another strategy is to phrase a pragmatic message so that it also evokes a perennial, universal truth. The late Max De Pree, founder and CEO of the office furniture company Herman Miller, had a knack for speaking to employees this way. In Leadership Is an Art he wrote: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” That’s wisdom not just for business managers but for parents, teachers, coaches—anyone in a guiding role.

Social Content

Our brains are wired to crave human connection—even in what we read. Consider a study of readers’ responses to different kinds of literary excerpts: some with vivid descriptions of people or their thoughts, and others without such a focus. The passages that included people activated the areas of participants’ brains that interpret social signals, which in turn triggered their reward circuits.

We don’t want just to read about people, though—we want to understand what they’re thinking as quickly as possible. A study led by Frank Van Overwalle, a social neuroscientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, found that readers infer the goals of people they’re reading about in under 350 milliseconds, and discern their character traits within 650 milliseconds.

One way to help readers connect with you and your writing is to reveal more traces of yourself in it. Think voice, world­view, vocabulary, wit, syntax, poetic rhythm, sensibilities. Take the folksy—and effective—speeches and letters of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. His bon mots include “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,” “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked,” and “Beware of geeks bearing formulas.”

Remember also to include the human angle in any topic you’re discussing. When you want to make a point about a supply-chain hiccup, for example, don’t frame the problem as a “trucking disconnect.” Write instead about mixed signals between the driver and dispatcher.

Another simple trick to engage readers is to use the second person (“you”), as I’ve done throughout this piece. This can be particularly helpful when you’re explaining technical or complicated material. For example, psychologist Richard Mayer and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, ran experiments with two versions of an online presentation on the respiratory system. Each included 100 words of spoken text paired with simple animations. But one version used the impersonal third person (“During inhaling, the diaphragm moves down, creating more space for the lungs…”), while the other was more personal (“ your diaphragm” and “ your lungs…”). People who listened to the latter scored significantly higher than their counterparts on a test that measured what they had learned.


Few things beat a good anecdote. Stories, even fragments of them, captivate extensive portions of readers’ brains in part because they combine many of the elements I’ve described already.

Research by Uri Hasson at Princeton reveals the neural effect of an engaging tale. Functional MRI scans show that when a story begins, listeners’ brains immediately begin glowing in a specific pattern. What’s more, that grid reflects the story­teller’s exactly. Other research shows that, at the same time, midbrain regions of the reward circuit come to life.

Experiments by behavioral scientists at the University of Florida produced similar results. Brain images showed heightened activity in reward regions among people who read 12-second narratives that prompted pleasant images. (A sample narrative: “It’s the last few minutes of the big game and it’s close. The crowd explodes in a deafening roar. You jump up, cheering. Your team has come from behind to win.”)

When you incorporate stories into your communications, big payoffs can result. Consider research that Melissa Lynne Murphy did at the University of Texas, looking at business crowdfunding campaigns. She found that study participants formed more-favorable impressions of the pitches that had richer narratives, giving them higher marks for entrepreneur credibility and business legitimacy. Study participants also expressed more willingness to invest in the projects and share infor­mation about them. The implication: No stories, no great funding success.

The eight S’s can be your secret weapons in writing well. They’re effective tools for engaging readers because they trigger the same neural responses that other pleasurable stimuli do. And you probably understand their value intuitively because millions of years of evolution have trained our brains to know what feels right. So cultivate those instincts. They’ll lead you to the writer’s version of the Golden Rule: Reward readers as you would yourself.

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