Consider how much of your working life is spent writing about stuff that’s happened. You write market overviews, executive summaries, concluding remarks.
Yet people often write about the past in a way that doesn’t deliver value. Lucky you – after reading this article, you’ll know how to avoid that pitfall.
It’s very simple: the way to turn old financial news into fierce investment writing is by forming a narrative, to which all these past events can link. The focus of the writing then becomes the narrative, not the events.
Let’s do this step by step:
Say you’re discussing a bunch of incidents that have taken place in the financial markets over a set period of time.
Well, people often write by reflecting back, listing past events, often in chronological order:
It’s easy to spot, because it sounds a bit like a nursery rhyme:
But in business writing, the primary reason past events are referenced is to provide context for the present. What your readers are seeking is INSIGHT.
Flour, butter, eggs: a grocery list does not show you the cake. Similarly, a list of events contains no insight in itself; it’s just a list.
It doesn’t help that this sort of writing usually appears right at the top of the document, squandering the precious moments when readers are most attentive.
So let’s decode what you want your copy to achieve instead.
You’re hoping that, through your text, readers will infer a continued trend or dynamic. You’d like readers to understand that, rather than being isolated occurrences, these events form a body of indicative evidence.
For readers to actually do any of this, you need to make your intention clear:
Do this, and EVERY SINGLE PIECE you write about the past will ooze authority. Using our earlier example, let’s present a theme, and echo it with each of the events recounted:
Our theme is that expectations for tax cuts and infrastructure spending moved markets. These expectations pushed markets up when promises were made, and pulled them down when it looked like these promises would not be fulfilled.
I’d like to stress the point about LINKING statements to the narrative:
Business writing often starts with a sweeping thematic sentence. But once this is stated, writers might rush on, neglecting to link it directly to other bits of the text. They assume that readers, having read the initial statement, will form the link themselves.
We already know that readers are unlikely to read your mind. But worse, by not linking the information to the theme, you run the risk that readers will understand something completely different.
Here’s an example:
The background story is that, recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been facing corruption allegations over a property transaction. In Japan, that’s a big deal and, in the past, such allegations have led to leaders resigning abruptly. Every time this happens, policy can change, so investors are not wild about it. And you can therefore guess what happened to markets as the affair escalated. So, our example:
Is there context to the last statement? We don’t know. As a result, we’re left with no insight on why we should invest or remain invested in Japanese equities.
Yes, writing this way can be harder than regurgitating old news. It requires extracting the essence from information, or embedding a view. That’s not always easy to do, but these three tips help make the job easier:
Be selective with information
Invariably, you can’t list everything that’s happened over the period.
Investment commentaries, for example, usually cover periods from a month to a year, and many cover a three-month financial quarter. To me, there are TWO CRITERIA for making the cut. Information needs to be relevant to the theme, and non-repetitive.
It’s not about what came first
Great stories are not necessarily structured linearly. In business writing, often what matters is not timing, but GIRTH.
Imagine your events as pebbles thrown into water; the ones sending larger ripples are central to the narrative, and therefore should come first. Other events can then be placed in context. Was there a buildup? Was there a backlash?
If it’s complicated, don’t make it murky
A LOT of stuff can be boiled down to a single theme, and I promise that any minute spent on crystallising your argument will pay dividends in output quality.
But sometimes, there really are various themes at play. In which case, facts must not be piled together. Maintain your focus on thematic writing; make sure events are separated according to themes and referenced accordingly.
Arguably, the most important message asset managers seek to communicate is that their deep understanding of market dynamics translates to generating returns for clients. CRUCIAL to this message is how you write about the past. It all boils down to this:
Old financial news can be turned to fierce investment copy by forming a narrative to which all events link directly. The narrative should be stated explicitly in the text as early as possible, and echoed when describing events.
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