How to write one blast of a brochure

Probably the most interesting thing about brochures nowadays is that they’re seldom read in what we’ve come to know as the right order – as you would read a book. Just as people read magazines in dentists’ waiting rooms or scan text online, they will flick through brochures and leaflets and stop to take a longer look at bits that grab their attention.  Alternatively they’ll flick all the way through and then go back to bits they’ve noticed and that have interested them.

What all this teaches us is that despite seeming logical, writing for brochures in the form of a story that starts at the beginning, goes through the middle and finishes at the end, is not necessarily the best way forward.  Obviously you can’t make every page stand alone with a message on it that says “in case you’re flicking through backwards or only want to read this page, here’s a summary of our corporate profile again.”  But there are some tricks you can use to get this random reading pattern to work a bit more effectively for you, rather than against you.

A lot depends on the type and style of brochure or leaflet you want to write, of course.  In my experience, generally speaking the more specific the purpose of a brochure or leaflet the more likely readers are to read it properly and thoroughly. Where you get the worst random grasshopper reading is with the less specific documents like corporate or general overview brochures.  So let’s look at how we can minimize the problems with those.

Structure with cross headings

The trick is to put the main points in as crossheadings (some people call them sub-headings) in bold type, so that someone scanning the document will get the gist of your message even if they don’t have time to read the body text. You should also ensure that the crossheadings make sense in their own right and that understanding them is not wholly dependent on their being read in any particular order.

Body text should be short, and should support and expand on each crossheading leading the reader towards the next one, but without creating a “cliffhanger” (in case the reader is going in the wrong order).

Choose writing style carefully

The other key issue here is writing style, particularly if you are writing a corporate brochure or leaflet. The corporate brochure, equaled only (perhaps) by the corporate website, is the most prone to suffer from the curse of “corporate speak.”

It’s interesting to see that many companies find it easy to write in their audience’s own language for advertisements and other marketing communications, but grind to a juddering halt when it comes to a corporate brochure.  Why? I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s connected with the long tradition of corporate brochures being written by or on behalf of Chairmen and other very, very senior wallahs who believed their immense importance could only be conveyed in words of 5 syllables or more.

In the real world, however, normal customers and other stakeholders find stuffy, pompous, remote brochure text boring and off-putting.  So if they’re your audience it’s essential you write in a way that they will identify with.

No matter what the 70-year-old President thinks, it *is* possible to retain corporate dignity without using wall-to-wall multisyllabic words phrased entirely in terms of the “royal we.”

Now, make all your business writing a blast:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

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  1. Marnie Byod says:

    I am not really good in writing it and I’ve been reading a lot of guide when doing the brochure.

  2. Useful reminders again Suze, especially the sub-headings not being cliff-hangers.

    • I liked that one too, perhaps because I am most guilty of that 🙂

      • The way you phrase your sub-headings is only critical, I think, when you’re writing promotional brochure copy or other text. But even in an article or non-commercial blog post, say, it’s useful if readers can get the gist of your topic and point by glancing through the crossheads.

  3. I always think it’s a shame (and a shocking waste of money and resources) that most of the brochures that get pushed through our letter box are thrown in the bin without even a second (or first!) glance. I usually quickly scan the front of the brochure to see if it’s relevant / interesting, so brochure writers have to make absolutely sure the front page in particular is really attention grabbing both visually and textually otherwise all their hard work is in vain.

    • Absolutely right, Angela. The front of leaflets that sort must get over the “what’s-in-it-for-you” element very strongly indeed. And so should the back, bearing in mind that there’s a 50 percent chance this is what people will see first on the doormat … yet 9 times out of 10 with those leaflets the back will be filled up with detail without reminding readers “what’s in it for them.”

  4. Great tips, Suze! I especially need to remind myself that people don’t necessarily start at the beginning and work their way through. Makes sense to write brochure copy so that the most important message is conveyed even if people read only the subheads.

    • Thanks Mary! Another way of writing brochures some people use is what a colleague of mine calls “chunking” – splitting the information into small sections and dotting these throughout the brochure almost in a random order. The “chunks” need to be less about telling a story and more along the lines of independent “did you know” snippets, and as long as the visuals are very powerful it can work nicely. However, I don’t believe that approach is as effective if you’re actively selling something; it’s probably best reserved for corporate overviews, annual report and accounts, etc.

  5. It is a fact “first impression is last impression”, therefore, the tag line of your business that you want on your business brochure should be mind blowing. It should be unique. Font size and style are also a concerning factor. And its content should be impressive and relevant to your business.
    brochure printing Toronto

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