Written by Jiri Novotny
Humor me for a minute and in your mind, transport back into your childhood. Imagine a typical school day. You are sitting at your desk in the classroom, and the teacher is explaining something. You are staring out of the window, day dreaming.
Yes, you are not paying attention, but perhaps it is not your fault. When you were in school, have you ever wondered “Why should I learn this? What would I never need that for?”
Most children did. Some children almost daily, some rarely–but the teacher probably never addressed the questions they pondered. I think that this is one of the biggest flaws of the educational system.
According to Harvard research, there are four main learning styles. The learning styles are:
People who dominantly have the “why” learning style always need to know why they learn something before they learn it. Without knowing why, they can’t learn. But once they know why, they can be very motivated learners. And yes, the educational system is especially bad at addressing the people with the “why” learning style.
The people with the “what” learning style are looking for the hard facts. They want to know all the history, all the philosophy, all the facts and hard data behind something. They want as much information as possible. They want to have the “whole” picture. They want the theory. They are the academics. They want to see the whole process and system, and how it all fits together.
People with the “How” learning style are looking for the how-to instructions. They are looking for the steps. In order to learn something, they need the material presented in the form of structured procedures. They want examples. They want exercises. They love bulleted lists that list the steps.
Finally, people with the “What-If” are the entrepreneurs of the world. They might not necessarily be entrepreneurs in their careers, but they take action, and they take it quickly. In order to learn something, all they need is an action step for them to take. They ponder “What If I immediately wanted to put this into practice? What do I do now?”
People with the “What-If” learning style are looking for something different than the people with the “how” learning style. People with the “how” learning style usually don’t want to immediately do it, they just need to see the steps of how it’s done in order to learn it. But the “What-If” people want to take action, right now. They want to get some feedback and results as soon as possible. They need just one step to take right now.
Now, these are the four learning styles.
But what does this have to do with writing your website copy? Good question.
Before I answer that, let me give you a real-life example of the four learning styles in practice.
I’ve noticed the styles even when answering support emails. For example, when I announced a new feature for one of our products, some people emailed me asking me what is it good for (the “why” style). Others wanted to know more about it (“what”). Others were asking how the feature will be used exactly (“how”). And yet other customers wanted to know how they can try it and if any preview release or beta is available (“what-if”). If I would’ve addressed all four learning styles in the announcement, I’m pretty sure I would receive less email, and our customers would be ultimately happier.
The important thing to realize here is this–
You also have your own predominant learning style. And if you communicate in your style, you are probably not talking to 75% of your audience. The “why” people don’t care about “what”, “how”, or what-if”; and so on. When it comes to distribution of these 4 learning styles, while they are not distributed equally, all of them have significant bases in our society, so you can’t afford to ignore any of them.
Knowing all the four styles, and how to communicate using them, allows you to craft your written materials in such a way that they can be easily understood by a majority of people.
And it’s simpler than you might think. All it takes is to structure your information the following way: First, address why. Give the reader some motivation. What happens to them if they keep reading? What happens to them if they don’t keep reading?
Second, list some facts, figures, and theory.
Third, provide the how-to procedures, perhaps in bulleted-lists form. And finally, give the reader a clear call to action.
This framework can be used on any scale. You can do this on a paragraph-level. You can do it on a page level. You can do it on a book level. Heck, you can even do it on a sentence level. Better yet, if you apply this framework on multiple levels at once, the information will become super-valuable and it will “talk” to much more people, as compared to information not composed using this framework. And people will actually take action after reading it. And that’s your goal all along!
Good copywriting and visual elements incorporated into the text also definitely help–but if you don’t address all four styles, you will be communicating with only a small part of your audience.
In which materials can you actually apply what you just learned?
Just about anywhere:
- Your website copy
- Your email newsletters
- Your help file
- In any form of communication with your prospects
For example, I think that by just adding a short “Why do you need this” paragraph at the beginning of your website copy, telling the visitor what consequences using and not using your solution will have for them, can do wonders.
Giving a clear call to action at the end of your website copy can also help tremendously, and it’s quite simple. Just write a paragraph about the next immediate step. Even just a plain download button placed at the end of your website copy is a form of call to action–but perhaps at least experiment with labeling it “The next step: DOWNLOAD”.
Another example–if you want to use this in your manuals, then, in a chapter for each feature: Write why is the feature useful, then talk more about it, then provide how-to steps of using it, and close the text with “If you want to try this right now, do this” at the end.
Got the picture?
Think about how you could immediately apply what you just learned here. Where is the leverage point in your business? What small change could you make today to get more sales? Go do it now.
(Yes, I am closing this article with a “what-if” call to action.)
By Jiri Novotny, creator of task management software for Windows, Swift To-Do List. With Swift To-Do List, you can get your tasks and notes organized in 5 minutes.