How PR & Communications Professionals Can Better Their Writing Skills and Perfect Their Content
Perhaps we all get the idea of how important writing is in all PR and communications specialist do. Perhaps you think that since you graduated from a journalism school or took a writing class, you already know everything there is about the hacks of good writing in the PR environment. But audiences change. We change. Even the most capable writers should continually work to better their writing skills if they’re looking to produce content that resonates with their readers. Let me list a few tips I believe can help every PR and comms pro become a well-sharpened writer.
Do Your Research
This may seem like a no-brainer, but some people tend to avoid getting involved in any fact-finding missions. In today’s digital landscape, social media platforms serve as the source of information for many of us. This is something to worry about as fake news has been fueling many campaigns of pseudo reliable media representatives whose only goal is to get clicks and shares. Be sure you are the messengers of facts, not misleading information.
Including facts and research findings can be very helpful in your work and making your story complete and dynamic. Doing research will prove you’re a reliable source of information. Always make sure to check your facts before you post any new piece or comment. Knowing what you’re writing about is essential if you want to avoid any situation that may harm your and your brand’s reputation. Double-check your sources, quotes, and numbers. And don’t forget to cite your sources.
Be sure your working space is neat, and your trash is taken out. How many times have you sat down to write a press release but instead of producing any meaningful phrases on the matter at hand you ended up thinking about that cup of coffee you made three days ago staring at you and reminding you to clean up your desk? It happens to me all the time. Also, figure out the time of day when you’re the most productive and able to get inspired. If mornings work best for you, perhaps trying to force yourself to craft a piece late at night is a waste of your time.
To keep your focus, try to change something every once in a while. Does your writing get better every time you get a new notebook? Even though the effect may be short-term, change is always beneficial. Move to another location from time to time (change desks or go out for a while) or try out some other method (put some music on, try writing in the evening, or in another editor). Close all the programs and tabs that may cause distractions and turn off all devices that may annoy you. If your dishwasher is too loud and all you can think of is taking the plates out, perhaps you should do something else for a while?
Always Have Your Readers in Mind
Start with the first words of your headline and work to tailor your work to your audience. Make every piece of your content matter to them, personal. Tell and show them how this particular piece of news may be relevant to them. Identify the best words and phrases that resonate with your readers and include them in your releases in the most natural way. Don’t overuse them; you don’t want your writing to appear spammy in any way. People hate it when they feel like they’re being forced to do or buy something.
Present your news to your audience and tell them why they should care. Don’t focus on your perspective. Tell them all about what they will gain or be able to do because of your company. Explain why they should get engaged and what is your news for.
Keep it Short and Sweet
“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”—E. Hemingway
If you think that long and elaborate pieces are the most elegant and convincing, you’re mistaken. I mean, do you even read press releases past the fourth or fifth paragraph? Write only what’s important for your audience (have your readers in mind, always). We are living in the age when people’s attention spans get shorter and shorter. Make sure every line is useful and not just there to add to your character count. Avoid jargon. Your readers will ignore your text after the first acronym they don’t understand.
Use short sentences. They’re easier to understand and remember. And this translates into more powerful communication. Of course, using too short sentences throughout your piece may seem like you’re not a very proficient language user (unless you want to create tension or present some sudden event), so it’s important to stick to a happy medium.
Use Conversational Style
If you want your writing to resonate with your audience, you will most definitely benefit from using a more conversational style. If you’re sometimes wondering why the content that you’ve put so much effort into crafting is not getting enough engagement and attention and doesn’t cause an increase in traffic on your page, the reason might be—your writing style. If you want to be more fluent in conversational writing, use contractions, tell stories, be direct, use simple and easy to understand words, ask questions, break the rules, and keep it short.
What are the benefits of using conversational English? It definitely has become the language of the digital era. Using conversational style will help you connect with your audience and make it easier for your readers to relate to you as a genuine person, not just the writer or someone who represents a brand. Your message will also be easier to understand, and your readers will feel a personal connection between them and you or your brand. They will be more willing to engage with you and maybe even get involved in some sort of discussion.
Sometimes, in an effort to sound more emphatic and natural, we use redundancies in our writing. Redundancy is typically defined as the use of groups of words in which at least one is unnecessary because it’s meaning is already contained in the other word (or words). For instance, look at the phrase “to proceed forward,” where “to proceed” means “to move forward.” Here is a list of most common redundancies that you might find helpful. Using redundancies just adds unnecessary words to your work. Why am I mentioning this in this post? I think communicators and advertisers are particularly guilty of using redundancies in their press releases and articles: how many times have you heard and seen phrases like “a free gift,” “very unique,” or “new innovation?” I see and hear them plenty.
The most common reason for using redundancies is writing without paying attention. Getting rid of needless words will make your writing clearer and more effective. To identify such redundant expressions use a thesaurus or a style guide. Keep this in mind and avoid redundancies to stop saying the same thing twice.
Allow Time for Fine-tuning
Never make your first draft your last. Allow time for fine-tuning and rewrites. Save enough time to fix all mistakes. Don’t postpone starting to work on your story until the last moment. Of course, there will be times when you will have a short deadline, but from my experience, nothing is more effective than giving yourself some time to take a short break. Walk away from writing and then come back and make your story better. I will also bet all my money that if you proofread your work the next day, you will find something that needs fixing or rewriting.
And you could ask here, “What is the best tool for self-editing?” Read your work out loud. Twice. This will help you detect if your piece is written for people. What does it mean? If your goal as communicators is to build relationships and connect with your audiences, you should avoid using a heavy, robotic tone in your texts. Reading out loud is the best way to process your content as human beings. It will also help you spot wordy sentences, repetitions, and unnecessary word combinations. Try it. You’ll know it’s working if you find yourself making edits in the process.
Get a Second Pair of Eyes
Even the best copywriters can’t underestimate the benefit of hiring a proofreader or an editor to polish and finalize their work. Have a friend or colleague review your writing, especially because if you’ve already read and self-edited it a couple of times, you will be less likely to notice any glaring mistakes. Of course, using spell-check and online grammar checking tools is great, but it’s not as effective as having someone review your work. A ‘fresh’ set of eyes can catch things that any spell-checking tool won’t.
Another advantage of getting someone to read your work is that you’ll see if it makes sense to an outside party. You will get a piece of mind that your text is great and easily understood by the reader.
Follow Style Guidelines
It’s always advisable to stick to one particular standard for writing and editing documents such as the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style, which were created to standardize mass communications. Such stylebooks are a basic reference to the rules of usage, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. So, in case you have any questions concerning commas or writing style, or you just forgot the rule for a particular rare situation, just refer to the style guide of your choice. This way, you will not only ensure consistently great content but also improve your grammar and punctuation. Just remember that no matter how great your story is, if it’s loaded with different types of errors, not many will read past the first paragraph.
For some of you, these tips may be as obvious as the fact that one plus one equals two. But if you do decide to give them a go, they (or at least some of them) may become real eye-openers. Hey. I know writing in today’s digital and rapidly changing landscape may not seem like a piece of cake, but I’m pretty sure that if you keep an open mind about working to perfect your skills and don’t consider reading pieces such as this one as a waste of your time, you will be able to hone your craft and produce even more engaging content! I always think to myself that not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new.
If you’re still hungry for knowledge, you should save this piece, in which Mathhew Luhn and Shane Snow recommend how to step up your storytelling skills.