“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Wise words from the revered writings of Dr. Seuss, and also relevant to journalists, bloggers, Twitterati and public relations professionals alike.
As communicators, our job is to tell a story, paint a picture and sell an idea. As writers in the age of fractured attention spans, we must tell those stories in as few words as possible. We must be our own best editors.
For anyone working in public relations at any level, writing will always be important. It is even more important to know how to do it well. From crafting press releases to pitches and even emails to clients and prospects, how the point is communicated (or not) can mean the difference between winning and losing.
As one who has had writing and editing drilled into me from grammar school through journalism school, I have a few tricks of the trade to share:
- Make one point per sentence. Don’t try to cram too many ideas into one sentence or even one paragraph. Your initial thought will get jumbled in the mix and you’ll leave the reader wondering what you were trying to say.
- Avoid empty words and openers. We’ve all heard that opening a sentence with prepositions such as and, or or but is a big no-no in grammar, and yet we continue to use them. Don’t. Sentences beginning with a preposition are instantly weak. Let the sentence stand on its own. Likewise, avoid There is, There are, and There were as sentence openers. There adds nothing to the meaning.
- Eliminate passive voice. Active voice gives your writing authority and clarity while passive voice makes a point indirectly and does not compel your readers to keep reading. Restructure any sentences that imply to be or any form of that phrase. Words such as will have been, being, had been and have been are all forms of to be.
- “If it’s possible to cut a word out, cut a word out.” (Orwell) Write, then be relentless in editing yourself. Easy words to cut are just, really, in order to, help to, and in my opinion. If a word or phrase does not add meaning to a sentence, remove it.
For most of us, cutting our own flowery language and overly complex sentences and paragraphs is an agonizing exercise. Letting go of personal preferences and accepting edits from others also can be difficult. Writing and editing takes practice, discipline and creativity, but in doing so, we will not only better serve our clients but also ourselves.