By Katrina Olson
Last week we talked about how to be planful (I just looked this up; it’s a real word!), strategic and empathetic; how to incorporate you-view; and why storytelling is important in your writing. Following are a few more tips for improving your writing for marketing, public relations and internal communications.
Create a blueprint for success.
You wouldn’t build a house without a strong foundation and frame; and you shouldn’t write a press release, feature story, brochure or ad without a solid outline. It doesn’t need to be formal with Roman numerals, letters, etc., but take a few moments to think about the structure of your story. What is your theme? What are your key points? How will you intro and outro your content?
Go with the flow.
Good and effective writing flows smoothly, from thought to thought, paragraph to paragraph. Organize your points logically and think about how you can make connections between main points. Use transitional phrases or words such as “therefore,” “similarly,” “that’s why,” or “That’s important, but so is this” to segue to your next thought. Avoid weak and overused transitions like, “My next point” or “Moving on” and “Speaking of.”
Rarely do a group of people read a story, article or blog together. Usually, it’s one person, reading on their phone, tablet or computer. So write directly to them. I’m always a little offended when I get a letter from my child’s school that starts, “Dear parents.” I am only one parent. Or when I receive an email from my credit card company that starts, “Dear valued customers.” I am one customer. Write in a conversational tone without being overly intimate or informal. Use contractions. Use lots of verbs. Be friendly.
Accuracy is everything.
Be sure to fact-check, spell check, grammar check…because one small error, especially in a customer’s personal or business name, can completely blow your credibility. Even if you think you know how to spell a city name, last name, company name, or even a phrase, look it up. It takes only seconds and it may save you from personal embarrassment or the ire of an unhappy client or customer.
Sweat the small stuff.
Specifics are always more interesting than generalities. What if I told you I just bought a new car? Would you reply simply, “That’s great.” Or would you ask what make, model, color and year it was? Maybe how many of those all-important cup holders it has?
Now let’s apply this to your business. If you’re writing a press release, article or blog post about someone starting a new job or getting promoted, include details about their past employment, previous positions, years of experience, length with the company and notable accomplishments. This gives you an opportunity to showcase your staff’s expertise and leverage your release for more than just a simple announcement.
Does writing well really matter?
Short answer? Yes! According to a study by statisticbrain.com, the average human attention span in 2015 is 8.5 seconds. As far back as 2001, a study by website host and content delivery network Digital Island claimed we have only 4 seconds to grab a website visitor’s attention before they decide to leave or stay.
And that’s just to get their attention. The real challenge is keeping it. Would you believe that one-fifth of managers surveyed by temp agency Accountemps said they throw resumes away after spotting a single spelling, grammar or punctuation mistake? Another 28% said two typos would cost applicants an interview.
Longer Answer: writing well and writing right affects your:
- Credibility. Errors may lead readers to question accuracy.
- Perceived professionalism. Sloppy documents create a negative impression.
- Level of Respect. It avoids criticism and frustration from documents with errors.
- Clarity. Grammar and punctuation errors result in ambiguity and misunderstanding.
- Relationships. Busy journalists especially will appreciate the convenience of well-written copy that needn’t be corrected.
Do I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar”? Yes! Did I teach class dressed as Officer Ivana Spellright for Halloween last year? Of course I did. Am I a grammar nerd who is passionate about the English language? You bet. But so are a lot of your followers, readers and customers. And they will be offended by blatant errors.
But more importantly, they want to be rewarded for spending their precious 8.5 seconds reading your material. And they want a reason to keep reading. To increase your chances of holding their attention, tell your story well in language that is engaging, easy to understand and accurate.
Olson is a veteran marketing and public relations consultant. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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