Hope everyone is having a fantastic March! As PR professionals, writing is our life, but it can also be our greatest detriment if we’re not sharp. Even a writing or journalism Bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee that our writing is as crisp and concise as it should be—it can always be improved upon. So, no matter how long you’ve been in the field, please take a look through this article from Ragan on “Ten Fundamentals of Good Writing.” Here’s a sample:
1. Push for specificity. Corporate writing is generally too vague, so you should invoke E.B. White’s Rule No. 16 from The Elements of Style: “Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” (And while you’re at it, buy your writers the book.)
Instead of the abstract, demand writing that is about something we can grasp. Don’t tell us we have special challenges to confront; share with us the specific problems we face and how we’re thinking of solving them. Don’t praise people for their extraordinary contributions to the general welfare of the company or their untiring determination to go the extra mile.
Those words are flat and stale. Tell us some stories about people who have done something to push the company forward. Focus on the interesting, not the mundane.
2. Use more words. There’s a bunch out there waiting to be plucked from obscurity and entered into the corporate lexicon. Companies use the same words over and over, and many of them have lost their meaning. How often can you talk about quality before it loses its panache? If everything is strategic, then what isn’t? Are some decisions “key,” while others ignored?
We are stuck in the language of corporate life. English gives us anywhere from 250,000 to 1 million words to express ourselves, but it feels like most companies keep using the same 12. It’s time to stretch our vocabularies; reward any kind of corporate communication that breaks away from the everyday.
3. Find better verbs. This is where the language really fails most corporations. Companies talk to each other, and their customers, in stilted, dry language; and verbs are the biggest culprit. Strong verbs drive sentences; dull verbs slow them to a crawl.
The problem is that companies are using the same verbs to explain everything. We’re leveraging our synergies. We’re implementing core competencies. We’re facilitating strategic processes to focus on our key deliverables. What does that mean? Turn your writers loose; order them to use action-oriented verbs that paint a picture. Make everyone read the front page of the Wall Street Journal, collect the verbs that power those terrific sentences.
What did you think? Feel free to post comments, suggestions or questions for us. Also, if you have more resources for improving writing, send them along! As a young professional, the day-to-day concerns you have are probably shared by a number of us, so let’s collaborate.
Have a great rest of your week, YP-ers! We look forward to seeing you soon—our next event is our Spring Mixer on April 21st. Details coming soon!