5 guidelines to make your writing more colorful

Is your text laden with generalities and tepid adjectives? If so, it’s time to cast off bad habits and start engaging your readers. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Untitled Document Trying to find the right words can be tough.

As a former reporter, I know the struggle of finding the right hook to draw a reader in while being clear and concise so they stick with you until the last paragraph.

As a PR professional, you’ll gain respect if your copy—whether it’s a story, press release or a simple email—follows some tried-and-true tips I’ve picked up in the writing world.

1. Stay away from vague descriptions. It can be easy to fall into the trap of generalizing. For example, when describing a city, phrases like “diverse landscapes” and “popular attractions” are easy to fall back on, because a particular city probably does have varying landforms and a number of noted tourist stops. The problem? This vague description tells nothing about a place. Be specific.

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If you’re describing Las Vegas, don’t write, “It’s a city full of popular attractions with something for everyone.” Instead, why not highlight the city’s differentiators with specific details? For example: “With its designer shops, renowned restaurants, high-flying roller coaster and sprawling nature preserve, this glitzy Nevada city suits every type of traveler.”

2. Avoid overusing adjectives. Let’s say you’re describing a new restaurant. As you begin to write, you discover a number of adjectives could convey its vibe. Rather than leave anything out, you decide to include all the descriptors and crank out the following phrase: “simple yet sophisticated, low-key and mellow.” You think you sound clever—a journalist, though, would probably be turned off by this description, as overusing adjectives renders them all but meaningless.

Instead, focus on one outstanding element. That may mean leaving out some details, but your audience will likely appreciate a deeper understanding of why a particular restaurant is considered low-key if you don’t cram in as many descriptors as possible. One example: “A low-key vibe permeates the space, from the waiters’ unrushed demeanors to the soft melody from the piano in the background.”

3. Be smart about alliteration. Sure, if a catchy phrase rolls off your tongue when you’re writing, by all means use it, but the key here is not to force it. Trying too hard seems unsophisticated.

Though it’s hard to argue that titles like “Pretty in Pink” or “Sleepless in Seattle” make for delightful sounding names, phrases like “delectable donuts” or “rip-roaring raft ride” suggest that you’re trying too hard.

4. Show, don’t tell. Whenever possible, use concrete details as a way to accentuate the adjectives you use. Instead of describing a shop as funky, for example, focus on what makes it funky. Is vintage artwork on the walls? Does the retailer sell jewelry made out of recycled materials?

When you show your audience what you want them to see rather than tell them, you allow readers to draw their own conclusions. What is funky to one reader may be off-putting to the next. Your audience will feel more like you’re speaking to them, rather than at them, if you sprinkle your copy with specific details instead of just adjectives.

5. Go with the first word you think of. If you’re looking up a word in a thesaurus, your copy is likely to sound forced. Though you want to avoid overusing the same word twice in close proximity, trying to come up with a word that sounds “smarter” than your original thought is probably a bad move. Keep it simple.

As a PR professional, you must have superb writing skills to set you apart from the pack. Keep these tips in mind whenever you craft an email pitch, press release, social media post or any of the host of other writing duties that PR pros take on. My bet is that your audience will find your copy a welcome read.

As a communications manager for Dallas-based Oncor, Connie Piloto manages her company’s brand journalism site, The Wire. She spent 13 years as an award-winning journalist in Texas and her native Florida. She worked at The Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post and The Dallas Morning News before joining the PR world.


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