The public relations profession is evolving, but good, persuasive writing remains a core component of good PR.
Because strong writing is a skill to be maintained and improved, a refresher course is always in order.
Whether you’re in product PR, tech, crisis management or public policy, here are eight simple rules to help improve your compositions.
1. Read it out loud. Good writing is as much about how it sounds as about putting words on a page. If you find yourself struggling to find the right turn of phrase, read it aloud to hear how it sounds. It’s guaranteed to clarify what’s working and what’s not. (We can always tell when one of our colleagues is hard at work writing because it sounds like he’s talking to himself. He is not. He is reading aloud.)
2. Trim, cut, and trim again. A common mistake novice writers make is being overly verbose. Young or inexperienced writers falsely equate more words with better writing. Generally, the opposite is true. A more concise sentence holds the reader’s attention, because there are fewer things to distract from the main idea.
3. Incorporate a good quote. This one is particularly apt for public relations and journalism. A good quote will grab a journalist’s ear in an instant. Learn to listen aggressively to the way people speak. Develop a knack for hearing the quote that “sings,” and then (if you’re a spokesperson) discover how to create those types of quotes yourself. It’s part intuitive, part practice, and partly a fun approach to listening.
4. Use varying rhythms. This is a simple trick to refining writing and making it more dynamic. If you find yourself crafting a string of long sentences full of parenthetical phrases, break one up to alter the rhythm. See what a change of pace does to the flow. Often, it’ll help you hit your key points harder.
5. Replace complicated words with simple ones. Relying on big words is another rookie mistake. The best writing is writing that’s clear. Be confident enough with your content to say things simply and clearly, rather than resorting to flowery language.
6. Use concrete details. Clear writing is also concrete and specific, rather than vague. Was the audience “large” or was it “standing-room-only in a 150-seat theater”? Is the new product “wildly popular” or did it “sell out of its first run of 1 million in the first two weeks”? For PR purposes, concrete numbers are definitely more likely to earn coverage than vague descriptive terms.
7. Show, don’t tell. We hear journalists say this all the time. “Don’t tell me your new product is innovative, groundbreaking technology. Tell me exactly what the product does, why it’s different, and how it works.” Substance speaks louder than superlatives (no matter how many exclamation points you use).
8. Reread, always. Until someone invents an algorithm that can churn out beautiful, intelligent prose, writing is still done by humans, and humans are flawed. Always reread and edit before finalizing a piece, or have someone else do a final read.
Michelle Han is a senior account supervisor at Crenshaw Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on Crenshaw’s PR Fish Bowl blog.