4 ways to freshen up your writing
This article originally appeared on PR Daily in May of 2017.
PR pros write, edit, review and rewrite dozens of documents each day.
Sometimes, all that copy can blur together—and it can become challenging to
make your prose fresh.
Here are four quick tips to help you keep your writing lively, interesting
Get to the main event.
“Too many pitches, blog posts, news releases and even emails back into the
information and take too long to tell the reader what the central idea is,”
says Ken O’Quinn, founder of Writing with Clarity. “If you feel it’s taking
a long time to get to your point, your reader will feel the same way.”
One culprit is a natural tendency to tell stories or share facts
“Beginning/middle/end works for storytelling, but not for most email,
articles, blog posts and pitches where the goal is to get to the point,”
O’Quinn says. Too often, an extended set-up can read like the text version
of throat clearing.
His advice is to cut straight to the middle or end of your core message the
moment you start typing. This should save time and keep you—and your
reader—from getting bored.
“For example, an email that opens with, ‘Back in January, we talked about X
and then we had to put it aside in order to evaluate the factors that might
influence a decision to close the division …’ isn’t going to be as
effective as one that opens with, ‘We have decided close the division after
careful consideration,” he says.
[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to improve your writing today.]
2. Annoy your high school teacher. “Interesting writing
often breaks old-school grammar rules that make things harder on readers,”
says Michael Smart, founder of MichaelSmartPR.
For example, “It’s OK to start sentences with prepositions if it varies
your copy,” he says. “You can also use sentence fragments, like, ‘Fragments
good. Passive voice bad.’”
Of course, he adds, it also goes without saying to practice good grammar in
all the other areas that keep your writing clear.
3. Vary sentence structure and length. “Writers can also
distinguish their prose by creating variety and emphasis in their
sentences,” O’Quinn says. “This makes reading more fluent and moves readers
along at a brisk pace.”
One way to do this is to vary your beginning. “Every sentence doesn’t need
to start with a subject and verb among the first three words,” he says. “If
you do that, and if successive sentences are about the same length, the
writing begins to read like a Dick and Jane children’s book. Don’t delay
the subject and verb too long, but opening with a reasonably short
introductory element adds variety.”
Another idea is to use short sentences to be more emphatic. “If you want to
stress a particular piece of information, position it at the end of the
sentence where it receives more punch,” says O’Quinn. “You also can accent
information by placing it in a short sentence by itself, which will make
the idea stand out.”
Here’s an example of three successive sentences, all with the same
structure and length:
Earnings season kicks off Monday.
Investors know it’s going to be bad.
They just hope it’s not worse.
That version forces the reader to halt her momentum at each period, then
start again. It results in a choppy, monotonous tone. O’Quinn suggesting
trying something like this instead:
Earnings season, which kicks off Monday, is going to be bad. Investors
hope it’s not worse.
4. Be maniacal about metrics. Verbosity is the antithesis
of the concise, punchy writing that propels readers. Yet the former was
ingrained in us through minimum word count requirements in high school and
college writing assignments.
Smart says the remedy lies in metrics.
“After your first draft, look at your average sentence length and total
word count,” he says. “Get your average words per sentence down under 20.
Replace commas with periods. Then cut your total word count by 25
percent—you can almost always gain readership without losing meaning when
you do this.”
is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR