The Three Commandments of Quality Writing

Jon Gelberg

With so much content being produced these days and so many media and social media outlets to choose from, it is a daily battle for PR pros to get their messages across to their target audiences. While there’s a lot of content being produced much of it is being ignored because the quality of writing is wanting.

People are always offering tips on how to improve your writing, but if I was forced to choose just three, it would be these:

  1. Write the way you speak: Mediocre writing is often the by-product of trying too hard. Don’t think of yourself as a writer, think of yourself as a communicator. You are telling a story, delivering a message. Before you start writing talk it out in your head. Imagine you are at a party and tell the story to a friend. You'd be amazed how much this can simplify the process.

  2. Just the facts: In the fast-paced world of social media and 24-hour news cycles, there is a temptation to write first and check facts later. This is a huge mistake. When you get your facts wrong, you damage your firm’s credibility, your client’s brand and your personal reputation.

  3. Capture your audience’s attention and capture it quickly: Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter while the volume of available information is growing exponentially. To get your message across, you need strong, subject lines, headlines and leads. If you don’t “have them at hello,” they are going to say goodbye.

These are my big three. What are yours? Let me know your thoughts.

Jon Gelberg is the editorial director for PR News. You can follow him on Twitter @Jon_gelberg.


  • Alexa Clark

    I think you’ve nailed the top 3.
    I’d add:

    4. Drop the adjectives – write, cut them all out and add them back in judiciously. They’ll have more weight and your writing will be easier to understand.

    5. Don’t Embellish – building on point #2, there’s a fine line between painting a picture and embellishing. One keeps the facts front-and-center and the other, sometimes, creates inaccuracies.

    6. Talk to your reader – use the language your reader is using and understands, not jargon, acronyms and in-house terms.

  • Ford Kanzler

    Ask yourself and then clearly answer the question “Who Cares” in what you write.

  • Dave Brady

    1. Remember it’s about them and their wants and desires. The reader needs to know WIIFM (what’s in it for me) immediately.

    2. Write at a sixth grade level. Simple words and language will appeal to the widest group, including the fancy folk with advanced degrees.

  • Rosanne Gain

    Jon and Alexa, great points. As a PR person and writer, I’m grateful that I did a stint in broadcasting. Scripts and commercials need to be written with brevity and verbal delivery in mind. It’s been a great help to me when writing and editing for clients.

  • Tony Jones

    I like everything mentioned here … especially Alexa’s point about jargon. You know what they say about telling inside jokes to a general audience. Want to lose your audience, throw in the acronyms and in-house terms. Talk about a communications killer!

  • Dorothy Pirovano

    Drop the latest, overused business jargon. Pillars support buildings, not messaging. Granularity is the definition for very large particles not details.

  • John

    I would add a 6b – sometimes it’s okay to use big words – if they are necessary and make for efficient communication. But simpler is usually better – for instance, why use “Due to the fact”, when you mean “because”, and why use “utilize” when “use” works just fine?