If you’re like me, you love that feeling of typing the final word of a writing project you’ve worked hard on. Whether it’s a press release, a client presentation, an article or a speech, it’s satisfying to have completed the journey from initial research stage, to finding an interesting angle, to organizing the material, to writing an attention-grabbing lead paragraph, to dreaming up a snappy closing line.
Of course, that’s when the hard work really begins. Because once you’ve finished the first draft, it’s time to take a deep breath and dive in to the revision phase. “The best writing is rewriting,” is a quote often attributed to author E.B. White, meaning that it’s the act of revision that creates truly exceptional written work.
If you want your PR writing to stand out from the crowd—and effectively communicate to journalists, clients, consumers or whomever your target readers are—here are seven steps that will make your work truly shine.
Take a break: Set aside the project for at least a few hours—a day or two if your deadline permits—to get a fresh perspective. Then, before you start revising, save the document under a new file name. Knowing you can always go back to the original version makes the revision process less scary.
Rethink the structure: Are you starting with the most important and newsiest information and then bringing in supporting details and background information later in the piece? Or are you burying the lead by taking too long to get to the point? Sometimes a piece can be greatly improved by simply rearranging the order of the paragraphs.
Take out the fluff: In high school you might have needed to pad essays with extra words and repetitive sentences in order to meet the assignments’ length requirements. But in most real-world writing—and PR writing in particular—the goal is to use exactly as many words as are needed to tell the story, and not one more.
Excise the jargon: Technical lingo and generic business-speak can make even an interesting story eye-glazingly dull (and head-scratchingly confusing). Unfortunately, we’ve gotten so used to reading and writing these tired corporate clichés (“innovative technology solutions,” anyone?) that we don’t even notice we’re doing it. Once you break the jargon habit, however, you’ll be amazed at how much more vivid, lively and readable your writing becomes.
Simplify: “Don’t use a five dollar word when a 50 cent word will do,” as Mark Twain reportedly said. That doesn’t mean you should never use big words; it means you should do so only if there isn’t a simpler word that gets the same point across. Sometimes it’s tempting to use fancy words to make ourselves sound smarter. But the goal of PR writing isn’t to make us look smart—it’s to get readers to understand what we’re saying.
Fill in the blanks: When we write about a subject we know well—or have spent a lot of time researching—it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that not all readers will have the benefit of our knowledge. Make sure your piece answers any major questions a reader unfamiliar with the subject might have. If you’re not sure, have a colleague who knows nothing about the topic read it and ask her if there’s anything she doesn’t understand.
Read it out loud: Lastly, print out the document and read each word carefully aloud. Doing so allows you to hear the rhythm and flow of your writing. Are the sentence structures varied enough? Are there run-on sentences that could be broken up? (Hint: If you run out of breath while reading, your sentences are probably too long). Reading aloud also helps us catch errors such as missing words or awkward phrases, mistakes that are easy to miss when we read silently, because we tend to skim rather than focus on each word.
Using these techniques will make your well-written document even better. Now that’s satisfying.
Andrew Hindes is president of Los Angeles-based PR and marketing copywriting firm The In-House Writer as well as a sought-after business writing coach and instructor. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @inhousewriter.