In 2022, Resolve to Improve Your Writing

With a new year approaching, many of us choose self-improvement as part of our annual resolutions. For some PR pros, writing is at the top of the list—and rightly so.

Even in PR, an industry heavily dependent on content creation, deficient writing is rampant. From careless typos to more troubling grammar mistakes, subpar writing makes it exceedingly difficult for PR pros to reach their target audience. Across corporate America, deficient writing influences the bottom line: Blue-chip companies spend more than $3 billion annually on remedial writing training.

So how do you improve? Here are ideas:

When in Doubt, Make it Shorter

A frequent mistake is overwriting. Whether it’s a run-on sentence, passive voice or a runaway paragraph, elaboration for elaboration’s sake is a scourge.

If you can write it in 50 words or fewer, why use 100?

Some PR pros find it useful to think in soundbites, or seven-word snippets. A soundbite is supposed to be pithy. Pithiness leads to memorability. Overwriting does not demonstrate mastery, effective writing does. And effectiveness follows efficiency.

Lots of Brevity 'Rules'

While the seven-word rule is associated with PowerPoint slides, it's useful in writing, too. Other 'rules' suggest capping sentences at 25 words, some urge 30-40 words. True, they don’t apply to all sentences. Think of them as your North Star.

Leverage brevity to guide sentence structure. Keep your paragraphs short, but sweet.

A useful sentence-reduction tool is avoiding unnecessary commas. Ditto for semicolons and em dashes, but tread carefully. The frequency of punctuation is inversely correlated with memorability. Punctuation marks tend to be less necessary than you think.

Put Yourself in the Target's Shoes

When pitching, think of your audience: reporters. Would they prefer reading a press release exceeding six paragraphs? Or, would they rather you make your point in four paragraphs or fewer? The answer is obvious: Short, but sweet. If you can’t fill six paragraphs, then don’t!

The same goes for an informal media pitch, via email. More often than not, you can summarize the newsworthiness of a potential story in two or three paragraphs. After all, newsworthy stories should be self-explanatory to reporters, who are experts on a given news cycle—they don’t require endless elaboration. If your email is one page or longer, it’s way too long.

You’re better off pitching a reporter in two to three paragraphs and gauging preliminary interest. After that, follow up with more information, if requested. Send too much information early and you may overwhelm the target audience.

When editing a pitch, ask, 'What adds value?' Keep it. Then, ask, 'What adds little to no value?' Cut it.

The 2-Way Street

Generally, content creation is a two-way street. There is a writer and a reader. As writers, our duty is to the reader, rather than writing in a vacuum. The user must dictate the end product. If you speak to be heard, then write the same way.

Let’s say the content is a speech for a member of Congress. If the target audience is a primary voter, sloganeering is more compelling than policymaking. Stay out of the weeds. Don’t get too wonky.

If the target audience is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, offer a more sophisticated speech. Include specifics of tax and regulatory policy. Create a wonkier speech since Chamber officials enjoy public policy.

Perhaps the target audience has a short attention span. For example, Generation Z boasts an average attention span of eight seconds, compared to 12 seconds for Millennials. As such, pithy writing is a requirement.

As you enter 2022, consider improving your content. Even PR pros who write for a living are not perfect writers. Like golf, the mastery of content creation can be frustratingly elusive. Be patient.

Patience is key to turning your writing deficiency into a strength. Trust the process—and keep writing.

Luka Ladan, APR is president/CEO of Zenica Public Relations. PRNEWS and Crisis Insider editor Seth Arenstein contributed to this post.