As PR professionals, we are always racking our brains to develop impressive, effective writing techniques to engage our intended audience and achieve our desired result. Recently, three members of our 451 Marketing team attended a writing workshop hosted by the Publicity Club of New England (PubClub) where Ken O’Quinn @KenOQuinn, founder of Writing with Clarity, provided insight on how to write more effectively, by organizing, focusing, simplifying, and crafting. Ken is a former AP writer and now professionally coaches writers. He has worked with business professionals and executives at companies such as GE, Chevron, Visa, Oracle, John Deere, UPS, Reebok, and more.
Below are some pointers we picked up from Ken:
1. A draft is a draft is a draft
Ken hammered home the idea of loosening up during the drafting process and getting everything out on paper before editing and refining. He reminded us that our drafts don’t have to be perfect, because no one will even see it the first time around. It seems like an obvious piece of advice, but a lot of us get so caught up in making things perfect when we write that we end up wasting time and complicating the process by trying to simultaneously write and edit. It is much easier and more efficient to get your main points down on paper and go back to wordsmith afterwards before even sending it to a supervisor or colleague for their edits.
2. Always keep the reader in mind
According to Ken, the key to strong and effective writing is to ask yourself important questions from the reader’s perspective before you even begin to write. He encouraged us to differentiate between what the reader needs to know and wants to know. From there, determine exactly how much information to include. It’s also important to consider what you want the reader to do after reading our message, which sometimes is nothing if the message only serves to impart information. It’s easy to load messages with as much detail as possible so there are no questions left unanswered, when, in reality, including too much information often hinders our message from being received. If we ask ourselves these essential questions before writing, it will ensure that only the most vital news reaches the reader and we achieve the desired result.
3. There’s no such thing as a silly question
Ken discussed how to get the most out of an interview. Preparation is key – do your homework! Have a clear understanding of what you want to learn from the person you are interviewing to prevent wasting time thinking of questions during the interview. Remember to ask short questions because the shorter the question, the longer the answer and vice versa. Ken mentioned asking questions that begin with “why” and “how” to obtain the best answers. Although we’ve been told a million times before, it’s important to remember that there really is no such thing as a silly question. Make sure you ask any and all questions to help you write effectively. You have to understand it to be able to write about it!
4. Organize your thoughts
Ken noted that typically writers tend to include more information than necessary which can cause readers to immediately lose interest. To help edit your content, he recommends re-reading the material and asking yourself, what is the real news here? Try to fit the imperative news into one sentence to help trim excess words and details. Also, ask yourself, what will this enable someone to do tomorrow that they can’t do today? Does it allow them to do something more efficiently or faster? Does it offer convenience or improve employee productivity, etc.? Whether it’s a product, service, or event, think about how it impacts the reader’s life. This is a great tip that’s applicable not just for press release writing, but for pitches, marketing materials, website content, etc.
5. Crafting the perfect language
Seeing is believing – Ken said when readers can “see,” they will grasp your meaning quickly. We learned how important it is to focus on painting a clear image for readers by way of metaphors and similes because it will enable readers to visualize similarities between an abstract idea and something more familiar. Ken reminded us that word choice is a huge factor to crafting cohesive, effective sentences that readers can grasp easily. This includes using industry jargon, avoiding cliché buzzwords, simplifying language, and using examples.
6. Say more with less
At the end of the discussion, Ken reviewed basic writing tips, such as avoiding unnecessary forms of the verb “be” and surplus prepositions like “by, of, for, from.” He also recommended to try not to bury strong verbs – i.e. don’t say “she provided an explanation of the changes” when you can say “she explained the changes.” Additionally, he pointed out we should avoid redundancies like “my personal opinion” and “positive benefits.” While his tips may seem obvious, they’re a helpful reminder. As PR professionals, we love words – we love to talk, and we love to write – and sometimes we love them so much we tend to use more of them than needed. We definitely can be verbose – so this was a handy reminder to take a step back and review our words so we can remove those words that are edit our work.
And that’s a wrap (cliché to avoid)!
We were excited to review key writing components that we learned long ago, but have since slipped our minds. Ken was a great reminder of all writing blunders and best practices to be aware of when trying to pitch with a purpose and mean it! A big thank you to Ken for his expertise and friendly coaching last night and to the PubClub for organizing the event.