I have been writing ever since I can remember. More importantly, my untrained, impulsive writing has been getting me laurels ever since I was in school. Sometimes I deserved the praise that was lavished on me. But it was not until I got into the business of communication that I realized that some of the praise might have been underserved too. I had a rough day the first time my manager returned my press release with tens of track changes in bright red font.
Simply put, I was pretty good at personal essays, personal blog posts, and personal anecdotes and rants, as you may have noticed in this column alone. But business communication meant writing for an audience, and that was a whole different ballgame. I realized that the ability to put down your thoughts on paper in correct grammar is not “writing skill”. In fact, writing for an audience requires you to get out of your own head and think like them. Since then, it has been a journey of picking up new skills and nuances each day, as my editors over at YourStory would admit too!
Here are some lessons I have picked up about strong, audience-centric content writing skills over the years. Hopefully, there will be a little to learn for more of us who love writing but need some handholding when it comes to developing technique and voice.
The hardest part of writing is the ability to get started. When you write for money and you must produce content on demand, it is often easier to stare at the screen of Microsoft Word. Waiting for inspiration to strike is all very well when you are writing a book. But content writers don’t have that luxury. So just start noting down your thoughts, to get started. Don’t worry about language, vocabulary and grammar. Just write. When you start seeing the words on paper, the ideas will follow. You can always edit when you are done.
I have noticed that this is a bit of a cultural issue. Whether it is wedding invitations or work mails, newsletters or press releases, we pussyfoot around the topic far too much. If you want your audience to sign up for a newsletter or subscribe to your blog, it is better to just say it than to dedicate a whole paragraph to niceties. Not only does it make for uninteresting reading, it also gives your audience an excuse to close the tab. I am all for subtleties but not when they are unnecessary.
Your audience’s content feed is exploding at any given time. So, you have about two to three lines to hold or lose their attention. Instead of starting with an irrelevant premise, unnecessary fillers and empty phrases, start with exactly what you need to say if you want your content to grab attention.
Jargons will be the death of good writing. You probably don’t have any choice in order to stay SEO-relevant. But overloading your content with industry-specific terminology or meaningless jargons will not make you sound smart. In fact, the effect is quite the opposite. You must remember that phrases like “leveraging synergies” does not mean anything in real life and most of your readers already know that. Leave legal jargons like “thereafter” and “wherein” to the lawyers – their content is not meant for mass audience. Even fancy adjectives are a no-go. If you mean “green”, there is no point saying “verdant”. You want to sound like a human being if you want to be read by human beings – plain and simple.
If you want your copy to be readable and crisp, drop unnecessary adverbs like “really” and fillers like “that”. Try to stay on point and say everything once. Otherwise it is insufficiently researched, lazy writing.
Done with your first draft? Go get yourself some coffee or take a sunshine break. Content creators often go through phases of 'text blindness' if they read the same thing over and over again. The buffer time will help you take a fresh look at your own writing. Reading aloud helps too. Eventually, you need to be able to ruthlessly edit your own writing. Sentences that don’t make sense, hanging phrases, words that aren’t necessary – cut down, delete, and edit till you have a copy where every word is essential and makes sense.
In my experience, no-nonsense is the one trait you want to showcase when writing business content like PR and marketing copy. It is a great attitude to have, in writing as much as in life.