Even the most experienced PR professionals could stand to get a bit better at writing.
Every writer can improve.
(See how I did that?)
We’re all occasionally guilty of indirect, incorrect, and lazy writing. Editing, more precisely. Many first drafts seemingly make it into the wild. You’ve seen them. They contain typos and grammar errors. They are difficult to understand and fail to make a point. Sometimes both.
Don’t be that guy.
Follow these ten rules to produce outstanding content.
1 – Simplify Your Sentences
Many of us are adept at creating blog post titles, meta descriptions, and Tweets that must adhere to character counts. That discipline often goes out the window when it comes to the rest of our content.
Sit back for a few minutes and review your sentence. Are there any unnecessary, extra words that aren’t absolutely needed?
Review your sentence. Are there unnecessary words?
2 - Be Direct
“Passive voice” is another problem. Passive construction occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. For example:
“Why was the whole cake eaten by Shelly?”
It is Shelly who did the eating, but this sentence puts the cake in the subject’s seat.
“Why did Shelly eat the whole cake?” is a much stronger sentence.
3 – Mind Your Adjectives. (AKA – Use a Thesaurus)
When you see an adjective proceeded by words like really, kind of, or very, get out your thesaurus. These words are intended to strengthen the adjective, but they don’t add value. Use a better word instead.
The Grand Canyon isn’t really big. It’s enormous. Stephan Curry isn’t very good at basketball. He’s amazing.
4 – Watch for Common Word Mix-ups
Many words in English are similar and easy to confuse. You probably know most of these, but spellcheck often makes matters worse, so it is wise to watch for them. Common errors include:
Your and You’re
Your is something you own. (Your blog post.) You’re is a contraction of you and are. (You’re a PR pro.)
They're and Their and There
They’re is a contraction of they and are. (They’re out to get me.) Their is something owned by someone else. (That’s their problem.) There is a place. (I’ll hide out there.)
Its and It's
If you struggle with this one, I’ll cut you some slack because it’s confusing. Adding "'s" to the end of a word generally makes it possessive. One who thinks this applies to the word it, is forgiven. But wrong. It’s is a contraction of it and is. (It’s important to edit.) Its is the possessive form of it. (The dog hurt its paw.)
5 – Use Commas
The rules about commas are puzzling. I suggest essentially ignoring them. Don’t think about where a comma is supposed to go. Think about what it is supposed to do. It signals the reader to pause. Will your sentence make more sense with a break at a certain point? Good. Put a comma there.
This is easier said than done when reading your writing because your brain knows where the pause is supposed to be and will take it, comma or no. Using a tool that reads text out loud is an effective way to identify missing commas. The iPhone has an app. NaturalReader is a free online tool. This method also makes it easy to find spelling errors, typos, and wording that just doesn’t sound right.
6 – Don’t Be Afraid of Verbs
Turning a noun into a verb to modify another noun causes weak writing. For example:
- Give yourself a haircut. (Weak)
- Cut your hair. (Strong)
- Absenteeism is the cause of reduced productivity. (Weak)
- Absenteeism reduces productivity. (Strong)
Today’s readers are short on time and attention. They can also hit the back button or delete key at any second. Don’t offer them large blocks of text.
Make your content easy to skim. Use your Enter key liberally.
8 – Enlist Help
Finding your errors is difficult. Recruit someone who can edit your work. If you can’t, use a tool like Grammarly, or the Hemingway App. They are not foolproof, but may point to some problems you missed.
9 – Write for People, Not Bots
SEO is an essential element of your job, but it should not dominate your writing. Published content must be technically optimized and readable. This is important for your audience and Google, which gets better at ranking for intent - not keywords - all of the time.
10 – Break the Rules
Some rules for writing and grammar are necessary for clear communication. Some get in the way. Since you would never say, “That’s the movie about which I was thinking,” to a friend, why do it in a blog? “That’s the movie I was thinking about,” ends in a preposition.
I also applaud disregarding the rule against sentence fragments on occasion. Word.
PR isn’t a grammar contest. It’s a communications contest. The final test of your writing is whether or not the reader gets your point and will be willing to read the next thing you share.
P.S. Writing a blog about writing rules is intimidating. Please excuse me while I go back through this blog six or seven times looking for my mistakes.