Seven Ingredients for Crisp Writing
Words, when cobbled into descriptive sentences, can create some of the most striking works of art. These verses wield the power to convey detailed messages, paint vivid images and absorb all readers—while informing audiences.
Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications (the leading publisher of corporate communications, public relations and leadership development), recently hosted a writing webinar that discussed how communicators can sharpen their prose. At the heart of communications is storytelling, and in order to successfully express narratives, clear writing is the vehicle that turns tangled thoughts into dramatic tales.
Unblemished writing has never been so important during the digital age as newsrooms dwindle and blogs flourish. As a result, brand journalism has spawned, enabling companies to act as media outlets, report their stories and generate engaging content that they can propagate across the Web.
Before putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, Ragan offered the following seven tips for crisp writing:
- Clarity—above all. Simple, clear language delivers stories best. Writers must say what they mean and birth narratives that not only convey personalization, but do so in a conversational tone.
- Strong, visual verbs. The eternal words of my former newspaper editor, muscular verbs pump up prose by showing, not telling. Beware of verbs that end in “ize” such as utilize and revolutionize because they can clutter writing. Some of my favorite verbs include ensnare, squawk and deploy.
- Pursue active voice. Don’t live in the past because passive construction is slow and cumbersome. Reconstructing a passive sentence into an active one will not only shorten paragraphs, but accelerate the readability of the text.
- Specificity rules. Specific details paint intense pictures in readers’ minds and help them better understand messages. Always include examples to validate ledes and points of view. Writers must always show contextual evidence.
- Avoid jargon and fancy words of the month. Strong writing automatically nixes words such as leverage, synergy, solutions, optimize, core processes, etc. When in doubt, check out some words that should be retired.
- Find real people. Core to any story is tension, drama and passion. As storytellers, writers must find those nuggets that enliven words and show how real people accomplish real feats through real emotions. These are stories that audiences care about—and crave. A good rule of thumb: Remember the classic tale of boy meets girl, they fall in love, but then a major obstacle strikes.
- Sell the benefits. To promote stories, writers and editors must create pop-off-the-page headlines that tell readers what they will learn from their articles. These headlines are as simple as explaining the seven ingredients for strong writing or the five biggest secrets to increasing job productivity. These list-type headlines are what people want because they deliver digestible information and hook them with informative titles.
By injecting these elements into writing, communicators will create powerful, engaging narratives that will strengthen their brands’ overall awareness.