What can Bart Simpson teach comms pros? Find out in the second part of Jess Unwin‘s guide to wordsmithing your way to success. If you missed part one, which introduced the pyramid of writing, you can catch up here.
Jess says: “The pyramid is a term more familiar to ex-newspaper ‘hacks’ like me, it describes the right structure for writing and means starting your message with the most interesting stuff first (at the sharp, pointy top of the pyramid), and then spreading out and down through your story with the less important stuff.”
Today sees the launch of National Novel Writing Month, where writers pen a novel in 30 days (and nights). So my articles this week are focusing on writing skills as they are a prerequisite for many comms pros and is always good to have a refresher. If you have any top tips to share with readers of Diary of an internal communicator about what works well for you, do please get in touch.
What style guide can you not live without? What books do you recommend to help inspire creative writing? You’ll find lots of information on my Rachel’s Resources page and you’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC if there’s something you think I should add.
Over to Jess to share part two of his fantastic writing advice…
6. Be brief
Get your message over in as few words as possible. Why? Because time is precious. It sometimes seems we’re bombarded with information 24/7 you’re up against newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, the internet, texts, emails, social media etc. Think about how we all deal with this. The truth is we scan what passes before our eyes and very quickly reject the information unless it’s interesting to us. So, as a writer, you need to get your hook in fast.
7. Use plain English
It’s thought the average adult reader’s age in the UK is about that of Bart Simpson (between 10 and 12 years old). Whether that’s true or not, short words are simpler to understand so you get the message over quicker. Avoid jargon, acronyms and unfamiliar abbreviations. Just about everyone knows what the BBC is (but some don’t know what it stands for Corporation, not Company). However, only some will recognise OINKY (One Income, No Kids Yet) from the dating industry.
Harry Potter fans might recall SPEW (The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare), but no-one will be able to guess the meaning of FART (Fight Against Ridiculous Taxes a campaigning farmers’ group in New Zealand). Amusing though these examples are, unfamiliar abbreviations are a no-no. If you have to use acronyms or abbreviations, spell out what they stand for at the first mention with the acronym abbreviation in brackets afterwards. If you use jargon, explain what it means.
8 and 9: Spelling and punctuation
First off, don’t dismiss the dynamic checks that come with software like Microsoft Word (but watch out for American spellings). I still have a dictionary and encyclopaedia within reach when I write but nowadays I mostly turn to the web for help. The thing to remember is to be sure of your source’s authority.
For example, use the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Newspapers like The Guardian and The Economist have free online guides to their tried-and-trusted spelling and grammar rules and even Google can be a help but, again, look at reliable sources and get the same answers from three different sources to be sure.
I wouldn’t recommend the best-selling and very smug book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Instead, try something like The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by RL Trask. It’s short on witty attitude and long on practical help. Training courses are also invaluable. Start by contacting bodies like the Institute of Internal Communication or the National Union of Journalists.
People lose interest even more quickly when reading from a computer screen, so getting to the point straight away is doubly important. Highlight key words and phrases, use bullet points and meaningful sub-headings. Most of all, write HALF as much as for print then cut it some more.
Thank you again for your sterling advice Jess. What do you think of his advice? Did you learn something new today? Feel free to comment below and thanks as ever for stopping by, Rachel.
Further reading: How to wordsmith your way to success
Post author: Jess Unwin
First published 1 November 2012.