Today I sat next to Brad Pitt on the bus and saw David Beckham at the library.
Did that get your attention? Sorry to say nothing about that sentence is true, sigh.
However, choosing the best part of your story as your introduction is the best way to hook readers in. This top tip is just one from a seasoned writer who has written a guest article for readers of my blog.
We are just days away from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I’ll tell you all about tomorrow.
So I’ve decided to focus this week’s articles on writing skills, as I think it’s a truth universally acknowledged that many comms pros are secret novelists or creative writers.
The ability to write well is often cited in interviews for internal comms positions, with the obligatory ‘written test’ increasingly becoming the norm.
Many internal comms professionals, myself included, started their careers as journalists and learnt how to write to house style and had their work regularly critiqued by sub-editors.
Lots of paths lead to internal comms and not all of them include formal training on how to write, yet it is a skill that’s regularly required by employers.
Step forward Jess Unwin. He has 25 years experience in newspaper and business publishing, including working as a sub-editor on national Fleet Street titles in the UK. He is now a self-employed writer, sub-editor, proofreader, designer and blogger.
Here he shares some top tips in the first of his two-part series about writing skills for us.
Over to you Jess…
How to wordsmith your way to success
At the shiny, futuristic, beginning of the 21st century, when the possibilities for communication innovation seem limitless, it seems strange to be conjuring up images of the ancient Egyptians as inspiration for good writing skills.
Whatever communications platform we’re using, engaging your target audience is the goal – and that can be best achieved by sticking to some of the old tried-and-trusted rules of writing, one the most famous of which is the ‘pyramid’.
The pyramid is how get over your message quickly and effectively. Here are the first five of 10 helpful tips.
1. What’s the pyramid?
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
The first paragraph is the apex of your pyramid, containing the essence of your message. Its aim is to hook your reader. It’s an oft-used comparison, but it’s true to say that when thinking about an intro consider what you would say first to a friend in the pub if you had some juicy gossip.
You wouldn’t open by talking about the weather if you’d just been sitting next to Brad Pitt on the bus! An intro should so encapsulate your message it should be possible to cut off the rest of the story and find the first paragraph still makes sense on its own – but obviously missing the detail.
However, it must make the reader want to read more.
Keep your intro short – under 30 words – and use just one sentence with as little punctuation as possible
These are the building blocks of the rest of your pyramid. Create paragraphs that introduce new ideas and clarify distinct points, but they should also be like links in a chain, with the end of one flowing into the next
Keep them short – one thought to one sentence whenever possible. This makes the bits of your message more digestible mentally. Get things the right way round in your sentences. For example, do use: David Beckham came in to borrow a children’s learn-to-read book when I was at the library yesterday.
Don’t use: Yesterday, when I was at the library, the man who came in to borrow a children’s learn-to-read book turned out to be David Beckham (where is this library?! Rachel)
Knowing who’s speaking is as important as what they’re saying. Unattributed quotes lack credibility because who’s to say the author isn’t making them up? (I know what some of you are thinking). It’s obvious, but early naming of the quoted source always adds to what’s being said. “Maths is not my strong point” has a lot more impact if you explain George Osborne said it. A great quote can sometimes sum up a story and so can be used in your intro but, generally, they are offered to add more detail later in your writing.
Thanks for your article Jess. You can see the second part of Jess’ advice here.
Do you have any ways of making life easier for internal comms pros?
Post author: Jess Unwin.
Published 30 October 2012.
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