Writing with Personality

iStock_000018352153XSmallIn a world of texts, tweets and Instagram postings, does anyone really need to know how to write anymore? Yes! Good writing is still essential, especially in business.

Unfortunately, good writing – writing that is easy to read – is not all that common. Many people who communicate very well in person completely fail in written communication. The most vivacious, interesting people seem to change when they sit down to write; they become more formal, stiff and aloof. It’s as if they think the process of writing is a very serious business, one in which the writer must throw away his personality.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and here are three ways to make your writing as interesting as your in-person communication.

  1. Be Conversational. Writing and speaking should not be all that different, and writing at its best is a conversation with the reader. Use conversational language: “help” instead of “provide assistance,” “do our best” instead of “maximize efforts,” and “show” instead of “exemplify.” Read your work aloud to hear how it “sounds” to the reader.
  2. Use Active Voice. There is nothing more deadening to the written word than excessive use of the passive voice: “Mistakes were made” or “The job was completed,” instead of “I made mistakes” or “We completed the job.”   Whether it’s a way to avoid responsibility or sound humble doesn’t matter. When it comes to communicating, use of the passive voice can be as lively as watching grass grow.
  3. Eliminate Jargon. Every profession has jargon, and jargon often comes in the form of acronyms. When readers unfamiliar with an acronym see it, you’ve immediately lost their attention as they spend time trying to decipher its meaning. Don’t assume your reader understands the shorthand you use with peers. Unless it’s a commonly understood acronym, spell it out.

Try these three tips when you write – and let your personality shine through.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Write Right

One of the most Writingimportant skills for a public relations professional is the ability to write clearly and concisely.  Writing well takes practice, and practice often means opening yourself up to the critique of others.

Unfortunately, some people take offense to criticism about their writing.  They either want to think they are good at it, or that they should be good at it because…well…because it’s supposed to be something everyone can do.

As someone who has been writing for a living for many years, I’m happy to pass along  some basics for writing well:

  1. The most important part of writing is re-writing.  Nothing is perfect the first time around.  If I’m writing something important, I like to do a draft, then let it sit there for a while (assuming there is time).  Waiting even an hour after writing something makes me more objective about what I have written.
  2. There is a difference between style and basic grammar.  No, that run-on sentence is not creative.  It’s just wrong.  Yes, you can occasionally use a sentence fragment for emphasis, but know the rule before you break it.
  3. Punctuation is not an afterthought.  In fact, punctuation provides the framework for communication.  It’s what helps people understand what you mean.  A misplaced or missing comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence, as was cleverly demonstrated in the title of a book on punctuation, published in 2003:  Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by British author Lynne Truss.
  4. Sometimes what looks good on paper may not be what it seems.  Especially in the era of computer editing, it’s easy to become sloppy when making changes.  If you are writing an important paper, read it aloud.  You may be surprised by what you have written.
  5. Be careful with your tone.  This is especially true with email, which can cause all kinds of misunderstandings.  If you plan to discuss a sensitive subject, it’s often best to just pick up the phone.

Most of us have pet peeves regarding the written word.  Here are some of mine:

  • Misplaced modifiers:  Don’t confuse your readers.  “She saw two cows on the way to school.”  Were the cows on the way to school?
  • The use of less when you mean fewer:  If it’s something you can count, use “fewer.”  The use of “less people,” for example, is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
  • Misplaced quotation marks:  Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes (unless you are using British English).
  • Not finishing the comma set-off for nonessential sentence elements:  “The author, who was born in New York, wanted to write about her city.”  When you leave out the comma after New York, you are separating a subject and a verb with a comma – a big no-no!

I’m sure you have your own pet peeves.  Please feel free to share them.

Posted by Margot Dimond.


In Your Expert Opinion: Contributing Articles for Publication

If your business provides a professional service, your marketing plan will no doubt revolve around showcasing your firm’s expertise. One of the best ways to do this is by writing an article that is published in an influential business or trade publication. When your article is published, you can make reprints to use for marketing purposes.  Recognition as an expert by the media enhances your credibility.

Not everyone is successful in getting these articles published, however.  Doing so requires more than just knowledge of the subject matter; it requires a basic understanding of what the editors of these publications are looking for.

Expert OpinionHere are five simple rules that will help you get published:

1.  Check out the publication and the type of articles it publishes.  Who reads the publication?  Are the articles technical or general in nature?  How many articles by outside contributors are published in each issue?  Are the articles mostly opinion, or are they factual reporting of research findings?  How long are the articles?

2.  Write about something specific.  This is not the time to share every bit of expertise you have accumulated over the years.  Stick to one topic, and save additional topics for other articles.

3.  Organize your article for an easy read.   The traditional advice for speech writing applies here as well:  Tell them what you plan to say; say it; tell them what you’ve said.

4.  Use conversational language.  Even people in your field won’t want to read an article full of technical jargon.  Keep it readable.

5.  Don’t promote your company in the article.  Doing so will guarantee rejection of your article.  Remember that you are writing to contribute valuable information or to share a point-of-view on current events.  You and your company will be mentioned at the end of the article.

Posted by Margot Dimond