Presenter: Butch Ward, The Poynter Institute

“Writing may be magical, but it’s not magic.”Donald Murray, Writing Coach

The importance and value of strong writing skills have never been more hotly debated than they are today thanks to the pervasiveness of digital media delivery systems. Some have gone so far as to predict the end of writing as we know it as newspapers and magazines hit their projected demise and the written message is condensed into 140 character sound bites or less.

We live in a changing world in how the written word is delivered.

  •  Communicators no longer need intermediaries
  • Anyone with Internet access can reach a global audience with a message
  • HOWEVER: With such access comes responsibility. We should always consider…How are we affecting the public discourse with the words we share?

The Hard Truth: When searching the Web, people spend less than 30 seconds on a home page and less than one minute on an interior page. And consider this: Most people bypass the home page and enter through a link, search engine, etc.

Which leads us to: Writing is Critical to GRAB ATTENTION and Writing and Editing are more important than ever and will remain important FOREVER! Especially for communicators.

Here are a few tips to rev up your writing and create stand out copy.

Follow the Writer’s Process

1) Conceive/develop the idea: What’s my story’s goal? Who is my audience?
First of all you need to understand where you get your story ideas: in the shower, while exercising, walking the hallway and talking to colleagues?

You can also collaborate with your audience, clients and colleagues and have them share their ideas and thoughts. Get them involved. In today’s words – embrace crowdsourcing.

Writer’s Block?
Try one of these two exercises to get the creative juices and ideas flowing:

The “Dining Room Table” exercise. Grab a few colleagues, set a time limit (say 20 minutes), select a topic and then start discussing it as if you were sitting with friends. Pick a subject that’s relevant to your business and share stories. These stories will lead to valid story ideas for future writing projects.

“The Wheel” exercise: Pull a group of colleagues and/or friends together and pick one topic and start throwing out story ideas based on every audience/stakeholder that touches that topic in some shape or form. For example: Topic: Black Friday. 20 possible story ideas (audiences) were identified. Everything from retailers to advertising representatives and daycare centers.

2) Gather your information (sourcing): What do I know? What do I need to know? The key is to get information that will “hook” the reader.

  • Who are my sources?
  • How diverse are they?
  • Take advantage of using your audience as sources.
  • Does my story have narrative tension, strong characters and action?
  • Do I have facts, and not just opinion? Are they verifiable?

**It’s critically important to verify information – your readers want to know it’s reliable. Always source! There is a golden opportunity for communicators to deal in fact, not opinion. There is too much out there now that is passed off as fact when in fact, its opinion.

3) Focus: Draft/Revise: What’s this story about?

A good exercise to understand what your story is about is to start by writing your story as a paragraph, then one sentence and then one word.

Other elements to consider when telling a story:

  • Photographs – elicit emotions
  • Graphics – deconstruct complex information
  • Video – present action
  • Audio- trigger the imagination
  • Words – communicate information with clarity and spee

4) Draft/Revise/Publish: How can I get my audience to notice it —-and read it?

  • Help the reader find you. (Build in Search Engine Optimization)  Put yourself in the audience shoes and think about what words your audience would use to search your topic.
  • Write to the link. Start the story on the “homepage” and jump it.
  • How much text to use? Less is usually more.
  • On the flipside: Not everything has to be short. A good story will hold a reader’s attention.
  • Use more dialogue (it achieves action) vs. quotations all the time. Capture conversations if possible

When Writing for the Web Keep In Mind:

  • Priority
  • Clarity
  • Efficiency
  • Brevity
  • Simple direct sentences
  • Use active verbs
  • One subject per sentence
  • Use bullet points
  • Use white space
  • Pay attention to logical order

Quick Tips for Editors:

  • Coach the idea
  • Coach the gathering
  • Coach the story
  • Coach the writing

A good editor infuses himself or herself into the writing process. They shouldn’t come in right at the end of the process. Coach the idea from the beginning, coach the story and coach the writing.

At the end of the Day Remember: Write like Ernest Hemingway not Thomas Wolfe!

Guest blogger: Pamela Cox-Nulman, APR, CPRC, Nulman PR & Marketing