Op-Ed: How to Be a Better Writer: Tips for Creating Content to Care About

Op-Ed: How to Be a Better Writer: Tips for Creating Content to Care About

By Ken Keatley, Vice President, Senior Writer & Content Developer, Ketchum.

As writers, we have one predominant goal: To make the reader’s job easier. If we don’t, we’ll lose them with one quick click of the mouse. And the competition is quite intense.

Today, on average, those with Internet access spend seven hours online daily. So, if a blog or press release or op-ed or web content doesn’t resonate with them, options aplenty are at their fingertips.

Professional communicators face the challenge of producing content that stands out in an intensely crowded field. Learning how to be a better writer requires more than wondrous wordsmithing. By taking a methodical approach to any writing assignment, the end result stands a much better chance of being read, understood and acted upon.

To crank out the “write stuff,” consider this step-by-step approach:
Do your homework. The boss assigns you to craft a media pitch, so you dive right in…correct? Wrong. What should be the first step in the writing process is question-asking. Why are we pitching this product / person / event? What is the desired audience? Can we “size” the story in some way? What’s the “news”? Where can I go for more details? The point is, the writer must be a reporter first. Learn all you can about the assignment before putting virtual pen to paper.

Get to the point. Make it easier to read by being ruthless. Recently, I came across a published news release with a lead sentence that contained - wait for it - 66 words. Really. Our desired audiences - be they reporters, influencers, shareholders, consumers - take just a few seconds before deciding if they will read something or move on. Don’t bury the lead…because your reader will never find it. And don’t cram every fact into your opening…because no reader wants to work that hard to ascertain your angle.

Start hot. Building on the previous tip, you MUST engage your reader. Does the headline grab their attention? Does the lead sentence sizzle? If the answers are “no”, readers will just say no, too, and won’t peruse your prose. Dull is death to reader engagement. If you need a creative jumpstart, try listening to a murder podcast or writing awful poetry.

Jettison jargon. Even if your desired audience is a bevy of techno-nerds, you can’t assume everyone understands what IPaaS stands for on first reference. Easy on the acronyms, too. LOL!

Write rhythmically. Be bold. Two-word sentences can be as effective - sometimes more so - than those that are complex yet carefully crafted. Mix it up. Hook the reader by varying the length of your sentences. (Maybe even ignore the rules of grammar and sentence structure, depending on the circumstance.) If your content flows like smooth jazz, your writing will sing - and the reader will reward you by reading on.

Cross every T. If you work in the communications field, you are, by definition, a professional writer. Act like one! Although 60 percent of business communications contain at least one grammatical or spelling error, strive for perfection. Make proofreading a priority. Buddy up! Find a proofreading pal and take turns reviewing each other’s work. With more eyes on the prize, you’ll find and fix that needel (whoops, “needle”) in the haystack. 

Pack these tips into your professional writing toolkit, and you’ll stand a better chance of persuading your audiences to read the content they care about.

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