Friday Five: on writing well*

*With apologies to William Zinsser.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get the feeling that I spend too many days at the office (and too many evenings at home) mired in administrivia.

Which means I don’t spend enough time using and honing the writing and editing skills that every communicator, marketer, leader or administrator needs.

My writing and editing skills have gotten mushy. Too many policy documents, internal memos and talking points, not enough crisp journalistic-style news releases, magazine articles or blog posts. It’s high time I sharpen the saw, in Covey-speak.

Maybe your writing needs help, too. If so, you’re in luck. There’s plenty of guidance available on the web. If any part of your job involves writing (or “creating content,” as some of my web-centric friends like to call it), then this Friday Five is for you. Here are some virtual whetstones to help you sharpen your writing skills. Enjoy.

  1. Copywriting for the web is Heidi Cool’s excellent post on writing for any medium. Trite as it has become to claim that marketing is all about “telling the story,” Heidi reminds us of the truth of that saying:

    There’s a story to tell behind each of our product’s features or benefits. We can use such stories to lend a snappy headline and explain, in human terms, how our offering can benefit customers in ways they will easily recognize.

    The trick for us writers is to dig for the story behind our product (or service) and make it interesting for our readers, customers, audience.

  2. 3 simple words for creating killer content. The message of this two-month-old post from one of my favorite blogs for writing and editing, Copyblogger, hasn’t grown stale yet.
  3. Tips from two pros: Stephen King and Elmore Leonard. These tips may be more helpful to fiction writers, but you can probably glean some ideas from them as well. If nothing else, maybe it will help you cut down on the number of exclamation points you use. (Elmore says writers are allowed “no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Unless you’re Tom Wolfe.)
  4. Open-source apps for writers. For the geeky writers out there, here are five free writing packages, designed mainly for aspiring novelists or other long-form writers. These probably won’t make you a better writer, but they could be fun to play with.
  5. When did I “get” old? Trends for the rest of us, by Richard Laermer of the Bad Pitch Blog, is chock full of good stuff for communicators, as Richard’s posts usually are. But his bit on writing (look for the subhead ‘The Benefits of Writing Good’) really hits home with me. (Maybe because I’m getting old, too.)

    This is my soapbox, and I’m proud of it. I work in PR, a communications industry. Much of our communication is written. That means outlines, grammar, and channeling your creativity into materials—pitches, letters, collateral, online communications—that are absolutely in line with your client’s and/or company’s business objectives. PR is not about wild and crazy ideas (although stunts do have a time and a place). Rather, PR is about creative ideas that deliver solid business value. Have I made myself clear? Or clearly?

  6. Bonus tip: Speaking of Zinsser… I started this post by apologizing to him for appropriating the title of his excellent book for my headline. So I’ll close by linking to some of his advice from that great book and sharing this nugget that some of you readers may appreciate. It’s as fitting for campus communicators today as it was then:

    Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur, ironically, in proportion to education and rank.

    During the late 1960s the president of a major university [end of page 7] wrote a letter to mollify the alumni after a spell of campus unrest. “You are probably aware,” he began, “that we have been experiencing very considerable potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction on issues only partially related.” He meant that the students had been hassling them about different things. I was far more upset by the president’s English than by the students’ potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction.

May our own writing never cause such offense.

Have a terrific weekend.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

4 thoughts on “Friday Five: on writing well*”

  1. how sad is it that when i hovered over Zinsser’s name i expected to see a link to a twitter account (ditto with King and Leonard). I think writing for twitter is stunting the way people think about communicating. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Ron – You’re welcome. (Not like you couldn’t write your own resources for the rest of us.)

    Joe – Thanks for sharing those links. I really got sucked into Powell’s essay. I’ll save the Poynter piece for another day, but their stuff is usually good (as gold, one might be tempted to say).

    Isaacson. Has Twitter ruined us all as writers? Maybe we should use it to hone our leads to 140 characters.

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