Catherine Bauer writes…
Whatever you are doing right now – STOP. NOW. PLEASE.
Did you know it’s physically impossible to lick your elbow; move your head back and forth with your mouth open or to stick your tongue out while looking skywards?
I have no idea if any of this is true. What’s more, I don’t care either.
When it comes to putting pen to paper – or as is more likely, fingers to the keyboard – it’s interesting just how many people seem to be truly borderline, if not genuinely phobic, about the process. I know people who’d rather walk stark naked along Rundle Mall or indulge in a little public speaking rather than sit down and write.
With a deadline looming, reorganising their business card contacts or cleaning out the bottom drawer suddenly become urgent priorities as they worry and fret, dally and procrastinate about their “chore”.
Words should be written because we want to reach an audience and have a purpose behind what we want to say, not because we want to say something – anything.
Reading or listening to a poorly crafted or badly written piece of writing – be a two-line advertisement, a novel, film script, media release, web site, annual report or eulogy ,will make just about anyone cringe and squirm.
There are many reasons a piece of writing can be classified “bad”. It can be boring and overly long, meandering and seemingly pointless, contain factual, spelling or grammatical errors, over written with lots of “purple prose” and clichés, or sin of all sins – full of jargon that your average Joe just doesn’t understand.
Bottom line – the audience tunes out and you’ll have missed your chance to be heard.
As one of my first editors was fond of saying, “writers are born, they’re not made. It’s one of those things – you either can or you can’t and those who can’t should do everyone a favour and leave it to those who can.’’
However, even if writing doesn’t come naturally, there are still some key rules and tips that anyone can follow to improve their writing and make it more interesting and effective. I’d say they apply to just about whatever needs to be communicated from business briefs, pitches and reports, to the web, blogs and marketing material – even that novel or film script.
- Know your audience and who you are targeting. Research if necessary.
- Define your message and plan what you want to say.
- Never write about something you know nothing about.
- Grab your audience’s attention straight away or don’t bother at all. This can be done any number of ways including: making a bold statement or claim; with a new or quirky piece of (reliable) information, a good and relevant story; humour or use of a particular style.
- Never over write or labour the point.
- Be clear and concise. Especially in business writing, don’t use two words if one will do.
- Make it flow with a logical structure.
- Make it “sing” and a pleasure to read with appropriate tone and clear language – no jargon.
- Break it up into short sentences or paragraphs. Unless they are boffins, most people don’t read daunting great slabs of text.
- Check and check again. Get someone else to check it. Leave it alone for a while, then go back and do a final check.
Finally, if tasked with a piece of writing and you really don’t know where or how to start, get the help of someone who can; brainstorm some ideas with a colleague or just sit down and make a start and see what happens.
– Catherine Bauer
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