Is writing giving you a massive headache? (source of image)
Communicating clearly is a constant pain for publicists like us. If we do it well, nobody is going to say a thing. If we botch it up, however...
Just yesterday, our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on Facebook about the ongoing need for public officers to communicate more clearly to the public. He shared a link from The Irish Times which described how Apple's "lost its way with words" in a recent employment ad using "gibberish".
Quoting from our PM:
"Whether it is an informal conversation, a speech, or a press statement, say what we mean. Avoid management speak or big words which will not impress anyone. Use simple language which people can understand."
PM Lee then highlighted the need to be simple and clear, and to edit one's writing. This includes Facebook posts. Naturally, he has set a shining example for us to follow.
As a long time communications professional who reads heavily, edits frequently, and writes obsessively, I'd like to propose some tips for us to consider.
1) Banish Boring Buzzwords
The first thing you need to do is to kill those fancy buzzwords. These could be anything that sounds like corporate speak, technical jargon, or art speak which leaves a lay reader scratching his head.
Check out this humourous article which lists some of our favourite eye-rolling phrases like "burning platform", "core competency", "think outside the box" and more.
2) Trash the Thesis (aka Less is More)
Contrary to popular belief, your newsletter article is not a peer referenced journal article. You don't need to throw everything in - including the kitchen sink! Instead, you should keep it as short, sweet and simple as possible while conveying the message.
I love Steve Jobs' immortal quote on achieving more with less:
"That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be
harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to
make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get
there, you can move mountains."
3) Make Magic with Metaphors
As I've previously written before, metaphors help to add colour and meaning to a lifeless piece of text. They help us to better visualise complex and difficult concepts, and to piece them together in descriptions that the average human being can understand.
My favourite metaphors can be found in the Bible. The parables of Jesus are excellent examples of metaphors which connect richly and deeply with us. Other excellent metaphors can be found in this list here.
4) Writing Short and Long
Contrary to popular belief, not every sentence needs to be short. As a rule of thumb, I try to keep my sentences to 25 words or less, with most not exceeding 15 words.
More importantly, stick to one major point in each paragraph and keep them short. Generally, a maximum of four to five sentences per paragraph is what I'd be comfortable with.
5) Write the Way You Speak
Have you noticed how you can be a Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to speaking and writing. I have friends who are nice, warm and fuzzy in person, yet write like cold unfeeling robots! They are so worried about making mistakes in their writing that they end up being grammatically correct but boring like hell.
It is time to stop the formalities. Write like how you speak. Seek to connect with your audiences - whomever they may be - and learn the language of the street.
6) Break It Down
This is so basic that it is almost painful to point this out. However, you'll be surprised by the number of people who choose not to use headlines, sub-headlines, paragraph numberings or bullet points.
Repeat after me. A wall of text is not a many splendoured thing. If you need to communicate a more lengthy piece (like this one), make use of bold headings, underlines, and italics to emphasise different points.
While bullets may be sinful in Powerpoint, you can use them effectively in written texts as they...
a) Reduce chunky paragraphs into bite-sized digestible bits;
b) Allow you to list down multiple aspects of a main idea; and
c) Let your readers' eyes take a much needed break.
7) Remember the Five As
Finally, I'd like to introduce the 5 As of compelling writing (note the use of a mnemonic or learning device here), namely:
Accurate - Check, check and double check your facts, figures and citations before you hit the publish button. Nothing jars one's senses like a misspelled name or inaccurate date.
Accessible - Use the above tips to make your writing so easy to understand that your reader need not refer to a dictionary (or Google) to help him along.
Attractive - Yes, good writing is alluring, enchanting and fun. It draws people in and makes them want to read more and more.
Audience-focused - Know who you are writing for. Communicating to art historians on the History of Impressionism would probably be quite different from requesting the public to exercise three times a week.
Authentic - Have a personality and a voice. People are drawn to writing which is human and personable. I guess this is why bloggers are gaining considerable reach and audiences.
PS - For more tips on writing, check out my other blog posts on writing here, here, here, here, here and here. Yeah, you can tell that I'm obviously passionate about this topic!
Labels: Communication, copywriting, corporate communications, editorial, Government Communications, Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, public relations, writing