Fairy tales, myths and fables – the dark art of writing
Posted on 11th April 2013 by Man Bites Dog
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a PR professional wrote a simple and engaging article. The article was free from basic mistakes, didn’t include any PR gobbledygook and what’s more, it was easy to understand.
Whilst the above may sound like a tall tale to many journalists, the reality of writing in PR can often be a very different story.
In an industry full of jargon and buzzwords, being able to write clear, concise and engaging copy is an important skill. A well-written article stands more chance of being used by a journalist and is much easier for the reader to understand.
So why is it, that so many working in the industry, insist on wasting their word count with unreadable waffle?
The battle of good vs evil
Using clear, direct and simple language sounds easy, but it’s actually much harder than you might think. Social and content marketing also make it easier to be lazy in your writing. If there’s no journalist go-between, who’s to say if your copy is interesting or not?
In PR, there is often a tendency to overcomplicate our language and alter our writing style when talking about complex topics – even though this is when we need to be as clear as possible!
Cue the hero of our story: Alex Blyth – journalist and copywriting extraordinaire – who visited The Doghouse this week to deliver his training session on ‘How to write copy that journalists will actually use’.
Alex encourages the idea of creating copy that is clear and understandable. But he also stresses the importance of bringing your copy to life with a good bit of old-fashioned storytelling.
“If you think about the classic fairy tale format”, says Alex, “they all have very similar constructs”. These include:
• Characters and action
• A plot
• A setting
Bringing these concepts into your article can turn the most dull and boring piece of writing into an exciting piece of copy that journalists will want to read, and share with their readers.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous
Whilst this is all sound advice that is still clearly relevant to today’s writers, it is also important to consider the questions Orwell poses earlier in his essay:
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence’” he writes, “will ask himself at least four questions. These are:
• What am I trying to say?
• What words will express it?
• What image or idiom will make it clearer?
• Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
• Could I put it more succinctly?
• Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
Happily ever after
So whilst the current economic climate with its triple dips, fiscal cliffs and Eurozone bailouts, can at times make it hard to avoid saying anything ugly, we should all consider the above questions before we start a piece of writing.
By thinking about what it is we actually want our writing to achieve and whom we want to read it, our approach to copywriting can become more targeted and focused. And by making every word count, your writing will become tighter, your points will become clearer and your audience will become better informed.
Writing in the world of PR doesn’t have to be a dark art: everybody likes a good story; it’s just our job to make sure it’s always a story that everyone wants to read.