The Imperative Need to Write Well
September 3, 2009 by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker

TechCrunch, in its soap opera about the PR profession, finally made a valuable and worthwhile point: Our writing, collective as an industry, stinks.  I hate to admit it, but author Robin Wauters got it right in a rant about 10 Words I Would Love To See Banned From Press Releases.

Robin is dead-on accurate. Seeing those words in news releases is better at inducing vomiting than ipecac.  Are we lazy and leech onto the lowest hanging fruit when banging away at our keyboards?  Are we choosing sizzle over substance?  I know I’ve heard time and again until my ears bleed about what “sounds good.”  It might be fancy and sound or look good, but realistically we look like foolish grade-school writers and, worse yet, we embarrass our clients.  Every organization wants to talk about “quality” products or services, or “leadership” in a category or on an issue.  But are we clearly differentiating them from the competition?  If we can’t clearly define and back up what we’re writing, thus demonstrating a competitive advantage, then it’s just puffery falling on deaf ears.

Most of all, I suspect, is speed.  The 24/7 information cycle forces many of us to crank out material with little forethought on what we’re trying to accomplish.  Time is of the essence, but at the risk of clear, compelling and informative writing.

Here are the other culprits:

Colleges and universities: Classic liberal arts training, where writing well matters, is disappearing, and we’re getting a young workforce that literally struggles writing something as simple as a new product announcement or new hire release.  Not only are they challenged with how to write the release, but, moreover, with basic sentence structure, grammar and punctuation.  Yes, all you new grads out there will be peeved at me, but it’s true.  Many of us old folks in the profession lament about the quality of writing new grads have, but if you’re dedicated to writing well and are lucky enough to land a job at a place that has the same view, you’ll do just fine – just be prepared for some mentoring.

Social media:  Yes, I said it, social media is destroying the very essence of communication – human interaction, clear and skillful communication and, for *#&(@ sakes, good writing!  It seems to be more about getting information out fast and sacrificing proper grammar and excellence in writing.

PR Industry: Every firm or in-house communications department should ensure they at least have one resident word nerd on the team.  In our shop, all new hires – regardless of their level of experience – go through a lengthy writing program, and every product we produce goes through an arduous QC protocol.  What’s more, we all should follow the basic tenets of communication writing:
•    Identify a need, concern or interest
•    Present a desired behavior as a solution
•    Show the benefits of action and the consequences of inaction
•    Give your reader some rehearsal steps

Spell check: Just ban it, write and edit slowly, and pick up a dictionary.

Millenials: How can we xpct dem 2 care abt ritin good in 140 chrctrs or <?

Consider this:

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. – Rudyard Kipling

Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness – when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be. – J.B. Priestley

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. – Joan Didion

3 Comments

  • Lance Jungmeyer (5 years ago) Reply

    How true Mike. How true.

    Too many press releases are too much huffpuffery and not enough real facts and figures that a member of the media can actually use.

    I think some clients may cringe at giving away too many numbers and details, but that's what gets a journalist's attention, and what makes a great story that a writer can actually get his or her arms around.

  • Soft Smooth Readings (5 years ago) Reply

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