The lockdown has made us embrace communication. Marketing departments need extra content as they grapple with maintaining relationships in this restrained environment. Both portfolio and relationship managers are under pressure to produce clear copy to capture the attention of their clients. For those of you who want to improve your writing, here are my top tips from 16 years of working as a journalist.
Before putting your fingers to the keyboard, ask yourself: “Why would anyone want to read this?” There are three reasons to write something: you are telling people something new, sharing an original insight into an existing trend or providing fresh analysis. If your idea does not fall into these three groups, find one that does.
Tell the story
News reporting is the most concise form of storytelling. Everything is in the first paragraph. The rest provides detail and context. Whether you are writing a feature, a blog post or a client email adopting the mindset of a news reporter makes your copy standout. Always have your story in the first paragraph. If you are struggling to do this, then do an ‘elevator pitch’. Imagine you are in a lift and your audience is on the landing outside. You can’t move so you have to tell your story before the doors close in 3-2-1 BING!
Kill your children
There is an inverse relationship between how fabulous you think a particular section of copy is and how useful it is. When I first started to write features, I often cut the first paragraph because it was a meandering warm-up while the second cut to the chase. Once you have written the first draft, pretend you are an editor and ask yourself if each sentence helps to explain the story or if it’s there to show clever you are. Be ruthless.
Less is more
English is a gloriously concise language. Make the most of it. There is almost always a way to write a sentence using fewer words. Turn it into a game and find ways to be clearer. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Avoid confusing sentences with too many clauses. Turn these into multiple shorter ones.
Working on the economics desk at the Guardian was a masterclass in describing an increase in inflation or employment. It could rise, grow or hike. Try to avoid mindless repetition – use it only for emphasis. Write with a thesaurus to hand.
Analyse your copy
Once you have nailed your story in the first paragraph, ensure the rest of your copy makes a logical argument the reader can follow. Don’t disappear off on a tangent mid-copy because you find it interesting. Every word needs to earn its keep: it should explain facts, add context or provide colour to make the overall narrative clear and easily grasped.
Edit, edit, edit
Read your copy multiple times. Leave it overnight and re-visit with fresh eyes the next morning. Keep my tips in mind while you do so and be vigilant. Spend 70% of your editing time on the top half of the copy, particularly the first few paragraphs. Polish, polish, polish. Make it sing. If you haven’t hooked your reader with the top of the story, you’re never going to keep them.