The good news is your competitors are far from perfect.
Despite the many new ways to deliver your message, words are still the main currency of our communications. Mastering words is more crucial now because everybody is a writer and publisher: everyone has a Facebook page, a blog, a Twitter page and everyone writes emails.
Whether you’re writing a speech, a business presentation, a brochure or a blog post, the rules are the same: most people won’t remember more than 3 points at a time. If you give them more, chances are they’ll remember none. To get your 3 points across:
- Use language that is clear, concise and compelling
- Show, don’t tell
- Remember less is always more.
A seasoned editor can pick up a book, read the first page, skim the next 2 and know whether she’s in competent hands or not. For instance, when you see a sentence staring with a dangling participle, you know you're not. Even further into a sentence, it hits you like a plank: ‘John Duval is an internationally recognised winemaker, having been the custodian of Penfolds Grange for almost 30 years …’ What’s wrong with ‘since he was the custodian’? That’s from a man who’s published dozens of books.
This is from a famous blogger: ‘I hope you will learn, but to be honest if you’ve been blogging for a while some of what we’ll cover many will have heard before.’ Where do we start? Basic sentence structure? Good grief!
We’ve listed the most common mistakes that can make you look silly in this post: http://blog.technoledge.com.au/2012/11/14/mistakes-with-words-that-make-you-look-silly/
The big Seven
1. Talk straight
Don’t mince words. Be direct. This applies to blog posts most of all, but other writing as well. Accept that you will offend some people when you take a stand or show leadership. Accept that you can’t be thought-provoking, let alone controversial, and please everyone. Writing that lacks conviction and passion will be bland and dull.
2. Keep it simple
Use short sentences and simple words. Less is more. Cut out unnecessary words, keep sentence structures simple. Flab gets in the way of your story. Every sentence must either inform or entertain. Some people think using bigger words and technical jargon gives their writing more authority. It doesn't -- it makes readers turn off faster than an ad on TV.
3. Banish top-of-the-head writing
That’s what my mentor Sol Stein calls it when a writer tells a story without concern for freshness in the use of language. ‘… it’s stuffed with tired images [and clichés] that pop into the writer’s head because they are so familiar. The top of the head is fit for growing hair, but not for generating fine prose.’
4. Clean up the clichés
Clichés are the backbone of tired writing, and chloroform to originality. We had to think outside the box and make a paradigm shift to come up with a win-win for everyone at the end of the day, without leaving money on the table. Now that took 110% effort.
5. Writing is storytelling
So is public speaking or giving presentations. You want your words to engage your audience, you want to evoke feelings and reactions, may cause people to take action. Use imagery, appeal to all of their senses. Use simple Anglo-Saxon words because they’re stronger than words of Latin derivation. A crash is stronger than a collision.
6. Show, don’t tell
This is how Graham Greene describes an apartment in The Honorary Consul: ‘Dr Humphries had a small room with a douche on the ground floor and a window opening on the patio which contained one dusty palm and a dead fountain … there was hardly space for a bed, a dressing table, two chairs, a basin and a douche. You had to fight your way between them as though they were passengers in a crowded subway.’
7. Practice particularity
Sol Stein talks about the qualities that separate real writers from commercial hacks: the attention paid to the meaning and resonance of words, and the respect they show for their readers’ intelligence, Words aren’t that important when you churn out airport novels or chicklit. They are important when you’re pitching your product in a crowded marketplace. In an elevator pitch, every word counts.
These are the basic rules. There are lots of others – don’t use italics, bolding or underscores to add strength to your words. Use stronger words and let verbs do the heavy lifting, not adverbs. Good writing raises good questions and provokes thoughts in the reader. Don’t be prescriptive, be provocative. The rules are simple enough, but it takes practice to apply them. One last rule is: you write what you read, so read well-written books – fiction or non-fiction. Graham Green and Sol Stein are a good start.
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