Articles Tagged with words

Make every word count

pressme-clock-01Give your press release the best chance

When you email a press release to a publication, a journalist will look at the subject heading first.

If they don’t delete it, they’ll open the email and look at the headline and maybe read the first sentence or two.

If they haven’t deleted the email and they read on, you’ve caught their interest.

This shows that every word has to count.

Cut any padding

If there’s any waffle or padding, you’ll lose that interest.

When you’ve written your press release, check that every sentence makes a point.

Cut any that don’t make a specific point and trim any irrelevant words.

Keep your message clear

When you make every word count, your message will shine through.

How many words should I write for a press release?

As many as you need to tell the story and no more.

A short, punchy press release can sometimes cover all its news in 200-300 words, while a story needing more detail could run to 500 words or so.

What is important is that every word counts. If sentences ramble or contain incidental information that does not add much to the story, they could obscure the main message you want to get across.

Is there an absolute limit? No, although a longer press release must be enthralling or contain ground-breaking news to work. If it waffles or is stuffed with words and phrases that don’t move the story on, much is likely to be cut if a journalist has managed to read it all.

The test is to ask what every sentence or piece of information contributes. If it contributes nothing, cut it.

If a picture can paint a thousand words . . .

. . . why are they all questions?

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What is that? Where is it? When was it? Why was it there? What was the point? Who did it? Is it still there? Is that an inflatable? What gas was used to inflate it? Who chose the colours? Where did it come from? Will it be there again? Is that a mountain or a hill? Is it inland or on the coast? What are those brown patches on the hill/mountain?

That’s already 15 questions in just 72 words, so just think how many questions you could ask in a thousand words.

So does that mean words are more effective for communicating than pictures?

Of course not: both are useful in different ways. A picture or photograph can grab attention specifically because people want to find out more about a stunning image. For example, the BBC England website news page often has an ‘England’s Big Picture’ feature showing a partial image to tease viewers into opening it up to see if it is what they think it is. Stunning photography or images that tease can be useful in PR and marketing to attract people to read accompanying text.

In the same way, intriguing headlines can grab readers’ attention so that they read an accompanying article or text. News papers and websites make imaginative use of words in this way and, within reason, press releases and articles can do the same, as long as they do not mislead.

So what are more effective: words or pictures?

Neither. When applied with skill, one will not be more effective but will complement the other. If anything, a great photo will be let down by lousy writing, while a well-written article can be buried by poor illustration or layout.

When they work well together, the reader won’t take any notice of the composition of a photograph or style of writing but be totally engrossed in the message they convey.

That’s certainly our aim.

Cramming too many words on to a page

There is an option to stop writing.

There are also options to edit what’s already written, to cut, to shorten sentences.

More words don’t necessarily make it any easier to understand a message. As the 140-character limit of twitter demonstrates, communicating succinctly can be very effective: it concentrates the mind.

I can remember sitting in an exam and watching someone walk up to the front of the hall for more paper. I worried that I wasn’t writing enough. It didn’t matter: the few words I wrote answered the questions well enough for me to get an A.

I can remember a sales manager worrying about a tender and just writing more and more. In the end, they just repeated themselves to the point of confusion.

When standing up to deliver an elevator pitch, the most effective attention-grabber is often a pause.

Sometimes the words we leave out make those we do write and say even more powerful.

 

Making the right sounds

What’s the best tone in which to write? It all depends on what you want to say, who you say it to and what you want to achieve.

Just imagine the response to someone walking into a pub and talking like the press officer of a local council? Probably some strange looks and possibly a phone call for an ambulance to take them away.

Why? Because the institutional language of local government isn’t appropriate in a pub.

So how do you know what voice to use and how to develop a style of writing appropriate for your audience? One way is to read out loud what you write and listen to how it sounds. If you don’t feel you’re good at reading aloud, ask a colleague or associate you trust to read it out and listen to them. Is it language your audience will understand easily? Are they likely to respond to it? Ask what other people you know think of it.

It’s important to remember that words on screen or paper still have to sound right because they are spoken by the silent voices in people’s minds.

Try it and see how your voice sounds.

 

Finding your voice – online discussion 6 August

When asked to host an online discussion at betternetworking.co.uk at 8pm on Thursday 6th August 2009, I chose the title ‘Finding Your Voice’.

Communication is the primary business tool. Whether you’re negotiating finance with the bank, instructing suppliers, motivating staff or selling to customers, you depend on words to inform people and to persuade them to take action. Instructions have to be clear, motivational messages inclusive and marketing messages compelling: our choice of words and how we use them can determine whether or not we achieve our business objectives.

If you’d like to  join in the chat on Thursday, visit betternetworking.co.uk.

Why is copywriting important?

No business can function without words. Whenever you draw up a contract, give an instruction to an employee or answer the phone, you use words to communicate.

But you can’t use any old words.

Often, a few, well-chosen words will convey a message more effectively than pages and pages of text.

Appropriate communications

Just imagine the shopfloor of a department store. You probably won’t see a sign saying: “Please select the goods you wish to buy, place them in your shopping basket, then go to the checkout next to the fire exit where our staff will scan them, take payment and wrap your purchases.”

But you probably will see a sign saying:

“PAY HERE”

The first sign is more accurate, but when you’re scanning the horizon for a checkout it’s unlikely to catch your attention, whereas the shorter, less comprehensive statement actually tells you all you need to know at that stage.

The “pay here” message works because it is appropriate. This is important, because there are so many ways we can use language to communicate and in each case the writing must suit the purpose.

Adopting a suitable style

For example, a business producing two newsletters – one for its customers and another for its employees – will probably use different styles for each audience. It is likely to adopt a more serious tone for its customers, to ensure it appears professional, while the employee newsletter will tend to feature more light-hearted, even irreverent articles to entertain staff.

But that does not mean that customer newsletters shouldn’t include light-hearted content or that employee newsletters should not include serious articles about the company. Generally, each newsletter will adopt a tone finely tuned to its specific audience. And this is where the skill of the copywriter comes into play. Understanding the message that needs to be communicated and the style most likely to succeed with the target audience is crucial.

After all, a brochure aimed at selling music to a teenage audience is unlikely to succeed if it is crammed with long paragraphs of text, while a magazine aimed at readers of epic literature is unlikely to be filled with jokes and gags.

Targeting

So knowing your audience – or your market – and the best way of communicating with them is very important.

In business, people like to receive their information in different ways – from business magazines to web sites, text messages, brochures and detailed technical documents. If we are trying to communicate with a specific group of people, we’ll have more chance of succeeding if we use the method of communicating that they find works best for them.

Can I write it myself?

Yes. Why not?

Some people are perfectly capable of writing good copy. Others may find it more difficult or not have the confidence. If you can write good copy yourself, there’s no reason why you should not write your own text for your brochures, web site or press releases, other than whether it is the best use of your time. Do you do your own accounts, your own legal advice, selling or IT support? Probably not, because you don’t have the time to do them all. You’ve got to run your business.

Tips for good writing

• Develop your own style. See how other people write, by all means, but the best writing comes from ourselves.

• Don’t use jargon. Assume everyone reading your copy knows nothing about the subject.

• Keep it short. People are bombarded with so much information these days that many will not even bother to read something that looks long-winded. Length does not guarantee quality.

• Check your spelling: it does make a difference. Use a dictionary rather than a spell-checker.

• If you’re unsure of your grammar and punctuation, start writing in a simple style and develop it as you become more confident.

• Sometimes grammatically correct writing does not sound right. It’s nearly always better for your writing to sound natural, so learn the rules, but know when to break them to avoid clumsy-sounding text.

• Check your writing by reading it aloud. Does it sound natural? Or ask a colleague or friend to read it. It’s better that someone close to you spots any mistakes before you send it out to the rest of the world.

Words are a powerful tool

Always remember that words are a very powerful business tool. Whether you’re writing text for a brochure or a presentation or speech, words can achieve a lot – often at little cost to yourself.

Although you may not have a big budget, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to communicate more effectively than your competitors, and many small businesses are better at communicating than bigger ones.

• You can find more practical advice and prompt sheets at www.editorialresources.co.uk

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