That’s what I said last time and the time before

Do you ever stop to think about what you’ve said or written?

That's what I said | Thinking outside the box

Or do you stop to think about what other people think about what you’ve said or written?

Did they find it interesting or did their eyes glaze over?

Most people use popular phrases or clichés and I know I sometimes catch myself using them.

I try not to use clichés such as ‘thinking outside of the box’, but do find myself thinking about them.

Putting clichés into practice

I am often amused by the thought of applying clichés in everyday life.

Why do I need to think ‘outside the box’? How do I think ‘inside the box’?

I could pretend the photo opposite depicts me experimenting to find out what thinking ‘inside the box’ is like, but it doesn’t. It was a box I couldn’t resist climbing into.

Keeping it fresh

Does it matter that we use clichés or industry jargon? It’s easy to plant a ready-made phrase in a sentence in a press release or other text.

I find the difficulty is in having to read them. If we’re not careful, recycling what we speak or write can become a habit. If lots of other people also develop this habit, press releases written by businesses in our sector could all read the same.

This does happen and it’s tedious to read them as a journalist. It’s a joy when a press release arrives that is fresh, lively and imaginative. I want to will the writer’s words on to the printed page of the newspaper. They deserve it.

Sounding original

If you look back over your text and cut any clichés you spot, think about expressing thoughts differently, make it more interesting, you’re more likely to attract interest.

You could give a new twist to an issue, different to what everyone else is saying. You might even develop a new view of the issue by thinking of it differently.

I could ask if that is ‘thinking outside of the box’, but to me that expression is stale and unoriginal.

Perhaps I’ll stay in my box and think it through.

What do you think?

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.

Write clearly to avoid the reality gap

Sometimes we can spend too much time worrying about the latest Google update, smartphone or OS version and forget that effective communication – for that’s what all these tools are there to support – often needs to be clear and simple.

This runs throughout our lives, as I found when I was booked into my local hospital for a medical procedure. I had a preparatory appointment with a nurse to brief me and took home a leaflet giving detailed instructions. I also had a preparation to start taking on the day before the procedure.

On that day, I found some of the information from the nurse, the leaflet and on the box containing the preparation conflicted. It was a Sunday so I used my common sense to work out the problem: a minor niggle that didn’t matter much.

I was getting concerned because the leaflet said the procedure would take 30-40 minutes to complete and, knowing that it was likely to be uncomfortable and that sedation would not knock me out completely, I braced myself for this mentally. I felt it was going to be tough. As it turned out, just before my turn the doctor mentioned that he was timing each procedure for a study and that the average time was 6-7 minutes: I breathed a sigh of relief.

I am glad to say the procedure was quick, painless and the results were fine. However, I had approached it in completely the wrong frame of mind as a result of the details in the leaflet.

Such gaps between perception and reality can be created by any written instructions. Whether we’re selling a flat-pack wardrobe, an electrical gadget or a holiday, it can be easy to plant the wrong impression in a customer’s mind. Once planted, that seed can grow into a dream or worry that bears no relation to the real product, service or experience.

For businesses selling products and services, this can create unrealistic expectations, impossible to deliver; for doctors it can cause unnecessary worry in patients.

Consistency and clarity are essential when writing instructions or descriptions. Not only do they prevent confusion and wrong impressions, they help to create happy customers . . . and patients.

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