AT a time when there is so much competition for the reader’s —and editor’s attention, it is important that your writing be, as Minda Zetlin says in an Inc.com article, to be “lively, persuasive, and compelling, and impossible to ignore.”
To make any kind of writing sparkle, Zetlin talked to Estelle Erasmus, a prolific writer, former magazine editor, writing professor at New York University and author of the new book Writing that Gets Noticed.
Erasmus very generously shared some of the tips she gives her students, who include both new writers and published authors, to make their writing stand out from the crowd.
Surprisingly, Zetlin found out that whether you are writing an email, blog post, or report on a technical subject, it is the small changes that can make a difference. This she shares in 17 Small Changes That Will Make Your Writing Irresistible According to an NYU Writing Professor.
1.Get straight to the point
We all agree that everyone is busy these days. Likewise, as Erasmus observes, “the attention span is so much shorter than when I started in the business. So, you want to be concise and get to the point very quickly.”
This means getting to the point right away—no more beating around the bush, no more profuse words that don’t mean anything. This can certainly challenge our creativity, but can endear us to editors and readers, who tend to put aside articles that they find tedious and uninspiring.
2.Consider using bullet points
If you’re trying to convey a lot of information, Erasmus suggests “bullet points are a very good and concise way to do it.”
Zetlin cautions though that bullet points aren’t appropriate for every type of writing, especially in personal essays or most news articles. But in the right situation, they can be a powerful tool.
3.Make sure you have a compelling title
Titles and headlines are incredibly important because they attract readers to your article. The wittier and catchier the better. And of course, “that’s how some people decide whether or not to read what you wrote,” says Zetlin.
That’s why Erasmus says we should put careful thought into titles. “It should be compelling, and should evoke emotion in some way, because the science shows that, the more you evoke emotion in a reader, the more the message will resonate with them.”
Using relevant statistics, either in your title or within the piece, is another way numbers can make your writing more persuasive. You can quote survey results, a company’s growth percentages, or as Erasmus says, “50 ways to make an impact.”
5.Reference someone or something in the news
Making a provocative statement can make your article more interesting and appealing. Erasmus relates how a “therapist wrote a piece called ‘John Mayer helped me become a better therapist,” which drew a lot of attention.
Citing something current like Hamilton in Manila or a personality that is in the news like Taylor Swift or Beyonce can add a fresh dimension to your write up.
6. Consider starting with an anecdote or a quote
“Start your piece with a dramatic or compelling anecdote,” says Erasmus. If you’re writing about a medical topic, consider starting with the story of someone who had the condition. Or perhaps with a surprising or compelling quote from an expert in what you’re writing about. These can both be good ways to grab the reader’s attention right from the start.
7. Make every sentence count
With everyone so busy and so many other things—think You Tube! Netflix! Social Media!—to distract them, you don’t want their attention to wane even for a moment.
So, make sure every sentence has a purpose and a point. “That purpose could be to set a scene for the reader by describing a place or a person, depending on what you’re writing,” she says. “Or it could be to convey information or tell what happened next.”
8.Use active language
Even experienced writers can fall into the trap of using passive language. Instead of passive, active writing is more interesting and compelling, says Erasmus.
“Often, passive writing does not really resonate with the reader because it doesn’t feel you’re involved in it,” she explains. And while its easy to use passive language without realizing it, she recommends that you go back over a piece of writing once you’ve completed a draft, to look for passive language and replace it with active language.
She adds that while doing that, “you should also eliminate jargon unless it’s within the context and you know it will be familiar to the specific audience you’re writing for.”
When in doubt, and you can’t remove a technical or unfamiliar term, make sure you add a definition.
9.Get rid of clichés
We all sigh when we come across clichés, and Erasmus recommends removing clichés from all your writing for two good reasons.
The first is because “clichés are by definition very familiar, which means they’re liable to bore your teacher or reader and you risk losing their attention.”
The second is that while the cliché you are using may be familiar to you, “it could mean something completely different to someone else.”
Avoiding clichés also means challenging your creativity with new words and new expressions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful expanding your writing horizons?
10. Remove “filler” words
“You’re trying to get noticed with your writing,” Erasmus says. “So you want to get rid of filler words like ‘it will be,’ ‘there will be,’ ‘it was,’ ‘it wasn’t’, ‘there are,’ and so on. That will create tighter sentences, which helps keep people’s attention.”
She suggests trying an online grammar checker which flags wordy sentences and make suggestions for improving them.
11. Vary sentence lengths
All good writing captivates as it flows effortlessly very much like a beautiful symphony. Each word is carefully selected and blends delightfully with the rest of the piece in the same way each instrument in the orchestra plays in harmony with each other.
One way of doing this is to balance long and short sentences.
If an article is composed of all long sentences, Erasmus says it can be confusing, and exhausting for the reader, whom you could lose along the way.
Short sentences are great, as they convey movement. But having so many of them in a row can make your writing feeling choppy.
Go with the creative flow by interspersing longer sentences with shorter ones.
12. Pay close attention to the last word in a sentence
While she admits that this is a rather advanced technique and you don’t need to do it all the time, Erasmus recommends that we use the last word of the sentence to draw readers to the next sentence.
Continuity makes writing stronger. That can help you keep your reader’s attention and pull them along through the piece.
13. Be specific
“The mark of an amateur is someone who writes very broadly and doesn’t use specifics,” says Erasmus. Details can be very compelling.
So instead of writing “this is a beautiful and evocative painting,” try saying exactly why you see it that way. Something like “with glistening sand and an endless turquoise ocean, this painting evokes a summer day at the beach.”
14.Use sensory language
While visual descriptions are essential in good writing, don’t limit yourself to these.
There are, after all, other senses, and “research has shown that if you use sensory language, which is touching, tasting, smelling, and feeling, it paints a picture for the reader and gets them involved.”
Erasmus adds that sensory language is not confined to narrative writing like fiction or essays as “whatever you’re writing about, you can involve the senses.”
Using qualifiers makes your writing less definite. If you are trying to be a thought leader and build a platform, Erasmus says, “you want to be the authoritative presence that your followers or clients rely on.” That’s why it’s good to lessen tentative phrases like “I think” or “it could possibly be.”
16. Find your own voice
We all have our own unique speaking voices, not only in sound quality, but in the choice of words and phrases we use. And it’s a great idea to have your own unique voice come out in your writing as well. This will make it more personal and recognizably yours.
How do you find your own voice? “Record yourself,” says Erasmus, “listen to how you speak and use that in your writing.” You can also read pieces by writers you admire, and think of how they showcase their voices. Tweak these to suit your voice.
17. Come full circle
When appropriate, it’s always great to do what Erasmus calls “circling back” by bringing the reader back to where they began. For example, if you’re writing from a conference, “you can give an example from the beginning of the conference. Then you share lots of tips and advice. Then you can go back and at the end, offer one final tip from the conference.
PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior professionals around the world. Millie Dizon, the senior vice president for Marketing and Communications of SM, is the former local chair.
We are devoting a special column each month to answer the reader’s questions about public relations. Please send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credits: Ima Miroshnichenko | Pexels.com