Coco Chanel once said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”
This is as true for writing as it is for fashion.
As PR changes and content becomes more visual (infographics, videos, etc.), the words we write are taking on a whole new meaning. No one wants to read a four-page bylined article anymore. Heck, no one scans past the first screen of an article on his/her iPhone.
Here’s food for thought from Reuters columnist Jack Shafer:
A wise mentor once told me to write with a purpose. Why are you writing whatever it is you are writing? If it’s a press release, the five W’s (Who, What, Where, Why, When—and the bonus How) are still relevant. The five W’s are the basics of an interesting story, but the following tools will help organize your writing and narrow its focus so the five W’s are delivered most effectively.
Make an outline.
I’m always amazed at how easily an article comes together when I draft an outline first. It’s basically pre-writing the article, but it allows you to see what information you have, what you still need to gather and ask questions before you begin drafting. The most important question being, so what? If you can’t answer that, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Remember the beginning, middle, and end.
I remember in grade school we had to write directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then we had to make one following our own directions. Many of us ended up spreading peanut butter on the bread with our hands because we forgot to include using a knife in the directions. Don’t do that to your reader. Give him/her all the information he/she needs for a successful story from start to finish.
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Remove one accessory (i.e., eliminate unnecessary words).
Writing today needs to be concise. You need to state your content as simply as possible. For example, say “to” instead of “in order to.” I like to think Coco was referring not only to accessorizing, but also to writing. Draft, then edit. Before you consider something final, give it a read and remove superfluous words. Your reader will thank you.
What are your tips for writing in a world that lacks an attention span longer than a few seconds?
Tory Patrick is an account director with Walker Sands. Find her on Twitter @toryk. This post originally appeared on Walker Sands’ Footprints.