No matter what stage in your career you are at, writing can be hard. Before you ever start writing, you’re already got thoughts and processes going through your mind. What angle will my story take? How will it look on the page? What illustrations or photos need to accompany it? What questions do I need to ask? Who will I use as sources? And that’s just a few of the 100’s of things you’ll probably consider before the first words cross a page. Writing takes hard work, skill, knowledge, creativity, and persistence
Here are 10 quick tips you can use to make your words more powerful and your story credible.
1. Think about your readers. The reader is someone with the attention span of about 30 seconds. They are assaulted by many forces fighting for their attention in today’s digital age. Most readers read at a 10th grade level or below. Using shorter words and sentences increase readability. Since they are time pressed you must interest them quickly. Make your story clear, factual, compelling, tight, credible and pertinent to them.
2. Use multiple sources. You should always collect more material than you will use. Ask your sources for other names of people to talk to or get input from. Google for background. Know the basics before you show up for an interview. It’s up to you to make the interview count. If possible, email your questions to your interviewee ahead of time. Ease into the interview with simple questions. Then basic “w’s” (who, what when, where and why). Ask questions so that you get a glimpse into a subjects personal thoughts: What’s next? Lessons learned?What results do you expect? Challenges and rewards of your job? Biggest fear?
3. Structure your stories to get attention. Read some of the most popular web sites. They get right to it. Be more creative with your leads. Try a feature lead to catch a readers attention and draw them in. Try incorporating an unusual idea, anecdote or narrative. Use a surprising description of the person, place or situation. Ask a question. Look at the Wall Street Journal. They have perfected the art. Your lead leads to your key points and then the body of story. Only use 3-5 points to explain your main message Then you reach the close. The perfect ending should take your reader by surprise and yet be exactly right. Bring it full circle by echoing the beginning. This is a great time to use quotes. Then stop.
4. Transitions make your story flow. -These words, phrases, and sentences make the story move from point to point. (For example: likewise, what’s more, further, moreover, in another twist, however, instead, meanwhile, even so still, as a result, meanwhile, today, yesterday.)
5. Use facts and figures. Using specific tangible concrete information like names, dates ,sizes, and statistics increase credibility.
6. Using quotes well helps establish credibility by humanizing the subject, supplementing a point, and generates interest through added color to your copy. Don’t use quotes for things you can say more concisely or better. Don’t use them to convey the obvious or uninteresting. Weave them throughout your whole story but keep them to 2-3 sentences only.
7. Choose your words with care. Use active not passive verbs. Choose powerful nouns. Add imagery. Avoid cliche’. Go easy on adverbs and adjectives. Shorter words are better than long ones. Don’t short change headlines.
8. Vary the pace of your writing. Alternate sentence and paragraph lengths. Short sentences should be followed by longer ones. Studies show readable sentences are 16-25 words in length. By varying lengths you will keep your narrative from sounding predictable and boring.
9. Cut the clutter. Simplify where you can. Never be afraid to break sentences up into more than one sentence. The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest component. Get rid of unnecessary words.
10. Keep tools and inspiration handy. A dictionary and thesaurus within arms length means you’ll more likely use them. Keep magazines and newspapers that inspire you nearby. Shamelessly adapt from their headlines and decks. Most importantly – read… read…. read! Great writing is learned by reading.