After receiving record snowfall in Boston this winter, the season the city has been finally waiting for has arrived: Spring. While the snow melts, the Boston Red Sox gear up for another season and the countdown to the Boston Marathon turns to days, writers can refresh for spring by fine tuning their writing.
Don’t bury the lede. In news writing, the lede – or the first sentence – is the most important one because it contains the facts and the “so-what” factor that hooks readers and draws them into stories. When writing ledes, craft them by including the who, what, when, where, why and how to give readers all the pertinent information at the onset. Try keeping ledes to approximately 36-40 words at most – any longer will result in readers exhausting their eyes.
Vary your sentence length. Engaging writing contains sentences that differ in the number of words, style and structure. You might have a sentence with 10 words that describes the setting, followed by a sentence with 20 words outlining the problem. This is important because it sets the pace for readers to keep them reading line after line, word after word. There’s nothing worse than readers dismissing your content after the first couple sentences.
Deploy the active voice and trim the fat. Piggybacking on fluctuating sentence length, pair strong subjects and verbs to create powerful prose. Don’t write passively with verbs of being; for example, “Steve kicked the ball” is more engaging than “Steve was kicking the ball.” The active voice also helps trim word count to keep copy length as tight as possible. The less words to convey your message, the clearer it’ll be for readers to understand.
Show, don’t tell. The best type of news writing illustrates powerful images by incorporating descriptions that evoke readers’ senses. When describing scenes or products, for example, capture the details that matter most – size, smell, color, taste, touch, etc.; the elements readers can envision. Instead of stating that your new product is cool, visually show how and why it’s cool.
Develop compelling quotes. Quotes are essential components to press releases because they allow sources to editorialize, and writers can use them to verify their ledes. The best quotes help advance the story into the next phase by serving as transitions from the previous paragraph to the next. They’re also important opportunities to highlight color commentary and position individuals as experts.
Use Associated Press style. The de facto style of journalistic writing, AP style conforms all types of news writing, including press releases and bylined content, so that communicators and reporters write in the same language (other than plain English, of course). With entries about listing cities in datelines, incorporating proper punctuation and – my favorite – using numerals and percentages, among others, the stylebook contains more than 500 pages of tips and tricks for linguists.
Proofread and proofread again. As our fingers quickly flutter across the keyboard, it’s more common than ever to accidentally include typos in your text. Once you’re finished writing, print a copy of your writing and mark it up with a pen; you’ll find more edits on paper than reviewing on screen. For the final proof, read from the bottom up because doing so out of order will make your eyes even more attentive for any hidden blemishes.
For more writing tricks, check out seven tips for good PR writing.