by April Sciacchitano (@aprilcs)
Unlike reporters and copy writers, PR pros are writing chameleons. We write scathing op-eds, deftly-woven media messages, cheeky blog posts, inspiring speeches, informative scripts and 140-character sonnets. AP Stylebook in hand, we make our way through new and strange platforms. But in our journey, does our tone vary appropriately?
We follow the rules wherever we write, but the intangibles – tone, cadence, tension – are employed through intuition. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be learned. Here are three unwritten guides to writing:
Business writing requires that you build a case. However, spoiler alerts are a good thing. If you’re not hitting your reader with a clarifying headline, take a moment to tell them where you’re taking them. A 2011 study showed that people listening to stories enjoyed them more when they knew the ending. The researcher says knowing what will happen “may allow readers to organize developments in the story, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading.”
That’s not to say tension in writing is always a bad thing. Create tension by knowing the rules and breaking them strategically. Unlike the hard and fast rules of commas and semicolons, the em dash is more flexible, usually used to include a series within a phrase or indicate an abrupt change. It’s a great way to call your reader’s attention to what follows without the drama of italics, bolding or underlining. While, true, not everyone is a fan, you can use the em dash to your benefit if you use it sparingly.
Fighting for a good clause.
Your introductory clause is a great way to frame a statement. These lead-ins give context, but be careful of overloading a clause with information. If you have a new idea, don’t hide it in a clause. Instead, give it its own space, so your reader understands its importance.
Short clauses can also be relief when you’re writing about a weighty topic. “In fact,” like “in addition” and “as a result,” are visual breaths. Your reader recognizes the transition, and is better prepared for what follows next.
You probably know the trick – read aloud and you’ll catch copy that’s awkward or too dense. But what about when it’s meant to be read aloud? In this case, a strong cadence, parallel structure and even silence are your tools. If you’re speechwriting for someone else, be generous with commas. They may not be grammatically accurate, but help a speaker to know when to pause.
Anecdotes and analogies are also great tools for speeches. Because speeches often deal with the conceptual or leverage energy and emotion, these are tools that ground a speech in reality. It’s why in an election year, you hear a lot about the parents, farmers and plumbers politicians meet on the road. Use anecdotes and analogies only when they make sense – it’s easy to stretch them beyond their usefulness for the sake of content.
So next time you look something up in the AP Stylebook, take another second to think about the rhythm and style of your writing. In PR, it’s easy to become such a chameleon for your clients that your point of view is neutralized. These are a few tools to help you reclaim it.