Getting our story down clearly and compellingly takes a combination of instinct and discipline.
Good writing feels purposeful, intentional and, above all, believable. Here are several principles to keep in mind when crafting your next communication.
1. Know your audience.
Identify the audience you’re trying to reach, or nothing you say will reach them.
2. Focus on one thing.
Emphasize a single message. Include more, and your readers will either fail to retain what they’ve read or stop reading.
3. Make it personal.
Use the second-person “you” and “your” to engage and motivate the reader.
4. Avoid jargon.
Write clearly and keep your language personable. Jargon has its place, but our communications are not it.
5. Make data matter.
Statistic, rankings, totals and rates of success aren’t the story: They exist to help make your case to the reader. The numbers can add to your message, but they’ll never take the place of it.
6. Give the reader something to do.
Always include a clear call to action.
7. Choose wisely.
Every communication needn’t contain every detail. Focus on what’s both important and relevant—clutter just gets in the way of our message.
8. Incorporate white space.
The eye needs a place to rest while reading so it can digest information and glean key takeaways. Work with a designer to ensure your content is well organized and makes use of white space.
9. Don’t force excitement.
If the message isn’t something we’d yell, it doesn’t deserve an exclamation point. Use them extremely sparingly—or better yet, not at all.
Three things to aim for:
Be bold, confident and optimistic.
We have a tendency to shy away from sharing our accomplishments, but it’s possible to own the things we do well without sounding boastful or arrogant. Your messaging should tell the story of UB with authentic, genuine pride.
Tie hard work to outcomes.
Don’t forget to balance our new confidence with the benefits of our strong work ethic. We can make bold, impressive claims because we’ve put in the work.
Show, don’t tell.
Whenever possible, give concrete examples. It’s more powerful to show experiences through storytelling and first-person narratives than it is to explain experiences in depth.
Three things to watch out for:
There are so many unique, compelling things about UB—trite phrases will only dilute your message. Use the messaging map to highlight a unique benefit and find a unique UB way to tell the world.
Don’t be afraid to commit.
In the past, we determined who we were by what we weren’t. We were neither this nor that. Today, we want to proudly declare who we are and what we stand for.
Don’t forget our past—but don’t rely on it.
It’s okay to refer to our history and the legitimacy it gives us, but don’t let it define us. This also applies to using statistics and numbers: They’re important, but only when we show how they move us forward and inform where we’re going next.
Want more? Check out these helpful resources for writing, editing and grammar:
- EditTeach.org: offers resources for editing professors, students and working professionals to help strengthen the craft of editing and support the work of editors
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips: short, easy-to-swallow tips to improve your writing—fun and simple
- Media Bistro: media news and workshops (online and in-person) on grammar, fact-checking, editing, etc.
- Newsroom101: more than 2,000 free, self-instructional exercises in grammar, usage and Associated Press style
- News University: a project of the Poynter Institute, providing training for professional writers
- OneLook Dictionary Search: an unusual, flexible dictionary
- Sin & Syntax blog: “an online salon for those who love wicked good prose”—need we say more?