5 steps to improve your writing

July 13, 2010

One of the most under-appreciated yet valuable skills to have as a political professional is simply the ability to write.

Too often we’ll see press releases or other content come across with little attention to the actual writing. And while the realities of political deadlines mean the perfect is hardly ever the enemy of the good, there are some easy ways to improve the content you create. And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, better content will directly impact your ability to a) communicate message, b) turnout voters, and c) raise money.

So here are a few tips to improve the press releases, blog posts, emails, and other content your campaign creates:

Learn to write like a journalist

Journalists are trained to write in a particular style called the “inverted pyramid” style. Writing in the inverted pyramid style means that you write the first paragraph with the most important information about your story. The second paragraph has the second most important information, then so on and so forth.

Since traditional print editors would often need to cut articles to make them fit in a particular column, inverted pyramid writing was particularly important so if the bottom three paragraphs were chopped off, the reader would still get the most important elements of the story.

It is still important today because few online readers have the patience to read long articles. Give them the most important information up front, then let your story go from there. More information about the inverted pyramid writing style can be found here, here and here.

Buy the AP Stylebook

The AP Stylebook is still the go to reference for any professional or prosumer journalist or blogger. It contains the “official” way to spell, capitalize, and otherwise style your writing so that it matches what readers expect from an article. It is the subtle style of your writing that will communicate whether or not your candidate or cause is serious and worth of the reader’s support. The AP Stylebook will help you create that sort of content. You can buy it on Amazon.com or directly from the AP.

Plan ahead

Granted, it’s not the most frequent thing we do on campaigns. Every minute of every day has 10 things that need to be done. But… if you can find that 30 minutes at night to plan ahead and start drafting your press release for the next day, your earned media efforts will thank you for it. Got a debate the next night? You know what’s going to happen. Take 5 minutes to come up with a really, really good headline for the post-debate release.

Read top blogs

You only have so many hours in the day, and knocking on doors is a lot more effective than reading blogs. Agreed. But with efficient ways to read blogs out there, such as Google Reader, you can scan through several blogs every day easily.

In fact, there’s a great app for the iPhone that connects with Google Reader called Reeder. So use that car time between events to browse some of the best writers out there (just… not if you’re driving).

Keep in mind that a lot of these guys do this for a living, but there is a style and a cadence to good writing that your readers will pick up on. Use that cadence to communicate with your key audiences and get them excited about your candidate or cause.

Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Copyblogger
  • Chris Brogan (Brogan’s blog is a great example of how to write for the web. Short paragraphs. Bulleted lists. It’s great.)
  • TechCrunch (More gadget/tech oriented, but they have captured millions of viewers with both the quality and timeliness of their content.)
  • Robert Scoble

Attend a Ragan workshop

Ragan Communications is the company that PR professionals across the country trust for professional education and resources. Their workshops are expensive, but if you are serious about writing content that moves the ball down the field, Ragan.com is the place to go. In fact, Ragan has a great section on their site just with tips for writing for the web.

Creating great content is important to an effective online presence, so it’s something we’re going to focus on more over the next few weeks.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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