Beyond 140 Characters: Tips on Long-Form Writing

Bricklayer

BricklayerPublic relations executives, brand managers and communicators have become enamored with the speed of social media. If you can’t say it in 140 characters or less, does it need to be said? It does. Public relations is not a 140-character profession. While texts, tweets and emails have become the modus operandi for media outreach, our profession still requires long-form writing.

In your career, you may be required to write memos, letters, proposals, PowerPoint presentations, scripts, brochures, news releases, personal columns, blogs, op-ed pieces, feature stories, case studies, white papers, crisis communications plans, manuals, business plans, and annual reports. While each of those is a different length and requires a particular writing style, depending on the audience, they all require the same discipline.

We use words to build a story like a mason uses a trowel to lay bricks. As you approach your next long-form writing assignment, picture that mason laying bricks and try the acronym T-R-O-W-E-L as a mnemonic device:

THINK

Take time to think about the subject and how you might approach it. Of paramount import is your audience. Is it professional, technical, consumer or a combination of all the above? Each requires a different approach. Current customers or prospects?  Academicians or general public? Again, different audiences require different approaches. Also consider the voice (active or passive) and the tone (positive, neutral or negative). And write down the objective or purpose of the piece. What do you want it to accomplish? Is it simply informative or is there a call to action?

RESEARCH

Get the facts. Research the subject as thoroughly as time allows. Read other articles. Check with industry sources. Look for recent scientific or academic surveys on the subject. Gather as much information as you can to strengthen your story.

ORGANIZE

All documents must have a beginning, middle and end with paragraphs appearing in a logical sequence. Write down the key messages you want your audience to remember, with the most important appearing first (and more than once) in the document. Repetition of key messages helps ensure retention by the reader.

WRITE

Strive to use crisp, short sentences. Avoid jargon. Use subheads. Write to your audience. Choose the appropriate level of complexity to suit your audience. Tap into its shared industry experiences. Write as much as you can. For longer pieces, use subheads that serve as an index for the piece. They also help create white space to break up gray copy.

As much as possible, strive to “humanize” your copy. Make it relatable. Your reader wants to see themselves in the story. A good test for your copy, whether it is technical, scientific, business, financial or consumer-oriented, is to ask three important questions: (1) Will my audience be interested in this material? (2) Does it relate to their understanding of the subject matter? and (3) Does it convey my key messages?

EDIT

Trim the fat. Let others read it for clarity and continuity. Remove redundancies and information that doesn’t add to the story in a meaningful way. Check the spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely solely on Spellcheck; it cannot detect improper use of many words such as their/there. Editing word by word, sentence by sentence is the only way to ensure an accurate document.

LEARN

While it can’t be done on every document you create, try to gather feedback from the audience whenever possible.  How was your piece received? Did the reader retain any of the key messages? Find out what worked and what didn’t. Tuck that learning into your writer’s memory bank for future use. Or start a folder of hits and misses, successes and failures and refer to it periodically.

The use of T-R-O-W-E-L can help you quickly plan and write any document. It should be a useful tool in your writing endeavors, not all of which rely on fewer characters than the paragraph you just read.

Contact

Reg Rowe is founder of GrayHairPR, an international virtual PR firm based in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at rrowe@GrayHairPR.com.

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