Texting and tweeting can lead to sloppy writing . . . BUT . . . they can make you a stronger writer, too.
In my role as Director of Editorial Services at Ketchum, I’ve noted more than a few times that the casual shorthand many of us use in e-mails, text messages and other forms of digital communication often (and unfortunately) slip over into our business writing. The result can be the misuse or absence of punctuation, capitalization and even complete sentences.
Now, in honor of the arrival of summer, I want to point out that texting and tweeting also can refresh and revive the way we write pitches, press releases and other documents. Here are five writing lessons PR pros can take from texting and tweeting.
- Tell me quickly: Y R U here? Texting shorthand gets straight to the point – using only the most essential letters. While professional writing typically requires using full words, the importance of brevity still applies. Recognize that anyone you’re writing for likely is also being hit with multiple other communications in the same hour. So, get straight to the point. And start by taking my first question seriously: Why are you writing whatever you’re writing? Understanding what you are trying to accomplish – whether it’s selling a story idea or winning a new piece of business – will help make your writing more focused and effective.
- Make every word count. Twitter’s 140-character limit forces tight writing. So, anyone who tweets regularly knows that the most effective messages are the ones that say the most in the fewest words. This goes beyond simply being brief to being concise. Consider these examples: (brief) “I ate a sandwich.” ; (concise) “I ate an Egg McMuffin.” By adding only one extra word, I’ve now told you not only exactly what kind of sandwich I ate but also where I got it. Being concise means being both brief and specific. If you’ve learned to master this Twitter skill, make a point to use it in your regular writing, too.
- What would get you retweeted? Having your Twitter posts “retweeted” is a high form of flattery that says your post is interesting enough to get people’s attention. This is easy enough to accomplish when we have breaking news to share. But often we don’t. In those instances, we try to position our tweets in a creative or highly relevant way – such as posing a provocative question or piggybacking on other people’s news. Use this same thinking when it comes to writing press releases, op-eds and even RFP responses. Don’t feel obligated to always follow a formula that’s worked before. Be creative. If your client’s news announcement isn’t particularly newsworthy, look for another way to make it “retweetable.” Is there other news you can tie the client’s story to? A trend you can validate . . . or counter?
- Include “links” in your writing. One of the best uses of Twitter, in my opinion, is passing on links to news articles or other online content. It enables us to recommend a “good read” to others without sending them searching for it. Similarly, good writing doesn’t make people work harder than they need to. Including relevant digital links in pitches and press releases can be effective, but making links for your reader is far more important. Never assume a journalist or blogger will automatically see how the story you’re pitching is relevant to his or her audience. Draw a clear link from your client’s message to the reporter’s needs or interests. And organize your thoughts in a way that tells a clear story from beginning to end.
- Start moving your thumbs . . . and the rest of your fingers. Most people (by “most,” I mean young) seem to text without hesitation. Unless they’re crafting a breakup message, they tend to jump right into it with no worries about getting the wording perfect. Writers who have to put pen to paper – or key strokes to computer screen – can certainly take a lesson from this. One of the biggest challenges in writing more than a few sentences is simply getting started. When you find yourself in this situation, approach it like a text message. Just start writing. You might even text yourself a message that summarizes what you want to say. But don’t hit “send.” Once you’ve written out the substance of your document, spend some time working on style. Fill in details that are necessary to make your point. Make sure your subjects and verbs agree; words are spelled correctly; and sentences flow clearly. Using texting as a starting point for whatever you’re writing can be a faster way to get to the finish line.
So, texting and tweeting can lead to better writing. I’d love to hear about other ways they have (or have not) strengthened yours. Have texting and tweeting helped your writing?