JerryBrownPR
303.594.8016

JerryBrownPR Blog

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

 

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?When it comes to telling your story, sometimes you know too much for your own good.

What’s the problem? When you know a lot, you may be tempted to include too much information in your story — to the point that the rest of us have trouble understanding what your story is. We can’t see your forest because of all the trees you’ve put in front of us.

I frequently warn clients not to let the facts get in the way of their story. I’m not suggesting they play fast and loose with the truth. I’m suggesting they avoid sharing so many facts that they forget to tell the rest of us a story we can understand and remember.

It’s easy to take something that’s simple and make it complicated. People do that all the time. And it’s really tempting to make your story complicated when you know too much. The temptation is to add all the exceptions and caveats to your generalizations. And to make just one more point in an effort to persuade us to buy what you’re selling.

It’s much harder to take something that’s complicated make it simple. And some people resist doing it. They equate simplifying your story with dumbing it down.

I’m not suggesting you dumb down your story. I am suggesting you simplify it.

Pare your message down to its essence. And craft it in a way that will attract our interest. Make sure we can see your “forest,” not just a collection of “trees.”

All those facts you want to share with us? Save them to share over time, once you know what part of your story we’re interested in exploring.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Write around it

 

Writing tip: Write around it

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Write around itWrite around it. It’s a useful concept I learned as a young reporter.

You find yourself on deadline. Have to turn in your story. And there’s a hole in it: A question you don’t know the answer to.

Do you guess? Not a good idea. You might guess wrong. And end up having to do a correction the next day. Doing that too often isn’t good for job security in a newsroom.

Whether you work in a newsroom or not, deadlines are a fact of life for most of us. And sometimes those deadlines come before we’re 100 percent ready to tell the story we’re telling that day.

Do you make something up? Guess? Fill the page with empty words designed to make it look like you have something worth saying when you don’t (remember those essay questions and term papers in school)? Lie?

Those are all bad alternatives. Sometimes the best you can do is write around it. Say what you have to stay while steering clear of something you don’t know or don’t want to discuss.

Let’s face it. Writing around an issue usually isn’t a great thing to do. And it isn’t something you want to do a lot. But, given the alternatives, it sometimes is the best choice you have.

So, do it when you have to. But don’t overdo it if you want to keep your credibility intact.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

 

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments okaySentence fragments. They’re okay. Occasionally. Just don’t overdo them.

We learned some things in school worth ignoring at times in the real world.

For example, we learned not to use sentence fragments. Good advice. Most of the time.

But short sentences and small words make your writing more readable. Easier to understand. And easier to remember. An occasional fragment can help, too.

We usually write in sentences. More likely to use fragments when we talk. Most of us are able to say what we mean when we talk. And make ourselves understood. But we clutter things up with bigger words and longer sentences when we write.

Formal language is important in some writing. Academic papers, for example.

But it’s usually not necessary when writing about your business. Talk on paper. The goal is to communicate. To make it as easy as possible for your audience to understand what you’re saying. And, you hope, buy what you’re selling.

Misspelled words and grammatical errors can kill your credibility. But you can ignore the rules of grammar. Sometimes. In fact, you should.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Make it visual

 

Storytelling tip: Make it visual

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Make it visualWe’ve all heard the cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.

But that’s only part of the story. Because it implies pictures are substitutes for words. Good images can do more than that. They can also add impact to your words.

I spent the first 20 years of my career as a print journalist. It was all about words. Most of the stories I wrote ran without pictures. Newspapers ran some pictures, but most of their stories were limited to text and a headline. The headline’s job was to grab your attention so you would read the words.

Today’s digital word is far more visual. Facebook, blogs, websites all lend themselves to images. Newspapers, what’s left of them, use far more pictures.

The rest of us should follow their example. I include an image with every blog post I write. I try to include an image with every Facebook post. PowerPoint presentations use as many images and few words as possible. I’m always looking for images to include with what I write.

We can take pictures with our phones. Buy professional photography dirt cheap from stock-photo services. And add them to what we write with a mouse click or two.

So, tell me a story. Make it about me. Keep it simple. And make it visual.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

 

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a dietJust as too many pounds will make you flabby, too many words will make your writing flabby. So, put your writing on a diet. Slim it down. Make it fitter. And, just as taking off extra pounds is good for your health, taking out extra words is good for your writing.

Start with a goal. Losing weight often starts with stepping on a scale and deciding you need to lose (fill in your number) pounds. You can do the same thing to eliminate flab from your writing. Start with your current word count and decide to eliminate (fill in your number) words. If you get to the new number easily, do it again with a lower number. Keep doing it until you can’t take anything else out and still tell the story you want to tell.

One way to trim off extra pounds is to eliminate empty calories that don’t have nutritional value. One way to trim down your writing is to eliminate empty words that don’t add value to your story. Two words I target for possible elimination: “very” and “that.” For example, “happy” usually works as well as “very happy.” If not, try “ecstatic.” Look for the word “that. “Sometimes you need it. Often you don’t. Delete the ones (that) you don’t need.

Eliminate unnecessary modifiers. Redundant pairs, for example: final outcome, past history, future plans.

Become more active. Being more active is a good way to lose weight. Being more active is a good way to improve your writing, too. Eliminate the passive voice (mistakes were made) with active voice (I goofed) whenever possible.

Being fit isn’t just about how many pounds you weigh. It’s also about muscle tone. You can tone up your writing, too. Using shorter sentences makes your writing easier to understand and remember. One way to do that is to look for opportunities to change commas into periods — changing one long sentence into two shorter ones.

Looking for other ways to trim down your writing? Check out this article. And this one.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?

 

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?What do you say when you run out of things to say?

If you do a lot of public communication — writing or speaking — you’ve probably faced this problem, as I have, many times: Your next deadline is here. And you can’t think of anything to say.

When I was a journalist responsible for regularly coming up with new stories to justify my paychecks, I sometimes dreamed that all the stories ever to be told had been told. There weren’t any more. And wouldn’t be. Ever. And I didn’t know what to do about it.

Maybe you haven’t dreamed about it the way I did. But chances are you’ve found yourself with that dilemma: It’s time to say something. But you’ve run out of things to say. Now what? Here are a few suggestions from someone who has faced that abyss more times than I care to remember:

  • Repeat yourself. Go back into the archives of what you’ve already said and recycle some of your old material. Most of the time your audience won’t care — or even know — that you’re doing it. Just because you said something doesn’t mean the rest of us heard you. Or that we remember it even if we did. Repetition is the key to delivering your message effectively. People who study such things say your audience hasn’t really heard your message until you’ve repeated it multiple times. If you’re writing a blog or something else where there’s a public archive of what you’ve said you may want to make some changes in the new version. But if it was worth saying once, it’s probably worth saying again.
  • Look to news headlines for ideas. Stories that are in the news often lend themselves to sidebar stories that add a new angle. Do you have a new angle to a story making news? If so, use stories already making headlines to tell a story that adds the context of what you have to say.
  • Keep a story-idea journal. Some writers keep a notebook with them so they can jot down ideas as they come up with them. If you frequently find yourself struggling to come up with something to write about when you’re on deadline, writing down story ideas as they pop into your head when you’re not on deadline can be useful. Good reporters are always looking for story ideas.  Follow their example. Be open to finding ideas for how to tell your story wherever and whenever you come across them. And write them down when they pop into your head.
  • Put off writing until another time. I’m a big fan of using newsletters and blogs to communicate with your audience. And I often tell clients to wait until they have something worth saying before sending out their next newsletter. Unless you have no choice, don’t send me something just because your (often self-imposed) deadline is here. Send me something when you have something to say that I’ll be interested in.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

 

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.Sometimes it paid to daydream in class. Because sometimes what your teachers were teaching wasn’t worth learning.

They taught you never to split an infinitive. Never to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Never to use contractions. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I’ve just introduced you to three of the Seven Nevers that appear in Writing with Style by John R. Trimble, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Texas.

The Seven Nevers are seven rules you learned in school that Trimble suggests — and I agree — are worth ignoring at least some of the time. Here’s the full list:

  • Never begin a sentence with “but” or “and.”
  • Never use contractions.
  • Never refer to the reader as you.
  • Never use the first-person pronoun I.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  • Never split an infinitive.
  • Never write a paragraph containing only one sentence.

So, if you were daydreaming when your teachers were teaching you to never do those things, you did yourself a favor. Because ignoring these seven nevers will make your writing more readable — and make your story easier to hear, understand and remember.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

 

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

KeyboardWhen I learned to type as a high school freshman, I learned to put two spaces after each period.

I stuck to this practice until this article changed my mind a couple years ago. Since then, I’ve been a one-space-after-periods guy.

When editing, I used to add a second space after each period if the writer didn’t. Now I delete the extra spaces of writers who use them.

Journalist Farhad Manjoo, author of the article that changed my mind about two spaces after periods, blames the practice on the manual typewriter.

“The problem with typewriters,” Manjoo says, “was that they used monospaced type — that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. . . . on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. . . . Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.”

“Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong,” Manjoo asserts. Until a couple years ago, I argued exactly the opposite.

I’m not ready to call two spaces after a period wrong. But I’ve switched to one. And it’s better.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

 

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?Commas don’t get always get a lot of respect. And I often urge clients to look for opportunities to turn them into periods.

But before you dismiss these misunderstood and abused little punctuation marks entirely, did you know there are Oxford and Harvard commas? And you almost certainly use one or the other of them when you write. So a little more respect, please.

You’re a Harvard-comma person if you write red, white and blue.

And you’re using Oxford commas if you write red, white, and blue.

The difference, if you didn’t pick up on it, is the choice of whether to skip the comma before the final item in the series (Harvard style) or put one in (Oxford style).

Oxford commas are also called serial commas. As far as I know that has nothing to do with any killer instincts. I hope not, anyway. Harvard commas are also called series commas.

In school, I learned to put that final comma in, Oxford-style — although we didn’t call it that. But in the world of journalism I became a Harvard man. The AP Stylebook says no comma before the final item in a series and most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook.

In fact, I’ve always thought of the difference as being a choice between AP Style and what everyone else does. That’s because most of the stylebooks I’m aware of favor the Oxford or serial comma.

Which one is correct? Which one should you use? It’s your choice. But be consistent. Use one or the other from beginning to end. Don’t switch back and forth.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

 

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.There’s nothing worse than coming in during the middle of a story. But sometimes that’s a good place to start when you’re putting your story together.

I’m not suggesting you start in the middle of your story when your audience is there to read or listen to it. That’s usually a bad idea.

But getting started is often the hardest part of putting your thoughts onto paper — or a computer screen.

Back in my days as a reporter, I often knew what the story was about. But it could take forever to come up with the right lead.

One way around that: Start by writing the middle of the story — the details of what you have to say. Then come back to the lead when the right one pops into your head. For me, that usually happens while the story is taking shape. But sometimes the lead is the last thing I write.

“Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.” I don’t know who first came up with that quote. But it’s often true when it comes to telling your story. Getting started can be the hardest part.

So, start in the middle — if you need to — when crafting your story. But start at the beginning when the rest of us are there to hear it.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

————-

Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Denver PR Firm, APR Credentials
JerryBrownPR member of South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce

Contact Jerry

Jerry@JerryBrownPR.com | 303.594.8016