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Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

 

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

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

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.Do you rewrite what you’ve written? And then edit it? And then do some more editing. If not, you’re probably not telling your story as well as you could.

Here’s how Tom Coyne, who teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, put it in an article sent to me by a friend:

“Revision is what separates the pros from the part-timers. Non-writers have some imagination of a writer who sits at a typewriter, crossing out or adding a word every few pages, and finally writing The End and firing up a cigar. That’s a fiction no one will buy. Writers slog through draft after draft after draft after draft . . . being a real writer is more about being a real re-rewriter than anything else.”

Is writing hard? Here’s what Coyne says about that: “Of course it’s hard. It’s pounding your head on a granite countertop hard. It’s a soul-crushing, salvation-stealing, staring-into-the-abyss endeavor rife with rejection, self-loathing and unshakable self-doubt.”

Or, as the late journalist and screenwriter Gene Fowler once put it: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until beads of blood form on your forehead.”

Whether you’re writing your story yourself or have hired someone like me to write it for you, expect to go through some editing. Editing is a key part of writing.

And don’t be afraid to ask a professional writer you’ve hired to make changes. Sometimes people are reluctant to do that because they think they’ll hurt my feelings — or the feelings of whoever they’ve hired.

You’re not going to hurt my feelings. The goal is to get to the best version of your story. Editing and rewriting are part of that process. A good writer wants your feedback. If you’ve hired us, our job is to help you tell your story in a way that you’re happy with.

So, whether you do it yourself or hire someone else to write it for you, editing and rewriting are essential to getting to the best version of your story.

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

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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: Use Short sentences

Storytelling Tip: Use Short sentences

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

Storytelling Tip: Use Short sentencesI love short sentences. You should, too. Why? Because they make your story easier to understand. And easier to remember.

According to the American Press Institute, reader comprehension is 100 percent if your sentences average eight words or fewer.

Double that to 20 words per sentence and comprehension drops to 80 percent.

By the time you get to 30 words a sentence, your audience will miss half of what you say.

So, keep your sentences short. Use short, simple words for the same reason.

And breaking long paragraphs into short ones adds more white space. That, too, makes what you write more readable.

One way to make your sentences shorter: Look for ways to turn commas into periods.

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

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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 assume your audience knows what you’re talking about

 

Storytelling Tip: Don’t assume your audience knows what you’re talking about
Today’s tip from JerryBrownPR’s storytelling tips on the Experience Pros Radio Show

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

Storytelling Tip: Don't assume your audience knows what you're talking aboutHave you ever had this experience: You’re on Facebook and one of your friends has posted something like “That was a great experience,” a half dozen people have liked the post and a couple people have added congratulatory comments?

Did you feel like you came in at the middle of the story because you have no idea what your friend’s talking about — or whether all those likes and comments are just polite support or mean everyone but you knows what’s happening?

Or have you experienced this? You go to the local newspaper’s website to find out the score of yesterday’s game only to find a series of stories about the big plays or a controversial call but no score in sight. They assume you already know that.

People often assume everyone else knows something just because they know it.

Don’t leave your audience guessing when telling your story. Don’t assume they know something just because you do.

Jargon’s a common example. Terms widely used and understood within your company or industry may not mean anything to the rest of us. So, explain what you’re saying in terms the rest of us will understand.

Back in my days as a reporter, we always had to include at least a sentence or two designed to bring readers who missed yesterday’s paper up to speed when writing a second-day story. No matter how prominent the story, we were told to assume some readers wouldn’t know what had happened. So, each day’s update of a multi-day story had to be self-contained and explain anything a first-time reader would need to know to understand the story.

You don’t have to drown your audience in endless detail. But tell them what they need to know to understand what you’re saying — and why you’re saying it.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 10:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show on KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archived tips.

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