If you write for or about your business -- with web copy, blog posts, press releases, marketing collateral or more -- one of the best pieces of advice I can give you as a fellow corporate communications writer is this: Think like an editor.

Here are some of the best lessons I've learned from editors that I've applied to my business writing and also passed along as an editor myself.

1. Keep it simple. 

Short, declarative sentences with the subject followed by an active verb are the best. You don't need fancy clauses, semi-colons or a bunch of fluffy words (looking at you, adverbs) that take up space, but don't add much.

2. Keep it succinct. 

Get to the point and move on. If you can get your point across in one page, one paragraph, one sentence, go for it. Don't write more just to fill up space. 

3. Start with your headline. 

One way you keep from rambling on is by starting with your headline. Having the headline or title for your piece in mind, gives some parameters to you're writing. You don't have to write everything on the topic. You've chosen to cover one specific angle or provide three steps for your audience to take or provided your top five ideas.

4. Avoid buzz words and jargon.

Write the way you and people around you talk, not how some people talk to impress others in meetings. Think "use," not "utilize," and "selected," not "curated." Rather than describe a product or service as "cutting edge" or "industry leading," explain what makes it great and give examples.

5. If you use numbers, give them impact. 

Numbers are great, but not when they raise questions. If you say sales are up 200 percent since the company began, then give another figure to provide more credibility. An increase from $10 to $30 is 200 percent, but is promoting that percentage by itself honest? Better to give a figure, then use a percentage to give it more impact. Or in the example above, better to say "current sales are x dollars, or triple the company's first-year sales."

6. Read out loud.

Before you publish or post, read what you've written out loud. You'll catch grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and poor syntax. You'll also see where other first-time readers will get tripped up and be able to fix your copy to read better.

7. Trim.

I once had an editor say that every story could stand to be trimmed by 10 percent. This has never been a problem for me, because I have -- to quote one of my journalism professors -- "the gift of brevity." Still, I can be wordy; we all can. It's harder to be economical with our words, though I think the 140 character Twitter days made us better. I always read what I've written out loud not just for things I need to fix but so I can see areas where I can trim. And I'm always happier when with each bit of tightening. 

It helps to think of what Mark Twain had to say about succinct writing: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

Published on: Sep 25, 2019
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