10 Tips to Effective Writing

Ryan McShane, former PRSSA Publications Editor in Chief, account manager, TIAA
Ryan McShane, former PRSSA Publications Editor in Chief, account manager, TIAA

There’s something to be said about the deliberateness of writing.

I managed the weekly newspaper and co-hosted a sports radio show at my university. Despite covering a lot of the same stories between the newsroom and studio, I learned my insights and observations were much more profound in my written coverage.

As a writer, you can trial sentences until one captures the essence of your thought. You can tweak the structure of your words to make them more concise, organized or linear. In the radio booth, your producer will bang on the window if you pause for a few seconds before delivering a response. Even the most polished broadcasters are prone to the occasional gaffe.

Writing can help define your success as an employee and public relations professional. Client and media correspondence, new business presentations, creative briefs and annual reviews are all examples of writing that can help you stand out among your peers.

Last year, I had the pleasure of presenting “Writing Right: The No. 1 Skill Employers Want” with Ron Culp at the PRSSA National Conference. Together, we packaged our top 10 writing tips mentioned below.

  1. Keep it simple.

Let’s start with a few basics. Simplify your message. Rather than zig-zagging through every angle in the book, find a hook that will catch the reader’s attention and tell that story.

  1. Trim the fat.

We live in an age of information overload. Focus on the meat of the topic, and find ways to trim the fat. Your audience will appreciate it.

  1. Answer the 5 Ws (and the H).

The ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ approach to writing might have been the first thing I learned in journalism school, but it’s still one of my favorite methods to confirm I’m telling the whole story.

  1. Think, feel, do

Before I put pen to paper, I contemplate what I want the reader to think, what I want them to feel and what I want them to do. If your writing passes the ‘Think, Feel, Do’ test, you’ve got yourself a keeper.

  1. Design your draft.

Do you remember the outlines your fifth-grade teacher made your write before you started your essay? A simple outline will allow you to connect the dots of your story with a limited amount of time investment required.

  1. Use real, everyday words.

There’s a reason most newspapers write at an eighth-grade reading level. It helps to ensure the message will be interpreted the same way it was intended.

  1. Mind your grammar.

Grammatical errors will instantly erode your credibility. Pay close attention to those graded term papers to identify any bad habits you need to correct before you graduate. Eliminate passive voice, avoid commonly misspelled words and keep an AP Stylebook handy.

  1. Who are you?

Putting yourself in the shoes of your audience is a fairly well-known writing tip, but in public relations, you have to take that one step further. We channel a variety of brand voices, C-suite executives and other important figures. Channeling the proper voice in your writing is a skill that can be improved through practice and intention.

  1. Find your focus.

Identify an environment that will allow you to write efficiently. Find inspiration through music, a comfortable seat, a quiet corner or a second cup of coffee.

  1. Proof. Proof. Proof.

Proofing extends beyond spell check. Take the time to double-check your facts. Are your links working? Did you reserve five or 55 microphones from the event vendor? Peer reviews and stepping away for a bit often help catch those hidden blemishes.

Ryan McShane is a national award-winning mentor and guest speaker for public relations students and young professionals. He is an account manager within the Creative Services agency at TIAA and previously served on the PRSSA 2007–2008 National Committee as FORUM Editor-in-Chief. You can connect with Ryan on LinkedIn.

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