At the invitation of my friend Shawn Phelps, I spoke to a group of students yesterday at Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program. I talked about the career (23 years in journalism, mainly business), offered some brilliant career advice worthy of a Grade 9 valedictory speech (get involved, ask lots of questions), and then discussed what I've learned about writing for results.
That advice was geared to writing non-fiction books or magazine articles, but I am struck today at how relevant most of it is to anyone writing in a business context. So here is my list of “7 Ways to Write with Power,” adapted for business writing and online attention spans.
1. Don’t skimp on the research. You can’t write with power if you don't have the facts and the details and context behind them.
2. Use vivid images. Instead of clichés, make your writing stand out by using original, griping images that engage all the sense.
3. Don’t hurry your writing: Space is always scarce, readers’ patience is limited, and brevity is usually best. But you can gain attention and influence by slowing down for key moments, letting details, wordplay, emotion or rhythm engage the reader, rather than content alone.
4. Use strong verbs. Verbs are the keystone of any sentence. Throw out your adjectives and learn to use more vivid, evocative verbs. I read from an article that transported the reader by using powerful, unexpected verbs such as “scribble,” “disappear,” “abandon,” “swoop,” “smuggle” and “dance.”
5. Vary your sentence structure. Short/long. Dialogue/description. Objective/subjective.
Especially avoid subject-verb repetition (“He did this. Then he did that.”). Variety is the spice of communication.
6. Write with authority. Provide context that proves you know your stuff , offer authoritative facts (“Our department’s absenteeism rate was the highest in the company’s history), and use telling detail.
7. Build towards strength. Never “taper off.” The strongest word or image should come at the end of your sentence. The strongest sentence should come at the end of your paragraph. That’s how you keep people reading – and paying attention to what you say.
(Hardly anyone teaches stuff like this. If you care about good writing and want the full list of 10 tips, drop me an email – rick (at) rickspence.ca. I’ll send you a copy of the original handout, which includes a link to the most powerful, best-written article I’ve ever read. I used that article to showcase how a really good writer makes use of the writing techniques I advocate.)