Saving the waffle for breakfast: How to be a better writer

Saving the waffle for breakfast: How to be a better writer

A great way to become a better writer is to be an avid reader. It’s much easier to craft a great blog post or opinion piece, if you know what one looks like.

When you’re perusing the Sunday papers, your relevant trade media or favourite news apps and sites, stop to consider what works well, why you like it, and how you could learn from it.

I teach journalism writing skills to undergraduates and the students who excel in this tricky discipline are generally the ones who habitually read a lot, from a variety of sources. They are familiar with the formats and conventions before they try to emulate them.

My other key piece of advice is to keep things simple. Rookie writers often fall over themselves to be elaborate or overly formal to impress. As a result, their language becomes stilted and stodgy.

Unless you are a Bronte sister with a flair for passionate prose – which, to be fair, will look out of place in a SME’s PR armoury anyway – try to use clean, clear, straightforward language.  No-one wants to read 10 words where two would do.

At Scriba we may make writing look easy, but getting good at creating copy that sparkles takes dedication and practice.

That said, anyone can do better, whatever your starting point. Here are some thoughts, based on my experience as a lecturer and coach of less experienced colleagues, as well as some of the CIPR’s official advice to its members.

Get the details right

Substance will always triumph over style, so make sure what you say is spot-on even if the way you say it is more of a work in progress.  This means checking the spelling of the name of anyone you mention, ensuring you quote facts and figures correctly and being very careful with the use of any unfamiliar words, such as technical terms.

Punctuate properly

It might not matter on WhatsApp or an informal email, but copy with missing or misplaced full stops and capital letters marks you out as an amateur. Yes, the odd mistake can creep in – nobody’s perfect – but please work hard to avoid anything approaching a peppering of these.

Choose the right style

How you write exactly will depend on who is going to read it – your audience – and where it will appear. A blog entry might be conversational in tone, but the narrative of a company’s annual report will probably be more formal. Something aimed at snowboarders might differ in language and style from a communication to board members.

Don’t repeat yourself

Avoid using the same word or phrase more than once in quick succession, if you can possibly manage it. Choose another way to say it. Don’t start different sentences in the same manner. Keep things short and to the point – and do your best to save the waffle for breakfast.

Enlist an editor

Get someone else to proof-read what you’ve written. A second pair of eyes will be quicker to spot any needless capital letters on non-proper nouns, silly spelling mistakes or sentences that don’t make sense – maybe your editor will even think of something crucial that you forgot to add in your first draft, or give you a second opinion on whether you need the emoji of the flamenco dancer.

Finally, good luck and happy writing. You’ll know when you’ve hit your flow – so, when you do, enjoy! Just don’t expect it to be like this every time. If you need our blog on writer’s block, it’s here.

By Jenny