By Jeff Beals
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” Sir Winston Churchill once said.
While he was best known as the prime minister who led Great Britain through World War II, Churchill was a prolific writer. He wrote articles, opinion pieces and books of all kinds – novels and biographies as well as political and historical non-fiction.
Churchill lived his life publicly through his written words. Writing was a way to build his reputation as a public servant and an expert on international political affairs. Churchill realized early in his career that those who wrote their thoughts for broad audiences had more control over how they were perceived.
Writing remains a powerful tool in current times.
Professionals who appreciate the value of personal branding are wise to sit down at their keyboards and start hammering out their pearls of wisdom. Writing can bring tremendous opportunities. That’s why more and more professionals are blogging and submitting articles to publications. Setting up a blog takes only a few minutes. Every major city has numerous publications, and many of these depend on outside writers to supply the content.
Think of writing as a form of marketing, a personal calling card. If you write enough articles, and spread them around the Internet, people will start to notice you and eventually respect you as an accomplished, well-known expert.
To help you write and blog successfully, here are some tips:
Thou shalt be interesting
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either,” said American author Meg Cabot.
Entertaining the reader is just as important as educating the reader. Pick a topic that relates to what you do professionally but is fascinating to others.
If research is necessary, find the best possible sources. Those sources might be interviews you set up with experts. Convincing prospective sources to do interviews can be challenging, because many of these people have been burned before by journalists. Let them know that your motives are positive. Be transparent and explain exactly what you are doing with the article or blog.
Take copious notes during interviews. If you quote someone, you have an ethical obligation to make sure you write their words verbatim.
Write like a pro
Purchase a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook. You can find it at most bookstores and on line. The vast majority of publications follow AP style. If you follow it, your writing will appear to be much more legitimate. By the way, there are a number of little quirks to AP style. For example, AP uses the term “adviser” instead of “advisor.” Large cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Boston “stand alone,” meaning you don’t write the state name following them. Speaking of state names, AP doesn’t use the U.S. Post Office abbreviations. For instance, Colorado is “Colo.,” not “CO.” California is “Calif.,” not “CA.” Some states such as Iowa and Maine are not abbreviated at all.
Big stuff first
When composing your article, use the “inverted pyramid” method of writing. The fat base of the upside-down pyramid is at the top of the article, and it represents the biggest, most significant, most newsworthy part of the story. The small, narrow tip of the pyramid at the bottom represents the least meaningful part of the story. Place great emphasis on the article’s first sentence also known as “the lead.”
Active rather than passive
Most of your writing should be in the active voice instead of passive voice. In other words, “The president vetoed the bill” is better than, “The bill was vetoed by the president.”
Remember 8th grade English class
Use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. Proofread carefully. Tenses should be consistent. Subjects and verbs ought to agree.
Make it tight
Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
When we talk among friends, we tend to throw in a bunch of “filler words.” Delete these when writing. As Stephen King believes, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Brevity is beautiful
Short articles are more readable than long ones. As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
Use real words
Don’t try to be too cute with your writing by filling it with clichés or politically correct double speak. Make your message as clear as possible; avoid balderdash, poppycock and gobbledygook.
Don’t get defensive
Unless you are writing in your own blog or for a publication you personally created, you give up some control once you submit the article. An editor will probably review your work and make at least a few changes. For the most part, having an editor is a blessing as it reduces the likelihood of errors.
Learn from the Masters
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it,” William Faulkner once said. “Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
Those who read often tend to write well.
Any professional can enjoy increased name recognition and ultimately more business through writing. The trick is to do it properly and compel people to read your material. After all, the best-written article in the world is useless if nobody reads it.
As you write, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. You must make sure that someone who knows little about your subject, who quickly browses it, can understand and appreciate the message you are trying to convey.
Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.
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