Paul Mathieu from Write First Time shares his tips for top PR copy.

No one should need any urging to KISS – but if you’re sitting at a keyboard, it’s mandatory. It stands for, ‘Keep it short and simple,’ and that’s the basis of clear, effective writing: short words and short sentences.

Short messages, as well; time is a precious commodity and attention spans are short. Nothing annoys a reader more than copy that waffles about and takes an age to get to the point.

When you’ve edited your text to average sentence length of 25 words or less, and cut out multi-syllable words, it’s time to make sure you’re active. That is, active in sentence structure. You need a subject, a verb and an object. As an example of how not to do it, here’s the FT this month, writing about a Facebook manager: “Though not beloved by all, people close to Mrs Sandberg…”

That’s a passive sentence. It says that people close to Mrs S are unloved, which isn’t what the writer intended. The active structure will read: “Mrs Sandberg isn’t beloved by all, but people close to her…”

In the context of PR and financial communication, the client is almost always the subject. Say, “Newco today launched a new service,” not, “A new service was launched today by Newco.”

Next up for your scrutiny are needless adjectives, especially the so-called modifiers which influence or modify the noun that follows. Too many adjectives in your copy have the same effect as cholesterol in an artery: they clog it up. As a starting point, you can cut out ‘very’ and ‘real’ every time they appear.

The last of the key steps towards clear, concise copy is to check it carefully and then, if there’s time, ask a colleague to check it as well. You use spell checker, and you already know that it’s unwise to rely on it. MS Word struggles with their/there, hear/here and its/it’s. As for passive sentences, it thinks that anything it the past tense is passive – which it isn’t. Use spell check to spot gross spelling mistakes, but never imagine that it provides a firm verdict.

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