This is an interview with freelance writer Erin Murphy -- with some tips for COMMUNICATING clearly and effectively on paper.
Q: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WRITING EXPERIENCE.
A: As the daughter of two English teachers, the importance of grammar and spelling was drilled into me from a very young age. I now have almost seven years of experience working in public relations and marketing COMMUNICATIONS. After five years acquiring "field experience," I am now applying my hard earned writing skills and marketing savvy as a one-stop writing shop. I provide my clients writing, copyediting and PROOFREADING services, working with them any way they prefer. Some contract with me to edit and proofread the content they've created in-house, while others hire me to help implement marketing initiatives and create materials that will promote their business.
Q: WHAT IS THE KEY TO COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY?
A: The key to effective communication lies in delivering your message as EFFICIENTLY as possible. Without the luxury of jazzy visuals to tantalize your audience and maintain their attention, you have a very short time to capture their interest. And in order to hold it, writers should use concise sentences, constructed with carefully chosen words. We've all seen flyers, sales letters and Web sites that are filled with big, fluffy words (I've heard them called "lard words") that are supposed to lend credibility and convey expertise. Truth is, the longer we make our readers search for the point, the greater the risk we run that they'll lose INTEREST before they find it.
Q: HOW IS BUSINESS WRITING DIFFERENT?
A: The intent behind writing to inform or entertain is to deliver information or to delight the reader. In business writing, we are trying to INFLUENCE the audience in a different way; we want to persuade them to use our product or service. In a sense, business writing is more CALCULATED than other writing forms because we are attempting to convince the reader that they need our service, or that our service is the best.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE LACK OF NON-VERBAL CUES?
A: Without the visuals we use in face-to-face conversations, we are left with a literary element that is often ignored but very important in business writing -- TONE. Tone has the power to make a deal or convince your audience that you are on their wavelength. Conversely, using an improper tone can break a deal, insult your reader's intelligence and offend them. The tone of any form of communication is almost as important as spelling and grammar, and should be taken very seriously. Keep your writing in line with your "business personality," and make sure that your message and tone convey a PROFESSIONAL image. Consider these questions: Does the message sound condescending when you only meant to instruct? Are you using sarcasm inappropriately?
Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST AMATEUR WRITING MISTAKE?
A: The biggest mistake that lots of writers (not just amateurs) make in writing is failing to thoroughly EDIT and proofread their work. Using the spellcheck function of your word processing application is a good start, but should not be your sole method of proofreading. Good writers always have a dictionary and thesaurus by their sides to verify word meanings and spelling. Strunk And White's "Elements of Style" is also helpful for checking common grammar mistakes. The very best method of eliminating spelling and grammar mistakes is to ask a COLLEAGUE to proofread your work and double-check tone. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can catch a mistake you haven't caught in the 50 times you've read through your work.
Q: WHAT STEPS DO YOU TAKE ON A NEW WRITING PROJECT?
A: In any marketing campaign, whether you're planning to send out a promotional mailing or establishing a Web site, first answer the following three questions:
1. What am I trying to accomplish? (OBJECTIVES)
2. Who am I trying to reach? (AUDIENCE)
3. What is the best tool for reaching them? (marketing INITIATIVE)
Once you've written your marketing piece, read through it to ensure it SUPPORTS your objectives. If your objective was to announce a new service and offer a special promotion for first-time customers, make sure the piece you've written clearly states those two bits of information. Then edit, proofread and send to a colleague to be proofread once more.
Q: HOW DO YOU CONNECT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE?
A: When trying to connect with your audience, put yourself in their shoes -- EMPATHIZE. How do they think? How do they talk? Use their language -- you would relate very differently to a fourteen-year-old girl than you would a forty-year-old executive. To encourage interaction with your audience, always include at least two methods of CONTACT in all of your marketing materials. Many successful marketers list both their phone number and their email address, allowing the reader to choose his or her preferred method.
Q: ARE THERE ANY GOLDEN COMMUNICATION RULES?
A: I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I believe the Grade A, Number One, Mac Daddy Golden Rule of Written Communications is employing proper spelling and grammar. It's important to remember that editing is an integral part of the writing process. Another Golden Rule in written communications is the mantra "less is more." Use POWER words and ACTION verbs and make every word count. Stay true to your message and delete everything else. Well, maybe not everything, but eliminate anything that does not directly support your objectives.
Q: ANY ADVICE FOR NEW (AND IMPROVING) WRITERS?
A: The easiest way to improve one's writing skills is to adopt some of the HABITS of a professional writer. As I've mentioned previously, professional writers always have a well-worn dictionary, thesaurus and grammar reference book (I like The Everyday Writer by Lunsford And Connors) by their side for easy reference. I constantly verify the spelling or meaning of a word. Secondly, professional writers are usually avid readers. READING a variety of publications will expand your knowledge, not to mention your ability to dazzle at cocktail parties. There’s no need to limit your reading to what you think you should read; inspiration can come from anywhere -- the daily newspaper, a trade publication, a competitor's Web site, even romance novels. Not only will you learn new words and see proper grammar employed, but you'll also be training your brain to distinguish between quality writing and ineffective drivel.
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