When I was in college, my professors told us bright-eyed PR students that if we wanted to succeed in public relations, we would need to be good writers — and they weren’t kidding.
Writing is the foundational skill of every public relations job. From press releases and pitches to social media copy and research reports, public relations pros are crafting content all day, every day.
Back in college, I took several journalism and public relations classes that focused on developing strong writing skills. This classroom experience helped prepare me for my first writing gig as a features reporter and copy editor at my alma mater’s student newspaper and, eventually, the three public relations internships that followed. When it was time to begin my PR career, I was able to hit the ground running as a writer with room to grow.
Writing is a continuous learning experience, regardless of how long you’ve been at it. Even after six years of writing professionally, I am still challenged every day because there’s always something new to improve.
If you’re looking to hone your writing skills, here are some tips to try:
1. Create an outline
Whether writing a press release or a blog post, outlines are a great way to organize thoughts. They’re especially helpful for developing an inverted pyramid — the writing approach journalists use to prioritize key points by order of most important to least important. You should apply this approach to everything you write as well, especially press releases, pitches, and media advisories.
2. Start writing, even if your draft is terrible
Some days it can be hard to put words to paper, even if you’re a passionate writer. Combat writer’s block by writing without worrying about your first draft being perfect. That means writing without going back to check your spelling and grammar and just letting your thoughts flow. This process allows you to develop an initial draft that you can review later with fresh eyes.
3. Keep it clear and concise
Clear, concise writing is essential to public relations. Headlines, subject lines, emails, op-eds, blog posts, and any other tactic should be written with clarity in mind. Your writing should be readable by audiences with a fourth-grade education, so make sure sentences are short and easy to understand.
3. Follow style guides
Almost every public relations professional relies on the AP Stylebook, which is the preferred writing style for journalism. Adhering to AP Style allows you to write copy that can easily be repurposed by reporters who may pick up your stories.
You’ll find in your career that some organizations follow AP Style while others don’t. Occasionally, companies may have their own style guides for writing content. These style guides often include the voice and tone of the organization, as well as any grammar rules that deviate from AP Style.
4. Step away from your draft
Although PR pros are often writing under tight deadlines, try to build room in your process for stepping away from your writing and revisiting it with fresh eyes. Whether it’s taking an hour break from a project or returning to the draft the following day, the fresh perspective can help you catch any copy errors or incorporate additional points or new ideas.
5. Proofread out loud
Once you have a draft ready for review, proofread it out loud. Yes, it’s tedious and takes extra time, but proofreading your entire draft out loud is the best way to catch mistakes.
6. Use copy editing tools
While Microsoft Word or Google Docs catch most typos, they often don’t catch sentence structure issues or grammatical errors. Using a tool like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor allows you to input your text and review for any errors or find opportunities to improve your copy. These tools are especially helpful if you work on a small team or if you are required to self-edit your work.
7. Get a final pair of eyes
Whenever possible, have one or two more people proofread your writing before submitting to a client for review or publishing it. I always get at least two to three people to proofread my work to catch potential errors I missed and get a fresh perspective on my writing. While this step takes time, it’s also highly effective in producing a clean final draft.
8. Apply feedback to your future writing
If your manager or editor makes tweaks to your writing, be sure to incorporate those edits into future writing assignments. For example, if you’ve been using the Oxford comma and notice your editor always deletes it from your writing, be sure to eliminate it from future drafts. If you are confused about edits or unsure why a change was made, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. This way, you develop accurate copy moving forward.
9. Become a voracious reader
I’ve found in my career that the best way to improve as a writer is to read. As a kid, I loved reading but got out of the habit as I grew up, went to college, and started working. It wasn’t until about two years ago I started a regular reading habit that has allowed me to significantly improve my writing and editing skills.
Read everything from columns and op-eds in the New York Times to books to magazines to research papers to blog posts. All of these mediums can teach you new things about writing that you can incorporate into your own style.
Writing is a lifelong skill that can always be improved. Every day offers an opportunity to learn new words and find new ways to say something better. Whether you’re just starting your writing career or have been at it for a few years, I hope you find some of these tips helpful for growing your writing skills.