New Year’s writing resolutions: 5 ways to improve your copy in 2011

December 27, 2010

Want to achieve your New Year’s resolutions this year? Just do as I do: Resolve to watch more reality TV.

And if you want to achieve something worthwhile in 2011, here are five writing resolutions you should make today: 
1. Remember the reader.
To make your next blog post, news release or pitch relevant to your readers, try beginning with this formula: X who have struggled with Y will now be able to Z, thanks to A. Here’s how it looks in action:

Commuters who now spend an hour each day driving from Sunrise Beach to Osage Beach will soon be able to make the trip in 15 minutes, thanks to a new bridge that ABC Company will build this summer.

That’s far more likely to engage the reader than the tired ABC Company yesterday announced that … lead.

2. Make copy look easy to read.
To make copy look more inviting, pass the “Palm Test.”  That is, use subheads, bolded lead-ins, bulleted lists and other display copy to break up the text into chunks smaller than the palm of your hand.

3. Find and fix passive voice.
If you can add “by my grandma” to the end of a sentence, then you’ve probably written in the passive voice, says Tim Burnett, who handles Express communications at FedEx. Example:  “A nap was taken … by my grandma.”

Once you’ve identified the passive voice, make sure the subject is doing the verb: 1) Find the verb. 2) Ask who’s doing the verb. 3) Move that subject in front of the verb. Result:  “My grandma took a nap.”

4. Tell a story.
Stories are “the most powerful form of human communication,” Peg Neuhauser writes in the book “Corporate Legends and Lore.”  But too many PR pros avoid anecdotes because they think that they don’t have enough space.

Paul McCartney wrote three stories and a chorus in 179 words. He called it “Eleanor Rigby.” 

To add a mini anecdote to your next piece, try the PSR method — that is, describe the Problem, Solution and Results in one sentence each.

5. Quantify your value.
Numbers sell stories. For instance, articles with numerals in their titles tend to be shared more on Facebook than stories without digits, according to a 2010 study by viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella.  So quantify the value that your piece delivers. Offer 10 tips, seven steps or five New Year’s resolutions.

Copyright © 2011 by Ann Wylie.  All rights reserved.

Write better social media copy in 2011

To write better blog postings, tweets and other status updates in 2011, Join Ann Wylie at PRSA’s “Writing for Social Media” webinar on Feb. 22. Sign up or get more details here.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at


Scott Brady says:

Exceptional article! Your practical advice and specific examples resonated with me. Thanks for sharing these fantasic writing resolutions.

Jan. 7, 2011

Karen Derby-Lovell says:

Excellent list. One more edit I find very powerful: pick out all adjectives/nouns and adverbs/verbs and try replacing with stronger, more specific nouns or verbs only.

Jan. 20, 2011

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