Make My Day: Writing That Wins — and Wows

February 4, 2019

For those of us who work in public relations (and if you’re reading this, then you more than likely do), writing is not a choice. It’s a daily duty. Writing and editing copy are primary responsibilities for communications pros, and even the best writers should be continually sharpening their skills. Crafting writing that wins and wows is a choice, and it begins with your mindset.

Many people believe writing is a talent when it’s truly a skill. And like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I attended a virtual conference not long ago and one of the presenters said she makes herself write every single day — even if she doesn’t publish every day, she still writes every day.

Show and tell to compel.

How can you make your writing more compelling? Use storytelling! Don’t just write what you see. Engage the senses, and use sounds and smells as imagery. Paint a picture in your reader’s head. See … hear … taste … smell … and touch! Use words as paintbrushes whose meanings instantly create pictures in the reader’s mind. Recall sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Be brief and choose words that are graphic.

Show, don’t tell! Sentences that show are usually perceived by readers as more interesting, engaging and informative than sentences that merely tell. So when you sit down to write, it is not a drink but a martini, and not a flower but a rose. You get the idea.

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White tell us in “The Elements of Style” that good writing is concrete and specific. It calls up pictures for the reader. Stay away from general statements and write mindfully. So say, “The audience stood and applauded for a full five minutes” rather than “She was a huge hit with the audience.”

Also use analogies and anecdotes to help your readers really understand what it is you want to convey. I recently wrote an article about our ninth class of inmates to graduate from our construction program so I drew the analogy to the ancient proverb that says a cat has nine lives. “And like cats, these offenders have strayed, but hopefully also like cats, they will have the ability to land on their feet — thanks to these new skills to help them thrive upon release.”

Remember that less is more.

We’re in an age of short attention spans; tweets and texts often get more traction than a lengthy and well-researched article. Aim to convey meaning with concise copy. Edit aggressively and make “Omit needless words” your mantra. Use simple words. Say “use” instead of “utilize,” and “talk” instead of “converse.” Straightforward, unassuming language is more memorable and effective.

Because people are so pressed for time, I usually put the most important information at the top of what I am writing using the traditional inverted news pyramid. Knowing that only the most committed readers are going to get to the end of a piece, I also try and include a bizarre fact or some kind of interesting tidbit at the end. It’s sort of a little gift to anyone who stayed with me to the end and finished reading.

Know that audience is everything.

Whether it’s an article, press release, blog post or social media mention, always keep your audience in mind. In terms of content, it’s about the audience and effectively connecting with them by providing content that resonates.

As an example of the importance of content, a colleague of mine recently expressed interest in applying for a position in Human Resources at the University of Central Florida (UCF) but had some reservations as to whether an elite university would even consider someone working at a jail — even though he worked in human resources.

My advice to him was to use his cover letter to convey the many similarities between a college campus and a corrections department. Security is paramount for both entities. Both have food service operations, and in fact, use the exact same vendor in feeding their populations. Like the university, the jail offers programs and classes. The corrections department has a library, and holds graduation ceremonies for multiple inmate programs. Both have faith-based services to meet the needs of the different denominations, and like UCF, the jail also goes through an accreditation process. He shared those important connections throughout the hiring process and is now happily employed at UCF.

Have proof with purpose.

When proofing your own work, you know the meaning you want to convey. Because you expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier to miss when parts of it are absent. I believe it’s harder to proof when you’re looking at a screen so I always print out a copy and I force myself to read it out loud, word by word. Otherwise, since you wrote it, your brain processes what should be there instead of what actually is there. The reason you don’t see your own typos is because what you see on screen is competing with the version that exists in your head.

And finally, when it comes to cleaning up your copy, a second set of eyes is absolutely essential to the proofing process. Beautiful content will suffer greatly unless it’s free of typos, grammatical errors and passive voice.

Don’t underestimate the power of prose.

Never forget how powerful writing is. Think about it. With everything you write — every email, every text, every tweet — you have an opportunity to make someone’s day or not. David Wagner, CEO of Juut Salon Spa, often speaks about being a “daymaker” — not just going through the motions at work, but actively choosing to be a source of positivity and encouragement. Choosing to make someone’s day.

Often, all it takes is a thoughtful compliment or a few kind words that leave people thinking, “I needed that.” So set “daymaker” as your barometer of success — for your writing, and for everything you do.

Tracy Zampaglione, APR

Tracy Zampaglione, APR, is public information officer for the Orange County Corrections Department in Orlando, Fla.


Magdalena Gómez says:

Thank you, Tracy! I found this informative and straight to the point.

Feb. 7, 2019

Post a Comment

Editor’s Note: Please limit your comments to the specific post. We reserve the right to omit any response that is not related to the article or that may be considered objectionable.


To help us ensure that you are a real human, please type the total number of circles that appear in the following images in the box below.

(image of four circles) + (image of six circles) =