8 Tips for Less Sucky Writing*

By Guest Blogger: Lori Bailey
A few weeks ago, I led a learning session for our staff called 10 Tips for Less Sucky Writing. When I tweeted about it, Steve asked if I might be interested in sharing the content in a guest post. Of course! And yet, the material I prepared for our team was specifically for people who aren’t specializing in communication. So I’ve pared down the list a bit, but kept to some basics, because if you’re anything like me, they’re the hardest things to do well consistently.

1. Is writing the best way to communicate this? As a writer, it’s tempting to think the written word is the solution for everything. And even though I love to read, I’m not blind to the fact that communication is changing. We live in a YouTube culture and we have 140-character attention spans. Sometimes, it can be way more effective to share a short video than to try to capture something in words. Case in point: our Senior Pastor, Craig Groeschel, does a fantastic job communicating through short videos that we email to our partners (members) and/or staff.

2. Who am I talking to? It’s easy to get into a to-do list mindset when we’re whipping off blurbs for a weekend bulletin or email. But I’ve noticed that when I do that, my writing tends to be more about us as an organization and less about the reader. What really helps me is to think of my intended audience and pick out one or two people who fall into that group. Then, when I’m writing, I try to step into their shoes a bit and point out how the event/resource/class/etc. would be helpful to them.

3. Stop selling. Start informing. This was probably my biggest takeway from Kem Meyer’s Less Clutter, Less Noise. I realized that overpromising and overhyping shows that we really don’t trust the opportunity to speak for itself and we don’t trust our reader to be smart enough to see it. It gets tricky when people on your team come to you in hopes that you will sell their event for them. I’ve found that when I describe real outcomes that can benefit the reader, I’m usually able to deliver what my team is really looking for.

4Consider context. Where is this content going to live? What else is being talked about there? Does what you’re communicating conflict with that? Does it duplicate that? Is it out of place there? Here’s a real example from one of my favorite campus teams at LifeChurch.tv. In a newsletter blurb that was welcoming in the new year and talking about all the great things ahead, this sentence was included: “It's time to give more, serve more, do more, invite more, pray more, and be more like Jesus.” Now, that sentence alone may be fine, but consider the context that it’s in a newsletter where we’re promoting the upcoming series Margin, which talked about doing less. In that context, it’s a little contradictory.

5. Tune up your tone. Generally, for the informational writing many of us are involved in (as opposed to sermons, devotionals, etc.), you’ll want to speak to the better side of people—that’s the part they like best. Embrace vision. Keep your tone friendly, fun, caring, and sincere. For example, in a recent newsletter that was sent my way, I nixed this sentence: Have you been putting off joining a LifeGroup? because it felt a little naggy.

6. Avoid words that don’t mean anything:

·     overused words and phrases (some I’m trying to avoid: “life change,” “next level,” and all forms of “impact”)

·     insider lingo, (ministry names can be confusing to new people)

·     churchy talk (would someone who’s never been to church understand it?)

7. What can I cut? I struggle to keep my writing concise (just look at this post!), so sometimes I give myself a maximum word count to keep healthy constraints on my work. If you’re trying to figure out what to cut, this list of redundant phrases might be handy. It’s scary how many of these make their way into my writing! 

8. Everyone needs an editor.
·     Look things up. I’m not a spelling and grammar expert. Not even close. But I can Google a verb conjugation or the proper usage of lay vs. lie in seconds flat. I’m also a big fan of Grammar Girl since she gives me helpful tips in short doses.
·     Read things aloud. Do you do this too? I can’t believe how many mistakes I can catch when I take the time to do this.
·     Get a second set of eyes on it. This can be tricky if there aren’t many people on your team with writing skills, but you can try subdividing the edits by finding someone who is great with mechanics and someone else who can look for holes/tone/vision misses.  Don’t forget about your volunteers or colleagues too!

What else would you add? I’d love to hear what you’re learning in your role.

* I have a one-line job description at LifeChurch.tv: to make our communications less sucky. We know we’re never going to get it right 100% of the time, but we want to continue improving from wherever we are.

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