If you want a lesson in good writing, just listen to well-produced radio programs such as those on NPR. I listen to NPR as a news source but also for background music that doesn’t clash with my writing efforts as I work in my home office.
In thinking about what makes radio stories such a good illustration of solid writing that can apply to B2B copywriting, PR writing, or journalism, I came up with the following attributes.
Get to the point. Radio stories are usually short in duration—even on NPR—so they must immediately establish the story’s focus.
Clarity. I just read an email from a B2B marketer on the subject of clarity. Clarity reigns. It’s the basis of all successful communication. Good radio excels because it’s clear.
Simple words. This is especially true in radio. Listen closely and you’ll notice simple language. No fancy adjectives or crazy verbs. Radio words are easy to comprehend quickly.
Quotes. A well-selected and well-placed quote adds color to a radio story or other form of communication. Bland quotes, however, add no value and can actually detract from the core message.
Here’s a story NPR did last year on the Bank of Floyd, the hometown bank in my little town. It’s an interview format:
Amid Financial Turmoil, Small Banks Thrive
“Use words sparingly, as if you were planning a garden
one seed at a time.”
-Stephen Wilbers, author
Keys to Great Writing
You can boil down a lot of writing problems to two things:
1. Wrong words.
2. Too many words.
If you take care of the second problem, a lot of the first problem goes away.
That’s why some say edit ruthlessly, which means, among other things, cut, cut and cut some more. And if you can follow Wilber’s advice (in the above quote), you’ll have even fewer words to cut at the editing stage.
“Trust a word to do its work,” writes author Stephen Wilbers in Keys to Great Writing.
That’s good advice. To make every word work or count, unnecessary words must go. From Wilbers’ chapter titled “Economy,” here are seven pointers on how to trim fat from sentences.
1. Delete redundant modifiers. (Examples: past history, personal beliefs, sudden crisis.)
2. Delete redundant categories. (Examples: period in time, shiny in appearance.)
3. Replace redundant word pairs with single words. (Examples: one and only, precious and few.)
4. Replace wordy expressions with single words. (Example: Instead of “based on the fact that” use “because.”)
5. Manage sentence endings to increase emphasis. Park “VIP” words near the period. (Example: Banks fear the threat of foreclosures.)
6. Take the most direct route. (Use action verbs, avoid needless attribution.)
7. Limit personal commentary. (Unless you’re writing a blog or opinion piece.)
Word economy is a copywriter’s defense against banality. As Poynter Institute writing coach Chip Scanlon once said, “Write tight.”