Tips from one young writing professional to another in setting a solid career foundation
As a young professional, you are always trying to find ways to set yourself apart from other candidates. As I am taking the next steps into establishing a career in communication and public relations, I frequently find myself reflecting on my skills and deciding what I should practice and improve upon. Should I become a Photoshop master or learn how to code? Should I be able to create graphics or be a video editing wizard?
While all of the above are skills I find myself trying to perfect, when I ask professors and professionals what skill I should work on most diligently it always seems to be one foundational item — writing.
Writing is the basic skill involved in just about all tasks in communication from social media, digital media, media pitching, electronic communication, and even advertising. Knowing what you want to say in the most appealing and simplistic way can become a challenge, but the more you practice using your words, the more effective they will be.
“Think of strong writing as a foundation and the other skills and experience then build on that solid base,” says Mary Sterenberg, Lecturer at The Ohio State University. “Writing helps you get a job, keep a job, advance in a job and do nearly every task required by a job in many aspects of communication.”
In Sterenburg’s book, she includes quotes from PR and communication professionals such as Heather Whaling, Founder and CEO of Geben Communication. Whaling explains that writing is the most important skill she looks for in her company. “Writing is still the most important skill. It’s amazing to me when we look at resumes and cover letters; you have to be able to communicate effectively, especially in the written form. It can be even harder to write for social media because you have to be succinct and clever and creative in 140 characters, which can be really tricky. But having the ability to write for diverse channels is really, really important.”
Just about every communication or marketing position you apply for in today’s day and age will ask for a writing portfolio. The more variation in writing mediums you can give them, the better. It may seem like print media is going out of style, but there are countless writing formats outside of a news article.
There are options to fill your portfolio with web articles, e-newsletters, blogs, web editing, video pieces, graphic designs, social posts, press releases, media pitches, and so much more. Freelance writing opportunities are everywhere, and there are websites and blogs waiting in cyberspace to be created.
I realize you may be saying, “Writing is easier said than done — that either you are born with writing skills or you aren’t,” but that is not the case. Writing is a skill you can practice every day, and the best way to improve is to continuously do it. Applying writing was one of the most difficult challenges of my collegiate career, but I knew that it was something I could take control over.
However, in my internship and work experience throughout my collegiate career, my writing has been a staple in all that I have done. To start, writing is vital when it comes to resume writing and cover letters to land the internships.
After landing the positions, I have done newsletter writing, social posts, blogging, feature articles, press releases, and so much more. Without working on my writing skills prior to these positions, there is no chance that I would have been successful. Even email writing to supervisors requires being concise with your words.
Through my process, I have learned a few tips that have helped my writing, and hopefully they can help you become a better writer too.
1. Just do it. Over and over again.
Practice makes perfect, and the only way to become really good at writing is to do it. You would not set a goal to run a marathon without doing some extensive running beforehand to train, so train yourself to write before trying to become a professional in the communications and marketing world. Though it may not seem like much, being able to take something complicated and break it down and shorten it into words the average reader from various backgrounds can understand is something not many people can do; it can make you invaluable to a company. It is easier said than done, so practice doing it. Anywhere. Whether it is on a blog, on a website, or even on a scrap piece of paper, just do it.
2. Get all of your ideas out.
Finding a topic to write about is most times the most difficult part of the writing process. Once you have figured out your topic, just get your thoughts going and write down everything. Usually, once I have a topic, I will sit down at my computer and get every thought I have on the topic into a word document. I make myself sit and write for about ten minutes, then I save it and close the computer. I come back to it a few hours or even a day after and get the information into an outline that sets the tone for my piece, and it does wonders for the final product. Even if an idea seems irrelevant at first, after some more time and thought, you never know what it could blossom into. Additionally, you do not want to run the risk of forgetting a genius idea… so write it all down! You’ll thank yourself later.
3. Mix up your formats.
Do not always write in the same style, voice, or content platform. Mix up your writing, not only will it make you a better writer, but it will give you a more well-rounded portfolio moving forward. I try to actively make myself explore three different writing mediums per week. Sometimes it is a feature article for Front Office Sports, a professional email sent for networking purposes, or a journal entry written reflectively. Some writing naturally happens through schoolwork. Regardless, I try to push myself out of my comfort zone. Normally, I am thankful that I did, and I begin to master a new writing format. Your best work will happen outside your comfort zone, so challenge yourself.
4. Your first draft is far from your final draft.
Write it, then tear it to shreds. Writing is a process, a really grueling and painful one at times, but it is also rewarding. Know that it is okay to not get a piece right on your first try, or even the next five tries after that. Personally, I feel like I am never done editing. For me, the best process for editing is to have several other people read my work. Most times others catch mistakes you are overlooking. Something that makes sense to you may be confusing for others, so it helps to clarify. After that part of the editing process, I read my writing out loud to myself, and usually I catch quite a few items I want to revise. You can never edit a piece too many times, and knowing it’s all part of the process is key.
5. Be original, and most times, it is okay to tap into the feels.
With so much content available for readers, they are on information overload. It is really difficult, especially through digital media, to catch a reader’s attention. Your content has to do something for your reader or move your reader in some way. If the reader can obtain a similar reading experience from another source, chances are your piece will not have a wide reach. If your piece can spin a unique angle on a story that other pieces do not cover, that is when it will be successful. Originality is key, so it is okay to make your piece emotional. In fact, touching a reader’s emotions is one of the best ways to encourage them to share the piece. So, tap into your reader’s feels. Use some visual appeal, even include some video clips in your piece — you want it to really move your reader. Make them believe in your story the way you do.
I am not a perfect writer by any means, but I try to get better every day. For me, that is all I can ask of myself. I hope these tips can help you develop your writing skills so you can blossom into a brilliant young writing communications professional. The world needs more people who are good with words.
This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.
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