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How Can You Improve Your Utility’s Writing?

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner, Freelancer

I hold 35 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
  • 1,077 items added with 579,885 views
  • Feb 1, 2022

Everyone claims to be a writer these days.

The number of self-published books that cross my desk each week – not to mention the ones publishers send, desperate for a review – seems to grow exponentially.

Then there are all the bloggers, influencers and social media mavens who rely, at least partially, on the written word to get their points across.

Don’t forget all the people who keep diaries or journals, as well as your great-aunt Tillie, who still writes in that familiar spidery handwriting.

And for loads of workers, written reports in some form or fashion are a required part of the job.

The question is: Is any of this writing good, let alone effective?

The sad answer is that most writing is of fair to poor quality.

Whether it’s legalese and assorted blather from lawyers or the abbreviations, all caps and multiple exclamation points from millennials and Generation Z or simply bad prose from people who always struggled in English class, poor writing is all around us.

Since your utility deals with the public, it behooves you to be able to communicate well. If you can’t do that, it’s going to cause problems. Those problems usually stem from not being able to get your messaging across effectively.

While good writing certainly is of the utmost importance to your utility’s public relations department, anyone contributing material intended for public consumption needs to communicate effectively, too.

(And for that matter, the better everyone at the utility communicates, the more likely avoidable problems can be prevented.)

Yes, some people have the natural ability to write well. And, as with anything else, practice makes perfect. But there are other ways to improve your writing.

First and foremost: Be confident in your writing. For people working at utilities, you have the advantage of knowing far more about how operations work than the average person.

It’s easy to tell when someone is writing with authority. Take a stand, present your point of view, then back it up with facts. Don’t waffle in any of your arguments, and don’t mince words.

In addition, be yourself. Your writing should reflect your personality. Don’t be robotic or stiff. Granted, you don’t want to be Henny Youngman tossing our out one-liners or Jerry Seinfeld making observations about the stupid, mundane stuff that goes on all around us, but humanize things a bit.

And then there are some basic writing tips.

  1. Never use a big word when a small word works just as well. “Buy” instead of “purchase” and “use” instead of “utilize,” for example. Also remember that everyone understands “money,” while “capital” may be confusing to some.
  2. Limit the use of jargon when writing for a general audience. Like every industry/field/profession, electric utilities have plenty of terminology that’s unfamiliar. Avoid it where you can.
  3. After you’ve done your initial writing, go back and cut your work by 10%. We’ve been conditioned that more is better (those college term papers of a certain length play a part in that), but the opposite usually is true. Look for unnecessary phrases that can be trimmed, as well as extraneous information or points. Running your work through a spellcheck program, as well as a free website like Grammarly can be surprisingly effective at pointing out weaknesses.
  4. When you’re editing, at some point read your work from the bottom to the top, going paragraph by paragraph. This trick forces you to consider your work from a different perspective.
  5. If you can, let your writing sit overnight, or at least a couple of hours, so you can get a fresh perspective. Otherwise, you tend to overlook mistakes.
  6. Have someone you trust read your work. A different viewpoint is always helpful.
  7. Keep your paragraphs short. You probably were taught that paragraphs should contain multiple thoughts and several sentences. But look at newspapers, where paragraphs are often as short as a single sentence. By breaking up blocks of copy, it makes your work easier to read, especially if you keep each paragraph to a single thought.
  8. Avoid dressing up your work by putting some words in italics or bold or underlined or all-caps. Those devices may be fun on social media but, in reality, they add little and make your work appear amateurish.

None of the things I’ve described require you to become the next John Steinbeck and can be accomplished by anyone with a basic sense of grammar and a grasp of the English language. It may take you a little time and practice, but the ability to write effectively is a tool that will always benefit you and your utility.


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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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