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Write Is Might for Your Utility

image credit: Photo 104822406 © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul |
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
  • 1,078 items added with 580,271 views
  • Sep 15, 2023

As a grammar nerd, it pains me to see the writing that comes across my desk each day.

Whether it’s from professional public relations practitioners who should know better or from the old man with bad penmanship who’s trying to pitch me on his grandson’s latest accomplishments, the amount of poor writing I see is staggering.

And ironically, at a time when many people lament the decline of the written word, more people than ever are writing.

The flood of promotions for books I receive seems to grow exponentially, so people out there are writing. And then there are all of the bloggers, social media types and influencers who use the written word to get their messages out. Throw in all the people who text nonstop and there’s a flood of written material.

The problem is that most of the writing is poor. In many cases, it doesn’t matter. If you’re texting with your buddy and misspell something or have awkward grammar, who cares (unless your buddy is an English teacher)?

But in the professional world, good writing does matter.

Yet whether it’s the assorted blather and legalese spewed by lawyers or the ALL CAPS, abbreviations, all and multiple exclamation points on every sentence from millennials or general bad prose from people who just aren’t good writers, cringeworthy writing is all around us.

As a utility, you must communicate with the public, so it’s in your best interest to do so effectively. Poor communication can cause a host of problems, from misunderstandings to simply not getting your message across properly.

Sure, some people are naturally going to write better than others. But there are ways even bad writers can improve their work. Granted, it might take a little effort, as practice really does make perfect.

So, let’s go over a few tips.

  1. Confidence is key, so write with authority. As a utility employee, you have a much better understanding of how operations work than the average customer. Use that to your advantage. Take a stand, back it up with facts and make your case. Don’t mince words or hesitate in your discussion.
  2. Be yourself. Your writing should reflect your personality. That doesn’t mean to be a smart aleck if that’s your nature; just avoid being robotic.
  3. Keep it simple. Small words are always better than bigger ones. Use “use” instead of “utilize,” for example. Or buy” as opposed to “purchase.” Big words don’t always make you appear smarter.
  4. When writing for customers, limit the use of industry jargon. Utilities, like every industry/field/profession, have plenty of terminology that’s unfamiliar to a general audience. Avoid it where possible or explain it thoroughly when you can’t.
  5. Less is more. Go back and trim your initial work by 10%; even the best writers can find plenty of filler, awkward phrases and bloat. There’s probably not a college graduate alive who didn’t spend time trying to pad a paper. In the real world, get to the point – and do so quickly.
  6. Run your work through a spellcheck program and a free website such as Grammarly to find the mistakes and wordiness you just can’t see anymore.
  7. Read your work from the bottom to the top at some point when you’re editing. This trick gives you a fresh perspective on what you’ve written, enabling you to spot weaknesses, wordiness or unclear phrasing.
  8. Another way to get a fresh perspective is to let your work sit overnight (or at least for a couple of hours). It’s akin to walking out of a smelly room that you’ve been in for hours; you get noseblind. When you walk back into the room, you’ll realize it still stinks. The same holds true with writing.
  9. Have someone you trust read your work. A different viewpoint is always helpful.
  10. Keep your paragraphs short to make your work easier to read. Breaking up the copy into small chunks helps trick the reader into maintaining focus. Readers who are getting bored tend to skip over long chunks of text.
  11. Include only a single thought or idea in each paragraph.
  12. Have a trusted person read and edit your work. Different viewpoints are always helpful and if you’ve ever read the acknowledgments at the end of any novel, the author is always thanking someone for their critical eye.
  13. Avoid placing some words in italics or bold or underlined or in all caps. They add little and make your writing seem amateurish.

Note that none of the things mentioned above require you to be the next Ernest Hemingway. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly good writer, following these guidelines should at least make you passable and allow your utility to communicate its goals.


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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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