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BETTER WRITING RIGHT AWAY: A BLOG

10 steps to great interviewing

Every journalist develops good interviewing skills--or goes out of business. But most work on a trial and error basis and build an individual M.O. over time. I’ve rarely met a public relations professional who consciously built the skill, even though they are essential to generating good press releases, product information, articles and presentations.

If you’re in business and act as your own PR rep, smart interviewing helps you carry out all these functions and more. The techniques enable you to better interface with technology suppliers, collaborate with or hire specialists in diverse fields, and explain why a complex product is of value, for example. A systematic approach helps you gain useful information from experts ranging from management consultants to insurance providers, architects and microbiologists.

You are also equipped to handle personal situations more effectively. When you deal with medical personnel, for example, if you know what questions to ask and are ready to understand the answers, you’ll get much better information and can make better decisions. Focusing on strategy has a side-benefit--it enables you to bypass any emotional aspects.

For years a major part of my work as both a journalist and PR professional has involved interviewing highly technical people and translating that information into copy that engages non-technical readers. It isn’t easy to draw good ideas and information from a thermonuclear scientist, electrochemical engineer, or computational motor control researcher--even the job titles are hard to understand!

Over time I evolved a system that works well and applies to many situations that might otherwise create an “in over my head” feeling. Here is that system in 10 steps.

Before the interview or conversation:

1. Do some homework: Ask your subject for materials to read, no matter how academic or complex, and scan them. Or find material on the Internet. Look for the  Read More 

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Recently I led a business writing workshop for young mid-level accountants. One of my scenarios called for a memo asking a subordinate to perform an unattractive task: spend part of the weekend reading material about a client prospect that the writer would pitch in person on Monday.

"Just say, 'Jerry read the attached file and report to me Monday at 9 a.m. sharp,'" one person suggested. But consider the result, I pointed out: a resentful employee who'll do a halfway job.

Much better to write a memo that would generate support and enthusiasm, I began. A  Read More 

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These days, just getting people to just open an email is a challenge. I probably open less than 5% of my in-box messages, even though at some point, I asked to be put on most of those mailing lists.

We all constantly filter out what doesn’t relate directly to us in some way. Otherwise, given the ongoing deluge of information and promotions and enticements, we’d go mad. But few writers take account of the narrow window for interesting our target audiences.  Read More 

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