How To Write Short Review: A Lesson in Short Writing for Fast Times
Roy Peter Clark, in short, may be one of the best writers around. He is the vice president and senior scholar at Poynter Institute, a prestigious school for journalism, and has published and edited seventeen books on writing. While topics vary over the vast field of writing, his book, How To Write Short, resonates with my practices in PR writing. While ironically longer than you’d expect a book on writing short to be, How To Write Short, masterfully explains the craft of short writing.
Short writing surrounds us continuously, especially in this day and age. From texts to tweets, and ads to headlines, we are consistently bombarded with smaller and smaller messages. And even though we consume these messages consistently, it still takes a high level of craftsmanship to successfully convey your thoughts concisely.
Clark splits his book in two sections: How to Write Short and How to Write Short with a Purpose, covering the basic how-to’s of writing short and why we write short, respectively.
Clark starts with the basics in his first section, how to collect, read and study short work, to help us consciously familiarize ourselves with this style of writing. It’s not until the sixth chapter where we, the readers, are instructed to begin writing. Throughout the rest of this section, Clark gives various techniques to craft messages in short form. Some of the traditional techniques include the rule of two, where you focus on the one, two punch or highlight oppositions, or the rule of three, where you show patterns or create holistic ideas in the writing. Clark also provides non-conventional techniques, such as studying lyrics and analyzing tweets.
The second half of the book describes all of the practical applications for the skills we have just learned. If the use of short writing in PR wasn’t already apparent, the chapters Sell, Entice and Titles may make this very clear to you. Short writing is great for many things, but in PR you must undeniably be able to write, write well, and write short. How To Write Short, truly offers great advice for any PR professional looking to hone their skills. Clark states, “the achievement in craft only matters when attached to a noble purpose, or at least a useful one,” and the use of PR writing will only grow more important in our consumer culture.
My favorite aspect of this book is the call to action attached to the end of each chapter. Titled “Grace Notes”, each chapter contains several hands-on writing assignments that highlight the material in the corresponding chapter. These exercises really separate How To Write Short from many other writing guides available today. They provide the incentive to apply what you’ve learned, and ensure that you develop your writing skills beyond theory while helping build positive writing habits.
Any professional writer can benefit from having How to Write Short on their shelf. As our communication methods grow shorter and faster, we have a responsibility as writers to adapt our messages to these trends. And as I have just learned, if I am to get my messages across, the intersection of simplicity and elegance is key.
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