The growing use of email, blogs, and social media means advisors are writing more often. Here are 10 rules to help you become a better writer.
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Keep your lead to 12 words or less.
The lead is the first sentence of your story. It generally must summarize what your story is about, but be short. Bob McGinty, who was a veteran newspaper man when he edited my copy at the Clearwater Sun in 1981 and 1982, once told to keep my leads to 12 words or less. I’m not sure where he came up with 12 words, but it works.
Get to the point.
People often begin with an introduction and don’t get to the point for several sentences. This shows a lack of respect for your reader’s time. Bad idea.
Keep sentences short.
People who don’t write professionally tend to write long sentences because they think it makes them sound smarter. It does not.
Vary sentence length.
To keep a reader’s interest, you need to change things up. Surprise people. By throwing in a short sentence now and then, you make your writing unpredictable. Try it. It makes your points more powerful.
Put important stuff first and last.
Put the most important words and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence. Details should be placed in the middle of sentences. Words at the beginning and end of a sentence make the biggest impression on readers. Putting what's most important at the beginning and end also works when structuring paragraphs. Details go in the middle of paragraphs, while the beginning and ending sentences of a paragraph should convey more important ideas.
Make each paragraph do one thing.
The first sentence of a paragraph should let you know what the paragraph is about. In fact, the first few words should do that. Don’t load paragraphs with ideas that are not directly tied directly to the first sentence of the paragraph.
Don’t begin sentences with “there are.”
There are a lot of ways to begin a sentence. Beginning a sentence with “there are” weakens sentences by crippling verbs. Look at the two previous sentences. They both basically say the same thing. In the first sentence, “are” is the verb. Using an action verb creates more interesting sentences. The verb in the second sentence is “weakens.” That’s action. By avoiding the “there are” structure in a sentence, you are forced to use stronger verbs. Verbs provide horsepower to sentences. Choose verbs carefully.
For advisors who master the language of the profession, it’s easy to fall into using jargon. I cannot tell you how many advisors I’ve seen write marketing copy calling their firms “fee-only.” Yet most consumers actually can’t tell you what it means if an advisor is fee-only. So it goes with comprehensive financial planning, balanced portfolios, life planning, and a host of other terms commonly used by advisors but not by consumers. A good test: Would your mom understand what you wrote?
out every extra words.
If you can say something in two words instead of three, do it. If you can use a word with one syllable instead of two, do it. Simple, concise writing requires reading your words critically and cutting them as much as possible. Relentlessly pursue brevity. Terse is fine.
Edit, and then repeat.
Good writing is really all about good editing. Read what you have written aloud. Cut it down. Then, do it again a day later.