Writing: The No. 1 Skill for Communicators

Let me be unequivocal in how I say this: Writing is the most important skill a professional communicator can possess.

It amazes me that this remains a topic of debate, but it does. This week, our friends at Ragan.com posted an article titled “Does writing well still matter?” (I’m not providing a link because chances are the story will be behind their firewall by the time many of you read this.)

No communicator should have to ask that question. Of course writing well still matters — despite what some PR consultants and even practitioners have you believe. Anyone in a communication profession who suggests otherwise is simply trying to appear leading-edge and oh-so-21st century. The argument goes that in this day of social media, short attention spans and businesses focusing on the bottom line, other skills are more important to communicators — such as strategic thinking, problem solving and the ability to get results.

The truth is strategic thinking, problem solving and the ability to get results flow directly out of a communicator’s ability to assimilate a multitude of information, shape it into a coherent message that supports business objectives, and then articulate that message in ways that will be well received by audiences. That’s what we do. Without a communicator’s ability to write well, all the strategic thinking, problem solving and results focus in the world won’t do us or our employers any good.

To say the ability to write is not the No. 1 skill communicators need is like saying the ability to operate on a patient is not the No. 1 skill a surgeon needs. It’s a ridiculous statement.

You will find no greater advocate of strategic thinking than I. If we don’t bring that skill — along with myriad others — to the table, then we won’t serve our clients or employers well. The ability to write, though, is the must-have for professional communicators.

I’m an adjunct university instructor in public relations and I can tell you the next generation of communicators needs strong instruction in writing. I don’t entirely blame the students. I believe our public school systems largely fail to teach kids to write, but that’s another discussion for another time.

I’m excited to be teaching a Writing for PR class next semester, the first time I’ve taught this particular subject. I can tell you this: the students who take my class will know how to write before they move on. The objective, after all, is to set them up for success in their future careers.

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The Adventures of Pinkly Pulchritudinous

Preparing recently to teach a class on writing for public relations, I ran across an example of what not to do that is so terrible that I just have to share it.

This is from a florist’s website:

Pinkly pulchritudinous and amazingly delightful, infinitely charming and sensationally fascinating.

Somebody’s been leafing through their thesaurus again.

Pinkly pulchritudinous? Sounds like the name of an effeminate villain on an old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon.

Readers’ admiration for your writing does not increase with the number of syllables you write. William Strunk, who co-authored the classic handbook on writing, The Elements of Style, said it best: “Vigorous writing is concise.”