Three Ts for writing

Three Ts for writing

Humanity, brevity, beauty

I’ve been a journalist for a number of years and worked on every publication under the sun. But not, curiously, The Sun*.

My CV includes local papers, pop magazines, national papers – among them the Independent, Daily Mail, Observer and Telegraph – a business magazine and, now, corporate clients. How you tailor what you do, though, is the same.

These are my three watchwords. They’re slightly corny, but they work as well in content marketing as they do in traditional publishing.

Humanity. Understand your audience, where they’re coming from, what quickens their pulses. Change the way you do things to suit that, but still bring something of yourself to the party. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Warmth, emotion, humour and authenticity cut through most barriers. That applies to almost every form of journalism, from the Mail to financial content marketing. Never assume that formality or a mannered tone is required. Keep it crisp, effortless and understated.

Brevity. Write it, cut it, refine it and then get someone else to do the same. There’s no story that can’t be told in three paragraphs. Avoid elaborate construction and tautology (saying something twice, such as ‘summit meeting’ and ‘strike action’). Avoid complex sentence structure. ‘The cat sat on the mat’ is one of the sweetest lines in English.

Beauty. The way you say something – the pace, structure, flow and cadence – makes it worth reading. In the words of the 18th century artist and printmaker William Hogarth, it should lead the eye on “a wanton kind of chase”. So, have you chosen the obvious word or a slightly more offbeat one? Think of authors you admire. Read poetry. Read your own material aloud. Does it flow? Or is it as clunky as the 07.17 to London Bridge? If it’s not right, start again.

*To be accurate, I had one splash in The Sun. But that’s a story for another day, as is the one about my first day on a national newspaper, aged 18. It went horribly wrong

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Michael Pilgrim
Michael Pilgrim

Chairman and founder