Marion Scher is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes for many of South Africa's major consumer publications and the custom publishing field, as well as public relations companies and the corporate world.
Through her company Media Mentors (www.mediamentors.co.za), she consults and trains in the corporate world plus parastatal and NGO organisations - her speciality being training people on all aspects of media.
For 14 years, Marion was head of journalism at Damelin College, Bramley (until 2008); her pupils now work in every major field of journalism both here and overseas. She regularly gives courses both within the industry through the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa (MPASA) and the Print Media Association of South Africa (PMASA) as their official editorial trainer, as well as designing specific media and writing courses for companies.
She is the author of two books; her latest came out in 2009 - Surviving the SA Media - Building Bridges To Make The Media More Accessible is available through Knowledge Resources and all good bookstores. She is also a judge of three top media awards in the country: PICA Awards, Admag Awards and the National Press Club Journalist of the Year.
She is the holder of a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism and is currently on the Board of this Fellowship in South Africa.
Her major clients include Unilever, Telkom, Mondi, Anglo Gold Ashanti, Sappi, DBSA, Standard Bank, MTN and MultiChoice.
Those of you reading this who are aware that no-one actually reads the newsletters or magazines sent to your client base, take note.
Just recently, I had a young lady on a writing course who sent through beforehand an article she’d written for an external newsletter. This was about the importance of eating well. A valid, newsworthy subject.
The problem was this article was written in solid text – a couple of pages of heavy wording devoted to the subject of good nutrition. In terms of good English language and grammar, there was nothing wrong with the article – but would anyone read it? Very doubtful.
Here are a few tips to get people to actually read your article:
Write in conversational, plain, readable language
Use bullet points to get across key facts
Keep the information short and to the point
Make sure you understand the subject matter before you even start to write on it
Avoid jargon – for instance, in an article on nutrition, avoid medical terms
Keep articles, where possible, to 300 – 350 words – people get bored with more
If it’s a newsletter, give bite-size chunks of information, laid out in an appealing, eye-catching way
Use pictures or diagrams where possible – with short captions to explain
And while we’re talking about readability, don’t forget emails. When you go to check your emails, what’s the first thing you do? You quickly look to see which ones you can delete, which you do speedily – and happily. What makes you choose which to delete and which to open and then to read? Generally the heading, so make sure this is to the point and catchy enough to make people click on it.
Then to get them to not only answer your email but come back to you with the information you’ve asked for, make sure you stick to one topic per email. Again, here are a few tips:
One email - one topic or request
Write in clear, plain language
Be careful of using your industry jargon outside the industry
Judge the tone you should use by your relationship with the person you’re writing to
Make sure there are contact details (phone numbers etc) on the email in case the person needs to reach you quickly
Keep it as short as possible – three paragraphs maximum, if possible
As well as running spell check, try and ALWAYS read it through (out loud) before sending it to check whether you’ve left any words out – you know what you wanted to say but will the recipient understand this?
Don’t worry about fancy fonts – worry about whether it’s readable.
That should become your mantra – readability... Remember, whatever you write, some poor person has to read – or do they?
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headlines are vital-
Thanks for a great post on a topic very close to my heart. I have just started my own travel website and intend sending newsletters out to subscribers pretty soon. Just wanted to add: headlines are a key factor in grabbing attention ... or seeking that delete button!
Really great Marion.For e-mail marketing newsletters and magazines 300-350 words is easy to peruse through and assess whether or not you are interested. Knowing your audience is crucial and I believe you can stretch the word count to between 500-750, especially if you want to hard sell a product.
This is an important lesson for many, and many proposal writers should also take note, as proposals are too often long winded and full od industry jargon making it difficult to read if you are out side of that specific industry