Many executives and consultants write essays and debate pieces to "flash" their expertise. They often don’t get published. Read why here.
Norwegian media devote a lot of space to op-ed pieces – essays, debate contributions, replies or commentary articles –in both print newspapers and on-line.
Executives and experts in knowledge businesses and consultants of all kinds are writing up a storm, spattering ink (or pounding the life out of their keyboards) in the secret hope of seeing their piece in print or on-line. This is particularly true of businesses that employ communications consultants.
Hunting for professional recognition
Getting into print is one way of demonstrating your company's expertise. It helps build professional recognition over time and might also increase demand. It can be smart. Unlike ads, it doesn’t cost anything to have your essays and debate pieces published.
Consultants and executives are not alone in their desire to gain entry to the debate and essay columns, where they compete with politicians, NGOs, researchers and many other players. Competition is fierce.
Most contributions are not accepted for publication, especially if you are aiming at the op-ed page. Getting an essay published is undoubtedly prestigious, but you can get your message across just as effectively in a shorter format.
Learn to write better by writing
I regularly have the pleasure of holding practical writing courses for executives and scientific experts in knowledge businesses in both the private and public sectors.
To be admitted to a course you have to write a draft of an essay or debate piece. There is no shortcut to becoming a better writer. You simply need to write.
Recipe for failure
Some, but by no means all, pieces seem to be written using the following recipe for 13 pointers for how not to get into print.
- 1. Brag shamelessly about the products and services you provide. Use the piece to market and promote a new campaign, new services, activities or event.
- 2. Write as much as possible about your company so that people understand what you actually do.
- 3. Write to please your boss and/or your board. Don’t think too much about who your readers are. The important thing is that you are satisfied with the way your message is composed.
- 4. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what you can do to ensure that the article provides something new or useful to the reader. Overcome any temptations to make your article relevant and interesting to the reader.
- 5. Be wary of having a clear message or expressing a clear opinion. Be wary of challenging established beliefs. It’s safest to be politically correct and as evasive and noncommittal as possible.
- 6. Be careful about creating fresh, interesting headlines so you don’t offend anyone. Write boring titles, or omit the headline.
- 7. Save your main point until the very end so you can write about your company as much as possible before the finale.
- 8. Use as much jargon, lingo and acronyms as possible without thinking about whether the reader understands what you are writing about. Make sure that a curious 15-year-old can’t understand one word of your piece.
- 9. Don’t use personal, vibrant and creative language. Stick to established management speak interspersed with smooth consultant gobbledygook.
- 10. Be careful not to use active and direct language. Passive language is safer.
- 11. Be careful of showing who you are. Instead of using "I" in your narration, it’s safer to use the more impersonal "one", or you can use "we".
- 12. Full stops are overrated. See how many inserted phrases you can squeeze in before bringing a sentence to an end with a full stop.
- 13. Don’t ask a colleague to read the piece so he or she can make suggestions on how to improve it. If you absolutely insist on having someone read it, make sure you do it to get applause instead of criticism.
How can it be that I find pleasure in reading pieces produced using variations of this recipe?
It doesn’t take a lot of editing for an author of an article to produce a vastly improved second draft. Do the opposite of these pointers, and you’ll increase your chances of getting into print.
A Norwegian version of this article is published as a commentary article in the business magazine Kapital No. 12-2015.
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