Sometimes the hardest part of learning is unlearning. The stuff you need to unlearn starts at school, especially in English class – where it's all about building your vocabulary and showing off all the sophisticated words you know in your essays and exam answers.
Of course it's important to have a good grasp of the English language. But when it comes to writing either as a journalist or a business copywriter you have to unlearn what you learnt at school, resist the temptation to show off and write in as conversational – and understandable - a style as you can.
Albert Einstein said something about this – 'Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler'. Which of course doesn't make any (logical) sense when you think about it, but we know what he meant.
The media also knows about the importance of writing to a 'reading age'. With the average reading age of the UK population sitting at 9, The Sun newspaper there has a reading age of 8, and The Guardian a reading age of 14. In Australia, the Federal government's internal guidelines suggest aiming for a reading age of 9.
I also had some unlearning to do (a long time ago) when my job changed from being mainly sales to a more hybrid sales/marketing role.
Most of the writing I was doing in the sales job was writing 'sales copy', letters and ads - setting out the advantages of the product, dealing with objections and closing – the 'call to action'.
When it came to marketing the product, particularly online, a slightly different approach was needed – a more informational style. This helped with Google rankings and was more 'educational' for readers, in effect getting them to a place where a sales pitch further down the track was likely to be more effective.
That's not to say sales copy and calls-to-action are not important, it's more a question of when you use them.
And my final bit of unlearning – working out how to write an effective news release. Journalists today are overworked (and probably underpaid) and just want to know why they should read past the headline. Which is why a lot of effort has to go into the headline.
Any sales waffle or industry jargon will get in the way and possibly put the journalist offside. The good news is that if you can persuade a journo to cover your story, then writing any other sales or marketing material should be a walk in the park!
What have you had to unlearn?