October 24, 2016

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

How reading fiction can make you a better PR writer

How reading fiction can make you a better PR writer

I’m a big believer that strong readers make better writers, and I’m not alone in thinking this. Still, I continue to come across people who either deride reading as a waste of time, or who view reading fiction as silly and fanciful. The “I only read non-fiction” people can generally be divided into two camps: those who don’t enjoy reading fiction (fair enough), and those who for some reason think reading fiction lacks gravitas. There’s a bit of a bias against reading things that are “made up” (fiction) versus reading things that are “real” (nonfiction).

Interestingly enough, there’s a fair amount of study that demonstrates not only how important reading is in general, but specifically how many cognitive benefits there are to reading fiction—and many of those benefits are either directly or indirectly applicable to the practice of PR. That, along with the fact that October is when we get announcements of the Mann Booker Prize and the shortlist for the National Book Awards, made this an ideal time to highlight the value of good reading material.

Reading good writing makes writing well more intuitive

The benefits of reading on one’s writing are fairly self-evident. When you read a lot and often, you become accustomed to seeing words used in their proper context, your vocabulary expands, and you absorb grammar and sentence structure. You become better at knowing when a word is used incorrectly, or when a sentence seems off or doesn’t make sense. The result is your writing will be richer and more interesting, with fewer mistakes.

With the increased focus on storytelling as a necessary component of content marketing, the ability to build a satisfying story arc is a definite plus. When you read fiction, things like plot, structure, and story arcs become very apparent, and you can apply this to your PR writing.

Reading literary fiction builds empathy

In 2013, the journal Science published the results of a study that demonstrated reading literary fiction can improve an individual’s capacity to recognize and understand the experiences of others, called “theory of mind.” Basically, this is empathy—and its applicability to PR writing is that it’s far easier to speak to an audience if you can empathize with them. Conversely, how many times have you looked at some form of corporate communications and thought “did they even think about who they are addressing?” Being empathetic goes a long way in communicating effectively with a target audience, and reading literary fiction (as opposed to nonfiction or popular/genre fiction) will help you develop your “empathy muscle.”

Another study published by the journal Brain Connectivity looked at the “lingering neural effects of reading a narrative,” or, essentially how stories change the brain. The research discovered that not only did the brain change while subjects were reading, showing “heightened connectivity” in the regions of the brain responsible for language and motor skills, the observed changes lasted several days.

Reading fiction improves creativity

Several articles I read for this piece pointed to a study that found that readers of fiction have “less need for ‘cognitive closure’ than those who read nonfiction.” Essentially, when faced with the ambiguities found in fiction, readers demanded less certainty in life, which improves the conditions under which creativity can thrive. Reading also appears to improve focus and attention spans—and these factors of creativity and focus are positives for PR practitioners.

Reading reduces stress

If all of the above evidence isn’t enough, PR pros should look to the stress-reduction qualities of reading as reason enough to pick up a book. Although PR pros can find some solace in the fact that on the list of the top 10 most stressful jobs in 2016, PR executive has dropped to sixth place (from a high of second place in 2011)—it’s still on the list.

So pick up a book, preferably a novel, and if anyone asks you what you are doing, you can tell them that you’re improving your writing skills.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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