Do communications pros need to read more literary fiction?

booksWriting in The Times last Saturday journalist Giles Coren said journalists were “among the least well-read people you will ever meet”.

“They spend all day ‘reading’ newspapers, shorthand notes, filed copy, newswires, blogs, and when they come home they reckon they’ve done their ‘reading’ for the day and now it’s time to drink cheap wine and watch Game of Thrones.”

Their lack of ‘deep reading’ means “their ability with words does not develop over time,” he said.

I believe there is some truth in his claim and that it can also be applied to anyone who writes content as a communications or public relations professional.

PR Moment skills surveyReading blogs, proofing copy and writing content all day can strongly dissuade you from wanting to read any ‘serious’ literature, as, like the journalist, you feel you’ve already done your bit for the day.

This could be a problem in the long term. Only two weeks ago I was blogging about the PR industry reporting a giant writing skills gap with writing being the most sought after technical skill among PR agencies and departments, as well as the skill they found most lacking.

Could ‘deep reading’ of literature provide an answer?

For content writers not entirely convinced by this argument, it may be worth taking a look at a recent study I came across, made by social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York.

NewspapersThe journal Science, cited in the New York Times, reported that after reading literary fiction study participants performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.

The researchers said the reason was that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

Experts said the results implied that people could be primed for social skills like empathy, just as watching a clip from a sad movie can make you feel more emotional.

If you apply those principles back to writing content, I would argue that it’s those social skills which help you to understand your readers’ needs and enable you to write copy that engages your readers at a more profound level.

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For further reading on the study:

New York Times

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