3 Quick Tips for Writing a Better Byline

Feb 17, 2021

Of all the deliverables we routinely encounter in public relations, none presents as much of a challenge as the humble byline.

Press releases are necessarily to-the-point and formulaic. Blog posts are often quick-and-dirty shorter pieces that are meant to quickly touch on a specific topic, rather than delve in deeply. (White papers don’t qualify as “routine” as they should be employed sparingly; once per quarter, at most, and even that may be pushing it.)

Bylines, however, are altogether different. To craft a coherent, well-reasoned, nonpromotional 800 to 1,000-word article that offers background, explanation and possible solutions on a pressing industry issue is difficult for a writer to do even in his or her own voice. Add to it the PR writer’s challenge of crafting the piece using the client’s thoughts in the client’s voice and the exercise becomes significantly more arduous.

In that spirit, following are three quick tips for writing a better byline.

Develop a written plan before any phone calls: To make the best use of subject matter experts’ (SMEs) time, start planning your byline long before any phone calls. What’s the major theme or “angle” you’re looking to convey to the reader? Start by brainstorming potential headlines, and then after you have a few, write out what could be the first couple sentences of the article. If you’re unable to get this far, it’s a strong sign your plan for the article isn’t solid enough, and it’s time to refine or rethink the angle.

Do your research: It’s fairly rare to find an idea that is completely new. In other words, whatever you’re planning to write about, it’s likely someone else has written about the same, or a similar, topic previously. Do a few variations of Google searches around the topic you’re planning to write about to evaluate what’s been said before. This will provide an idea of the well-trodden ground that’s been discussed ad nauseum and is better avoided, as well potentially spark ideas for new angles. Further, avail yourself of the research that other writers have performed. Good reporters will “show their receipts” in their articles with links to studies, surveys, data and other articles that can provide helpful background. Save time and boost efficiency by taking advantage of the work that’s already been done.

Come up with a targeted list of questions: Also filed under, “Don’t waste SMEs’ time.” Draw up a list of targeted questions for call participants to review prior to the call. In my experience, the top reason byline intake calls go off-the-rails is lack of preparation. Following a list of predetermined questions enables participants to remain focused and helps keep the call running smoothly. If you’re lucky, the SME will even read over the questions prior to the call and ponder potential responses, which generally helps immensely to boost a byline’s quality in the end.

Due to the nature of what we’re trying to accomplish with bylines, they’ll always be challenging to write. But there is a formula for success. Follow the three tips above to craft better bylines.

Brandon Glenn

Brandon Glenn is a veteran journalist and marketing and communications professional, with experience in content marketing, social media, media relations and news writing. He gained a deep knowledge of the health IT industry while working as a reporter and editor for MedCity News, which covers the business of innovation in healthcare, and as a senior editor with Medical Economics, a publication that focuses on issues of importance to primary care physicians. In these positions, he also wrote extensively about the hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices industries. Brandon began his journalism career as a reporter with Crain's Cleveland Business and, later, Crain's Chicago Business. Earlier, he was an analyst with consulting firm Accenture. Brandon earned a master's in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Purdue University.