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Tag: Writing

Five Basic Tips for Writing Better News Releases

The primary goal in much of our work is to get our clients’ stories out there to the general public in a way that explains and promotes their best efforts. I worked in the media for 40 years, including 33 years at The Washington Post, and over the course of my reporting and editing career I read (or at least glanced at the headlines of) many thousands of news releases to decide whether they were worth publishing in some form and whether there might actually be a substantial story worth assigning a reporter to tell our readers.

As a Post editor, part of my job was training young reporters, and the tips that I shared then still apply for much of the work we do in public relations. Mostly, these are simply common sense, but I always find that when I drift away from them, I can run into trouble.

  1. SLOW DOWN! Deadlines can make you sweat and drive you crazy. You’re watching the clock. You’re worrying about all the other things you have to do. You’re thinking that you better start typing right now. But there is a Zen concept that applies here: slower is faster. Slowing down will center you. Allowing yourself to spend just a few minutes gathering your thoughts and outlining the main points you need to cover will result in saving you a lot of time when trying to go faster.
  2. GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT! This is perhaps the most crucial point of all. You have nothing more valuable than your reputation and your credibility. If you put out information that is clearly incomplete or, worse yet, incorrect, people will remember it. We work hard on our earned media strategy and outreach, but the media will only devote their time and energy to one type of source: the trusted one. Lose that trust and it’s virtually impossible to regain. This is also fundamental in reference to your client: if they lose faith in your accuracy and carefulness, you’re toast. When in doubt, check it out!
  3. KEEP SENTENCES SIMPLE! Reading a piece of writing should be an easy, smooth, non-stop experience for the reader. The more complicated your sentence, the more likely to make the reader stop and have to re-read what you’re trying to say. The best, clearest and most effective writing is in the active voice—the traditional Subject-Verb-Object structure is almost always more clear and impactful than a sentence with a variety of clauses and a bunch of commas.
  4. KEEP WORDS SIMPLE TOO! A news release is not an academic treatise or an epic poem. You want to convey information as clearly and easily as possible. In health care and science communications, we use complex and technical language. But we shouldn’t overburden readers by showing off our vocabulary. The more hifalutin big words that you use, the more likely you are to force the reader to have to stop and look up the word—or, worse, just stop reading. Generally, it’s a helpful rule not to use a written word that you would not also use in your conversational speech.
  5. PROOFREAD! THEN PROOFREAD AGAIN! This is just as crucial as ‘Get the Facts Straight’ because good proofreading can catch virtually all your mistakes. Hitting the “Send” button without thorough proofreading is a very risky move. Having the discipline to proofread twice can make a huge difference. I recommend proofreading aloud to yourself (in a whisper, usually, so you don’t bother your co-workers) so you can actually hear what your sentences sound like. Then, take a short break and come back to proofread again. You’ll be surprised at how much better you can make your final version.

Write Like You Talk — and 5 Other Unorthodox Writing Tips

Clients hire PR firms to tell their stories.  Accurately. Interestingly. Powerfully.

It’s not easy work, so that’s why they pay someone else to do it. To be successful, PR professionals can’t just go through the motions. With each project, we must tell stories in a compelling enough way to attract the attention of key audiences, particularly the news media.  Here are a few tips accumulated over my 40 years of writing for mass audiences:

  • Try to write more like you talk. The goal is to make the topic as interesting and accessible as possible to readers. Colleges teach us to try to sound intelligent by using big words in complicated sentences. Don’t.
  • Imagine your aunt or uncle. If they were to ask you what you are writing, you should be able to explain it clearly. Write it that way.
  • Tell a story. Don’t write a report. Reports are usually boring. Sometimes boredom is inevitable because of the topic. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
  • Avoid “Stop Signs. The goal is to attract the reader’s attention, and then reward them by having them sail through the content and easily absorb the message. Lo-o-ong sentences with complicated structure, multiple clauses and unfamiliar words can all break the flow.
  • Mix up your word choices. One Stop Sign for readers is excessive repetition. If you use the word disease 10 times in a 300-word medical news release, readers get annoyed and distracted. Use illness, ailment, infection or whatever else accurately substitutes.
  • Proofread–and proofread. The biggest mistake is failing to do this. Read it to yourself. Read it one more time. (Maybe even read it aloud, somewhere privately.) See whether you have unwittingly created Stop Signs!