Be a Solid Writer

Writing makes up quite a bit of a practitioners day-to-day. We write pitch e-mails, media alerts, press releases, backgrounders, key learnings, business plans, research findings and dozens of additional documents.

Let it be known — practitioners must know how to write.

Seniors, it may have been two years since you took your intro to news writing course, so consider this a review. It never hurts to hone your skills.

  • Please, please recognize the differences between its/it’s and there/their/they’re, as well as other common misspellings. I hate to start so remedial, but I still see these mistakes on a regular basis. Don’t count on spell check to help you in every situation. If you find yourself struggling with spelling, format the list from this Web site (100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English) and keep it beside your computer. Thinking of recent occurrences, make sure you’re using loose/lose in proper context.
  • Learn/use AP Style. I’m a stickler for AP Style. Think about it this way — if you know the outlet you’re pitching uses AP Style, personalize it for them. Once a journalist realizes you know your stuff, he is more prone to copy/paste your note without editing. Don’t give the journalist an excuse to cut your plug — use the book.
  • Write concisely. Don’t drag your sentences on and on with commas. I find myself having to reread from the beginning of a long sentence, because I lose my train of thought. Give the reader a breather — throw in a stop sign after 20 words. Also, look at your phrases and learn to cut the fat. I found a perfect example here. The writer did use “right” instead of “ride” though…
  • Write descriptively. I’m not asking for similes and metaphors necessarily, but it helps a reader to visualize your writing. Cover your bases — explain the program you’re pitching. Look at your writing — ask yourself what questions you would ask if you were a journalist. Adapt some of those answers in the description of your program.
  • Use your voice. You hear time and again that public relations is all about people skills. It honestly pained me as an editor to read pitches with no personality. You know how you react to telemarketers who are clearly reading from a script? The same thing goes for writing. Use your voice in your pitches to make a good impression. Don’t be too casual, but be yourself.
  • Write to inform — not to impress. These words of wisdom come from my former print journalism professor. There’s no reason to use “approximate” while “about” means the same thing and is half the length. Cut to the chase, and present the facts along with the appropriate amount of detail to clarify.
  • Have peers proof your work. Instead of proofing your own work over and over, pair up with a friend for some peer evaluation. Not only will your friend provide a fresh eye to catch typos and grammatical mistakes, he will also be able to offer suggestions on style and sentence structure. A good peer will say, “Wouldn’t it sound better this way?”

4 thoughts on “Be a Solid Writer

  1. Read everything available. Good journalism will breed itself, and anyone in the PR field should be regularly reading the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Financial Times and other dailies. With sufficient exposure, it will become easier to identify and produce good writing.

  2. Spot on, Jay. This should have been at the top of the list. In addition to reading good writing, practitioners will learn the differences between a parenting reporter and beer reporter’s writing style. This helps a lot when your hours are spread across a number of unique clients. Thanks for the comment.

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