Reading something that is poorly written just isn’t fun – especially when the reader is expected to make his or her way through several similar documents per day. Without exception, writing that is clear and to the point is most likely to stand out from the pile and speak to the reader… not the piece that has been cleverly crafted to include every relevant SEO term or industry buzz word.
OK, this is a bit of a repeater in terms of PR blog topics, but I have seen more than enough Twitter complaints about the frustration of reading nonsensical rubbish to think it a worthwhile one. Here are my top 6 sins when producing written news:
1. Beating about the bush
Reading a press release shouldn’t feel like a fishing expedition! George Orwell said ‘good prose is like a window pane’, which means the words you are using shouldn’t cloud the reader’s view of the information. Talk facts - avoid giving an over-inflated sense of the company or its achievements, just who it is and what it did is enough – readers will make up their own minds based on the substance of the news. A reader should be able to skim the first paragraph of a news release and get from it a good idea of the ‘who, when, what, where and why’ relating to that news. Reading on should allow them to dig deeper into the news, if the opening has piqued their interest.
2. Waffling on
Empty and meaningless words have a tendency to creep into business prose. Tell your story articulately and accurately. Approach the construction of sentences with the Twitter 140 character limit in mind, if that helps! Once you have finished a draft of your news release, go back through it and remove empty words – you will cut your piece by 10 percent again, I almost guarantee it!
3. Ignoring the audience
It’s all well and good to write about something you find exciting. But are the things you find exciting relevant to the intended audience? Maybe the latest new compact camera on the market is neat enough to fit in a clutch bag when out with the girls, but if you are including men’s magazines on your distribution list, that’s irrelevant. Make sure that what you’re writing meets the needs of your audience. Do this by organising newsworthy points in a list and then matching those points to target audience. Also ensure that your overall piece sticks to a consistent single theme, even if you are making two or three separate points to illustrate that theme (returning to the example of the camera, maybe the overall theme is it’s a great new product for young guys and the sub-points are that it fits easily in your pocket, it’s more technically advanced than any similar product on the market and it’s a great looking product!)
4. Not revealing your sources
If you allude to a fact, provide an accompanying information source. List all relevant URLs, names of research documents and creditable spokespeople that can verify your facts and add depth to the points you made within your news release.
5. A writing collaboration
How many bestselling novels do you know that are written by three or four different authors? The fact is written work is better when a single author is responsible for content and style. Microsoft Word’s ‘track changes’ feature makes it all too easy for each manager and director within the company to add their own input, but that often leads to repetition and style confusion. Instead, comments should be submitted to the author who can collect them and address them within the final piece in a way that’s in keeping with the original style.
6. Skimping on proof-reading
Now I’m going to say the opposite on editing and suggest more than one editor be involved in producing one news release. By editor I mean someone to sanity check your work, not someone to confuse it by applying additional content of their own. It is vital to pass your finished work before the eyes of one or more other persons prior to distribution. If you are a sole trader and honestly don’t have a trusted friend or long suffering spouse to read your every word, try walking away for an hour or so and then coming back to look at your work with fresh eyes. Another useful tip is to read it to yourself out loud – it’s amazing how sentences that read well in your head sometimes reveal glaringly obvious errors when vocalized!