A good proportion of public relations output is written material intended for publication – in print, on the web or presentation by broadcast, webcast or video. This must convey key facts in few words, in a form acceptable to editors that is immediately usable. This has given rise to style conventions that may not be immediately appreciated.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Editors or copy tasters will decide in seconds, whether copy is suitable for publication. Copy that is overlong is more likely to be rejected than accepted.
- Keep it simple. Long sentences, complex words and the use of jargon are barriers to understanding. Short and simple sentences, with everyday language, make the copy more accessible to more readers.
- Writing for the reader. It often helps if the writer can visualise for whom they are writing. Knowing the reader’s job, information needs, language and values can help the writer customise copy and make it more interesting. Hence the need to version and customise press releases for different media outlets.
- Signposts. It helps readers to follow the flow of an argument if the first sentence of a paragraph signals the direction of the ideas that follow.
- It confuses readers if ideas are piled one on another. It is much better to have one idea per paragraph. This is also a great aid to editing copy for different audiences.
- Facts, not fluff. Good PR will give numeric values, comparative statistics, quote independent research and authoritative information sources.
- Examples. It helps understanding to use examples of theory applied in real situations and the tangible outcome.
- Avoid over use of capital letters. Capital letters slow the pace of reading. Modern practice dictates that they are only used at the start of sentences and for real nouns such as the names of people, companies and products. Notional titles, such as managing director are always lower case.
- Pictures. Professional quality photography, graphics and illustrations help to sell the story to the editor and tell the story to the reader. Use this material to add interest to the copy.
- Always proof-read your copy before submitting for publication. Spell checkers do not spot wrong words that are spelled correctly. Remember also to check your language settings depending on your target reader – US spelling is often different than UK spelling.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t over use jargon. With the possible exception of small circulation academic journals that have very exclusive readerships, the use of jargon should be avoided as it is a barrier to understanding.
- Where essential, however, they must always be written in full the first time they are used – unless they are so commonplace that their meaning will be immediately understood, for example MP, CEO.
- Don’t adopt the wrong writing style. Releases, case studies, features, reports and trade literature all have characteristic writing styles. Copy length, tone and presentation must fit the style of communication.
- Don’t be too general. Copy written for a general audience cannot appeal to personal experience and will not retain the attention or engage the thoughts of readers.
- Don’t be self praising. Copy that is heavy on adjectives and self praise often creates the opposite impression because of the lack of substance and credibility.