February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
- Clunky headlines: Don’t try to get everything, including the name of your company, in the headline. The name of your company is a turn-off anyway. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
- Written in the first person: You’re verging on the advertorial if your press release is a ‘Me, me, me’ or ‘We, we, we’ document. Think about how you’re adding value to the reader’s life.
- A press release with no news: To be fair, what can the press do with that? Journalists are looking for something newsworthy and meaty that they can their teeth into.
- Full of jargon: You may have news but it might be buried under jargon that is industry speak but alien to journalists. They’ll bin a press release like that.
- Grammar and spelling mistakes: Journalists receive tons of press releases and reject those that look unprofessional. Anything that’s badly put together with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or typographical howlers is not going to get their attention. Proofread, proofread and proofread again.
- No quotes to back up the news: If you’re going to suggest that doing such-and-such saves money, for example, get someone to explain how they made it work. Again, it’s all about getting away from the advertorial slant and making your story proper news.
- Too many exclamation marks!: There isn’t a place for them in the serious world of hard news.
- Sending to the wrong media: This usually means a bit of extra work for you because you’ve got to tailor your press release to fit and can’t send a blanket release to a bunch of titles. But in the long run it’s a bigger waste of time sending exactly the same release to Nursing Times as the one you’re sending to Construction News – for example.
- Bad timing: It can make or break a story. Talking about Easter in August isn’t going to find many takers – an extreme example, but you get the point.
- No follow-up: What a waste of time if you’ve done all the right checks but then sit back and never find out what happened to all that hard work. Having been a journalist on many titles, I can let you into a secret – it’s all too easy to overlook a press release particularly if a zealous PR person isn’t on your back, checking whether you need more info/more pictures/more quotes/more figures/more anything, frankly, just so they can make sure you use their story. That’s what you need to do.
February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
We make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.
Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.
But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.
And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.
Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.
Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:
To name a very few…
July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
I have no idea why I get half the emails I do.
I don’t want new tyres because I don’t have a car, I don’t speak Spanish so someone’s misread my French surname, anything ‘free’ is only going to make me give away more info and invite more emails so I’m not going to do that, I don’t gamble and of all the cheap offers I want, I DON’T want cut-price eye surgery! The list goes on…
Often I just delete the stuff and motor on with the day.
Sometimes, though, I try to clean up my machine by properly unsubscribing from the stuff but it’s not easy, is it. They don’t want you to go so they make it seem a lot more difficult to unsubscribe than it was to subscribe in the first place (if, indeed, you did anyway.)
The following form is a case in point – with the subscribed bits already ticked!:
Other attempts are a little less sophisticated. A message will pop up asking ‘Did you unsubscribe by accident?’ That’s highly unlikely, isn’t it. In fact I wonder if anyone has actually done that – scrolled to the bottom of an email, managed to select the ‘unsubscribe’ option that always seems to be in tiny four-point (light) and clicked on it accidentally!
In those cases, I’d like there to be a facility for me to be able to add ‘No, actually, I’ve made a lot of effort and I’m very, very definite about my decision.’
At the other end of the scale there are systems in place which are far more elaborate than the one I’ve illustrated. In the first instance they’ll ask me to give reasons for unsubscribing: Am I receiving too many emails? Am I no longer interested? Or is there another reason? And then (when I’ve ignored all of that) they tell me they’re still not letting me go because they have two special offers that I can’t resist (I can, though!) and therefore they’ll continue to mail me.
Am sure that’s breaking some privacy law somewhere but am too busy to work it out and anyway it added neatly to this blog.
September 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
…when I realised how many people actually thought ‘of’ was the right word to put before ‘screamed’ in that sentence!
We live in a world where there are so many opportunities (texts/Facebook, for example) for people to prove that they didn’t listen much in their English class – where the teacher would have taught them to write ‘have screamed’. Am I sounding a bit old-school? Can’t help it.
Another howler that drivers me bonkers is the mess that’s made with there, their and they’re. I’m not going to insult anyone by explaining what each of them means because I’m sure everyone knows, they just don’t bother to choose the right one and select any old right-sounding ‘there’ in the belief it will ‘do’ Well, it won’t – for me or for many others who are particular about the language. Same muddle goes for too and to – two is stretching the case a bit. Then there’s it’s and its. Why not just spend another nano-second to work out whether ‘it is’ something or possession is involved.
THE most common written error award has to be handed to misuse of the humble apostrophe and, in particular, misuse of the apostrophe to denote plural, eg. photo’s. There’s no logical reason to put an apostrophe there but the poor little mite gets mangled and squished into all sorts of places it has no right to be. I wrote about it in more depth here: Apostrophe Protection Society
Although, weirdly, it’s so often overlooked when it’s really needed – rudely and routinely dumped, for example, by those who want to know what ‘you’re’ doing but chuck a ‘your’ in place of the right word.
What’s your bugbear when it comes to the written word?
September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
If you’re ever tempted to send a jokey email to a customer – thinking a light-hearted message is going to be welcomed among the masses of corporate nonsense they receive, remember…your words may be taken at face value. Words can’t smile; they don’t have a tone of voice and they can’t see if the recipient is taking the message too seriously when it was only intended to be a bit of fun.
The reason I’m prompted to write this post is because I received one such ‘jokey’ email today and it sent me into panic mode because I thought I’d upset the client. I called immediately and asked if the copy wasn’t quite what the company had expected?
Of course it was, I was told – why?
Err..because they’d asked if I needed a bit more time to think about the wording before sending it over. That seemed a fair indication that they wanted something slightly different.
Oh no – they’d written that because they’d received the copy more quickly than anticipated and they were actually trying to compliment me.
Ah, I see. But.. joke ruined. Compliment ruined. Down to me now to salvage the working relationship. (It’s ok – I have. That’s why I feel comfortable writing about the incident!)
Anyway, it’s a good illustration of how, with the best will in the world, your joke can bomb because it’s written and the written word is completely unhelpful when it comes to delivering humour. That’s why ‘Smileys’ and other similar emoticons were invented, I presume, or why we have to say ‘haha’ at the beginning of a sentence we intend to be amusing.
Of course there are novels that are written with humour (we know that because we’re told in the blurb on the jacket, so we’re prepared) but when a business email comes and out-of-the-blue tries to be funny, it takes a very skilled writer to be able to pull that one off.
The answer? Be friendly and cut out corporate speak if you want to make good contact with you client but leave jokes/humour for face-to-face times. The written word can be so unforgiving.
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
We live in a world where we use far too many words in the hope that the more we say, the more likely it is some of our message will ‘stick’.
Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The more succinct we can be, the more chance we have of being remembered.
The plain truth is, so many words are unnecessary our consciousness filters them all out so it’s an entire waste of time to throw a lot of words at a subject.
I was taught this ‘back in the day’ at journalism school when a tutor scratched a headline on the blackboard and asked us which word (or words) was (or were) superfluous. He told us it came from a sign outside a fishmonger and read:
Ok, here we go:
- You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
- You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
- You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
- Oh – and you don’t need the word ‘fish’ because you can smell it a mile off…
I know, in the real world, shop signs much like the ‘fresh fish’ one will always exist in the hope of hooking in some extra consumer interest. But marketing wasn’t the object of the exercise we were given in this instance.
We were forced to examine which words really served a purpose – and out of just four words not one actually did a good job. The exercise certainly made an impact on me and I’ve never written anything since without checking for ‘superfluous frills’ that aren’t going to help my message.
Why don’t you do it for yourself – by having a look at your company website, maybe. Are your words really working for you or could the site be a lot sharper and smarter if you threw out those that are just, frankly, wasting space, clogging up your message and putting some people off from even reading it?