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…
November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.
I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.
On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.
She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.
Although only something like that because it actually reads:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.
The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.
In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.
September 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Had a brilliant afternoon at my brother’s the other weekend. We pulled out some photo albums and took a leisurely trip down memory lane.
First of all there were the pictures of when we were kids and then pictures of when our kids were kids – and in between those weddings. holidays, birthdays – and, of course, the ever-changing hairstyles and fashions along the years (what made us think we looked great??) There were lots of ‘ooohs’, plenty of ‘aaahs’ and loads and loads of laughs. We ended up reminiscing for hours, the photos sparking memories of moments that were ‘around’ the pictures but not actually captured in them. It was fantastic.
And then I panicked. There was something very real and everlasting about those photo albums. When was the last time I backed up my digital albums? And why am I saying ‘albums’ I’m not that organised in the digital photo world! I just click at stuff – there’s no system. When was the last time I held a recent ‘proper’ photograph?
My phone has a lot of rubbish images on it and the good stuff I don’t show people in case they flick back onto a ‘full-pout’ selfie I mistakenly took when I was fixing my hair before a meeting!
Anyway, call me old-fashioned – because perhaps it is – but I’m now in the process of having my ‘keepsake’ photos from recent years printed. I want to file them in the sort of flip album that makes them so easy to view – and stack on a bookshelf. In years to come I can’t see us crowded around a computer looking at images but I can see us passing photo albums around and having a glance at the way we were!
I called a friend today who’s recently had a baby and asked how she took photos of the little one. She takes loads, apparently, on her phone (just as I thought). But, my friend was quick to confirm, they’d only recently been for a formal sitting with a professional photographer. Not the same, I suggested as the possibly haphazard but eminently preferable alternative of snapping away with a camera, sending them off for developing and the thrill of receiving them back two weeks later – if only to find just half being in focus. At least they’d be ‘proper’ photos her little girl would always be able to find on the bookshelf and enjoy looking at just as my kids enjoyed looking at their baby photos. Just saying ….
October 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
There are 10 typos in this piece of text. Can spot them?
How Names Became Words
Bloomers: Baggy womens undergarement, originally an entire costume with lose trousers gathered at the ankle. Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) was a New york postmistress who’s championing of women’s rights included there mode of dress. The outfit, designed by Mrs Elizabeth Miller, the daughter of a New York congressman and introduced in 1894, was not a success. The innovation was much derided. Previously, Bloomers was a big draw as a speakers and published a magazine, Lily, to propogate her views on feminism and temparance.
Check your answers here
April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Back in the day we knew telephone numbers. Lots of them.
I still remember the number of my childhood home – and next door’s where my parents might be if I had to call to say I was going to be late.
Sitting with friends at the weekend, we all admitted that there’d been times of late when we’d had trouble remembering our OWN numbers and that had nothing to do with age but everything to do with the fact that contacts are all plugged into mobile phones. Rarely are we repeating our numbers and when we phone someone these days we just have to remember their name!
So we’re getting flabbier upstairs as far as phoning is concerned.
And now if we don’t know something or remember it, we don’t try to work it out anymore – we Google it, of course. Google can tell you everything. It’s surprising the sort of information we turn to Google for. I took a random (very random, I thought) question and searched ‘Can you fix a burnt sausage?’ It transpires Aunty Google has the answer and we can ditch common sense or trial and error.
Map-reading skills are being overtaken by Sat Nav and as much as we might moan about the woman’s voice that shows us the way or the ridiculous bell tones that warn us of speed cameras, the Sat Nav gives a much easier life than a map ever did. Map-reading is particularly difficult if you’re driving alone although we managed in the past.
Spelling is something we think we can hand over to a spellcheck – it doesn’t work though. If I write ‘He complemented me on my blog,’ the spellcheck’s going to like that, but it’s wrong. And calculators are taking the place of mental arithmetic.
I don’t remember any ready-meals in my childhood nor sauces coming out of jars or packets but the art of cooking is also disappearing. A huge ‘convenience’ industry has grown up around us and unless we choose not to let it overtake us, our minds won’t be the bouncy, pliable matter they once were – but heaps of mush!