If you work in PR, it’s no secret that you spend a lot of time behind your computer, typing away. Drafting press releases, pitching the media, corresponding with clients, and creating content like ebooks and whitepapers equate to lots and lots (and lots) of writing.
But even if you write for a living, you might be making some rookie mistakes that make you appear less talented.
It’s an unfortunate reality that PR communication often happens via email. The emails and content you send become your voice and what you write (and how you write it) becomes a reflection of your competence. Conversely, writing mistakes can convey a negative impression, even the smallest infractions.
Here are some of the basic writing faux-pas you want to avoid, making your writing, and you, seem more professional to clients, media, other PR professionals, and even potential future employers.
*This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few of the things that bug me most right now.
Excessive Exclamation Points!!!
Or really, in most cases, any exclamation points at all.
There may be instances when using exclamation points is acceptable (social media is a perfect example), but exclamation points have no place in professional and business writing. In theory, exclamation points accentuate strong emotions or opinions. In practice, they make professional media pitches and the like seem like cheap email spam.
The mark of a strong writer is the ability to create sentences that persuade readers using word choice and organization. If you really feel that you need to add an exclamation point (or four), it’s time to go back and choose words that convey the same strength and enthusiasm as the exclamation points themselves.
Elementary Grammar Mix Ups
If you work in this industry, you know your clients are often paying you to write on their behalf. Why? Because you’re supposed to be good at it. On the other hand, they’re definitely not paying you to make silly grammar mistakes (they could find a 4th grader for that).
Mixing up “there”, “their”, and “they’re” and confusing “your” and “you’re” are just two big no-no’s that make you seem less than professional even if you only typed it by accident.
Tip: spell check is not the preeminent tool for checking grammar, so proof-read carefully (and get your really smart friend to proof-read as well) regardless of what you’re writing.
It’s time to establish once and for all that bigger words don’t necessarily equal better writing. You might think you sound intelligent but using too much “fluffy” language can make it seem like you’re trying just a little too hard. While elaborate word choice might be appropriate when you write your next fiction novel, overly-ornate language has no place in public relations.
In fact, simplicity is ideal. Reporters skimming through press releases and pitches want to understand what you’re saying as easily and effortlessly as possible; instead of puzzling over convoluted language in your writing, they’ll move right on to the next one. Drop the thesaurus and instead focus on getting your points across clearly and succinctly.
One Long Paragraph
Simplicity extends to structure as well as grammar. While you might find it productive to draft something as a “stream of consciousness,” it should never be considered a finished product. An important part of your role as a professional writer is to organize your writing for the reader, whether it be a reporter, a client, or a customer.
Transitioning your writing from one long paragraph into more manageable chunks is an important process that guides the reader’s thoughts in the correct order. A paragraph that spans three pages is sloppy, confusing, and turns people off from reading further.
And forget what you learned in grade school about three-to-five sentence paragraphs. In professional writing, especially a press release or media pitch, shorter paragraphs (and even bullet points where applicable) can be more helpful for your purpose of informing.
Even the best writers make mistakes, but it’s your job to make sure they don’t make it into the final product. To avoid making yourself look silly:
- Have a trusted friend or coworker proof-read (looking at something too long can desensitize you to little mistakes)
- Invest in a style guide as a reference (I swear by The Elements of Style) or check online versions
Lastly, even the best of us make mistakes from time to time. As a PR professional, it’s your responsibility to own up to them as soon as you can and preferably before the client brings it up to you. That said, avoiding the above faux pas – and many others – is definitely the best way to go, so be diligent and have your style guide at hand to deliver the best content possible for your clients.