A Panda fiRes a gun…

      47 Comments on A Panda fiRes a gun…

eats_shoots_leaves_cover“A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter.  ‘I’m a panda,’ he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and finds a poorly punctuated explanation: Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves.” 


As classes began this week, I created widespread fear when I emphasized that success in public relations requires excellent writing skills.  An often-repeated maxim in our industry states that a press release with a misspelled word or a poorly-constructed sentence is the quickest route to the garbage pail or delete button.

The maxim was reinforced in an article this week by Brian Pittman in the Bulldog Reporter’sDaily Dog” in which he wrote about PR trainer Michael Smart.  Smart’s interviews with journalists revealed what bothers them most about PR writing.  He listed types of approaches which reporters say are the “seven deadly sins of PR writing:”

  • Vague, fluffy
  • Few facts
  • Rambling, verbose
  • Overly promotional
  • Irrelevant
  • Jargon-prone, technical
  • Indirect, doesn’t get to the point

Smart highlighted other problems including (yikes!) when PR people can’t write a simple, declarative sentence — using a subject, a verb and an object.  He suggested those “overly promotional” words including “groundbreaking,” “state-of-the-art,” “cutting edge,” and “landmark” are real reporter turn-offs.  Smart concluded by noting how spell check should only be used as a first step in the proofreading process; it isn’t the last word on whether something is written well.  “Take a break… read it out loud, start from the bottom, and have someone else look at it,” he said.

Can everyone quickly improve their PR writing?  Yes!  Get an AP Stylebook, where you’ll find standards on grammar, punctuation, abbreviations, numerals, capitalization, and much more.  There are countless similar books available, although I highly recommend “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss, which humorously illustrates the importance of punctuation and grammar.  The book’s title comes from the joke which began this article.  Now go back and read it again–out loud.

Your thoughts?


47 thoughts on “A Panda fiRes a gun…

  1. Makayla Sapienza

    I read this book for a college credit class in high school. I can honestly say that because of it, I easily remembered some of the basic punctuation errors that most people simply forget or never learned.
    The author’s humor is next to comedic gold, and she manages to make a book about grammar enjoyable.

  2. ainsleyrufer

    I’m always amazed by how many peers I run into who fall prey to these “fluffy” PR habits in their writing. Unfortunately, it’s a habit that you can’t just be talked out of – you need to practice. Write 150 press releases until you get a gold star from a professor! It’s important to focus more on improving your writing than getting a good grade on the first try. I still appreciate your rewrite policy, as it encouraged students to go out on a limb and try something new. Treat the classroom like a proofreading exercise, not a once-and-done submission requirement.

  3. Jessica Vallario

    My grandmother has a PhD in english. She has always stressed how important writing is. She even began “training” me at the young age of eight years old. I think it’s really difficult for my generation to grasp simple writing concepts due to all the technology we have been exposed to. Not only do we often communicate in acronyms, we also have tools like spelling and grammar check that make it harder for us to grasp key writing concepts. I’m sure this very blog posts needs some commas and doesn’t need others. The best thing students can do, is just pay closer attention. I think it is also partly up to our professors to keep a close eye on what we are doing wrong, and correct us every instance that they can. I love to write, but an definitely improve in some areas.

  4. Sarah Lopez

    Good writing skills are crucial if you’re considering a career in Public Relations. This post reminds me of one of my internship supervisors whose motto was “always triple check everything.” From her, I learned that everyone has a different style of editing their work and it’s so important to find what works best for you. I found that printing out the document and checking it that way has helped me a lot. It’s so true that we cannot simply rely on spell check anymore, and we never should have. It’s important to analyze sentence structure, grammar, and more. It’s especially important to triple check things when doing any work for a client. You definitely don’t want to repeatedly send your client work that is not grammatically correct. I also agree that the AP Style book is a great resource. At my past internships, I’ve seen many people who still use it as a reference.

  5. Danielle

    I just learned about the AP stylebook in my Public Relations class, and I can already tell we’re going to be best friends! You’re so right in saying that one misspelled word can ruin an entire message, and that terrifies me! I’m not the best speller right now but I hope my skills improve immensely during this exciting journey of becoming a public relations professional.

  6. Jennifer Im

    I couldn’t agree more about the importance of proper writing. With how increasingly the world relies on instant gratification, it’s strange for anything nowadays to contain “fluff” and/or “rambling”. Current technology has trained our generation to be impatient and judgmental, where if an advertisement or a book fails to capture the audience within the first few seconds of its interaction with the product, it’s unlikely to garner much attention afterwards. As true as the metaphorical phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” tends to be, first impressions remain absolutely vital for all industries. Naturally, grammatical and spelling errors are immediate turn-offs, especially if they’re basic enough for the average Joe to recognize them.

  7. Max Eisenberg

    These “sins of PR” seem pretty obvious so I am surprised so many professionals are breaking committing these writing errors. While being creative and different is great in PR writing, that doesn’t replace the need for simply structured sentences and straight-forward messages. Too much fluff or fancy vernacular can sometimes take away from the message and if the PR professional isn’t getting their message across to reporters, why did they bother writing the press release in the first place?

  8. Gabrielle Furman

    Writing is very important and is something that is used everyday. If we are not specific on what needs to be said it could mean something different. After reading this it has shown me how important writing is in PR because it is our job to communicate a positive message through press releases to the public.

  9. nikkigyftopoulos

    Through my time here at Hofstra, I have been told constantly that being a PR professional requires you to be a great writer. This post backs that statement up completely and reveals some dos and don’ts of writing in PR. I have read multiple articles that tell PR people how to write in a manner that suits the journalist’s needs and do not use fluffy words that mean nothing. So, I think that PR students and professionals need to start to find a way to get their client’s voice heard without being overly promotional. WE need to put ourselves in the shoes of a journalist and see our writing in their eyes. Not only do we need to be great writers, but we also need to be great proofreaders. Since technology is constantly improving to make our lives easier, we need to realize that spell check and auto correct can be our worst enemies. We cannot discard the traditional tools and methods of proofreading because they are the most accurate and trustworthy.

  10. Daniel Walsh

    Certainly an interesting read that has a large impact on many different fields. Choosing to become a business major I assumed that although being able to write well was important I never thought it truly had as large of an impact as it does. I have had countless business professors tell me the importance of good writing and its impact on potential future employers and it certainly took me by surprise. I found that I may not know as much about writing well as I may have thought, and I am certainly guilty of a few of the seven-deadly sins! Very interesting as well to learn certain trigger words that bother journalist.

  11. Amy Schildwaster

    I know that I fall victim to the “seven deadly sins of PR writing,” but I also know why. When I am passionate about my client (real or just for class), it can be hard to separate my personal excitement for the event, product, or big news that I am writing about and that can be apparent in my writing. I find myself having to proof read my work and cutting out my feelings and leaving the facts. I found that the best way to know if I am “sinning” is to read it out loud because if what I wrote sounds off to me, why would it sound good to anyone else?

  12. Erik Freitas

    I think that a strong writing foundation isn’t important just for PR, but for all other professions as well. The part of this article that spoke to me the most was the warning against overused terms such as “state of the art” and “groundbreaking”. When I see these terms, I immediately have less interest in the selection because I feel overcome with a powerful sense of cliché in what I’m reading. PR writing should be clear and concise, and get a message across adequately and eloquently. Also, In previous classes and in PR 100, I have heard of entire multi million dollar deals being canceled because of grammar mistakes, so good writing is always essential.

  13. Meghan

    As a PR professional you must have the writing skills that reflect intelligence. Why should anyone take you seriously if you cannot spell correctly in a press release? My favorite of the “7 deadly sins” is the one about Pr writing being fluffy. We learn to be very direct and to the point in a release so to find a fluffy press release would be humorous and disastrous to the professional.

  14. Ashley Iadanza

    On the first day of classes, my professor showed us a bunch of pictures displaying various signs that were put out to the public with spelling and grammar mistakes. It’s amazing how blatantly obvious it was that all of these PR people were not checking their work before putting it out there for everyone to see.

  15. Nicole

    Writing is imperative in all aspects of life not just PR and it is a useful tool to improve on. I learned early on in my college career that I needed to improve my writing and ensure that it is the best it can be. That is why I chose to be a Writing Studies and Composition minor. I get to take classes that help me better my writing and I was introduced to the writing center where I receive help with my writing and help others with there own. A misspell anywhere, whether its a press release, email pitch, cover letter or resume, can make or break your chances in success.

  16. Rebecca Costa

    Whenever I have to handwrite anything of importance, I type it on a computer and use spell check and grammar check first. My Spanish professor pointed out to my class that we were having a hard time understanding Spanish grammar because we didn’t fully understand English grammar. I have used AP style guides before and find them extremely helpful, and I agree with you, reading work out loud is the best tip. Before sending an important email or passing in a paper, I read all my work out loud and I have found that although it may be tedious, I catch so many careless mistakes!

  17. Devin Jaffar

    Writing is important because it is a way to communicate with others. It gives visuals to a person’s thinking and help others have a better understanding. It is a helpful way for others to give feed-backs. Writing in PR is very important because we use press releases to get our message out to audiences.

  18. Anjelica Johnson

    I love the deadly sins of PR writing, because it’s something useful in any field. It makes me think about my journalism classes, where I have been taught to write straight to the point without using distracting language. I’ve encountered several PR firms who have used those big, descriptive words to describe their newest product or event thinking it’s the ideal word choice because it stands out to reports. I would have to agree with you on the fact it is actually instead a reporter turn off.

  19. Areanna Rufrano

    Good writing is a very essential skill in any field, but it certainly holds even more weight in public relations. With so much is at stake, public relations departments and agencies have a responsibility to positively promote clients and maintain a good reputation. Therefore every detail counts and a well written piece is the most effective form of communication. Every released document or statement is going to be looked at thoroughly and critiqued by anyone who has access to it, especially the media. One mistake could mean everything in a business that is heavily involved with individual and public communications.

  20. Courtney Zanosky

    I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with the importance of good writing. I am an English and PR major and one of the main reasons I chose my majors is because I believe that strong writing is one of the most important skills that someone can possess. I’ve always been a grammar and English nerd and I really enjoy reading different grammar books and finding ways to improve my writing and writing style. I hope that I can continue to grow as a writer and will more than likely check out this book.
    It was also interesting to read about the “seven deadly sins of PR writing” because they vary so differently from creative writing. While I enjoy all kinds of writing, it is interesting to understand what style must be possessed in order to succeed in the PR field.

  21. Sarah Abuharaz

    I’m really happy that you shared this book with us. These “7 deathly sins of PR writing” can be carried throughout our careers. It serves as a great tool that we can always have on hand. It reminds us of the simple ways we can improve our writing.

    it isn’t difficult to write a press release but it can be tricky. Sometimes the writing is too descriptive or it could be full of grammatical errors. Writing being too descriptive or too basic could have a negative effect. It is up to PRs to find that balance in their writing.

  22. sophia1212

    First off, I did enjoy the joke, it was a well needed chuckle to get through this gloomy weather. Second, as a student at Hofstra joining the world of PR and learning more about it, I realize that it is a lot more difficult than we are led to believe. I do enjoy writing, and like everyone else, I’m not perfect, and can always improve my writing, and be more careful with it. I have already purchased the AP Stylebook, but I do think I will take your recommendation on the other book as well.

  23. Natalia Dutt

    Going off of what a lot of the comments stated, I was surprised to discover that some PR people have trouble with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Though I am still learning about what PR and everything the job entails; I feel like a vital part is knowing how to write properly.

  24. Sarah Ramos

    PR is a field in which grammar, spelling, and punctuation is very important. Taking simple steps to proof read and use the AP guidebook are an easy way to make sure no mistakes are made. When someone is in the field of PR it is their job to be doing these simple steps and to not brush them off. Interesting post on how is can make a large difference to take some extra time with your work!

  25. Jordan Heiden

    I think the 7 deadly sins of PR writing bring up a very important point. If an entry of writing is noticeably incorrect to the reader, the reader will likely lose interest. In addition, the reputation of the author is at stake. If a single thought or idea cannot be portrayed correctly, why trust the article at all? It shows carelessness. Basic errors can be avoided. If a reader notices an error and the author does not, there’s a big problem.

  26. Deana Meccariello

    I can completely relate to this post. I worked for a company where I supplied social media posts and “press releases” for various dental companies. However, the press releases were simply fluffy sells for common things like teeth whitening. We were constantly told to add buzzwords to lengthen these pieces. It was a tremendous waste of our time, as well as the clients money.

    As for grammar and spelling mistakes (though I am not perfect myself,) they infuriate me.

  27. Whitney Shepherd (@WhitneyPRGirl)

    By now anyone studying PR should know just how important ones writing skills are. I think this blog is informative and quick to the point without boring anyone and I found it quite humorous. Working in PR is all about getting your message across wether it’s to a magazine, newspaper, or an online blog it’s all still important. I believe everyone can always improve something on their writing, so why not take the necessary steps to do so now?

  28. Doug Gillies

    I have reached the point in my life that i can finally admit my parents were right. Writing is an extremely important part of our everyday lives. Writing speaks for our level of credibility. More importantly in the public relations field poor punctuation can set a glass ceiling on ones career. One way to practice punctuation can be at the root of the problem. We all text every day and all we need to do is take a few extra seconds per text to focus on grammar. Admittedly, I am guilty for not taking my own advice.

  29. quirkyderp

    Sometimes though just because you have correct grammar does not mean that you have good writing. Writing takes time for me and trying to remember all these rules is a bit daunting but I know that if i want to go into the field of PR, I can’t be scared to write.

  30. agionesi

    I’ve always loved to write, and believe that being a strong writer is important in almost anything you do. Just yesterday I was helping my friend pick out a “mommy’s helper” through care.com for her new born. We didn’t message some girls for the job just based on their grammar! While their grammar may have nothing to do with how they take care of children, it just gave a poor impression!

  31. Meghan Connor

    Excellent writing skills are required in PR. My 6th grade grammar teacher taught me a lot that improved my writing immensely. I believe that she is the reason I am in PR because now my writing is one of my strongest skills. I never liked proofreading but over the years I learned the importance of always doing so multiple times for one paper. Even one read over can find errors that would of changed the meaning of the text. PR is a lot of writing and what your client relies on you for. If you can’t send a correctly written press release to a desired client they will never hire you. It’s a poor representation of your company and who works for that company.

  32. Tyler Cutler

    I’ve found this to be true in not just press releases and other ilk related to the PR industry, but to all writing as well. As someone who considers themselves to be a bit of a bookworm, I notice this all the time in regular novels as well as non fiction works. Understandably when you’re writing a 400 page book, the small typos are easily lost in the grand scheme of things like plot and character development, however, when they appear over and over again, in titles by the same author, or even in the same book, it detracts from the story and makes it more difficult to enjoy. And a novelist has the benefit of an editor that a PR person does not. If technical/grammatical errors can so negatively effect a pleasure read, I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be for a reporter reading something as dry and repetitive as 100 press releases a day. Overall a very revealing and interesting post.

  33. Danielle Notaro

    I have always enjoyed writing, which is one of the reasons why I became interested in PR. In PR, writing should always be focused, detailed and grammatically correct. Bad writing may lead to a poor image of your client.

  34. michaela marano

    It comes to me as a surprise when people are shocked at the amount of writing that is involved in PR and also the importance of GOOD writing in PR. As PR people, it is our job to inform and sometimes persuade and negotiate between the client and audience using our words. I believe good PR writing is not only written grammitcally correct, but also concise. However, in my opinion there needs to be enough personality in the piece of writing, without being too flashy, in order to attract the audience. Being new to the field of study, I am excited to learn how to write most effectively for PR, while continuing to add my own creativity to each piece.

  35. Ashley Pascual

    Writing has always been one of my strong suits, which is why I chose to major in English. The importance of the good writing skills that I have learned and practice within my major is one of the reasons that I chose PR as a minor. Bad grammar, misused punctuation, and/or incorrect spelling in something like a press release, are all things that can leave bad impressions with the public and with the client. As a publicist, it is your job to ensure you leave a good impression, and good writing skills are a very easy way to do just that.

  36. Kelly Cormier

    Writing has always been a passion of mine and is part of why I was drawn to a career in PR. It is the job of the PR person to relay a message and many of these messages are relayed in the form of print. In my opinion, a PR person should always be professional, direct and have excellent attention to detail. Poor writing skills, however, can make the opposite impression on a journalist or other professional.

  37. Brenna Harran

    Writing has always been a strong subject of mine which is one of the many reasons I was drawn to PR. Your words used in pitches, press releases, etc. are what draws attention and publicity to your clients. Bad grammar/writing/spelling leads to bad publicity. It is a publicist’s job to maintain a positive image.

  38. Laura L.

    As someone who is virtually new to public relations, writing was not always something I associated with the field. But it makes sense why concise writing is good PR writing. One of the many jobs of a public relations practitioner is to present his or her client’s information clearly and without error. When failing to do so, he or she is not only putting the client’s reputation on the line, but also his or her own.

  39. Jessica Braveman

    I find that a press release is most effective when it doesn’t use flowery language, and keeps the writing simple. When writers try to be too descriptive in press releases or any other forms of PR writing, it takes away from the main message of the piece. The more basic a press release is, the easier it is to convey the message to the public.

    At the same time, small grammatical mistakes can also take away from the message in the press release. I cringe any time I see a punctuation or grammatical error in press release because it reflects poorly on the company/organization. I completely agree with the idea of reading something out loud in the editing process, and I’ve always found it to be helpful. Interesting post, Professor!

  40. Mr. Long Island

    One of the dangers of writing a column about proof-reading is doing so subjects you to all kinds of scrutiny. To wit, “everyone” is a singular noun but in the penultimate paragraph you use it with a plural pronoun (their). That’s one demerit for you, Professor! 🙂

    1. Adrienne O'Brien

      Dangers apply to column critics as well; the correction, “his or her,” was never ventured. Back in the day no plural pronoun would have crossed a writer’s mind.

  41. Jenna Delio

    When a press release or any other form of writing done by a PR person is done correctly it isn’t any of those deadly sins. Of course our writing is positive writing in the sense that we want to inform what is good about our client/s, but that doesn’t mean that all of our writing is spin. We are writing to portray an image and to either help keep or change that image, it is part of our job as PR people.
    This being said it is also our job to write efficiently. Making sure there are no mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as writing in active voice is very important in being a successful PR writer. Overall this was an interesting and useful post Professor.


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