‘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’s “Daily 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
- 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.