Grammar Geek

The Grammar Geek’s Guide to Writing Press Releases © 2013 eReleases – 1

Transcript of Grammar Geek

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The  Grammar  Geek’s  Guide  to  Writing  Press  Releases  ©  2013  eReleases  –    



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The  Grammar  Geek’s  Guide  to  Writing  Press  Releases  ©  2013  eReleases  –    





Table  of  Contents    


#1  The  Right  Way  to  Format  Your  Press  Release  …  4  

#2  Why  Spelling  and  Grammar  Matter  in  Press  Releases  …  6  

#3  Eliminating  Redundancies  from  Your  Writing  …  8  

#4  Getting  Better  Press  Release  Quotes  …  10  

#5  6  Tips  for  Editing  Your  Releases  …  12  

#6  What  You  Need  to  Know  About  Sentence  Structure  …  14  

#7  Active  Voice  vs.  Passive  Voice  (SPOILER  ALERT:  Active  Wins)  …  16  

#8  4  Comma  Rules  You  Need  to  Know  …  18  




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You’ll Hear People (including me) Say Over and Over,

That your press release will never see the light of day if you don’t really have a good story. And they’re right. As with all types of writing, content really is king. However, there’s more to it than the actual content. There’s how you present the content.

The fact is that if you don’t know how to properly write a press release, then your great story idea will never even get read. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out: an idea is useless if no one will do anything with it. And someone can only do something with it if they read it or hear it.

That means you need to cut out as many variables as possible. See, by making sure you know commonly held press release standards, you can increase the odds that people will take the time to read it. And that’s what this entire eBook is about. I’m here to help you understand not what sort of ideas to include in your press release, but how to avoid silly mistakes such as grammar and formatting that will throw up red flags and cause it to end up in the trash can before anyone reads past the title.

So if you want to increase the odds of being heard, read on. You’ll see how to:

• Properly format your release • Write to impress • Properly edit • Avoid silly mistakes

No worries, it’s not complicated.

Let’s Get Started,

Mickie E Kennedy Founder and President eReleases Press Release Distribution

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#1  The  Right  Way  to  Format  Your  Release  

When it comes to the various types of writing you’ll do for your business, you’ll find that press releases are by far the most regimented. Unlike blog posts and marketing pieces, press releases have a specific format that people expect them to follow. That means that in respect to formatting, this isn’t the time for you to get creative. Instead, carefully follow the formatting steps to make sure yours doesn’t get tossed out simply because it doesn’t look right.

1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—At the very top, this should begin the release to let everyone know it’s news they can use NOW. Of course, if you are dealing with sensitive information that should not be released until a certain date, you can include that here.

2. Headline—The headline should be direct and to the point. Remember, it’s really the first thing they’ll read, so grab their attention. How can you grab attention? Well, make sure they get a good idea of what your release is about from the title. What’s in it for them? Make them want to read.

3. Summary—This is basically a brief extension of the above headline. Just give a quick, one sentence summary of your news.

4. Line one—Begin with your location and the date. Then go into the first line, which needs to offer something new. In other words, why is this news? Why is it relevant? Don’t make them dig for it. Spell it out right then and there.

5. The body—Now it’s time to expound on your story. Use quotes from company representatives and if you have any statistics, include them here as well. Make sure you answer all those W’s: who, what, when, where, why.

6. Additional info—Where can the reader obtain more information about your news? Schedule an interview? Maybe find facts online? Tell them.

7. ###--This traditionally signifies the end of a release.

8. Info about your company—It’s common form to include general information about your company with your release. Usually it’s a short paragraph just letting people know who you are and what you’re about.

Think of it like a resume. When a potential employer checks out your resume, they expect to see certain things. They expect a section with job history. They want to see evidence of your education. And of course they need your contact information. If you leave something out, or riddle your resume with misspellings or anything else that

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makes you seem unprofessional, they will simply toss it in the garbage. Same goes for your press release.




To review:

Much  like  a  resume,  how  your  press  release  is  formatted  matters  almost  as  much  as  its  contents.    Don’t  let  your  release  wind  up  in  the  trash  –  send  it  through  a  legitimate  PR  Service,  and  remember:    

• FOR  IMMEDIATE  RELEASE  • A  headline  • Summary  • Location/Date  • ###  (signifies  the  end  of  the  release)  • Information  about  you/your  company  



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Why  Spelling  and  Grammar  Matter  in  Press  Releases  

When it comes to spelling and grammar, you’ll usually find that people fall into two different schools of thought. One side will argue that mechanics are unimportant as long as you get your message across effectively. Then there’s the other side that insists that sloppy mechanics will get your press release tossed out the window.

So who is right?

Well, I will say this: when it comes to getting your press release noticed, you probably already know that you’re facing some steep competition. Your release is probably fighting for a breath of air among a stack of hundreds of others. So every little thing you can do to gain an advantage is crucial.

So my question is: why wouldn’t you shoot for good grammar and proper spelling? Am I saying you need to write as if you were putting together a Master’s Thesis? No. But making silly grammar and spelling mistakes will:

• Make you seem unprofessional. First and foremost, you want the people reading your release to see you as a professional. If you sprinkle silly mistakes all through your release, no one is going to take you seriously. Face it—whether it’s true or not—spelling and grammatical errors make you look unintelligent. No one wants to cover news from an unintelligent source.

• Get you booted from the directories. In this day and age of the internet, press releases aren’t for the sole purpose of sending out to reporters. You can also post them to directories to get noticed and get links back to your site. But if you try and post something full of errors, it’s going to come off as spam. And with Google on the warpath to root out such spam, you can count on the directories to give your release the boot.

• Cause your releases to lose meaning. Sometimes a simple misspelling or deletion of a comma can completely change the tone and meaning of what you’re trying to say. So unless you want people to read your release and get the wrong idea, pay extra careful attention to detail.

In the end, the more attention you pay to your mechanics, the more effective your news release will be. Don’t let this attention dominate your thinking to the point that it constrains you during the writing process, but take time to read your release over and run it through a spelling check.

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To review:

Spelling  and  grammar  –  yes,  they  matter  A  LOT.    Why?    Mistakes:    

• Make  you  seem  unprofessional  • Can  actually  get  your  release  flagged  as  spam  • Can  obscure  the  meaning  of  your  content  

 “A  man’s  grammar,  like  Caesar’s  wife,  should  not  only  be  pure,  but  above  suspicion  of  impurity.”  -­‐  Edgar  Allan  Poe  

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Eliminating  Redundancies  from  Your  Writing  

In a writing world dominated by word count, it’s not uncommon to read something online only to feel like you’ve read the same sentence over and over. Writers have become masters of “fluff” because so many places have required them to hit certain word counts in the past. However, when it comes to press releases, you want to get to the point as quickly as possible. That means you need to give up wasting words and eliminate as many redundancies as you can.

Here is a quick list of words and phrases to avoid so you can get right to the point:

• Advance preview—Think about it…any preview is in advance.

• Present time—When you use the term “present,” you are talking about time. No need to notify the reader.

• In close proximity—Do you know what “proximity” means? “Close” is already in its definition.

• Completely unanimous decision—If a decision is unanimous, that means every single person agrees. You can’t be partially unanimous.

• The end result is—Where do you obtain the results? In the end, of course. So any result you get is the “end.”

• Major breakthrough—If you make a breakthrough, it’s going to be major.

• Final outcome—Just like the end result.

• Free gift—Aren’t all gifts supposed to be free? Granted, people like to see the word “free” in marketing materials. But your press release isn’t marketing, right?

• Collaborate together—Collaborate is one of those business buzzwords people love to throw out—and that’s fine. But if you are going to use it then you need to use it correctly. The prefix “co” means together. So no need to throw that in.

• Unexpected surprise—Have you ever expected a surprise? If you did, then it wasn’t really a surprise, was it?

• New beginning—While “here’s to new beginnings” is a classic toast, that’s about all it’s good for. Any beginning is new, so leave this phrase in the bar.

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• Pretty unique—Any adjective preceding unique is useless. Unique means it is like nothing else. So you can’t be pretty unique, totally unique, or kind of unique. You’re either unique or you aren’t. Period.

Failing to get rid of the fluff will only serve to bog down your writing. In the process you can count on readers getting lost and disinterested as they trudge through all the extraneous phrases and meaningless words.



















To review:

Don’t  make  things  more  complicated  than  they  have  to  be.    We  have  all  been  in  situations  where  we  have  had  to  meet  certain  word-­‐counts  or  certain  page-­‐counts.    This  has  earned  us  the  bad  habit  of  over-­‐stuffing  our  sentences.        Phrases  like  “free  gift”  and  “final  outcome”  are  great  examples.    Every  gift  is  free,  and  every  outcome  typically  arrives,  well,  at  the  end,  the  “final”  step.  

“So  the  writer  who  breeds  more  words  than  he  needs,  is  making  a  chore  for  the  reader  who  reads.”  -­‐  Dr.  Seuss  


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Getting  Better  Press  Release  Quotes  

For news to be worth reporting on, it must be reliable. And how can you make sure a story is reliable? Well, you have to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth. What does that have to do with your release? Well, if a blogger or reporter is going to take you seriously, they need to see quotes in your release…quotes from people connected to your story.

Who might this include?

• Your CEO. • A customer connected to your story. • A spokesperson for the company. • An expert in an associated field.

If you can’t find a quote to include from someone who is directly connected to the story, then your release will lack the legitimacy it needs to get taken seriously.

Not All Quotes Are Created Equally

Of course, just like simply publishing a release won’t get you coverage, simply adding a quote won’t necessarily make your story believable…or make your release any more readable. The truth is that most press release quotes are obviously placed there simply to meet the requirement. The writer typically spends very little time trying to find a quote that knocks it out of the park.

Rule of thumb: a quote is meaningful if removing it will cause the reader to miss out on something. However, if you take out the quote and the reader misses nothing, well then your quote was nothing but fluff.

Manufactured Words

I have a secret for you…most business press release writers manufacture quotes for their clients. No, not all of them…but most. And it’s funny because you’d think that if a professional writer made up the quotes themselves that they would understand how to make the most of them. But it just isn’t normally the case. That said:

• Do everything you can to get a real quote. Odds are the person most closely connected to the issue knows more than you about it and can say something more relevant. Whatever they really say will come off more human and sincere

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than any words you can manufacture.

• Keep it short. Your press release shouldn’t be one long quote. The quote is simply to accent and highlight important points of the story. It should also add a human perspective.

• Inject an opinion. While press releases are factual writing, the quote is a good place to inject an opinion or idea you want to convey.

• Don’t use the jargon. If the quotes are from higher level business execs, you can rest assured that they’ll be crammed full of those business buzzwords that we all love to hate. Newsflash…they don’t really mean anything! Pull them out and reword if necessary. Make sure that the average person reading will understand what is being said.

• Peek into conversation. The quote should sound like it came from an actual conversation. Yeah, it should stand alone on its own merit, but the reader should get the sense that there’s more to the story (because there should be).

Good quotes will make your press release more trustworthy and easier to read. So do the legwork and get quotes that stick!












To review:

Much  like  a  resume,  how  your  press  release  is  formatted  matters  almost  as  much  as  its  contents.    Don’t  let  your  release  wind  up  in  the  trash  –  send  it  through  a  legitimate  PR  Service,  and  remember:    

• FOR  IMMEDIATE  RELEASE  • A  headline  • Summary  • Location/Date  • ###  (signifies  the  end  of  the  release)  • Information  about  you/your  company  


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6  Tips  for  Editing  Your  Releases  

You can’t talk about formatting and avoiding mistakes without discussing how to become a better editor. You see, everyone makes mistakes. Gasp!

That’s right. Even the best writers in the business—the press release writers who get paid the big bucks—don’t write a perfect draft the first time. Every single person needs to go back through their work with a fine-toothed comb and pull out the mess-ups.

Your first draft should be all about getting your ideas out of your head and onto the paper. Once you’ve accomplished that, you can go back through them, properly format them, fix grammar mistakes, and get rid of the fluff. The problem is that most people don’t want to reread their writings after they have completed that first draft. And it’s understandable—sometimes after you struggle to get the ideas out, you’re ready to wash your hands and be done with the release.

But remember this: failing to put the time in to edit your work can cause your ideas to get lost in a poorly written release full of errors and inconsistencies. So with that in mind, here are 6 pointers to help you edit your work:

1. Have someone else do it—Not everyone has the luxury of a second set of eyes. But if you do, let them have a look. This could be a secretary, an intern…or if you are self-employed, maybe a spouse or your teenage son. Whoever you can find, just remember that two sets of eyes are better than one. And someone else is more likely to catch your mistakes than you are.

2. Let some time pass—If you must edit your own work, you should always walk away from it first. In other words, don’t write a draft and immediately dive back in looking for mistakes. Since you are the author, you will be so familiar with what you meant to say that you are likely to miss any mistakes. Your brain will automatically fill in the blanks. Instead, put the draft away and read it the next day. You will feel refreshed and your brain will be more likely to see the errors.

3. Read it out loud. Sometimes your eyes just refuse to see the problem areas. But maybe your ears won’t be so stubborn. Read the release aloud and listen to how it sounds. Some mistakes you will catch just from your voice. For example, if a sentence doesn’t make sense or needs punctuation, you will be more likely to hear it aloud. You can also copy and paste your release in Microsoft Excel and use the speak function to have it read the release to you.

4. Use spelling and grammar check. This may seem like a “gimmee,” but you’d be surprised how many people forget to use this first line of defense. Yes, it’s not

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always perfect, but this function is a good place to get the editing ball rolling.

5. Think “remove” first. Usually you want to add detail, descriptions, and explanation. But remember, unless adding content is absolutely necessary, your editing should focus on the extraneous info that you can get rid of. Remember that press releases should be concise and precise—get rid of the fluff.

6. Try to lose the passive verbs. Helping verbs like “am” and “are” make for weak writing. Focus on action verbs that let the subject of the sentence perform the action rather than receive it.



















To review:

All  great  press  releases  are  born  in  the  editing.    Once  you’ve  put  all  of  your  ideas,  quotes  and  important  information  down  on  paper  –  wait.    Don’t  hit  send.    Instead:  

• Give  it  a  second  pair  of  eyes.    Have  a  coworker,  friend  or  relative  edit  your  work.  

• Walk  away  from  your  work  and  come  back.    Then  edit.  • Read  it  out  loud.  • Use  that  spelling  and  grammar  check!  • Look  for  unnecessary  information.    Don’t  be  afraid  to  cut.  • Make  sure  you’re  engaging  your  reader  by  using  the  “active  

voice.”    (see  page  15)  

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What  You  Need  to  Know  About  Sentence  Structure  

In college we were all taught to write these elaborately complex sentences that went on for what seemed like miles. We became masters of conjunctions and semicolons. We learned how to take two or three perfectly good sentences and merge them together into beautiful monstrosities. And you know what? It sure did make us sound smarter.

But press releases are not the same as academic writings.

As mentioned over and over, the idea is brevity. We want to write powerful releases that drive home the point as quickly as possible. After all, every single person that reads your release will be in a rush. Whether it’s a news reporter struggling to beat a deadline, a blogger looking for the topic of his next morning post, or an average Joe doing research online who falls across a press release directory—everyone is short on time.

So I ask you…does it make sense to weave wonderful compound and complex sentences in our releases – or does it only serve to flex our writing muscles? Plain and simple, it’s nothing but a vain exercise to show that we can be “good writers.”

Use Your Story to Impress

Here’s the harsh reality—whoever might use your press release to craft a news story—they’re a better writer than you are. Yes, it hurts to think that way, but it’s true. They’re a professional getting paid to turn your words into something the public will want to read. So why are you going to try and prove to them how good of a writer you are?

All they want from you is quick powerful information. That means short sentences packed full of useful information that punch them in the gut as soon as they read them. These are the type of sentences that will get read. These are the kind of sentences that will get your story out there for all to read.

Tips to Shorten Sentences

1. Use the active voice—As mentioned before, you want to try to stay away from words like “was” and “were,” instead opting for active voice. Not only will these sentences sound stronger, but they are often more concise. For example, rather than saying “The boy was scared by the bat” you could say “The bat scared the boy.” The second sentence has the subject performing the action and cuts out 2 words. For more information, see the next section on active and passive voice writing.

2. Chop them in half—In school we were taught to combine sentences using conjunctions. However, if we get in that habit too much, we end up with

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sentences that are too wordy. Shorter sentences are punchier and easier on the eyes. So consider losing the conjunction and choosing the period instead.

3. Combine ideas—The right time to combine sentences is when you can combine ideas. In other words, you can use fewer words to say both at once. Doing so will eliminate the fluff.

Remember, short and sweet. Those are the best releases.






















To review:

Remember  to  KISS  (keep  it  short  &  sweet).  

The  people  who  will  be  reading  your  releases  are  not  judging  your  release  on  how  long  and  complicated  your  sentences  are  –  they’re  looking  at  the  content,  the  ideas.    Journalists  read  through  hundreds,  if  not  thousands  of  press  releases  a  day.    Don’t  make  it  harder  for  them.  

Keep  it  short,  sweet,  simple  and  to  the  point.    Use  your  ideas  to  impress.  


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Active  Voice  vs.  Passive  Voice    (SPOILER  ALERT:  Active  Wins)  

You know what the biggest problem is with the average press release? It’s not the grammar mistakes. It’s not the spelling errors. It’s not the format.

It’s just that most press releases are downright boring.

That’s right. They suck. They put you to sleep.

Now, imagine trying to get the attention of an overworked, coffee-fueled journalist. They’re flipping through endless pages of these bland, boring press releases that are obvious pleas for free advertisement. What can you do to stand out? What can you do to reach out and grab them by the shirt and scream “READ ME!”?

Well, one way is to write in the active voice.

Active Voice Defined

If you are writing in the active voice then you are using action verbs. These verbs make the subject of the sentence do the action. For example: “The dog bit the boy’s leg.” This subject is “dog.” The verb is “bit.” The dog does the action and the boy receives it at the end. It’s a simple yet effective sentence.

Passive Voice Defined

But when you write in the passive voice, you tend to muddle things up a bit. Let’s use the example above but rewrite it in the passive voice: “The boy’s leg was bitten by the dog.” Here the subject is “leg.” More specifically, “the boy’s leg.” Instead of doing the action, the subject receives the action from the end of the sentence. This flips things around, adds words, and makes it harder to understand. Not to mention, it just doesn’t sound as good.

Most People Use Passive

So if one obviously sounds better than the other, why do people opt for the clunkier one? Good question—and I’ll tell you this—there’s not an easy answer. My best guess is that, first of all, we tend to write how we speak. And for whatever reason, we tend to speak in the passive voice. Instead of shouting, “That rock hurt my leg!” we say things like, “My leg got hurt by the rock!” So that naturally transfers into our writing.

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And then there’s the idea that writing passive sentences adds more words. And since we have been trained to write set amounts (e.g. write a two-page paper, write a 500 word article) we teach ourselves little tricks to meet requirements.

Activate Your Press Release

Whatever the reason most people choose passive, the fact remains that they do. So if you are looking to stand out, pack your release with short, strong, active sentences from the get go. A reporter is more likely to read it and get excited as opposed to all the other wordy drivel he receives.




















To review:

Don’t  be  passive  +  boring,  be  active  +  engaging!  

Win:  “The  gunman  opened  fire  on  the  crowd.”  

Lose:  “The  crowd  was  fired  upon  by  the  gunman.”  

Why  does  “Lose”  lose?    Not  only  is  the  sentence  all  in  tangles,  but  the  subject  of  the  sentence  (the  crowd)  is  receiving  the  action  –  not  performing  the  action.    Bor-­‐ing!  

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4  Comma  Rules  You  Need  to  Know  

The comma is one of the most misunderstood tools in punctuation. Fact is, the average person doesn’t know how to use a comma correctly. So they just sprinkle them in wherever they seem to fit. The results are lost meaning and barely readable press releases. With that in mind, here are 4 comma rules to live by.

When to Use a Comma in Your Release:

1. If the sentence starts with a phrase. Introductory phrases are signified by words like after and although. Example: Although the sale of the house is pending, the realtor continues to show to prospective buyers.

2. If you use a conjunction to combine full sentences. Sometimes it’s useful to combine two sentences together. But don’t think a conjunction can do the job on its own. It needs help. Example: The boy hit the ground, and the ball popped out of his glove.

3. In a series of nouns. Any time you list out a series of nouns, you need commas to help divide them from one another. Example: The boy had ice cream with chocolate, sprinkles, and a cherry on top. Note: The last comma is not mandatory.

4. When you have a quote. Regardless of where you include the quote in your sentence, chances are you need a comma. Example: “I love you,” the girl said. Example: The girl said, ”I love you.” Note: If the quote comes at the beginning of the sentence and uses a question mark or exclamation point, you won’t need a comma.

Of course, there are other comma rules you may need to know, but the 4 above will get you started on the right track.

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To review:

Commas  –  can’t  live  with  ‘em,  can’t  live  without  ‘em.  

While  there  are  many  rules  associated  with  proper  comma  usage,  the  following  four  are  the  most  crucial,  need-­‐to-­‐know  of  the  all.  

Use  a  comma  when:  

• The  sentence  starts  with  a  phrase  • Combining  two  sentences  with  a  conjunction  • Creating  a  list  of  nouns  • Quoting.    See  the  above  example.  

“The  rule  is:  don’t  use  commas  like  a  stupid  person.    I  mean  it.”  -­‐  Lynne  Truss,  Eats,  Shoots,  and  Leaves  

Page 20: Grammar Geek

The  Grammar  Geek’s  Guide  to  Writing  Press  Releases  ©  2013  eReleases  –    


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