Writing Press Releases Getting It Right

A good news release consists of​ a​ short introduction. Journalists call this an​ ‘intro’. This should total perhaps no more than 25 words. Bear in​ mind that your text needs to​ answer the​ ‘six salient questions’: Who,​ What,​ Where,​ When,​ Why and How? Your intro will cover most but not necessarily all of​ them. Keep your article short and simple (Kiss). Remember,​ news is​ something new and unusual (see Galtung and Ruge,​ ‘News Values’ in​ Wikipedia).

The second sentence or​ ‘lock-in’ builds on​ the​ news in​ the​ intro. By paragraph three you will probably use the​ best or​ ‘killer’ quote from the​ main source for your story. Always attribute a​ quote to​ somebody.

1. a​ news item should be in​ a​ readable font size,​ usually 12 point Arial or​ Times Roman and double-spaced.

2. the​ article should be given a​ unique keyword to​ identify it. This is​ called a​ ‘catchline’. For example,​ an​ article about a​ poisonous snake sent,​ undetected in​ the​ post,​ might be catchlined “snake” and each page of​ the​ news release then numbered Snake...1,​ Snake…2 etc. This information is​ placed in​ the​ top right-hand corner of​ every page.

Do not use: 1. a​ subject’s name,​ i.e. Blair,​ because,​ if​ they are famous,​ there could be lots of​ stories about them in​ one day,​ or​ the​ name could be confused for that of​ a​ fellow journalist. Or,​ a​ word so general,​ like health,​ that there might be many stories on​ the​ subject similarly catchlined. a​ good catchline will ensure that every page of​ your news release can be easily identified in​ a​ busy media office.

3. the​ by-line,​ the​ journalist’s first name and surname,​ should appear at​ the​ top left of​ the​ page.

4. Between the​ byline and catchline should be placed the​ date on​ which the​ article was written. This information helps the​ editor to​ judge whether an​ update will be necessary,​ especially if​ the​ article is​ a​ time-sensitive news story.

5. Your text should have a​ simple headine of​ perhaps no more than three words above the​ intro,​ telling the​ reader what the​ article is​ about. Try not to​ attempt a​ catchy tabloid-style headline. Sub-editors jealously guard their job as​ the​ headline writer.

6. at​ the​ bottom of​ each page,​ to​ tell the​ reader that there is​ more copy to​ come,​ put MORE FOLLOWS,​ More or​ just MF (centred).

7. to​ tell the​ editor that the​ article is​ complete put the​ word End or​ ENDS on​ the​ last page.

8. Don’t forget to​ include your full contact details on​ the​ first or​ last page.

Importance of​ Presentation
Proofread,​ proofread and proofread. Check the​ spelling; don't rely solely on​ spell check. There are some words that are spelled correctly that are not the​ word you meant to​ put in​ the​ sentence.

Check the​ grammar. Again,​ the​ word processor's grammar checker is​ good to​ a​ point,​ Use the​ word processing software as​ your helper but remember that you are the​ final judge of​ accuracy. For each news release draft,​ no matter how small,​ create a​ word processing document,​ name and save it​ on​ a​ disk,​ memory stick or​ on​ the​ hard drive so you can easily get back to​ it​ later. Keep a​ printed ‘hard copy’ in​ a​ safe place.

Writing style and completeness
You are expected to​ write clearly and concisely - using complete sentences that flow logically from thought to​ thought.

Assume that your reader has not read the​ materials on​ which you are reporting. Explain the​ issue to​ your reader as​ if​ she or​ he knows absolutely nothing about the​ subject. Don't assume that your reader has an​ understanding of​ jargon or​ terminology or​ that he or​ she knows about the​ products,​ services or​ personnel of​ the​ organisation for which you work.

Since you are not necessarily an​ expert on​ the​ subject about which you are writing,​ it​ is​ essential that you source the​ information provided. Even if​ you are just using facts from a​ document or​ webs site,​ cite the​ paper,​ book or​ internet source. This will give your writing credibility and authority. if​ you don’t source,​ it​ will look like you're trying to​ claim the​ information as​ your own creation. You don't want to​ be accused of​ plagiarism.

Be objective.
Try not to​ use "the first person" (I or​ we). Carefully put together an​ outline before you begin writing.

Bullets and short paragraphs
Break the​ material into short paragraphs; using bullet points if​ necessary. Even with bullet points,​ use complete sentences and be meticulous with grammar and punctuation. Don't rely on​ the​ computer to​ correct all your errors. if​ you use bullet statements,​ be consistent.

In many cases,​ the​ best use of​ bullet points is​ to​ make each statement a​ complete sentence with a​ capital letter at​ the​ beginning and a​ full stop at​ the​ end.

In some cases,​ however,​ you may want to​ use a​ "lead-in" sentence opener. Make each bullet statement complete the​ sentence from the​ lead-in opener. And be consistent.

When using bullet statements,​ it​ is​ usually best to​ single space within the​ bulleted statements and double space before and after the​ statements begin.

Use Positive Tone
Write in​ a​ positive and lay-person’s style. Your objective should be not to​ unnecessarily offend anyone who might potentially read what you have written on​ behalf of​ your organisation. While every issue you write about won’t necessarily be completely upbeat and enthusiastic,​ each can achieve a​ proactive note.

Be conversational
Make your writing sound conversational. Take care to​ avoid sounding stuffy,​ stiff,​ or​ uncomfortable. Don’t use slang or​ inappropriate language. Connect with the​ reader in​ the​ same conversational style that you would if​ you were in​ the​ same room with him or​ her having a​ conversation. So,​ don’t use jargon.

Take time
To achieve the​ best,​ most positive tone for your news release; you must take your time when writing. You can't be in​ a​ big hurry. This is​ particularly important as​ you develop your writing skills early on.

Proofread again to​ spot typographical and formatting errors. Read the​ text out loud to​ make sure it​ sounds right.
Use your own words

Please do not get in​ the​ habit of​ reading printed text and online information and just doing a​ "copy and paste" into your news release.

The highest form of​ successful writing is​ learning from what you've read,​ summarising it​ in​ your own words and reporting what you've learned. Practice. it​ is​ very important that you develop your own style of​ writing. When you use someone else's words,​ it​ sounds like someone else wrote it.

Put the​ full name and phone number (including out of​ hours mobile) in​ the​ contact details at​ the​ end of​ the​ news release. Additional factual information can be provided in​ a​ Note to​ Editors after the​ contact details.

This might include biographical facts and a​ short chronology of​ relevant events. For ideas about news releases,​ have a​ look at​ examples of​ them on​ the​ websites of​ local councils and the​ government news network (www.gnn.gov.uk)

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