Public relations writing is rewarding on many levels. One of the biggest perks of a completed project is the satisfaction of a job well-done – happy client, happy writer.
There are, however, pitfalls in this business.
No matter how conscientious, talented, or experienced, writers can make mistakes. Sometimes we make incorrect assumptions. Sometimes we simply get in a hurry. The upshot is the same: a glitch in full public view. Then nobody’s happy.
Here are some suggestions – gained from experience (i.e., more than one scowling editor) – for avoiding common writing mistakes.
- Use Spell Check – Always: Maybe you have a keen eye for copy editing. Great! Remember, though, that technology is our friend. A spelling error may seem like a minor mistake, but readers will question how much care you’ve taken with the bigger elements of an article if you didn’t get the small stuff right.
- Have Them Spell Their Names: This is easy enough to remember when interviewing the Engelbert Rosenblatts of the world. Still, remember to double-check spelling when interviewing a Mark (maybe Marc?), Steven (Stephen?) or Amy (Aimee?). Even if the last name is “Smith” or “Miller,” it’s never a bad idea to ask, “Common spelling?”
- Homophones: Sneaky Little Devils – Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings or meanings. Think two, too, and to. They’re, their, and there. Pole and poll and new and knew. Writers who’ve been in the business longer than, say, 15 minutes have all made a homophone goof. They cause readers to chuckle. We don’t like chuckles. Beware the homophone.
- Read, Re-Read, and Then Read It Again: Never be content with a first draft. Budget enough time in your work for the most important element of writing: review and revision. Take a short break after the first draft is finished and then read it again. Then read it a third time. You’ll probably find a better way to craft a compelling intro, or fine-tune a sentence or two – and maybe realize in paragraph 12 that it should be “bail,” not “bale.”
- Assume the Reader Just Landed from Mars: Though not a mistake per se, writers can take for granted that readers are familiar with a piece of information. Example: You know what “the U.S. 33 rerouting project” is. The reader may not, so take time to explain.
- Treat Quotes the Way You Would Something Fragile, Like Eggs or Babies: Nothing lands a writer in scalding water like misrepresenting what someone said in print. Recording an interview is recommended. If you’re unsure about what the person you’ve interviewed said or meant, call for clarification. Remember, what you write will be widely read. Don’t roll the dice.
Writers are human, and thus imperfect. Following these tips, though, will greatly improve your chances of producing a prime product. And avoiding angry emails from Engelbert because there are supposed to be two (not “too”) t’s in “Rosenblatt.”