Category Archives: Writing Workshop

How to Keep Readers Interested

How many times have you started reading something and then, before you were even finished with the first paragraph, became disinterested and stopped? I will throw my guilty hand in the air, and I know I’m not the only one. Something made us interested enough to look at it in the first place, so why were we turned off by the content as soon as we started reading, and how do we stop ourselves from writing articles that do the same?

    • Make sure you are interested in your subject. If you don’t care about the subject you are writing about, it will show. There needs to be some passion or spark behind the words on the page or a reader will be just as bored reading it as you were when you wrote it.
    • Approach the topic from a different perspective. Think outside the box and come up with something that doesn’t sound like every other article covering the same topic. People will always be more interested in reading something from a perspective they have never heard before, even if the topic is being written about often.
    • Make it relevant. If no one can relate to your topic, chances are that they won’t continue reading. To keep the reader engaged, it should feel like you are talking directly to them.
    • Think of your audience. What group of people you are trying to reach? When you try to make an audience too diverse, you lose relevance and the ability to relate to what you are trying to say. Narrow your audience and you are more likely to have a better turn out.
    • Make them laugh. Humor is always risky however, when used correctly it can make all the difference. People like to read something that makes them smile and if you are able to manage that, your reader should definitely make it to the end of your piece.
    • Keep it short and sweet. Try not to ramble. Have you ever closed out of an article because it looked like a long read? People are increasingly multi-tasking, and they typically only browse articles online. The fewer words it takes you to prove your point, the better.
    • Stay on task. Don’t write about several different topics all at once. If you get to the end of what you were writing and you see that the end result has nothing to do with the title of the article, go back and see where you started to stray. If you can pinpoint the moment you started to get off topic, it will be easier to go through and take out the unnecessary information.

Any additional ideas on how to keep your readers interested? Tell us in the comments below!

Celebrate America—And Be Grammatically Correct

We’re almost two weeks into the summer season, and that means the Fourth of July festivities are kicking off! We shared some spring- and summer-related grammar tips in an earlier post, so this time, we’re focusing on tips to help you celebrate America (while being grammatically correct):

  • The holiday can be written as Independence Day, Fourth of July, July 4 or July Fourth. “July 4th” and “4th of July” are not correct. “July 4” is OK if you’re using it as the date and not the holiday, for example: Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
  • Some people choose to celebrate the holiday with firecrackers and fireworks—both one word—while others like to make s’mores over the firewood (one word).
  • The Fourth of July occurs in the summertime, not summer time.
  • The dog days (two words, not capitalized) of summer—the most sultry days of the season—are July 3 to Aug. 11.
  • If you’re heading to the beach, you might be planning to lie—not lay—on the sand to sunbathe (one word).

Do you have any other tips to share with us? Tell us in the comments!

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5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

It’s no secret that public relations, marketing, advertising and other communications professionals write a lot. Here at Yearick-Millea, we work on a variety of writing assignments for clients, whether it’s in the form of press releases, social media posts, proposals, website content, blogs or slogans.

However, a writing assignment for a client could turn into a stressful experience if writer’s block hits. Instead of panicking, follow these five tips to help your ideas flow:

  1. Write down ideas—Carry a small notepad and pen with you so you can jot down notes and ideas as they come to you throughout the day, and be as detailed as possible. If you don’t want to carry anything extra, type ideas into your phone. When you’re ready to start writing, you can reference them. You might think an idea is too good to forget, but don’t risk it.
  1. Step away or sleep on it—If you don’t have an immediate deadline for the assignment, set it aside for a little bit. Eat your lunch or take a short walk break to clear your mind, or go to bed and start fresh in the morning (don’t forget to take note of ideas you might have during this time). The concept of stepping away should not be used as an excuse to procrastinate, though. Remember you’re taking a small break to help propel you in the writing process rather than simply trying to put it off until later.
  1. Organize your thoughts/ideas—Make an outline of the thoughts and ideas you’ve managed to compile. You might find that some are more cohesive while others don’t seem to fit. Focus on those that mesh well and start to build on them. However, you shouldn’t immediately discard the ideas that aren’t blending well. They might come in handy later on in the planning process when you have a better grasp on what you’re going to write about, or they might even be something you can work off of for a future project/assignment.
  1. Write—It might seem silly to tell someone to write when they’re having trouble writing, but this step can help get you into the practice of it. Start by writing freely about whatever comes to mind. Because these words aren’t intended for a client or publication, don’t worry about a specific topic or your grammar. You can also find other writing exercises online that can help get you in a creative mindset.
  1. Unplug—When you start writing, put your phone away, shut off email notifications and close all other tabs on your computer. A good writing streak could easily be broken by a minor distraction, which could bring back that writer’s block. WordPress and other applications have “distraction-free” features that block everything but your written words from the computer screen. Take advantage of similar functions if you find that you have a hard time focusing.

 What do you do when you have writer’s block? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

5 Grammar Tips to Keep in Mind This Holiday Season

We’re almost through the first week of December, which means holiday-related content is being published everywhere! Whether you’re writing a holiday-themed press release, article, blog post, brochure or just signing your annual cards, here are a couple of tips to help you with your holiday content:

  1. Capitalize words like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, Yule, Yuletide, North Pole, Jesus, Jesus Christ and Feliz Navidad. Because a Grinch derives from the proper name of Dr. Seuss’ famous grumpy character, it also is capitalized. Though Champagne often is widely used as a generic term to describe what one drinks during a holiday celebration, the term actually refers to a specific type of sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and fermented in the bottle to create carbonation. Because of this, Champagne should be capitalized and other sparkling wines should simply be referred to as sparkling wine.
  1. The jolly guy who brings toys to children around the world is Santa Claus, not Clause, unless you’re referring to the movie, “The Santa Clause.” While we’re on the topic of movies, holiday movie and song titles should be placed inside quotes—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Silent Night,” “White Christmas” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
  1. The eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights is spelled Hanukkah, according to AP Style. Another popular, traditional way to spell it is Chanukah.
  1. Only the first word in Nativity scene is capitalized. Unless they’re included in titles or headlines, other words/phrases that should not be capitalized include: noel, gifts, poinsettia, menorah, dreidel, mistletoe, happy holidays, season’s greetings and hallelujah.
  1. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have apostrophes. This season, the new year refers to only 2015—Dec. 31, 2014, is the eve of the upcoming new year, and Jan. 1, 2015, refers to the first day of the single year that has just begun. You can always write, “Happy New Year,” without the apostrophe. However, if you’re referring to the new year in general, don’t capitalize it: “We will discuss marketing strategies for the new year.”

Feel free to regift (one word) these pieces of advice, and share your own with us! You can also check out the AP Style’s 2014 Holiday Style Guide.

Formatting the Press Release: Titles

When you send a press release or media alert, the ultimate goal is for publications to pick up the information and distribute it to their audiences. The information is critical to the message you want to convey, and so is its presentation.  In this series, we discuss tips to help you appropriately format press releases for publication. Your media contacts will appreciate it!

Titles come in all different forms—headlines, job titles, group names—so it can be confusing to get them all straight. Here are some quick rules to remember when you’re writing titles in a press release:

Capitalization 

All principal words in a title—whether it be for a book, article, movie, website, seminar name, etc.—should be capitalized. Prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters also are capitalized. For example: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Remember that certain titles should be placed within quotation marks, while others should be italicized. 

Headlines

Capitalize only the first word, proper nouns and proper abbreviations. Bold headlines in press releases (don’t underline or italicize them). For example: New PRSA stylebook offers writing tips

Job Titles

There are different rules regarding the capitalization of job titles depending on when they are mentioned.

  • Capitalize a title before a name if there is no comma in between: Director of City Planning Beth Vaughn
  • Lowercase if there is a comma in between the name and title: New York’s director of city planning, Beth Vaughn
  • Lowercase after a name: Beth Vaughn, director of city planning, New York
  • Job titles that include functions should be lowercase unless the function is a branded product: Beth Vaughn, director, city planning, New York
  • Lowercase if it’s not paired with a name: New York’s director of city planning will review the plans.

For more information, check out the Public Relations Society of America’s style guide at www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/GuidelinesLogos/PRSAStyleGuide.pdf or the Associated Press Stylebook’s website at www.apstylebook.com. Keep reading our blog for more grammar and writing tips!

Tips to Help You Proofread Your Work

Proofreading, the action of editing your writing carefully to find any grammatical or spelling errors, is an important step for everyone to take—especially in public relations and writing.

As public relations and marketing professionals, we are tasked with using our knowledge about words and grammar to ensure that client press releases, brochures, newsletters, social media posts, website text and other content are free of errors and typos.

The way we create content has evolved throughout the years, and it’s made society hungry for information right away. Content is distributed much quicker these days via blogs, social media and websites. That increases the risk of simple, yet crucial mistakes that could impact your credibility as a business or professional. Just last month, the Texas Longhorns college football team released a media guide with a URL typo — Texas was misspelled— at the bottom of every page. Similarly, the Colorado Rockies baseball team misspelled the last name of one of its players on 15,000 promotional shirts, resulting in an apology on social media and the need to manufacture additional shirts for replacement.

Here are some tips to help you effectively proof your writing:

  1. Concentrate—The industry is quick-paced, and if you’re working on multiple projects at one time, chances are you’re going to lose focus and you won’t catch all of the mistakes in the copy you are editing. Read all of the content (including headlines, standard boiler plates, etc.) slowly and pay attention to grammar.
  2. Step away for a while—After spending hours writing content, you’re so familiar with it that even if there is a mistake, you won’t notice it because your mind tends to fill in the blanks. If you’re writing in the evening, go to bed and give the copy a fresh look in the morning. You’re more likely to find an error once you’ve had a chance to think about something else.
  3. Have someone else read it—If you’re on a tight deadline and don’t have time for a breather, ask a co-worker to proofread your content. Even if you do have time to go over your writing a few times, consider asking someone else to look it over. A fresh set of eyes might catch something you missed.
  4. Print it out—Nothing beats the classic “red pen” method. Printing out a hard copy of your work allows you to review it in a different format. Read it carefully and mark any mistakes in red or brightly-colored ink so that you don’t miss any corrections when you’re fixing them on the digital copy.

Do you have any proofreading tips? Share them with us in the comments!

Is It Who or Whom?

While thinking of a topic to blog about, I was looking at headlines on a popular news website when I saw, “Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?” I smiled, but then I clicked the link and read, “Who might Phil Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?” My smile turned upside down.

Who vs Whom

While “who” and “whom” are both pronouns, many people do not use them correctly. The rule of thumb is to use “who” when referring to the subject of a clause—the person doing something—and “whom” when referring to the object—the person having something done to them.

There’s a really simple trick to help you figure out which pronoun to use. If the question can be answered with “he” (she, they, or we), then use “who,” but if it’s answered with “him” (her, them, or us), then use “whom.” The “m” in “him” and “whom” is the trick. Simple.

Who/Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?

Jackson is the subject and the soon-to-be coach is the object. Jackson will hire “him,” so “whom” is correct.

Who/Whom might Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?

Here, the new coach is still the object. Jackson might want “him,” so “whom” should have been used.

Who/Whom will start in goal for the Penguins in game four?

Here, the goalie is the subject. “He” will start in goal, so “who” is correct.

Because many of us do not think fast enough on our feet, the distinction between “who” and “whom” is generally less important in speech than it is in writing. Unfortunately, since people aren’t taking the time to learn the difference between the two pronouns, the use of “whom” may disappear altogether.

Is it just I?

Last week, my colleague, Heidi Dezayas, a former newspaper reporter, wrote despairingly of the Associated Press’ decision to sanction the use of “over” and “more than” interchangeably when writing about numerical values.

Heidi’s right, but her blog reminded me of a piece I saw on TV a few weeks ago about another grammar gremlin that frequently annoys me. Apparently, it annoys Bill Flanagan, a regular contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, too.

In the short video linked below, Mr. Flanagan laments the growing inability of English speakers to use “me” and “I,” properly; then offers some easy instruction to help us keep them straight. Here’s his take:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bill-flanagan-of-the-grammar-police-on-i-and-me/

What do you think?  Is it just “I,” or does it bother you, too.  Are there other common grammar bugaboos that annoy you? If you want to get them off your chest, share them with us here.

More Than Words?

A few weeks ago, Associated Press (AP) Stylebook editors announced that “over” and “more than” could both be used when writing about numerical values. Previously, the rule stated that “more than” was used to refer to numerical values and “over” was used to talk about the physical, spatial relationship of two objects.

For example: I ran more than five miles this morning, but I had to keep stepping over patches of ice.

On the surface, the change doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but copy editors everywhere were shocked. Because of my background as a news reporter and editor, I wasn’t thrilled with the announcement. When I was in school earning my journalism degree, the rule of “more than” versus “over” was drilled into my mind.

The words generally are used interchangeably by anyone who doesn’t work in a newsroom, as long as it sounds right in a particular sentence. AP editors stated they decided to make the change because using “over” has become common usage. Some copy editors on Twitter discussed spending a lot of time making the correction when they were editing articles. I’m 100 percent sure that copy editors spend a boatload of time correcting the common, yet incorrect, interchangeable uses of “affect” and effect,” “between” and “among,” and “which,” “that,” and “who.” That being the case, would it grammatically make sense for the AP to be more lenient with those word uses? I don’t think so. Rules should change for grammatical progress, not for simplicity’s sake.

AP Stylebook editors stated that those who prefer using “more than” aren’t required to start using “over.” I can say with absolute certainty I won’t be making the switch, but that’s my own personal preference. What about you?

3 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

From proposals and backgrounders to media pitches and news releases, there are many different writing styles and techniques in the world of public relations. Here at Yearick-Millea, we work on multiple writing assignments for a variety of clients and their unique businesses. In our industry, it’s important to strengthen writing skills to consistently improve our work.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / bradcalkins

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / bradcalkins

Whether writing is a part of your daily job or you enjoy writing for fun, keep these three things in mind to develop your writing skills:

1. Read. It’s a simple start. Reading books (fiction or non-fiction), magazines, blogs and newspapers will expand your everyday knowledge and expose you to a lot of different writing styles. It’s also a natural way to acquire and sharpen your own writing skills. This should boost your creativity as well!

2. Proofread and edit. A good exercise is to write for a short designated amount of time — say 15 minutes — and then come back to the piece you are writing later in the day. In the meantime, perform more research so that your writing is well-rounded; create an outline or structure so that your writing is focused and concise; and read what you have aloud. Reading aloud is the best way to ensure that your writing flows naturally and it will allow you to recognize any areas in need of grammar edits.

3. Share your work. Feedback is essential, no matter the type of writing involved. For example, when blogging, you may want to elicit feedback on your topics. When writing a feature story, someone else may be able to give you a fresh angle to include with the piece. By allowing others to review your writing, you will have a better perspective on your own work.

Improving your writing skills is much like improving any other life skill. The more time you dedicate to it, the simpler it will seem.