Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Five Grammar Mistakes to Stop Making Now

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Five Grammar Mistakes BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas Common Grammar Mistakes Media Relations Public Relations Media Monitoring

flickr user Nic McPhee, CC BY license

I may have mentioned that my nickname around here (and on Twitter) is “red pen.” There’s a reason for that – I like grammar and editing. In the interest of helping out public relations professionals in their constant quest to improve their writing skills, today I bring to you five grammar mistakes I see and hear very commonly.

As a pro, you’ve probably got a lot of the basics nailed, but with something as broad as language, there’s always more to learn, even for red penners like me. Whether you’re crafting marketing materials, updating your personal Twitter feed, or posting to company social media, here are the mistakes to stop making as of now.


I can’t tell you how often I see and hear this one. “Wary” means to be watchful or cautious; “weary” is to be tired or exhausted. So don’t say that we should approach a problem or danger wearily – approach it warily. And don’t grow wary of a bad attitude, grow weary of it.


Just because they’re practically homophones doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable. “He eluded to the possibilities” makes no sense because “elude” means to evade or avoid. When someone one alludes to something, they’re making an indirect reference to that something. So, “He alluded to current events” means he indirectly referred to a current event, but “He eluded speaking about current events” means he avoided and did not talk about current events.


This one particularly kills me, especially as a crossword fanatic (“eke” is a common answer to clues). “To eke” means to scrape by or manage with difficulty. “Eek” isn’t even a verb; it’s a sound you might make when you see a mouse or errant insect. So while one can “eke out a living,” one cannot “eek out a living.”

Punctuation and quotation marks

Periods, commas, semicolons, colons, and dashes should always go inside quotation marks. End of story (unless you are in Great Britain). Exclamation marks and question marks are a bit more nuanced. Here’s what Grammar Girl has to say:

“If the whole sentence, including the quotation, is a question or an exclamation, then the question mark or exclamation point goes outside the closing quotation mark; but if only the part inside the quotation marks is a question or exclamation, then the question mark or exclamation point goes inside the closing quotation mark.”

Here are some clarifying examples:

Did she say whether she had read “A Modest Proposal”?

I love the song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”

Would of/would have/had

This is a gnarly little trifecta of errors in the conditional perfect, the “I wish I would of taken school seriously” train of thought.

The first problem is that it’s never “would of.” This common error probably came about because it sounds similar to “would’ve,” the contraction for “would have,” which is the correct form of the conditional perfect.

But in these instances, the conditional perfect is not the correct tense. “I wish I would have taken the train this morning,” is incorrect; the past perfect is correct. One should say, “I wish I had taken the train this morning.” Let’s look at some more examples:

Incorrect: I wish I would have known that movie had a sad ending.

Correct: I wish I had known that movie had a sad ending.

It’s correct to use the conditional perfect (“would have”) in “then” clauses, not in “if” clauses:

Incorrect: If I would have been famous, we could have been rich.

Correct: If I had been famous, we could have been rich.

What are the most common grammar mistakes you make or see others making?

3 Ways Your Brain’s Negativity Bias Affects How You Communicate

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

3 Ways Your Brain’s Negativity Bias Affects Your Professional Life Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas Public Relations PR Media Monitoring Press Clipping News ClippingBrains can do a lot of things computers can’t, but they still do some weird things that work against us. Take the negativity bias: our brains are built to react more strongly to negative perceptions. This means we’re more influenced by comments, experiences, or interactions we (correctly or incorrectly) perceive as negative which can adversely affect our performance.

We can work around the negativity bias, but we have to be aware of it first. Here are three ways it affects your work, and ways to mitigate that effect.

Marketing or PR campaigns

Next time you’re wording a media response, crafting a tweet, or tweaking your messaging, consider whether your audience could perceive what you say as negative. When you’re crafting words for public consumption, keep positive words top of mind and use them as much as possible, and avoid negative words.

Sit down and consider what you wrote from another angle. Try reading it out loud to see if it sounds different, and have someone else – even if they’re not familiar with your project – read it and give you their feedback. Getting a range of opinions and thinking about what you write from multiple angles could help mitigate the negativity bias.


When we’re reading emails from someone, our brains interpret messages that are neutral as negative, and messages that are positive as neutral. Part of the reason email is especially vulnerable is that there is no way to discern body language or tone of voice through a computer screen.

When you’re writing emails you want to make sure you don’t sound negative, a lot of times brevity is not your friend. Example:

That’s not what we discussed. Let’s talk.

It’s concise, but it also sounds terse and stands a good chance of putting off your recipient. Revamp:

I don’t have that listed as something we talked about. Let’s arrange a quick follow-up to make sure we’re on the same page

That sounds a lot more positive. It took you longer to type, but softening your language will ease your recipients’ negativity bias, thereby making your communications more effective.

If you’re on the receiving end of what reads like a terse or harsh email, before you get put off, remember the negativity bias: what you read as negative the sender may have meant as neutral. Consider also who it’s coming from; if it’s someone with whom you regularly interact, imagine the email in their voice and see if the negativity still holds.

Professional life

The negativity bias is everywhere, from comments your boss makes about your performance to offhand remarks from colleagues. We can even interpret negativity in compliments, such as “That’s the most compelling pitch I’ve heard from you.” Automatically we think: Well, what was so bad about all my other pitches? even though that (probably) wasn’t the intent of the compliment.

In your everyday work life, it can be hard not to let the negativity bias get you down and influence your performance. Try to move your attention to put you back in a positive frame of mind; a great exercise is to write down the things you’re grateful for in that moment.

And don’t forget to remind yourself of the negativity bias; once you know it’s there, it’s a lot easier to overcome.

5 Tips for Concise PR Writing

Monday, May 19th, 2014
flickr user Nic McPhee under CC BY license

flickr user Nic McPhee under CC BY license

Perhaps the only thing nearly as frustrating as staring at a blank screen when a press release is due is staring at a press release that’s too long by half with nothing that can be cut. Well guess what: there’s always something that can be cut, and doing so will often improve the quality of your work. Brevity is the soul of wit, after all.

So break out your red pen; it’s time to get concise.

Cut the adverbs

Oh, those qualifiers that end in –ly, they add so much flavor to a dry press release, no?

No. Reduce unnecessary words by taking the strikethrough to adverbs in sentences like “Acme is extremely passionate about … ” or “Our incredibly talented team … ”  It’s enough to say you’re passionate or talented without embellishing.  You don’t have to slash and burn every –ly word in sight, but omitting the bulk of them strengthens the few that remain.

Bonus: Cut out more –ly filler like actually, basically, essentially, very and literally.

Avoid redundancies

Redundancies sneak in when we’re not paying attention: “It’s a unique product we’ve never seen before,” “We must ask ourselves the question … “ and “Our opinion still remains …”  If something is unique, it hasn’t been seen before; if it’s asked, it’s a question; something that remains is still there.

Instead, try: “It’s unique,” “We must ask ourselves,” and “Our opinion remains.” Avoiding redundancies requires some vigilance, so it’s worth consulting lists of common redundancies occasionally to remember what to look for.

Omit meaningless phrases

“Due to the fact that for the most part press releases are, for all intents and purposes, official statements for the purpose of providing information, they are still very much important.”

Let’s look at that sentence again with the meaningless phrases removed:

Due to the fact that for the most part press releases are, for all intents and purposes, official statements for the purpose of providing information, they are still very much important.” Easily rephrased into “Press releases are official statements that provide information, and are still important.”

Meaningless phrases seem to slip right in, sometimes because we think they beef things up or lend authority, but this isn’t the case. Watch your word count dwindle when you excise phrases like these.

Get rid of “there”

“There” is not a meaningful word unless you’re pointing to a specific place. Sentences like “There are thousands of satisfied Acme customers” should read “Acme has thousands of satisfied customers” or “Thousands of Acme customers are satisfied.” There are, there is, and there were are all easy fixes for more concise copy.

Fewer prepositions

Fewer prepositions= fewer phrases = more straightforward sentences. “The idea behind our product is engagement with the community across multiple platforms” has three conjunctions: behind, with, and across. You can easily revise to: “Our product’s purpose is multi-platform community engagement.”

Do you have any tips for staying concise, or pet peeves that get you every time?