Posts Tagged ‘writing’


Your Guide to Style Guide Apps

Thursday, October 9th, 2014
Guide to Style Guide Apps BurrellesLuce Ellis Friedman Public Relations PR Software Media Monitoring Press Clipping

screenshot of The Writer’s style guide app

One of the keys to consistent messaging and brand voice is having an in-house style guide, even if that guide is just plain ol’ AP style. The drawback to style guides is that, frankly, few but the wordsmiths reference them and they’re not always super accessible (who wants to carry around AP Stylebook or wade through docs to find the in-house guide?). Luckily, there are apps for that. In searching, we only found three of them, but they should be able to at least cover your basics. Here’s our mini-roundup of style guide apps.

AP Stylebook 2014

AP style is the stalwart style guide of newsrooms and the jumping-off point for most corporate style guides (at least in my experience). If you don’t want the bulk of the old-school paper version, AP has you covered with their iPhone app, though at $24.99, it costs more than the paper copy.

The app covers all your favorite spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style guidelines and includes audio along with phonetic pronunciation guides.

The Writer’s Style Guide app

This new (and free!) Android and iPhone app puts a lot of your most burning language and usage questions right next to your Facebook app. It’s got plenty of handy entries about hyphens, ampersands, and more, but be aware that it is its own style guide and is British (for example, they prefer the British “per cent” over the American “percent,” and both of them over “%”). But it’s got great information, a section where you can input your own writing for a readability analysis, and even a fun writing trivia quiz.

APA Reference Guide

APA, aka the American Psychological Association, has its own manual of style, and its own app ($2.99) of the manual. OK, this one might not be as immediately helpful to public relations pros, but the style guide is used by a number of scientific and academic journals and textbooks.

Do you have another writing or style guide app you use?

The Marketing Words That Work With Each Generation

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Words That Work For Each Generation BurrellesLuce Media Monitoring Public Relations PR Software Marketing Millennials Generation X Demographics can be a slippery slope – combining 15 to 20 years’ worth of people into one neat category? Not so accurate. As a result marketers and public relations pros alike would be remiss to think that one style of language will resonate across the generations.

There’s a lot more that goes into messaging – like targeting and segmentation – but putting that aside for this post, let’s take a look at words and language styles that generally speak to each generation.

Generation Z

Born between 1995 and 2010, the earliest part of Gen Z is coming into its own purchasing power. These tech savvy multitaskers also respond to discussion about sustainability and green products. They’re also constantly adopting the latest technology and want to know what’s next. Gen Z also cares about privacy (hence their tendency toward ephemeral social media like SnapChat), having control over their own preference and security settings, and tend to prefer visuals over text and short, bite-sized content.

Generation Y/ Millennials

Ah, the elusive target market unicorn. It seems everyone wants to market to Millennials but no one can agree on how. Well, that might be because marketers tend to lean too heavily on stereotypes instead of reality. Some Millennials are go-getters with steady jobs who carefully cultivate their own brand, while others are trapped by economic circumstance: overeducated, underemployed, and not as financially independent as they’d like to be.

A lot of millennials respond to off-beat, sarcastic humor, social awareness, and freedom. Being aware of so many social and civil rights issues, using inclusive language and imagery is especially important for resonance, and Millennials like to hear words like “global citizen,” “diversity,” and “community.”

Generation X

GenXers tend to be skeptical, especially of the government (which is what growing up during Watergate and the Vietnam War will do to you), so they’re not into hype. They’re also protective of their personal time, so Anne Loehr recommends using phrases like “It’s your time … “, and “You will benefit by …”   Be real, refrain from being overly optimistic, and since Gen X likes data, emphasize results.

Boomers

Since Baby Boomers control 70 percent of disposable income in the U.S., it’s pretty important to get your messaging right. Like all generations, they like humor, but prefer it to be clever and not mean-spirited.

Boomers like positivity and are enjoying their economic freedom, so provide options and create positive messaging instead of using the word “don’t.” Try to include messages that explain why you understand Boomers, how you make their life easier, or how you make their life better. Boomers tend to be idealistic and ambitious, so using legacy-oriented language, a bit of sentimentality, and lots of information will most help your message resonate.

Traditionalists

Traditionalists, born 1925ish to 1945, grew up in the Great Depression and WWII, so they’re frugal, traditional, and loyal – once you’ve earned that loyalty. Emphasizing a company’s legacy, stability, reputation, and trustworthiness are all important.

Words like “earned,” “honor,” “respect,” “reliable,” “value,” and “responsibility” all resonate with Traditionalists.

So when you’re writing your blogs, releases, or messages, be sure to keep in mind who your audience is and what language they respond to. And also remember that demographics are very general, so further targeting and segmenting will help you hone your message further and more carefully curate your words.

 

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.

Wary/weary

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.

Allude/elude

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.

Eek/eke

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?

How – and Why – to Fact Check Your PR Writing

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

How – and Why – to Fact Check Your PR Writing Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas Public Relations Media MonitoringAs the tragic story about MH17 broke last week, broadcast news networks (especially those of the 24-hour variety) scrambled for any scoop they could find. In the mad dash to find an eye witness, MSNBC got pranked pretty good when a caller who said he was a sergeant stationed at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine claimed he’d seen a missile hit the plane.

He then made a lewd reference and cursed at the host, Krystal Ball, who didn’t pick up on the rather obvious fact that he was pranking her. Both MSNBC and Krystal Ball come away looking rather poorly; someone manning the phones at MSNBC obviously didn’t bother to verify the man’s story – a simple Internet search would have shown that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is stationed in Kiev, which is more than 200 miles from Hrabrove, the site of the crash. At that distance, he wouldn’t have seen a thing.

Put that whole story next to the study released this week, which shows that journalists live tweeting during the 2012 election acted more as stenographers than reporters, as 60 percent of them just repeated what the candidates said, instead of fact-checking such claims for veracity.

As more and more marketing and public relations professionals are themselves becoming content creators in addition to their long-established role in working with journalists, it’s important to remember that with your organization’s reputation on the line, fact-checking is something we all need to do – not just journalists.

This doesn’t mean you need to employ a fact-checking machine a la The New Yorker, but it does mean that taking a little extra time to double-check that everything is in order can save you or your organization from making a silly but meaningful blunder.

Things that always need to be fact-checked:

  • Names, dates, locations, job titles
  • Quotes – always check that you have not only the words right, but the context as well
  • Numbers and statistics
  • Basic facts – because “facts” aren’t always completely factual

Google is a useful fact-checking tool, but if you’re Googling to find out whether a statistic is correct, make sure that the sites you’re using for verification are themselves reputable, and that you can find the same statistic in more than one place. While Wikipedia can also be useful, keep in mind that pages can be and are frequently changed and updated, so it should not be your independent source of information, especially if you’re doing an online-only fact check.

Email and the telephone are also great tools – if you need to make sure someone actually said what they said, just call. In journalism, fact-checkers won’t read a quote back to the speaker, but in public relations and marketing, there is no such restriction, so if there’s an error, it’s easy to re-work a quote.

Chances are that you won’t be live-tweeting election debates and that your account won’t be held up to as much public scrutiny as a journalist’s, but even if you’re at a conference and life-tweeting a presentation, keep in mind that if the speaker makes an assertion, you tweet it out, and that assertion later turns out to be incorrect, you could come away with a negative perception. You never know when what you tweet will come back to haunt you – just ask Justine Sacco.

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.

Emails

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.