A week or so ago I hosted a session on corporate writing for the Henshall Centre. It’s a good gig and the people were terrific. They suffered from one thing, though: they’d believed everything they learned at school.
A lot of people do. Why would these teachers lie to you? Answer: because they fell for the same old guff as well. So here is a handful of stuff you may have thought was correct but isn’t:
- -ise is English, -ize is American. So many people have been brought up to believe, but not if they check the Oxford English Dictionary in which -ize is perfectly acceptable. Your use of it should depend on your house style, not whether someone happens to think it’s correct or not (NB: if the person who signs the cheques says it’s wrong, it’s wrong – I’ve done bits of writing and had a client send them back for “American spelling” and just changed them. The customer is always right).
- I before E except after C (and when the sound’s ‘ee’). Draw yourself up to your full height (that’s hEIght) add some weight (wEIght, you get the idea) and accept that there are actually more “ei” words than “ie” words in the English language, or so I once read.
- You should never split an infinitive. Good grief, did they make Star Trek and its “to boldly go” for nothing?
- Every sentence must have a subject, verb and object. Right. But “right” made sense there so it’s a sentence. Most sentences should have a subject, verb and object, and preferably in that order. They don’t all have to.
- You should always write one, two, three, four…until you get to 10, which is written in figures. That is actually a little like point 1 – it’s all about house style, and as long as it’s consistent it should be fine.
Anyone else got any confessions of things they thought were rules which turn out not to be?
Do you want to sharpen your writing skills? My writing skills course at the Henshall Centre is on their site here, see you at one sometime?
I’m very excited today because my online media training course has just gone live. It’s a preview version at this stage. There’s a new page on this website devoted to it but just to summarise, it’s aimed at:
- People who want media training but may not have the budget to get me in person (but you can book personal interview practice over the phone);
- People who want to learn to prepare interviews but who learn better in bite-sized chunks
- Clients who can’t spare the time for a full-blown media training session or who can’t co-ordinate diaries internally for a group due to other people’s commitments
- People who want to learn about media tips and how to make the most of an interview and who prefer to learn on devices
It’s formatted as a “build your own journey” thing, so you decide where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. There are video clips, sample interviews and analysis, downloads, text-based hints and tips and the opportunity to schedule telephone interview practice if you would like it.
I did this in conjunction with the Henshall Centre, whose owner Liton Ali and I are pretty excited about this. There is a special price while we’re in preview mode – once we launch properly there’s likely to be a substantial increase.
We hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve done!
Journalists often get asked to write on behalf of corporate businesses – we produce blogs, we ghost write articles, all sorts of stuff like that. When it goes right, it’s great. When it goes wrong it’s ugly, and so often it’s because the brief has been unclear or misinterpreted. Here are five things that have gone wrong, either recently or longer ago.
- A company hired me after reading one of my books, praised it in an OTT manner and then complained when my work didn’t match their corporate style or appear to come from their agency. Guys, if you tell me you like my style, I’m probably going to deliver copy written in it – you gave me the impression that was what you wanted.
- A client of a client complained of a magazine article I’d ghost written that my use of chatty language was inappropriate for a professional document. Yes it was, but this was a magazine article, not a professional document at all.
- A client briefed me to write a book about a company. The lead contact had to leave the room during the initial briefing at which I poured out my ideas to the PR company, who appeared to accept all of my thoughts. After drafting, the lead contact complained that it was off the brief – in other words all of the amendments we’d made during the meeting had either not been communicated upwards or not been accepted. Nobody had told me.
- A PR client once called me in for a briefing with her client and I went away and wrote. The PR person then complained that I’d simply written from the brief and the interview. This was over a decade ago and I still have no idea what else I was expected to do.
- A client once had me writing and just after we’d agreed terms and signed a contract she slipped in a load of Excel spreadsheets that needed formatting – my copy would then be put into them. I’ve never claimed to be an Excel expert or artist, words are my game – she claimed (wrongly) that the Excel requirement had been in the initial scope, and that every journalist would be able to handle such an assignment. It is possible that every other journalist could, but I doubt it.
It’s about communication and ensuring everyone is agreed on style and required outputs early on. If you need help with your corporate writing I’m running a course in London with the Henshall Centre on sharpening your writing skills on 16 July; details are here.
People often ask me how “PR writing” differs from other writing. At base, it doesn’t; both disciplines aim to tell a story as effectively as possible. PR writers simply have to adjust their work to match a journalist’s writing process rather than their end product.
For both journalism and PR, understanding how the audience want to read and comprehend stories is the most important thing.
Any piece of writing should address the audience appropriately and in language they will find acceptable, whether it’s flat-pack furniture instructions or a press release.
- In PR writing your starting point is to help the journalist. OK, that’s not quite true; you need to work for your client, not us, but the best way to do this is to make our lives simpler.
- Journalists won’t care about your stories unless they are sure there readers will, so help them by focusing on the needs of their readers first.
Read the rest of this blog on the Henshall Centre’s website by clicking here