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Writing Press Releases - Getting it right

Aug 17, 2007
A good news release consists of a short introduction. Journalists call this an 'intro'. This should total perhaps no more than 25 words. Bear in mind that your text needs to answer the 'six salient questions': Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Your intro will cover most but not necessarily all of them. Keep your article short and simple (Kiss). Remember, news is something new and unusual (see Galtung and Ruge, 'News Values' in Wikipedia).

The second sentence or 'lock-in' builds on the news in the intro. By paragraph three you will probably use the best or 'killer' quote from the main source for your story. Always attribute a quote to somebody.

1. A news item should be in a readable font size, usually 12 point Arial or Times Roman and double-spaced.

2. The article should be given a unique keyword to identify it. This is called a 'catchline'. For example, an article about a poisonous snake sent, undetected in the post, might be catchlined "snake" and each page of the news release then numbered Snake...1, Snake...2 etc. This information is placed in the top right-hand corner of every page.

Do not use: 1. A subject's name, i.e. Blair, because, if they are famous, there could be lots of stories about them in one day, or the name could be confused for that of a fellow journalist. Or, a word so general, like health, that there might be many stories on the subject similarly catchlined. A good catchline will ensure that every page of your news release can be easily identified in a busy media office.

3. The by-line, the journalist's first name and surname, should appear at the top left of the page.

4. Between the byline and catchline should be placed the date on which the article was written. This information helps the editor to judge whether an update will be necessary, especially if the article is a time-sensitive news story.

5. Your text should have a simple headine of perhaps no more than three words above the intro, telling the reader what the article is about. Try not to attempt a catchy tabloid-style headline. Sub-editors jealously guard their job as the headline writer.

6. At the bottom of each page, to tell the reader that there is more copy to come, put MORE FOLLOWS, More or just MF (centred).

7. To tell the editor that the article is complete put the word End or ENDS on the last page.

8. Don't forget to include your full contact details on the first or last page.

Importance of Presentation
Proofread, proofread and proofread. Check the spelling; don't rely solely on spell check. There are some words that are spelled correctly that are not the word you meant to put in the sentence.

Check the grammar. Again, the word processor's grammar checker is good to a point, Use the word processing software as your helper but remember that you are the final judge of accuracy. For each news release draft, no matter how small, create a word processing document, name and save it on a disk, memory stick or on the hard drive so you can easily get back to it later. Keep a printed 'hard copy' in a safe place.

Writing style and completeness
You are expected to write clearly and concisely - using complete sentences that flow logically from thought to thought.

Assume that your reader has not read the materials on which you are reporting. Explain the issue to your reader as if she or he knows absolutely nothing about the subject. Don't assume that your reader has an understanding of jargon or terminology or that he or she knows about the products, services or personnel of the organisation for which you work.

Since you are not necessarily an expert on the subject about which you are writing, it is essential that you source the information provided. Even if you are just using facts from a document or webs site, cite the paper, book or internet source. This will give your writing credibility and authority. If you don't source, it will look like you're trying to claim the information as your own creation. You don't want to be accused of plagiarism.

Be objective.
Try not to use "the first person" (I or we). Carefully put together an outline before you begin writing.

Bullets and short paragraphs
Break the material into short paragraphs; using bullet points if necessary. Even with bullet points, use complete sentences and be meticulous with grammar and punctuation. Don't rely on the computer to correct all your errors. If you use bullet statements, be consistent.

In many cases, the best use of bullet points is to make each statement a complete sentence with a capital letter at the beginning and a full stop at the end.

In some cases, however, you may want to use a "lead-in" sentence opener. Make each bullet statement complete the sentence from the lead-in opener. And be consistent.

When using bullet statements, it is usually best to single space within the bulleted statements and double space before and after the statements begin.

Use Positive Tone
Write in a positive and lay-person's style. Your objective should be not to unnecessarily offend anyone who might potentially read what you have written on behalf of your organisation. While every issue you write about won't necessarily be completely upbeat and enthusiastic, each can achieve a proactive note.

Be conversational
Make your writing sound conversational. Take care to avoid sounding stuffy, stiff, or uncomfortable. Don't use slang or inappropriate language. Connect with the reader in the same conversational style that you would if you were in the same room with him or her having a conversation. So, don't use jargon.

Take time
To achieve the best, most positive tone for your news release; you must take your time when writing. You can't be in a big hurry. This is particularly important as you develop your writing skills early on.

Proofread again to spot typographical and formatting errors. Read the text out loud to make sure it sounds right.
Use your own words

Please do not get in the habit of reading printed text and online information and just doing a "copy and paste" into your news release.

The highest form of successful writing is learning from what you've read, summarising it in your own words and reporting what you've learned. Practice. It is very important that you develop your own style of writing. When you use someone else's words, it sounds like someone else wrote it.

Put the full name and phone number (including out of hours mobile) in the contact details at the end of the news release. Additional factual information can be provided in a Note to Editors after the contact details.

This might include biographical facts and a short chronology of relevant events. For ideas about news releases, have a look at examples of them on the websites of local councils and the government news network (www.gnn.gov.uk)
About the Author
Marc Wadsworth, freelance journalist from the UK's citizen journalism website. uncovering news about almost forgotten subjects, and keep tabs on the news that doesn't get reported from the angle you would like. http://www.the-latest.com
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