Jan 20, 2022

This is an updated version of a post originally published on Beyond Bylines.

As we begin a new year, many of us are making resolutions to make our lives a little better in 2022. Many resolutions revolve around the addition of something (more exercise, more self care, more travel), but the removal of something from our routines can be just as impactful.

It’s easy to get comfortable when putting together pitches or press releases, but doing so makes it easy to overlook several bad writing habits.

Here are a few practices that can prevent PR and comms pros from communicating their messages effectively, along with advice for turning it around.

1. Disorganization

Getting organized is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions – and for good reason: Chaos regularly leads to more chaos. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out, getting organized can have benefits for your day-to-day workflow and overall mental health.

How to fix it:

  • Make a plan. Download our 2022 Content Calendar to plan ahead for key dates and events.
  • Write an outline. Need to put together a press release but not sure where to start? Create an outline of what information you’ll need to include first. (These press release templates are a good place start, or use this infographic – Anatomy of a (Nearly) Perfect Press Release – as a guide.) Having an outline will help you organize your thoughts and set the foundation for more fleshed-out writing.
  • Find the perfect app or tool. In addition to these organization tools, there are many other sites and apps out there that we think can help you with every stage of your writing process. These are some of our favorites for streamlining your day-to-day routine.
  • Make a checklist. I am a checklist person. I make myself a to-do list each morning with tasks I need to get through that day. It helps me prioritize and ensures I don’t forget anything major. For communicators, using a checklist for your press releases  can be a helpful way to make sure you take care of all the major elements before you hit “send.”

2. Too much jargon

Clear and concise writing is key for PR pros for two very big reasons. First, journalists are inundated with press releases (some get up to 100 or more a week, according to the 2021 State of the Media Report ). The easier your writing is to read (and the faster you can get to your point), the more likely journalists are to pay attention to it. Second – and perhaps even more importantly – if your writing sounds like a marketing brochure, not only are journalists likely to ignore it, 1 in 2 are likely to block your emails entirely.    

Using more natural language can also have SEO benefits; users are more likely to use natural language in their search terms – so write for them and boost the chances that your content will come up in search results.

How to fix it:

  • Know the best practices. Read our post with tips for avoiding too much jargon in your writing.
  • Get the right tools. Utilize tools like Grammarly and Hemingway to get an idea of where you may need to simplify your writing.
  • Read your draft out loud. Reading your own writing aloud is a great way to spot mistakes, confusing phrases, too-long sentences and more. If it doesn’t sound natural out loud it’s also not going to read clearly.

3. Too much passive voice

Passive voice is when a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action. For example, editors despise passive voice is active and passive voice is despised by editors is passive. Journalists and editors tend to prefer active voice because it’s clearer and more direct.

You might be tempted to use passive voice because it sounds fancy, but like using too much jargon, using too much passive voice can turn away journalists who might have considered covering your story. I’m not recommending you cut out 100% of the passive voice in your writing — sometimes it just works — but you should learn how to identify it and use it sparingly.

How to fix it:

  • Learn more about it. Our post from 2020 covers how you can use — and abuse — passive voice in your writing.
  • Get help from tools. WordPress plugins like Yoast and extensions like Grammarly and Outwrite can help you identify instances of passive voice and offer suggestions for how to rework them.

4. Not thinking about SEO

Your writing might be great, but if you’re skipping over SEO basics, you’re missing an opportunity to get even more eyes on your brand story. If search engines don’t have a clear idea of what your story is about, the reason you’re telling it and who your target audience is, chances are low that your news will surface in search results.

How to fix it:

  • Start at the beginning. If you’re unfamiliar with SEO best practices and how they should factor into your communications, download our Beginner’s Guide to PR & SEO.
  • Write an optimized headline. Your headline is the first (and sometimes only) thing a reader sees. Follow these headline writing tips the next time you’re writing a press release.
  • Understand formatting best practices. The structure of your press release plays a role in holding a reader’s attention. Download our infographic with tips for creating a (nearly perfect) press release that gets your message across.
  • Keep voice search in mind. Content creators can no longer ignore the importance of voice search in SEO and organic search. We have a few strategies to help you optimize your digital content to compete in search and increase organic traffic.
  • Get some backup. It can be difficult to keep track of all the changes in SEO and Google algorithms. Tools like Yoast can help flag SEO issues with your pages and provide suggestions on how to get them more in line. It’s also helpful to subscribe to an SEO newsletter like Search Engine Roundtable so you can stay caught up on the latest industry news and best practices.

5. The quick edit

We’re all pressed for time, short-staffed, or both. And maybe you’ve reread your news release so many times that you’re confident you’ve caught all the mistakes. But taking enough time to thoroughly proof your pitch or press release is critical. Typos of any kind can damage your credibility in the eyes of stakeholders.

How to fix it:

  • Learn how to self-edit. Read these tips for editing your own work so you can feel more confident about your final draft.
  • Read your pitch or press release out loud. Yes, reading out loud is a fix for another bad habit. Trust me: This practice will make all the difference. It will help you catch awkward wording, run-on sentences, repetitiveness and more.

6. Not reading enough

You need to see what else is out there to inspire and improve your press release writing. Make it a mission to find out what journalists in your industry are writing about and ask yourself questions to determine the types of content they’re looking for. What stories are they covering? What tone do they use? Do they always include multimedia?

Get bonus points for branching out to see how writers for other beats are creating content to connect with their readers. You might find a unique story angle to pitch to influencers and journalists.

How to fix it:

  • Get all the newsletters. Sign up for industry newsletters to get a feel for what reporters are covering and what stories are trending. PR Week, for one, has a variety of daily and weekly newsletters providing industry news, trending stories and best practices for PR pros to follow.
  • Know the best sites. Whether you work in tech, food, or finance, you can find trusted news sites in your industry that are full of impressive writing. Check out our roundups of top news sites, start reading and find the appropriate sites and writers to pitch.
  • Subscribe to niche blogs. Smaller publications that focus on a more specific topic can be great places to find unique writing with a personal touch. The readers are passionate and so are the writers. Our regular Blog Profiles recognize standout blogs covering a wide variety of topics, from coffee to horror movies, electric vehicles and pet grooming. Find out about trending topics while also adding relevant bloggers to your list of media contacts.
  • Listen to podcasts. OK, fine, this isn’t reading, but adding podcasts to the content you consume can help you develop an ear for natural language that will benefit your writing. Remember, if your writing doesn’t sound natural, you might be in trouble. And there’s a podcast for everything, whether you want to listen to episodes covering your industry or try something a bit more outside your coverage area. Unsure of where to start? Here are a few PR podcasts we love.

Looking for more resources to help you create more effective press releases? Check out the Ultimate Toolkit for Getting Your Press Release Noticed.