This first section outlines guidelines to follow for any kind of writing. However, they become particularly pertinent when writing for the media. They should be the starting point for creating any media materials.
Guidelines for Good Writing
BE CORRECT. Credibility is all you have. Can the reader trust your message?
BE CONSISTENT. Choose a verb tense and stay with it. Use simple past or present tense.
BE CLEAR. Use summaries or paraphrases if neede
BE CONCISE. Make your point fast. Rule of thumb: cut everything by one-third.
BE COHERENT. Use outlines. Use subheads as entry points for the reader, for different subject matter if you have a long release.
BE CREATIVE. Show how people deal with problems. Adapt approaches and ideas from what’s hot in the news today.
BE USEFUL. Will this be useful to the reader in his or her work and life? The most important question is “So what?”
BE USABLE. Is this information presented in a way that people can easily save and refer to?
BE ACTION-ORIENTED. Will this prompt the reader to take action?
Seven Steps to Effective Writing
Beyond the above guidelines, using these steps when writing for the media will help you create stories that will interest the media, giving you a better chance of seeing your communications reported in the news!
- Use the “WIFM” approach: “What’s in it for me, the reader?” Make it clear how the reader will benefit from this information.
- Write headlines that use “benefit words” such as “How…” and “Why….” Be creative, make allusions to current news, concepts. Clever or humorous headlines help grab readers’ attention.
- Use an introductory blurb. The blurb should tell the reader a benefit he will receive from this information.
- Strive to involve the reader. Make sure your leads use personal perspective: “How you can…., “How Jane Doe….”
- Aim for writing at the eighth grade reading level. Use short words; write brief sentences. Avoid jargon and overly long sentences.
- Use strong verbs and active voice. Use verbs that DO things TO things.
- Think visually. Use visuals such as charts, bullet points and lists to help readers scan information and save them time
The news release is the standard format to use when sending communications to the media.
The following provides general information about constructing and formatting a news release as well as some good pointers about content. Remember, we write news releases for distinct purposes: to inform, educate or entertain.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: (Make sure the person listed is readily available to answer media contacts)
Centered, Bold — use active verbs to tell what the release is about
Keep it short — two lines or less
The headline is one of the most important components of a news release, as it needs to grab the attention" of the editor. It should be in bold type and a font that is slightly larger than the body text.
Preferred type fonts are Times New Roman or Verdana. Keep the headline to 80-125 characters maximum. Capitalize every word with the exception of "a", "the" "an" or any word that is three characters or less. A subtitle in italics type may be used to provide additional information to support the importance of the news---this should also be short, to the point, and support the story that follows.
[CITY], [STATE],(Typed all capital letters) [Date] - Your first paragraph of the release should be written in a clear and concise manner. The opening sentence contains the most important information; keep it to 25 words or less. Never take for granted that the reader has read your headline. It needs to contain information that will "entice" the reader.
Remember, your story must be newsworthy and factual; don't make it a sales pitch or it will end up in the trash.
Indent each paragraph and use unjustified type. The document should be double-spaced. Content of a release should be inverted pyramid style —most important key facts first and broaden out from there. If you include a quote and want it used, make it interesting and put it higher in the story. Answer the questions "who", "what", "when", "where", "why" and "how".
Your text should include pertinent information about your product, service or event. If writing about a product, make sure to include details on when the product is available, where it can be purchased and the cost. If you're writing about an event, include the date, location of the event and any other pertinent information.
You should include a quote from someone that is a credible source of information; include their title or position with the company, and perhaps why they are considered a credible source.
Always include information on any awards they have won, articles they've published or interviews they have given if you feel the need to add to their credibility.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short; a paragraph should be no more than 3-4 sentences. Your release should be between 500 and 800 words, written in a word processing program, and spellchecked for errors. Don't forget to proofread for grammatical errors. The mood of the release should be factual, not hyped; don't use a sales pitch as it will ruin your credibility with the reader.
If you offer a sample, copy or demo or visuals for the story, include the information in the release. You can also include details on product availability, trademark acknowledgment, etc. in this area of the release.
At the end of the release, you need to indicate that the release is ended. This lets the journalist know that they have received the entire release.
ABOUT [COMPANY] - Include a brief “branding” description of your company along with the products and services it provides—this is known as a “boilerplate” and is something to use routinely at the close of any news release you issue.
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