I spend most of my time during my Ragan internship reading and editing blogs from PR pros and corporate communicators, and using Twitter. When I return to school this fall, I’ll apply the following lessons to my college experience.
1. The power of headlines
When I began my internship, I did not grasp the difficulty of writing headlines and, for the first few weeks, struggled forming them. I expressed my frustration to a friend, and she jokingly told me that we could talk in headlines to improve my skills. Now, after spending hours searching for content for Ragan’s websites and reading numerous headlines, I’ve improved.
In fact, I now think in headlines. When recently reading the novel “A Room With a View,” I unconsciously changed the chapter titles into headlines: “Learn how Lucy witnesses murder” and “The top 5 mistakes Lucy makes in Italy.” When reading an article in The New York Times about the capturing of a Boston mafia boss, I replaced the original title in my head with “3 ways to catch a criminal through social media.”
2. Beware the hyphen
I’m learning to love hyphens. On a daily basis, I run to the dictionary to check out the latest hyphen that I noticed in a blog post. One of my favorites was “almost-daily.” What writer thought that one up? I find this to be rampant among bloggers. They are hyphen-crazy. I sometimes want to yell “Stop! Not all word combinations need hyphenation!”
PR professionals and bloggers also love the em dash. I’ve become best friends with this punctuation mark, which I once only used sparingly. One blogger included the em dash 11 times in one piece. I am positive that the dash will appear much more in my essays for school—when appropriate, of course.
3. Use the dictionary (a credible one)
“Shouty.” I recently stumbled upon this word in a blog. I never read the word before so I looked it up and could not find it anywhere expect Wikipedia. Eventually, I figured out that the writer of the piece made it up. I’m sure this writer knew that “shouty” was not a proper word. I don’t call my brother “shouty” when he yells at me for staying too long in the shower. I think the author was trying to be creative or, maybe, like Shakespeare, forging a new path in language.
As I delved further into my internship, I discovered that bloggers enjoy making up words or using words that cannot be found in your standard Oxford Dictionary. A few weeks ago, my editor handed me a dictionary and told me to look through a blog post for made-up words. I found that at least four of them were not included in a credible dictionary (the Free Online Dictionary and Urban Dictionary don’t count). My experience in the land of make-believe words has given me motivation to use the dictionary a lot more in my own writing.
4. Use lists to organize my thoughts
Most blogs I read frequently publish some sort of list, organized by numbers or bullet points: “5 ways to increase your Twitter followers” or “10 words never to use in your writing.” This format may be second nature to online writers, but I was surprised to see it’s become a Web standard.
List-making has been a helpful way to organize my thoughts (i.e. this article). It also works when talking to someone. When I give my mom the reasons she should come with me to the mall, I now tell it to her in lists: 1. It will be fun. 2. You’ll be with me. 3. We can get ice cream.
5. Avoid clichés in Twitter bios
“Mommy of three; loves life; passions include baking, eating, and hiking” (fictional Twitter bio).
Some of my duties involve Twitter. After reading hundreds of Twitter bios, everything starts to become repetitive and cliché ridden. Almost all PR pros “love life.” Many of the “passions” shared I find a little silly. Who doesn’t love eating or going on walks?
Maybe my bio should be: “Ragan intern; embraces life; passions include air-breathing, and puppy-petting.”