Most PR pros have experienced that sinking feeling: You’ve just hit send on an important press release or program document, only to realize it has a glaring and completely avoidable error in it.
Honest mistakes are bound to happen from time to time, but some writing slip-ups are too common, and they simply create bad PR for PR people.
We’ve flagged a few here, in the hopes that avoiding them could save you an embarrassing mistake.
1. Misused apostrophes. Using “it’s” (the contraction for “it is”) instead of “its” (the possessive) is basic, yet it somehow happens all the time. Keep an eye on apostrophes to avoid an inexcusable grammar mistake, as in: they’re and their (or there), who’s and whose or you’re and your.
2. To “Comprise.” Since “comprise” means “to consist of,” it’s never OK to say “comprised of.” The word is so commonly misused—and by prominent people in communications who should know better—that I fear the incorrect usage will slowly make its way into the lexicon.
3. Overused keywords. In the digital age, keyword stuffing can be a fatal flaw for PR writing that lives on the Web. Since most original content, such as blog posts, product descriptions and narratives, tweets, and captions, is published online, this is a mistake to be avoided, lest search engines ignore your content completely.
4. Empty, complicated-sounding words. In grade school, one could be pardoned for using big words in an effort to sound smart, but not so in the grown-up world of communications. Words such as “utilize,” “subsequently” and “implement” (instead of “use,” “later” or “put into place,” respectively) border on jargon and only cloud the conversation. Choosing words that are clear and concise will make you sound smarter every time, because people will actually understand what you’re saying.
5. The run-on sentence. Ever start writing a sentence so full of parenthetical phrases it’s hard to tell which verb relates to which noun? That’s a good sign the sentence is too long. Resist the urge to try sounding smart with complicated sentence structures and opt for conveying your message clearly.
6. Over-punctuating. We are not referring to the serial comma here (for the grammar nerds out there), but rather dropping commas and other punctuation into writing when it’s not necessary. Here, the old grammar school rule usually does apply: When in doubt, leave it out.
7. Overhyping anything. PR people are notorious for excessive use of exclamation points, screaming headlines, and words/phrases like “fastest-growing,” industry-leading,” “dynamic,” and “cutting-edge.” Sometimes it helps to take a page from the fiction writing mantra, “show, don’t tell.”
[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]
Michelle Han is a senior account supervisor at Crenshaw Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on Crenshaw’s PR Fish Bowl blog.