Thursday, August 25, 2011

4 ways to improve quotes in press releases

These tips come from no-nonsense Texan Laura Hale Brockway's excellent blog,, and from Ragan's PR Daily:

Trash those lazy verbs.

A common problem with press release quotes is that they’re full of lazy corporate verbs such as synergize, utilize, leverage, or facilitate.
“We are leveraging cutting-edge technology to meet our customer’s needs.”
What does that even mean? Instead, describe your customer’s needs and how your product solves it: “Suppliers often do not have real-time access to customers. This app enables them to send secure, instant messages to anyone in the supply chain.”

Keep it conversational.

Another problem with press release quotes—particularly those from the CEO or another executive—is that your audience knows these quotes are made up.
When was the last time you actually heard someone say, “This new app will foster a new synergistic environment where suppliers and customers can leverage the new social media environment to communicate”?
Conversational quotes are more believable.

Can you paraphrase?

PR professionals are often given quotes from clients, and that may be all you have to work with.
How can you improve the quotes if you can’t go back to the client and ask for something else?
Can you paraphrase what’s been sent? Can you break up the quote? Do you have to use the quote at the beginning of the press release?
For example, take this quote:
“I plan to continue this legacy of providing innovative products and services to our customers. With over 30 competing companies for our customers to choose from, we have some challenges ahead. I am confident that we can meet those challenges successfully. And the first step is the release of our new app," says XYZ President and CEO John Johnson.
And turn it into this:
President and CEO John Johnson believes the release of the new app will provide customers with the communications tools they need, setting XYZ Company apart from more than 30 competitors.

Step up your interviewing skills.

Want better quotes? Ask better questions.

If you are interviewing the person you’ll be quoting, consider these interviewing techniques from Ken Metzler’s book Creative Interviewing: The Writer's Guide to Gathering Information:
• Ask for anecdotes. Is there a real-world example you can use to enliven your quotes?
• Ask for metaphors. How does the product or service compare to something familiar to your readers?
• Listen for crossroads and epiphanies. What led to the creation of the product or service? What were the stumbling blocks along the way? When did they realize it would work?
• Ask follow-up questions. If the interview is over and you don’t have what you need for a good quote, ask more questions.

Make your quotes worth quoting. Keep the language conversational and free of jargon. Paraphrase when possible. Ask probing questions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Behold the colon -- in punctuation, not anatomy

Harbrace 17d (p. 235 in the 17th edition) The colon

A colon calls attention to what follows. It also separates numbers in parts of scriptural references and titles from subtitles.

(1) A colon directs attention to an explanation, a summary, or a quotation.

When a colon appears between two independent clauses, it signals that the second clause will explain or expand on the first.

No one expected the game to end as it did: after seven extra innings, the favored team collapsed.

A colon is also used after an independent clause to introduce a direct quotation.

Marcel Proust explained the importance of mindfulness: "The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes."

Although an independent clause should always precede the colon, a phrase may sometimes follow it.

I was finally confronted with what I had dreaded for months: the due date for the final balloon payment on my car loan.

(2) A colon may signal a list that follows.
Writer frequently use colons to introduce lists

Three students received internships: Asa, Vanna, and Jack.

Avoid placing a colon between a verb and its complement (1c) or after the words including or such as.

The winners were Asa, Vanna, and Jack.
Many vegetarians do not eat dairy products such as butter and cheese.

(3) A colon separates a title and a subtitle.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

(4) Colons are used in reference numbers.
Colons are often used between numbers in scriptural references.
John 3:16

(5) Colons have specialized uses in business correspondence.
A colon follows the salutation of a business letter and any notations.

Dear Mr. Horner: Dear Maxine: Enc:
To: From: Subject: Date:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Common English phrases found in the King James Bible

The list below comes from a very nice NPR story celebrating the 400th birthday of the King James Bible.

Though it cannot be said that all of these phrases originated in the Bible, notes NPR, it is likely that the King James Bible was the first time that many of them appeared in English.

Savvy reader Katherine Armour noted that NPR's report ignored the contribution of William Tyndale, whose translation accounts for 84% of the New Testament and 75.8% of the Old Testament books in the King James. (For his trouble, of course, Tyndale was executed. Sic semper literatus.)

A drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15)

A house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25)

A man after his own heart (Samuel 13:14 or Acts 13:22)

A wolf in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15)

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38)

Apple of your eye (Deuteronomy 32:10, Zechariah 2:8)

At their wits' end (Psalms 107:27)

Baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11)

Bite the dust (adapted from Psalms 72)

Broken heart (Psalms 34:18)

By the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)

By the sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)

Can a leopard change its spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)

Cast the first stone (John 8:7)

Chariots of Fire (2 Kings 6:17)

Cross to bear (Luke 14:27)

Don't cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)

Eat drink and be merry (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Fall by the wayside (Matthew 13:4)

Fall from grace (Galatians 5:4)

Fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)

Feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-33)

Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12)

Fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24-26)

Flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17)

Fly in the ointment (adapted from Ecclesiastes 10:1)

Forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:9)

From strength to strength (Psalms 84:7)

Give up the ghost (Mark 15:37)

Heart's desire (Psalms 21:2)

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword (Matthew 26:52)

Holier than thou (Isaiah 65:5)

How the mighty are fallen (Samuel 1:19)

In the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52)

It's better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)

Labour of love (Hebrews 6:10)

Lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)

Land of Nod (Genesis 4:16)

Law unto themselves (Romans 2:14)

Letter of the law (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Living off the fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)

Love of money is the root of all evil (Timothy 6:10)

Manna from heaven (Exodus 16:15)

Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14)

My cup runneth over (Psalms 23:5)

No rest for the wicked (adapted from Isaiah 57:20)

Nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

O ye of little faith (Luke 12:28)

Out of the mouths of babes (Psalms 8:2, Matthew 21:16)

Peace offering (Leviticus 3:6)

Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)

Put words in her mouth (2 Samuel 14:3)

Put your house in order (2 Kings 20:1)

Reap what you sow (adapted from Galatians 6:7)

See eye to eye (Isaiah 52:8)

Set your teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31:30)

Sign of the times (Matthew 16:3)

Sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:30)

Sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)

Tender mercies (Psalms 25:6)

The blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14)

The ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)

The root of the matter (Job 19:28)

The powers that be (Romans 13:1)

The salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41)

The Straight and narrow (Matthew 7:13/14)

There's nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Two edged sword (Proverbs 5:4)V

oice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23)

Wages of sin (Romans 6:23)

Wash your hands of the matter (Matthew 27:24)

White as snow (Daniel 7:9)

Woe is me (Job 10:15)

Writing is on the wall (Daniel 5: 5/6)

Note: Most of these phrases are direct quotations. Others have slight word order changes that make the modern phrase quicker and catchier.

Friday, August 12, 2011

That pesky college application essay - the Times and its readers weigh in

Last week, The New York Times ran an interesting story about students using summer experiences to beef up their "personal statement" college application essays. This week, readers weighed in with their thoughts on the matter. Both are linked below.

N.Y. / REGION August 06, 2011 For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers By JENNY ANDERSON Students preparing to apply to college are increasingly tailoring their summer plans with the goal of creating a better personal statement.

OPINION August 12, 2011 Letters: How to Make That College Essay Special Readers respond to a recent article about students pursuing activities over the summer than will help them write a strong essay for college applications.

One handy tip for writing application essays is to start the process in the summer months, when there might be time to look over the various topics on the applications, brainstorm ideas on an unrushed morning, and start a draft or two that can be revised upon a few days reflection (and many times thereafter).

Once the school year starts and those application deadlines start looming, it's much tougher to be clearthinking, fresh and original.