Strategies & Tactics

4 Ways to Improve Your Writing and Speech

February 1, 2018

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“Mary tweeted her status,” or “Mary Tweeted her status”? “Bart wrote a blog about the movie,” or “Bart wrote a blog entry about the movie”? And “Paula developed FAQs,” or “Paula developed FAQ’s”?

In today’s social-media-driven world, new vocabularies and usages are evolving rapidly, making it more important than ever for PR pros to keep up with language developments while also understanding older forms that continue to confound.

As a writer for more than 15 years, I’ve identified four areas of PR writing in which I continually encounter errors that prevent communications from being correct, clear and consistent. See how many of these pitfalls have caused problems for you, and let me know if you’d like to add any others. (Guidance for these tips is based on the 2017 AP Stylebook.)

1. Spelling

Good PR writers have to stay familiar with new, changing and hard-to-spell words. Here are some of the most commonly confused words, with a special focus on technology terms that can be particularly troublesome because they change so often.

Tech terms

  • cyber: Most words with this prefix are not hyphenated, such as “cyberattack,” “cybersecurity” and “cyberspace.” “Cyber Monday,” on the other hand, is two words.
  • Googled, tweet, snap: “Googled” is capitalized because it’s derived from a trademark, but the convention doesn’t extend to Twitter’s “tweet” or Snapchat’s “snap,” which are considered different parts of speech.
  • home page: Still two words.
  • internet, internet of things: The AP announced a lowercase spelling in 2016, and the increasingly used phrase “internet of things” is also not capitalized.
  • web: The AP similarly gave “web” the lowercase treatment in 2016, but the full name “World Wide Web” retains caps. Also, “website,” “webpage” and “webcast” are each one word, but “web browser” and “web address” remain two.

Non-tech terms

  • acknowledgment: As with “judgment,” no “e” after “g.”
  • canceled: Not “cancelled,” which is the British spelling. “Cancellation,” however, does have two “l’s.”
  • Super Bowl: Two words.
  • theater: Use this American spelling unless a proper name uses the British “theatre.”

2. Word usage

Don’t get tripped up by these frequently misused words.

  • blog: Refers to an entire “web log,” or online journal, and shouldn’t be used to mean a “blog post,” or single entry within a journal.
  • verbal, oral: “Verbal” refers to anything expressed in words, whether written or spoken. “Oral” refers to spoken words.
  • showstopper: Something spectacular, like a musical number that brings the audience to its feet in applause and stops the show — not something that halts a project.

3. Abbreviations

PR writing is often derailed by initialisms (abbreviations consisting of the first letters of a series of words and pronounced by spelling out each letter, like DNA) and acronyms (words formed from the first letters of a series of words and pronounced as one word, like NASA).

  • Use: Initialisms and acronyms should only appear in contexts where their use is standard, has some history of usage or is easily recognized. New or less familiar initialisms and acronyms should only be used when they occur more than several times in a text, and should be spelled out on first use.
  • Plurals: To make an abbreviation plural, add an “s” with no apostrophe: “She sent the PDFs.” However, for plurals of single-letter abbreviations, use an apostrophe to prevent the abbreviation from being read as a word: “He caught some z’s.”
  • Periods: Omit periods in acronyms and in initialisms of more than two letters, such as MBA. AP style calls for periods in some two-letter abbreviations, such as “U.N.,” “U.S.,” “a.m.,” and “p.m.,” but many others rarely get periods, such as “HR,” “IT,” and of course, “PR.”

4. Pronunciation

How we say words can matter as much as the words we write, so know these commonly mispronounced words and how to pronounce them correctly.

  • Homogeneous: Pronounced “hoh-muh-jeen-ee-us,” not “huh-mah-juh-nus.” The latter pronunciation results from confusion with “homogenous,” a word with a slightly different meaning and spelling.
  • Niche: The preferred pronunciation rhymes with “ditch,” not the French-pronounced form rhyming with “leash.”
  • Primer: In American English, a document that covers the basics of a subject is pronounced “prim-ur.”
  • Short-lived: Among the most mispronounced and least understood words in English. The “live” in this word is formed from the noun “life” — not the verb “live” — and is properly pronounced with a long “i.” 
Joseph Priest, APR

Joseph Priest, APR, is a corporate writer at Syniverse, a mobile-solutions company in Tampa, Fla. He co-manages Syniverse’s blog and social media. Email him at joseph.priest@syniverse.com.
 

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