University writing emphasized fancy words and flowery sentences and rewarded us for length. Press releases today must be concise and direct. What’s more: Some press release distribution services charge by the word—all the more reason to keep copy brief.
Here are three tips for crafting tighter releases, courtesy of Michael Smart, founder ofMichaelSMARTPR:
1. Cut meaningless modifiers.
Some words don’t mean much. “We use them often in spoken English when we don’t have time to think of a better, more specific word,” Smart says, “but in written English, they slow our readers down. You’ll notice that when you start deleting them, your sentences will still mean the same thing.”
Example: “The contract was essentially doomed when it was signed, as the parties actuallydisagreed on certain points; various problems ensued, with each individual challenge bringing strife.”
Of course, there are exceptions: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” likely wouldn’t have enjoyed its $86 million haul had its title been cut to “Alexander and the Bad Day.”
2. Consolidate lengthy phrases as sentence subjects.
If your subject is a phrase, shorten it to a single word, Smart suggests. He gives these examples:
“The first-place finisher will have dinner with the fundraiser’s organizers.”
“The leader of the committee will announce his decision next week.”
Can you think of a single word to replace each of those phrases? Here are some options (note that you can do it with verb phrases, too):
“The winner will dine with the fundraiser’s organizers.”
“The chairman will announce his decision next week.”
3. Eschew 'to be' verbs and excessive preposition use.
“To be” verbs and overuse of prepositions result in longer sentences. Replace both with stronger verbs, Smart advises. “Words like ‘is,’ ‘are’ and ‘am’ are typically vague and can often be replaced with more specific verbs,” he explains. “Doing this can eliminate a preposition and cut your word count.”
Here’s an example: “On July 1, the wait will be over.”
Solution: “On July 1, the wait will end.”
The sentence also opens with a prepositional phrase. Such “left-breaking” sentences can muddy the subject. Having the subject launch the sentence strengthens and clarifies the message, e.g.: “The wait will end July 1.”