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creating meaning with content

Ask a grammar snob: using to and too

I admit it. I’m a grammar snob. I scoff when I hear people misuse who and whom. I snicker when I see a misplaced their (when instead it should be there). And, I am saddened by the gratuitous use of apostrophes. But what good is laughing behind someone’s back if I can’t turn back around and help that person get it right? Call it altruistic grammar snobbery.to-bad

Even outside of the editorial microcosm, good grammar is the mark of education, intelligence, and attention to detail. Having a firm grasp of grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you went to an Ivy League school; however, I’ve seen plenty of highly intelligent, well-educated people completely butcher the English language and offend my grammatical sensibilities.

To do my part to make the world a better place — and, selfishly, so I don’t have to see any more grammar mistakes — I present you with the first installation of Ask a Grammar Snob.

Dear Grammar Snob,

I often see the words to and too, but don’t know the right times to use them?

Signed,
To confused

Dear To,

Even your signature is a grammatical error. For shame! Don’t worry, I’ll show you the proper usage of the words to and too so you won’t embarrass yourself in the future.

Use “to” as a preposition or as part of an infinitive.

  • I went to the store to buy some eggs.
  • I want to see a movie.
  • When you send a letter to your mom, make sure to use a stamp.
  • Where to, Romeo?

Incorrect:
I want some, to.
You to can be like me.

Use “too” as you would use the words also or very.

  • I want some eggs and soyrizo, too.*
  • You are too cute.
  • I, too, think bacon is nasty.

And, finally, some required reading. No editor’s desk drawer is without a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Signed,
The Grammar Snob

* Notice the comma prior to the word “too.” We’re not going to get into comma usage, but know that you should always use a comma before too when it’s at the end of a sentence.
photo credit: ifindkarma


Filed under: content, grammar, , ,

Three tips to writing a press release (that will get noticed)

arghListen up, PR people: Having been on the receiving end of more than my share of horrific press releases, let me tell you what works and what journalists want to hear.

The job of a press release is to alert the media to some new information worth publishing, be it a new product, an IPO (back in the good, old days), a company going under (more likely these days), a new web site, and the list goes on.

Here are my three top tips for creating a press release that will get noticed:

1) Get to the point!
I can’t say this more clearly and I forbid myself from using more than one exclamation mark to drive the point home. Journalists receive countless press releases every day, not to mention numerous calls from PR peeps. The sooner you get to the point, the more likely it is for us to actually read your release. When crafting a release, use the journalist’s trusty sidekick, the “inverted pyramid,” to tell us who, what, when, where, why, and how right away in the first sentence. Save your poetry for someone who cares.

2) Just the facts.
No matter how excited you are about the product, please do not write, “Organization X is excited to announce a revolutionary new product.” And then proceed to use all manner of fluffy marketing speak to avoid providing any useful information until paragraph 17 of your release. Honestly, we don’t care if you’re excited. In fact, the more excited you are, the less likely we are to read your press release. Keep it to a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of approach and no one will get hurt.

3) Give us your deets.
Please include contact information, phone numbers, emails, even Twitter usernames — basically any and every way to get a hold of you. Everyone prefers different contact mediums so it’s best to include all of them.

Using these strategies won’t guarantee coverage, but it will make a journalist’s life easier and may mean a better chance at getting some press.

photo credit: seq

Filed under: journalism101, , ,

Creating successful messaging

You can use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Yammer, build a fancy web site, create a blog — all in the hopes of getting attention. And you may very well get some attention through those vehicles. The sad truth is that you will quickly lose those hard-earned eyeballs if your message isn’t clear. And if your message isn’t clear, it will fail.

faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

That’s why keeping content fresh, to the point, and easy to understand is the key to successful messaging. Remember, your readers don’t have hours to peruse your copy so don’t waste their valuable time with marketing hype and frilly language. Put the meat in the first sentence, delivering the “five W’s and an H” journalism punch right away — the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Let’s look at two examples, shall we:

The wrong way: Company X is pleased to announce its latest mind-blowing invention that will change millions of lives. This revolutionary new product is one business users have always been searching for and will truly revolutionize business travel as we know it. We are thrilled to offer Product X to you at a low cost. Just click this link to find a list of fine retailers offering the product.

The right way: Geared toward business travelers who aren’t often near a wall outlet, Product X by Company X is a $59.95 solar-powered device that plugs into your USB port and extends the life of your computer’s battery by 60 percent. (Product X is now available online at Amazon.com.)

In the right way, readers get information upfront, stripped of all the nonsense. They can get in, get out, and buy the product. (If they want to read more, provide a link so they can.) In the wrong way, the wording is vague, sentences filled with useless adjectives, and it takes a long time to get to the point — if there is a point. Create content for someone in a rush and your readers will thank you by becoming customers. A novel approach!

So what are your big content questions? What sorts of head-scratchers do you come across when crafting content? Please ask your questions in the comments.

photo credit: faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

Filed under: content, journalism101, , , , , , , ,

At long last…

keyhole-post11I have a confession to make: I’ve been a writer and journalist for 15 years, but never blogged for myself or by myself. Sure, I’ve blogged for others — PC World, TechSoup, the Anita Borg Institute, Cisco — but this time, I’m in the driver’s seat. I’ve often cursed myself for lacking the wherewithal to start a blog sooner, promising, “This is the day when I will launch my blog.” But that day never came. Such is my blogging sob story. Finally, the clouds have cleared, launch day has arrived, fingers are poised over the keyboard, and that’s what counts.

To me, blogging is online voyeurism at its finest. That’s exactly why I’ve been a lover of blogs for ages, stalked friends’ blogs, and even read the blogs of those I don’t know. Blogs tend to be more intimate, casual, raw, and reek of much more truth than a polished piece of magazine prose.

So why start a blog now, at a time when there’s actually a decline in blogging in favor of shiny new-fangled tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendfeed, and über popular micro-blogging site Twitter? All I can say is that the time is right and I have my reasons.

Being a word nerd, editor, social media geek, writer, journalist, marketer, business developer, I’ve got a unique perspective to share. This is the first of many blog posts and I hope you’ll return to read my editing tips, grammar tips, content diatribes, interviews with experts, reporting, opinions, best practices, and tips for crafting content that will best serve your readers and deliver your message. Because, after all, you can’t save the world without great content!

Filed under: stories, , , ,

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