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8 Common and Confounding Errors that All PR Pros Should Know

February 13, 2014

By Joseph Priest, Corporate Writer, SyniverseJoseph_Priest

“Melissa works in the facilities & operations department” or “Melissa works in the facilities and operations department”? “Helen called Betty Schaefer, vice president of finance” or “Helen called Betty Schaefer, Vice President of Finance”? And “Angela bought a pair of NIKE shoes” or “Angela bought a pair of Nike shoes”?

In my role as writer and editor of PR materials over the past 15 years, I’ve continued to come across some of the same grammar and style errors specific to PR writing. To help PR pros be on guard against these in 2014, here I’ve distilled eight of the most common ones – although not necessarily the most serious ones – in the form of an example in each of the eight sentences below.

Read each sentence, try to identify the error in each, and then check your answer against the explanations below. Good luck.

Questions

  1. Two spaces after a period . . . or only one?
  2. Jennifer works in sales & marketing.
  3. The media kit is comprised of news releases and fact sheets.
  4. Company XYZ, Inc. is a leading provider of financial solutions.
  5. Lisa’s media outreach is targeted to: newspapers, magazines, websites and TV programs.
  6. The product provides five benefits:
  • Faster process
  • Lower cost
  • Offers single point of access
  • Improved security
  • Integrates legacy systems.
  1. Jeffrey Immelt, Chief Executive Officer of GE, heads one of the world’s largest companies.
  2. Did you see the earnings reports for at&t and THE HOME DEPOT on Yahoo!?

Answers

  1. This one simply asks a question that befuddles PR pros to no end. The answer: Only include one space after a period. One space is the rule according to two of the most widely used style guides, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, and is standard in most professionally published books, newspapers and magazines. Using two spaces after a period was practiced in the days of typewriters. Since the advent of word processors, this practice has become obsolete and creates inconsistent spacing in a document. Remember, one space after a period always.
  2. Don’t use an ampersand unless it’s part of an official company name (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble). Many PR pros subconsciously use this symbol as a shortcut whenever an “and” comes between two related terms (e.g., research & development, mergers & acquisitions).Please be on guard against this.
  3. This one is an oldie but goodie. “Comprise” means “to contain or embrace,” so nothing is ever “comprised of” something. The phrase PR pros usually mean to say when they write this is “composed of.” The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole, or the whole is composed of the parts: The jury comprises 12 members. The museum wing is composed of five exhibits. If “composed of” sounds stilted, “consists of” and “made up of” are also options.
  4. “Inc.” is no longer separated by commas from a company name, but the big problem is that many people will put a comma before “Inc.” and not one after it. “Inc.” separated by either no commas or two commas is OK, but to use one before it and not after is an error.
  5. Colons should not be used between a verb and its object (The Southern tour was scheduled to cover: Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and Birmingham) or a preposition and its object (The media campaign was directed at: newspapers, magazines and TV outlets). In these sentence constructions, no colon is needed.
  6. Be careful to maintain parallel structure in a bulleted list. If the first item is a noun, the following items should be nouns. If the first item starts with a verb, the following items should start with verbs. If the first item is a complete sentence, the following items should be complete sentences, and so on.
  7. According to AP style, a title shouldn’t be capitalized unless it’s a formal title – a title indicating a scope of authority or professional activity such as president, queen, senator, doctor, colonel, bishop, professor, coach – used directly before a name. However, because this style rule is one of the single most confusing ones in PR, here is what I recommend. In the interest of simplicity and to accord prestige to people – which is usually a crucial aim in PR materials – if your document is intended for reproduction in the media, follow AP style and only capitalize a formal title used before a name. But for documents intended for corporate communications, marketing communications and internal communications functions – such as websites, brochures and newsletters – go ahead and capitalize all titles before and after names.
  8. Don’t reproduce funky capitalization and punctuation in company names and logos. Initialisms should be spelled with all caps, “The” should not be included in a company name, and punctuation marks should be left out: AT&T, Home Depot and Yahoo.

Got a PR grammar or style question or want more detail on the answers above? Bring it on. Ping me at joseph.priest@syniverse.com.

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