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Good Texts – Dos and Don’ts

10. March 2023

Corporate managers are often not sufficiently familiar with the editorial principles that need to be observed for a good press release. Hence, with this blog post we want to provide you with some basic journalistic and technical knowledge.

Products, services, innovations – it is not uncommon for press texts and reports to give the impression of an advertising copy. Journalistic texts, however, require a factual, informative style and depth without becoming long-winded. Neither your customers nor your editors want to be bothered with long-winded introductions or explanations – especially if they are also (too) promotional or even incomprehensible.

But you can certainly tell (good) stories, because compared to abstract information, they have the advantage of being easier to understand, lasting longer in the memory, and being able to create meaning and identity. Exciting stories that are worth telling and publishing exist in every company. In your stories, for example, address questions such as these: What will influence your future? What moves you and your company? What are you doing now or in the future for others, for society or for goals that perhaps go beyond your immediate business goals? Where are you today and where do you want to go from here?

You can tell all these stories – and many more. Have a central, important message or corporate story running through the entire report whenever possible. This method is called storytelling and is often used in journalistic texts.

General stylistic principles

The great U.S. journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911), founder of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize named after him, recommended this general stylistic principle for text quality: „Whatever you write – write briefly and they will read it, write clearly and they will understand it, write vividly and they will remember it”. Prof. Ludwig Eichinger, Director of the Institute for German Language (IDS) in Mannheim, puts it a bit more concretely: „Express only one thought per sentence. For important thoughts, use main clauses. For secondary thoughts, use subordinate clauses. Also, avoid constructions, too many attributes, and overlong composites“.

This is in fact already the most important guideline for a well-written press release. However, Pulitzer’s and Eichinger’s recommendation is easier said than done and therefore requires further, more in-depth information and explanations. Voltaire once remarked: “Every kind of writing is permissible, except for the boring kind”.

This succintly formulated style tip by the most influential French philosopher and author of the Age of Enlightenment essentially applies to journalistic texts as well – but with one decisive reservation: avoid any fictionalization and exaggeration at all costs, because we are not talking about literature or dull advertising copy here, but about the most solid, informative report possible, in which serious facts and a factual writing style are called for. If it weren’t for the abundant fake news and ‘perceived’ or half-truths, especially in social media and messaging channels, this would no longer need to be emphasized.

The news value is just as decisive for a journalistic text. Therefore: If possible, do not “recycle” old facts and information that have no real news value (anymore). Karl Valentin (1882 – 1948) coined the witty adage “Everything has already been said, but not by everyone!” Take this tongue-in-cheek warning of the great comedian and humorist seriously and always check with criticism how much novelty or usefulness your report really has. Here, too, the following applies: creative exceptions to this principle are definitely “allowed” and permissible if they are well implemented! Here are two short, apt statements from expert journalists:

  • A topic however does not always have to be brand new. Putting something in a new context is also interesting.“

Hartmut Augstein, former department head of local affairs at the ‚Berliner Zeitung‘

(According to the trade journal ‚MediumMagazin‘)

  • I capture the reader through originality instead of topicality.“

Uwe Zimmer, former editor-in-chief of Munich’s ‚Abendzeitung‘

(From the ‚MediumMagazin‘-Werkstatt ’96)

For a good press release or report, both in terms of content and style, the following seven important qualitative characteristics should be taken into account:

  • Make sure you have a suitable headline. Because it determines above all whether the reader (and also the journalist) will continue to read or not.
  • Adhere to the following rule for press releases: structure the text according to the principle of descending importance. In other words, the most important thing first. Ideally, a report written in this way can be adopted in its entirety or – in line with general editorial working methods – shortened slightly towards the end.
  • Always answer the five W questions of journalism: who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, how?
  • Avoid long winded or convoluted sentences. Structure your press text logically and divide it into paragraphs. These make it easier for the reader to understand.
  • Last and first names (!) should be written out in full, as do titles and numbers up to and including twelve. The word “Mr.” before proper names does not exist in journalistic usage. Preferably, write your reports in the third person.
  • Model your wording on common writing styles of your competitors, and study good articles from other contributors. Use the news style and quotations in your reports.
  • Provide the newsrooms with information at regular intervals; this is the only way to achieve a “recognition value” for your company or your product and to be perceived by the newsrooms as a consistent and solid market participant or player.

Maura Możejko
PR-Beraterin, Redakteurin, Sprachmittlerin

Ihr Merkzettel

Your checklist for good texts:

✔ Employ the narrative method of storytelling
✔ Write in short and clear sentences
✔ Avoid complicated and convoluted sentences
✔ Avoid fictionalization and exaggeration
✔ Consider the news value of your text
✔ Pick a suitable headline
✔ State the most important first
✔ Answer the W questions of journalism
✔ Write out last and first names in full
✔ Numbers up to twelve should also be written out
✔ Write in the third person
✔ Create a recognition value for yourself

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