3. Top Ten Tips for Writing Releases

To summarize what we have said so far, here are ten tips for writing an excellent news release.

  1. Use an active headline to grab the editor's attention.

    The headline makes your release stand out. Keep the headline short, active, and descriptive, with the most positive spin. Write Jane Doe Named Person of the Year instead of Jane Doe Gets Award.

  2. Put the most important information at the beginning.

    This is a tried and true rule of journalism. Remember that the first two paragraphs should contain the salient facts of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don't bury good information at the end.

  3. Avoid exaggeration and unsubstantiated claims.

    A news editor can smell a sales pitch a mile away. Instead of making over-inflated statements, provide real, usable information. Find legitimate ways to set your organization apart, and stress those points.

  4. Write in an active, engaging, and concise style.

    Use language that conveys your excitement about the news. If your release is boring or passively written, the editor may conclude the news itself is not very meaningful or you are not a good candidate for an interview. Interesting equals newsworthy.

  5. Keep your release to two pages or less.

    Generally, if you can't state your message in two pages, you are not getting to the point fast enough. Editors are always looking for concise, easy-to-read releases that can be thrown onto a website or squeezed into a leftover space in a page layout. For highly important news with many details, you can include a third page, but this should be done sparingly.

  6. Include a contact.

    Every news release should include a contact person who the media can reach for more information. This contact is your spokesperson and must be familiar with all the news in the release. They should be prepared to answer questions.

  7. Keep jargon to the minimum.

    Avoid using highly technical terms and buzzwords familiar only to Linux insiders. Jargon can date quickly, and complicated language irritates people who don't know what you mean. Your goal is to tell your story to as wide an audience as possible, not to unduly limit the audience. Even special-interest publications mostly write in plain language and only use jargon and acronyms generally familiar to their readers.

  8. Stress benefits, benefits, benefits.

    This falls under the category of show, don't tell. Avoid claiming something is unique or the best when you can't substantiate this. Instead, provide specific examples of benefits, supported by evidence and anecdotes.

  9. Be specific and detailed.

    Marcia Yudkin, author of Six Steps to Free Publicity, talks about the Yes, but what is it? syndrome. Nothing is more irritating than seeing constant references to a product name or service name, but no information on what that product or service is. The reader needs to be able to visualize a new product or understand what a service offers. This is particularly critical for launches (announcements of new offerings). You should ask someone unfamiliar with your product or service to read your release and then describe the product or service in their own words.

  10. Proofread!

    This is easily forgotten, but extremely important. Always proofread your work before issuing the final release. Better yet, give the document to someone else (perhaps a copy editor) who can readily spot spelling and grammatical errors. Nothing signals unprofessionalism more than a typo-filled communication.