Students in my Case Studies class spend a semester immersed in PR process, from research through evaluation and everything in between. They also learn that writing matters more than any other skill they develop at Kent State, with the possible exception of beer pong.
Yeah, yeah. I know that success in PR requires meticulous research and critical thinking. I know it requires knowledge of social science, history, philosophy, government and business. But the ONE skill that other business disciplines (marketing, HR, finance and management) seldom bring to the table is the ability to write well.
Writing is our unique selling point.
At Kent, we reinforce writing skills in every class. If students don’t write well by the time they complete Case Studies, we advise them to consider another major. It disappoints many, but we’re doing the students and the profession a favor.
Good writing involves far more than I can summarize in a blog post. Good writing is about content, context, tone, organization, flow and texture. It’s about choosing words precisely and punctuating sentences accurately. Good writing also means sweating the “little stuff” — the details of grammar, usage and punctuation. It means caring enough to use the language artfully but also correctly.
Sadly, most of our K-12 educators don’t teach the rules of language any longer. And lord knows students don’t practice them in their text messages, emails or Facebook postings.
Quotation marks ALWAYS go outside periods and commas. No exceptions, at least not in American English. Example: Her all-time favorite blog is “ToughSledding.” At least half of the bloggers I know would put the closing quotes inside the period. So would half of my students. Cut it out, OK?
Singular nouns require singular pronouns. Consider this: “The ‘fastlane’ blog helps General Motors listen to their customers.” Wrong-O! “GM” is a singular entity that requires the pronoun “it.” My friends in Canada and the UK will bristle, but that’s how it’s done here. I broke this rule regularly in my early postings to this blog. I thought I was being “conversational.”
Plural nouns require plural verbs. Subject-verb agreement gets tricky when dealing with plurals such as “media” or “data,” both of which derive from Latin. Examples: Social media are useful tools for connecting with some stakeholder groups. The blog readership data are helpful…”
Commas aren’t always optional. I once begged my son’s tenth-grade English teacher to spend more time on comma rules. “It’s not that hard,” she said. “We just tell them to put one in where you breathe.” Doh!
While comma use is subjective at times, careful writers know when to use them and when to omit them. I’d need an entire post to present my comma lecture, and trust me, you don’t want to hear it. To see the 8 rules I preach, download here: commarules.doc
Hyphens and dashes aren’t the same. In fact, they’re nearly polar opposites, but students, and many bloggers, use them interchangeably.
Hyphens connect. Dashes separate. Use hyphens to connect compound modifiers, such as last-minute shopping, or when you omit a preposition, e.g, the Boston-Atlanta flight. Dashes separate, as commas do, but should be used sparingly to create emphasis or a longer-than-normal pause. I use dashes way too often, mostly out of laziness — and my love of the dramatic pause.
Many writers, including some of those listed in the right-hand column, insist that precise language isn’t important. It’s about “the conversation,” they say. Typos and errant grammar make it authentic. Taking time to editing or proofread just inhibits the flow of dialogue.
To this I say: Pshaw!
My posts to this blog are part of the body of professional work on which I am judged. The content isn’t always perfect, but it is as clear, as concise and as correct as I can make it.
We will meet again in the New Year, my friends. In the spirit of this holiday season, I’ve decided to shut my mouth and spend the next week counting my blessings. That will take some time, as those blessings are many, indeed.