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December 11, 2012
Define Your Terms in News Releases
 
Whatever type of news release you're writing (commercial or medical, for instance), you need to watch the terms you use in it. Be sure that unfamiliar terms are defined, as they occur in the release. "What, you're telling me to write a dictionary?" someone might ask. No, just an intelligible news release, clarity being its highest value — as always in good writing. 

For example, here's the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issuing a press release — "Public Health Update: Heroin Overdose Deaths on the Rise; RX Opiod Overdose Deaths Down." Presumably, this release is for the general public via the news media, not simply doctors. But right in the headline is a term that needs defining — "Opiod." Sure, we can guess, but do you want someone guessing over a news release like this? Nowhere in the release is the term defined, even though it's used in the lead: 

"BALTIMORE (December 7, 2012) – The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene today released data for the first seven months of 2012 that show an increase in overdose deaths related to heroin coinciding with a decline in overdose deaths related to prescription opioids. Overall, there were six percent more drug overdose deaths during the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011."

Used in the lead, the term should have been defined in the lead. Wherever an unfamiliar term appears, it should be defined right after its first reference. Rule No. 1: Don't leave people guessing over terms in in a press release, especially one of life or death significance. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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