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April 17, 2008
Use Your Vocabulary

Remember all those S.A.T. words you had to memorize oh-so-long-ago? News flash - you still need them.

As PR’s we do a great deal of writing, press releases, bios, newsletters, proposals, pitch letters, speeches, etc. And the one thing we don’t use is our vocabulary. I’m not talking about industry jargon (in fact, I’d like to simplify that language if at all possible. Cardinal Rule: Never assume your reader understands what you’re telling them, so KISS them -Keep It Simple, Silly.). I’m talking about utilizing words you’ve learned over the years to make your writing stand out.

We’re all fighting for journalists’ attention, so why not use whatever you have to present your client in the best light. Your first line of positioning is your words.

One vocabulary lesson I learned early on was in the sixth grade; my teacher never let us use the word “get” in any shape or form (“got,” ”getting,” etc.). In fact, he HATED the word (he wanted us to abolish it from our vocabularies) and would penalize us if we used it. Needless to say, I learned quickly since I didn’t want to write anything over and over 200 times. And to this day, I still follow that rule when writing professionally. If there’s a more active verb I can use instead, I will. For example: “He got to his location on time” or “He arrived at his location on time.” There’s a HUGE difference in the way it sounds. The first sounds conversational and colloquial; the second sounds professional and well-thought out.

As writers and disseminators of information, the most important tool we have available is a thesaurus; and Microsoft and Apple (among others) have been very nice in giving us one on our computers! We no longer have to lug around a big heavy book of words, since our computers can help us immediately. And every now and then, I’ll go outside of my computer’s thesaurus by using a book version or another website (I suggest: Roget’s) as the computer’s standard program has limited entries.

While we need to keep things simple for our readers to understand, we also need to utilize our brains a bit more. This does not mean you need to be “flowery” in your writing, instead become more comfortable using descriptive words and active verbs. (If you need a list of active verbs, contact me and I’ll send you one.) It’ll change the way you think, write and communicate.

And isn’t that what we’re attempting to do for our clients and their audiences? Let’s change perceptions and attitudes through our use of words!

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Jocelyn Brandeis is an accomplished and award-winning communications professional with more than 15 years experience in the entertainment, consumer, new media, B2B, Hispanic, and nonprofit industries. She is responsible for securing interviews and media placement and creating full PR campaigns. Since co-founding JBLH Communications, the client roster has included: National Lampoon Comedy House, Doggy Tug, Mandinez.com, Play Clay Factory, The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and The Child Center of NY.

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