A Time for Every Word

TimeAn old friend from my newspaper days called me up a little while ago.

“You’ll never believe what happened,” she said.

She is in the process of training someone to take over her communications position as she transitions from semi to full retirement.

“The new person wrote a press release, and it needed a lot of help,” my friend explained, “I told her, ‘You can’t wait until the end to put in the main idea; bring it up to the beginning. This information is in the wrong place, and this isn’t correct.’  I stopped suddenly, and it came to me in a rush: I sounded just like you!”

My chest filled with pride. Years of effort had borne fruit! I was not a grammar prophet crying in the wilderness. (Stage direction: a tear of joy trickles down my face.)

One big mistake I see from lots of people who are writing to publicize their products, services, or events is burying the important stuff in a sea of dreck. They are so caught up in setting the scene and painting a pretty picture of what’s going on, that they forget they need to place what they want the reader to remember right up front.

It’s like those commercials we find so cute or funny or interesting, but can never remember what product they’re advertising.

People have to remember they’re competing in a Pacific Ocean of information. Readers want quick access, or they’ll float along to somewhere else. There’s a reason journalists are taught to lead with who, what, where, when, and how. There’s a reason they write in active, not passive, voice.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be a little creative. We just need to stay on point.

On the other hand, I can’t condemn too harshly those who insist on filling pages with useless verbal flourishes. They help keep Mona (my dog) and DC (my cat) in kibble.