Teacher’s Pet: On writing and editing

The second question in our new Teacher’s Pet series focuses on the writing and editing process.

I’ve always wondered how much guidance junior staff receive during their first few months of employment/internships. 

What is the typical editing process for a junior PR person before one of his/her press releases or any other written materials are ready to be circulated to press – do senior staff typically look over the work of junior staff and provide them with constructive feedback and help them revise the work, or is it expected that their written material is already perfect?

Shane McKenna (@Shane_McKenna) is currently a Public Relations student at Durham College. We’ve asked a junior and senior staff member to help answer his question, to give two different perspectives.

Abby – Publicity Co-ordinator
At rock-it, we have a great process in place for editing work, and everyone pitches in with editing and writing help (whether junior or senior). I’ve found that my writing has gotten stronger, because my team is great at giving constructive feedback. 
Typically, I write a release, submit it to someone for an edit, and they will track their changes when they send it back to me. This helps me see where improvements were made and understand why something was re-worded. Then, it goes for a final edit with either Lisa (Publicity Manager), or Debra (President), then to the client for approval, and finally, to the media. Lots of steps along the way help catch any mistakes.
When I started, I did receive guidance from the team. However, I think it’s important that you can get started without a lot of guidance. It can be a little overwhelming, but you have to jump in and just give it a shot – whether or not someone is showing you every step along the way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; it’s how you learn. If you have a good team, they’ll help you learn from your mistakes, rather than criticizing you.  
Lisa – Publicity Manager
First, some background! I studied Journalism – Print and Broadcast at Durham College, where I learned really valuable writing skills. Then, I was hired by the campus Communications and Marketing Department, where my main role was writing and editing – and knowledge of CP Style was a must.
Being a strong writer was definitely an asset when I made the move to rock-it – I was able to teach other team members some easy ways to improve their writing. Now, I hold the unofficial role of copy editor at rock-it, though the process from taking a first draft to a final copy distributed to media is a team effort.
Most agencies recognize that junior staff are still learning the ropes, with everything from pitching to building lists to writing promotional materials. While it’s not expected that junior writing will be perfect, there are a few steps you can take to a) show your employer you value strong writing, b) begin to recognize errors and look up how to correct them, and c) save the editor time. It’s okay to make mistakes here and there – it’s part of the learning process! But there are five tips to make sure you’re submitting your best work possible.

1. Consult the CP Style and CP Caps and Spelling books. If you truly can’t locate a rule within these resources, flag it for your editor – that way, they know you made the effort to find the answer, and they’ll see that you know when to check reference guides.

2. Make a list of information to include. Writing a press release? Make sure you include the 5 Ws! It’s surprising how often crucial information is left out or forgotten.

3. If your senior staffer doesn’t go over their changes with you, ask them to sit down with you and explain. Send a friendly email to book a mutually convenient time for the two of you to discuss the changes that were made.

4. Take notes to ensure you are not making the same error every time you submit something for editing. After two or three corrections, it’s expected that you will remember the rule going forward.

5. The most important piece of advice is to take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. Let’s face it – working in the communications industry, there is a lot of writing. Rather than dread or avoid it, embrace it. You senior staffers will notice when you put extra effort into improving your skills, which will only work to your benefit. 

Oh, and in the words of a former professor, “Spell check is free on your computer. Use it!”

Good luck!