Eliminate Weak Verbs Once & For All

Ises and ares and to bes.


Weak verbs can make your writing boring and wordy. In one of my first agency positions after I graduated from college, my manager went so far as to call them “lazy.”

This same manager and her (sometimes) harsh feedback drove me to make changes in my writing style. But catching weak verbs before they come off the end of your fingers onto the screen or paper challenges even experienced writers.

I developed a trick that I used until I’d retrained my writing brain. My only tool? A highlighter.

  • Take a printed copy of the assignment (work or school) and a highligher in your choice of color.
  • Start at the top of the page and highlight every form of the verb “to be”: am, are, is, was, were, will be, has been, have been, had been, etc. Focus primarily on is, are, were.
  • Work to change as many of the highlighted verbs as you can from weak verbs to active verbs. To be verbs do serve a purpose and it isn’t necessary to change every single one, but strong, active verbs should dominate your writing.

Some other tips:

  • Use your imagination to substitute more interesting words.
  • Don’t start sentences with “There is” or “There are.”
  • Use the simple forms of your verb of choice (listens vs. is listening, for example).
  • Embed the adjective before the noun you’re modifying rather than dragging the sentence out (brand-new baseball stadium vs. the baseball stadium, which is brand new).

Go forth and write well!

*note: you’ll only find one “to be” verb in this blog post. 🙂

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The Loviest of Linky Loves: Valentine’s Week

I felt like categories this week. I’m just that kind of girl.
Let’s get right to it! Some of my favorite posts of the week:

Social Media:
EBook on Social Media Marketing (PR Squared): It would be great if you read and blog about this, but I think it’s a must read, regardless.
The World Unites for Clean Water (WOMMA)

Crisis Management:
Crisis PR Advice for Bailed Out Boneheads (Kel Kelly)
The Kim Family Search: An Insider’s Crisis Management Case Study (Johnathan Bernstein)

General PR:
Gee, Beav, Isn’t PR Just Like Advertising (Bad Pitch Blog)
What’s Your Client’s Motivation? (Client Service Insights)
Oh Kellogg Co… Watch Out for Reefer Madness (Corporate Hallucinations)

Can the Reputation of Israel be Saved (KD Paine’s Measurement Standard)
Public Relations in the Czech Republic (PRBlogger)

Social Media Starter Kit: LinkedIn (Altitude Branding)
Rachel Created a Job for Herself (Connie Bensen)
The One Interview Question (Public Relations Matters)

Pop Culture:
How Will Chris Brown Incident Effect [sic] Rihanna’s Career? (VH1)
Mother Deserves Tolerance (USA Today)

Mad Ninja Skill for Getting Anything Done (Remarkable Communication)
The Value of a Personal Mission Statement (Dumb Little Man)

My Best Advice for Email Newsletters

I had a question recently about email blasts/email newsletters and it made me realize that talk about enewsletters has probably been edged out by the new shiny thing (social media). While maybe not the sexiest tool – it’s still a great technique for reaching certain audiences and building a base of support.

My tips for doing a good job with an enewsletter:

  • Know your audience. Rule number one for any new initiative or campaign. If you don’t know, ask. You can do basic audience research on the cheap – a short questionnaire at the checkout stand, intercept interviews around your location, build questions into an admissions form.
  • Set some measureable objectives and clearly define success. What do you hope to accomplish? And is an enewsletter the right tool?
  • Make it informational. Ads are ads are ads and the likelihood is going to read them on purpose is diminishing. I nearly always delete emails from Gap, Ann Taylor and Lands End without opening them. They don’t provide me with any value.

    If you’re in the real estate development industry, you might write about your corporate philanthropy, your green efforts and upcoming events that your readers might enjoy. If you’re in health and fitness, the possibilities are virtually endless: health tips, exercises (maybe a series on exercises you can do at your desk to keep lose during the day), nutrition, events, etc. You can see where this is going… If you’re primarily focused on content, you can get by with a little self-promo.

  • Pay attention to details. Things like subject line, who the enewsletter is from and what day of the week you deliver it are all important. I found some great tips here for figuring this out.

  • Keep your enews short. Maybe 3 or 4 short articles and that’s it. People are busy. But link them to your Web site for more good content or to a blog.
  • Be consistent. If you promise a monthly newsletter, deliver it monthly.
  • Content is king. Even if you’re not going for a content rich enewsletter and something shorter – always deliver content of some kind. A short tip, trick or tool that your reader will get something out of and then hit them with the sales pitch.
  • People need to opt in. Ask customers face to face and put a form on the web site where people can sign up.

Think about what enewsletters you most enjoy and why. Copy that style. My two favorites are Iconoculture and Smart Brief on Social Media. Both are packed with information I’m unlikely to get elsewhere and consistently deliver good content. I’m a fan, for sure.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) enewsletters and why?

Guest Post: Tips for a Great Portfolio Review Episode 2

This guest post is from senior Jessica Lomelin. Winter term 2008, Jessica participated in portfolio reviews and had very positive evaluations from her reviewers. I asked her (and a few others) to share their tips. You can find Jessica’s blog, A Moment of Wonderful, here.

  • Know your stuff. Do some research on your interviewers before meeting with them. Knowing about their professional industries and their work history will help you find unique commonalities.
  • Less is more. Although you may be able to fill your portfolio with a variety of pieces, pick and choose a few to focus on. Make a list of the top 3-5 things that you believe makes you stand out and highlight upon those. Your interviewers would rather see you fully explain a few items from start to finish rather than skimming through a plethora of work.
  • Be results-oriented. Anyone can write a press release or create a media list. Your interviewers want to see strategic thinking and planning, so explain to them why you chose a particular method and the results that came of it.
  • Be confident. If you are genuinely interested in a public relations field, vocalize that. I had a fear that if I focused too much on one sector, I would lessen my chances to ever work in other practices. Regardless of the specific practice, pr practitioners want to see that you are motivated and have the real-world experience to pursue that particular career path.
  • Be appreciative. These interviewers have gone out of their way to meet you and provide mentorship services. Send a thank you card and let them know that you appreciate their time and would like to continue to build on this relationship. The more you keep in touch and seek advice, the more they’ll be willing to go out of their way to help you.


  • Relax and Have Fun. It’s okay if you slip up or seem a little nervous. This is a learning experience and meant to better prepare you for the future. Just remember that they too were once in our shoes and had to start from somewhere. Remember, Just relax and be yourself, and you’ll be great.

Are You Listening?

Participating in the blogosphere and social media requires that you have an ear to the ground. But where do you start?

Active listening is the first step to establishing a blogging or social media strategy (or any communication strategy for that matter…). As you think about blogging for a class or for a client or for your company, start with the basics.

Some resources:
Ogilvy Blog Feeds: A collection of some of the most influential blog feeds out there, from one of the most influential agencies.

Constantin Basturea: Blogger & PR Guru with Converseon has a variety of PR-related social media projects. My favorites: PR Blogs (a massive 600+ feed list of the PR blogs being published), The New PR Wiki (a collective knowledge base and collaboration tool) and his Google Co-Op project (a Google search that searches PR-related blogs, sites and wikis).

When you find a great blog like Communication Overtones or Spare Change, spend some time checking out the blogs on the author’s blogroll.

Of course, if you’re looking for something industry specific, give Technorati a go, too.

What resources did you find useful as you began blogging?

Sloth: One of the 7 Deadly Sins

I love this analogy!

The Ladders, a job search engine that lists jobs mainly in the $100K + salary range, has this terrific site around the 7 deadly sins of interviewing.

My favorite is “sloth,” I think. Mostly because I see this with soon-to-be or recent graduates more than I’d like. Excerpt:

Winging it is never good, particularly in an interview. Be able to show knowledge of your potential employer, awareness of the industry, and the company’s business strategy. The level of detail in your questions should match your experience.

What questions match your level of expertise? If you know you’re going into an entry-level position that is going to be media relations focused, ask questions about the day-to-day of your potential job. Will you be pitching? Or providing support? What kind of mentoring does the agency offer?

There are plenty of ways to show your genuine interest in a position before and after the interview. But it takes time and effort. My absolute favorite idea comes from one of my superstar students, Laura Bishow who got her dream job at Maxwell PR Studio in Portland, Ore.

When she decided that she wanted to work at Maxwell, she found a few select clients of the agency and created Google News searches for those clients. She had a contact at the agency because she’d done an informational interview. So, connect the dots, here… when Client A came up on a Google News search, Laura emailed her contact and said (something along the lines of), “What great coverage! How did you work with this reporter? how did you pitch this story?”


What other advice do you have? Any horror stories?

You’ve Gotta Show, Not Just Tell

From one of my favorite new reads: Indexed by Jessica Hagy

I often find myself telling clients what Jessica has illustrated so clearly and what they should know. Just because you say you have a plan, or you have a great vision does not mean people are going to buy what you’re selling. People need proof. They need action.

Say you’re about being socially responsible and committed to your local community? Prove it! Say you’ve got the best new product to revolutionize the way people do this or that? Show me!

Arlie & Company, a local Eugene, Ore.-based real estate developer (and a client) is my favorite example of a company that does this. Arlie gives thousands to local nonprofits that owners Suzanne Arlie and husband John Musumeci believe are doing good work. And they are committed for the long-haul. Organizations like Relief Nursery and Womenspace benefit from Arlie & Company’s support and have been able to do more good things because of the company. On top of financial support, Arlie & Company employees volunteer hundreds of hours to organizations like FOOD for Lane County, The Child Center and Center for Community Counseling.

In addition, in its day to day work, Arlie & Company believes strongly in sustainable building practices. Their new urban village, Crescent Village, will be environmentally, socially and financially sustainable (aka The Triple Bottom Line). I’m certainly proud to work with an organization like this and, even more importantly, restaurant, retail, commercial and residential customers are proud to buy or lease from a company like this.

As a future PR practitioner, it’s your job to the be the objective (but supportive) third party, helping clients understand how to match what they say (we support local nonprofits and are committed to sustainable building) with what they do.

Seed Newsvine

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