Overused Words

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10th February 2014, 3 minute read

Stick to the facts…

The US PR firm, Shift Communications, recently revealed the ‘top 50 most overused words in press releases in 2013’ – which it did by analysing 62,768 news releases (in an automated process, I believe…). Just so you know, the top five words the company came up with (once it had removed the, and, or, a etc) were:

  1. New
  2. First
  3. Mobile
  4. Professional
  5. Most

‘New’ was way out in front – having appeared 110,059 times, compared with 56,724 for first. I always remember an old editor of mine telling me never to use the word ‘new’ in any articles I was writing... I think she was busy throwing press releases in the bin at the time, which began: “ABC has just launched a new xxx” “Of course it’s new, if it’s just been launched,” I can hear her grumbling 20 years later.

Over-hyping any product or service you are writing about should also be avoided – as it simply looks as if you are trying too hard. There are many ways of explaining how great something is without stating that it’s ‘ground-breaking’ or ‘revolutionary’. The facts should speak for themselves.

Another editor I worked with always suggested that, at the end of quotes, I stuck with ‘said and says’ and didn’t come up with endless other variations, such as ‘exclaimed’, ‘uttered’ or ‘drooled’. The reason behind this, they explained (I’ll let that one go) is that it stops the reader mid-flow. If you stick with ‘said’, they keep reading.

Jargon is something which should also be avoided. There’s jargon in every industry – but one should always assume that readers are not familiar with it and, if you use any acronyms, they should be written out in full in the first instance.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of using over-complicated phrases or words, because you think it’ll make your piece sound more intelligent. If an editor has to consultant a dictionary to get to the end of your press release, then they will probably have got bored with it by the second paragraph.

There is a danger, on the other hand, of using the same words over and over again. I had another editor who always described any cocktail reception he attended as ‘sparkling’ – which made the rest of the editorial team snigger quietly. It’s really a case of finding a balance when writing – keep the language you use simple, yet make it interesting and engaging. That’s quite a skill.

When it comes to the language you use in press releases, my advice would be:

  1. Don’t overcomplicate your writing – because you think it makes you look clever.
  2. Don’t over-hype your new product or service – particularly by stating that it’s ‘groundbreaking’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘innovative’ or ‘revolutionary’
  3. Avoid jargon or acronyms
  4. Don’t fall into the trap of using the same words over and over again – such as new or first. But, at the same time, keep the language simple.

At the end of the day, a press release will only be used on the basis of the facts presented and how newsworthy it happens to be.

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