Public Relations Writing: Lesson #2 - p. 6

6. The outline of paragraphs is another problem for many students.

The outline of paragraphs is where you put your ideas in order. The first paragraph is always your lead -- we'll work on leads more in later lessons, but for now, keep in mind that your lead should pretty much tell the whole story in a nutshell, putting your most interesting information first.

For example,

  1. Lead paragraph

    • This will be a graf that communicates the 5 W's, the news angle and the message
  2. Mayor Cline's involvement

    • A graf that highlights the mayor's support of the program, including the fact that he "was" on hand for the Jan. 14 announcement (colorfully attired in his chef's cap and apron) and that he will personally help serve hot meals to the homeless when the free meal program debuts next month.
  3. Westland College Student Association

    • A graf that touts the student organization, which saw the need and took action -- consistent with their charter and despite the notion that students just wanna have fun.
  4. Background on poverty problems, county statistics

    • Here is where you'll show how this story has impact; a lot of people are involved -- not only the growing numbers of poor families, but the quality of life for everyone, rich or poor, who live in Persimmon County.
  5. Need for food, money, volunteers

    • You'll need to explain where staples (only) should be sent, where money can be mailed, for buying perishables, and that you're also asking for volunteers.
  6. Challenge to the community

    • A graf making the point that "From the Heart" will be taking care of Wednesday nights, but there are still six other nights of the week, and other civic organizations should emulate the students and dedicate their efforts to making sure no one ever goes hungry.
  7. Where and how food will be served

    • We haven't said anything detailed about the actual meal service -- just the food drive. But obviously we need to explain that the meals will be served starting Feb. 14 -- Valentine's Day -- hence "From the Heart" -- and that they'll be served at the Anodyne Shelter.
  8. Anodyne Center

    • You may want a graf that talks about the Anodyne Center and its role in the community, with reference perhaps to its director David Jackson.
  9. Westland College

    • Often a press release about a student organization will contain a simple graf that gives information about the college, for releases that may end up across the country (or with the Associated Press for widespread distribution).

    You may not agree with this order of paragraphs. For example, you might want to put #7 higher up in the order. That's the advantage of dealing with short abbreviations at this point (the outline of paragraphs will include just the bold headings 1-9, not the italicized comments ) -- they're easy to erase and move up or down.

    Notice we're using the inverted pyramid style here . As you know from intro courses, this is the journalistic style that says "Put the more important stuff at the top, the less important in the middle, and the least important at the bottom." Reporters know that editors want to be able to cut a story from the bottom up -- if it's ten inches and they only need eight, they want to be able to simply snip two inches off the bottom. The story has to hold despite the loss of that last paragraph. Then, if necessary, the editor needs to be able to snip again, and maybe again -- until only the top paragraph or two are left. With a well-crafted inverted pyramid, the story is still intact, even though now's it's only a "news note" -- a brief item.

    Of course, as a PR writer, you don't want to write a single paragraph that could be considered "least important." You want the entire story to survive. That's one reason why our press release format is very specific about length. Our press releases are two pages long, no more, no less -- well, actually, a little less, since we leave white space above the headline on the first page, to allow room for editor's comments. To supply less than this is to send a clear signal that the story can be told in a brief news item. To send more than an editor is likely to use, is to abdicate the decision of what to keep and what to cut -- you should make that decision before sending in the story.

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