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PR Writing FAQ Sheet

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Twenty rules that define this course.
(You should skim this material during the first week, and then print this out and keep it with your class papers, as a FAQ sheet. Don't try to memorize it, just keep it handy for frequent reference.

  1. Deadlines matter. You can do your work whenever it's most convenient for you, but you will still have regular deadlines – just like the real world of public relations. They will be posted with each assignment.

  2. Don't skip any part of the lesson. These pages are your text for this course. Be sure to read everything in the lesson, twice. I'm not in the classroom with you and I can't repeat for emphasis – you have to take that responsibility on yourself.

  3. Short version of this page:
    1. Deadlines every Sunday at midnight
    2. MS Word documents only
    3. New assignments every Monday
    4. Grades can be improved in rewrites
    5. Follow protocols for filenames & emails
  4. New lessons will be posted every week. Once in awhile an assignment will be due during the week (embedded in the lesson, not in the Assignments link; this is how I "take attendance" sometimes) ... but the usual deadline is Sunday at midnight. You can always consult the Assignments link on the gray navigation bar at left. Sign on whenever you like, but you'll have more time to meet your deadline if you sign on around noon on the day the assignment is posted (with rare exceptions, on Monday mornings).

  5. Don't fall behind in your assignments. Assignments that are late are given a grade of zero for that lesson. As my in-class students know, there are no exceptions to this rule – just as you would not be able to tell a client that your floppy disk didn't work or your roommate had a nervous breakdown so you were up all night, the same excuses don't work in this course.

  6. Expect to write and rewrite each press release assignment at least twice. Especially at first, you are almost certainly not going to be able to get it right without trial and error. Your first draft will always be returned to each of you with my comments. The good news is, you will have multiple opportunities to perfect your work, and only the grade on your best draft is calculated into your final grade.

  7. Did you get that? -- Very important: writing assignments include a "pre-writing" exercise, the Message Planner, worth 20-25 percent of your grade depending on the context. The lead is worth about 40 percent, and the rest of the release about 35 percent. It's rare that your early drafts score well in all three areas, Different students have different learning curves, and I'm patient, and -- here's the most important part -- only the grade on your best draft is calculated into your final grade.

  8. Now pay close attention to this cautionary tale: A certain student thought my online course would be a breeze. She reasoned this way: "I can sit in a classroom for almost three hours a week, then do two hours of homework – that's five hours a lesson ... or I can take the course online, read the lesson, do two hours of homework – that's about half as much time!" ...What's wrong with this picture? The problem wasn't her writing; her math was bad: online learning doesn't mean less learning time. In fact, it can take longer to internalize each lesson, since you have to take the initiative to grasp difficult points. To learn this material you need to spend as much time on your own as you would otherwise spend in the classroom plus homework. PR Writing is complicated and you need to make sure you have allowed yourself enough time to absorb the information.

  9. This online course is not just a Web-based textbook. Like any good class, it's a relationship between you and your teacher (me), and among you and your classmates. These relationships will be mostly online instead of face-to-face, but they will still be relationships that we will all have to work to maintain.

  10. Send me your assignments as Microsoft Word attachments. Attaching files is a basic computing skill that you no doubt mastered long ago, but if you need help, check with the computer lab in the Marketing Communication Department. When I provide feedback to your Word documents, I deliver my comments in the form of text boxes. If your software can't read basic Word text boxes, talk to the tech staff in the computer lab and they will show you how to do it. Competency with basic word-processing programs is another essential skill of PR writing. (Note that I can receive documents as *.RTF files, but you will need Word to read my comments when I return your edited assignment.)

  11. Name your files correctly: For each assignment I will tell you what to name the file(s) you send me. It will always be PRW, then a hyphen, then last name, hyphen, and a filename I will give you. Don't forget the hyphens. It will look something like:


    When you begin to submit rewrites (typically, after the Midterm Exam) add a version number, starting with "2". Again, don't forget the hyphens. Your first "Evita" rewrite will be named:


  12. Subject field in your email address: Whenever you email me, put PRW and your last name somewhere in the "Subject:" field. Without the PRW I'll probably get it eventually but it will not arrive in the right mailbox, and will therefore be delayed – which might make your assignment late. For example, if Jim Jackson emails me with a question about Lesson One, the subject line might be:

  13. PRW-Jackson-Question about Lesson 1

  14. Remember – both your email subject line and your document must be correctly named. Your subject line so the email comes to the right place . . . and your document so I can find it on my hard drive among all the other assignments. Keeping delivery protocols straight is an important aspect of the Information Age, and thus it will affect your grade if you can't master this simple fact. More importantly, I may not even know you've sent me email if it lacks that PRW and is not routed to the right mailbox.

  15. I grade your assignments as printed documents. This means that whenever you email me your PR writings, they must be ready-to-print directly from the attached file. If they're garbled or if the page breaks, headers, etc., don't work, they are not acceptable.

  16. To email me, you may use my personal addresses: or (these are the addresses you'll usually come up with when clicking "Reply") -- or my Columbia College address (All three addresses forward to the same mailbox at Gmail, so don't bother to duplicate addresses when sending me email).

  17. Other communications channels will be available for posting questions and comments, for collaborating, and for real-time chats. Students who answer other students' questions will receive extra credit.

  18. There will be a midterm and a final exam. The midterm grade, like every other assignment except the final exam, can be improved through re-writes.

  19. You are welcome to visit me in my office whenever I'm on campus – my office hours are posted as 9-11am, Tuesday and Thursday, but I'm on campus more often than that. Make an appointment first by email, and then phone me before you come over – like most of the faculty, I'm often called to a meeting somewhere on campus.

  20. You are also welcome to visit my personal home page at any time. It's at But you don't really need to go there – everything you need is on the Web site where you are already reading this.

  21. Your next step now should be to check out the Syllabus .

  22. Then go on to Lesson One. Email me right away if you have any problems.

Looking forward,

Alton Miller

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