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The Rigor of PR Writing

Posted At: April 14, 2008 11:23 AM
by Sandra Allen, APR, Contributing Writer

Let’s be honest. When was the last time you heard a fellow student say, “I can’t wait to get to my PR Writing class. I just love it.”? You would be excused for answering “never.” It’s no secret. Those of us who teach public relations writing know our classes are last on your list of preferred courses. We know you grit your teeth and bear it.

But here’s the disconnect: both public relations practitioners and college educators agree that PR Writing is a gateway to your career after graduation. We also know that students who don’t do well in writing courses, or who drop out of the course, may also abandon a career in public relations. Tracking student performance is particularly important as we recruit minorities—and males, who are a minority in the so-called Velvet Ghetto of public relations—who are typically “at risk” students in public relations studies. We teachers face the challenge of motivating you to want to write better so you can succeed in your profession.

The “gotta wanna” principle

So, what to do? It’s the “gotta wanna” principle. You have to see the value in acquiring good writing skills, and we teachers must help you to understand that solid writing skills are the ticket to the PR dance.

I recently asked a group of students in a PR writing class to describe a situation that propelled them into spending more time on their writing assignments. One student said: “Last week, when PRSSA visited the offices of Well-Known International PR Firm, the account executive told us the firm won’t interview anyone who doesn’t first take a writing test. Their test is a news release.” Which was my wake-up call.

Professors think of teaching writing as a scholastic discipline. Professionals think learning writing is the permit to an entry-level position. Students tell us: “Almost all professors refer to their professional experience, and they tell us about real-world expectations.” I believe students believe us. However, we need a common language of teaching, shared with the profession. And professionals who open their early-career stumbling blocks to your scrutiny. Chances are, for the professional no less than for you, the student, writing those first few news releases was torture. So, it’s important to let you in on how they wrote themselves out of the rabbit hole of redrafting redrafts.

Student + Teacher + Professional = Career Success

We teachers can use the professionals’ expertise as a sounding board for our in-class approach. We can invite them to guest lecture, even team-teach. It’s been done before, successfully. Betsy Plank was a forerunner of the professor + professional team. What we all need—student, teacher, professional—are more leaders like our beloved Betsy who consider professional time spent mentoring young writers an offset and an investment in the future of the profession.

Yes, teaching writing is hard work, and learning to write well isn’t easy. It demands full-on concentration in class. Afterward, it’s a one-on-one process. You write; we edit. But writing is a cumulative process, and becoming a good writer is exactly like becoming a star tennis player. The more we practice, the better we become. In the end, all of us—student, teacher, professional—just gotta wanna go for it. The future of our profession will only benefit.

E-mail: Sandra Allen

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