News

Get me rewrite

Editors are picky folks. Last week, I went picking around press releases
from our Assembly. There was much to pick.

There is bad writing-not terrible-but a lot of it is sloppy and not
thoughtful. The worst is the transparent self-serving tone. Everyone does it
so I guess it’s OK. Bull. These press releases can be a lot better. Here’s a
baby step toward improvement.

Don’t use the third person when writing about yourselves, and please, please
stop quoting yourselves. It’s really pompous and discourteous. And don’t use
“stated,” “concluded,” “pronounced,” “announced,” “remarked,” and other
words that try to pump importance into writing that’s mostly trivial.
Instead, use a great little word: said.

Here are some other pickings.

“Assembly bill 1246 would authorize the State Superintendent of Public
Instruction (SSPI) to develop and adopt preschool learning standards in the
areas of preliteracy and prenumeracy. The learning standards will be
developmentally appropriate, will assist in the transition from home to
preschool–and from preschool to kindergarten–and will address the emotional
and physical skills they need to grow and learn.”

From Assemblywoman Lois Wolk press release. Her bill has to do with children
but you can’t tell from her press release. She doesn’t mention student,
pupil, pre-schooler, child, teacher, or anything close to a human. I’m sure
she’s very nice and cares about kids, but the writing is impersonal,
bureaucratic bull. Lois, I once had an editor who said don’t write about
issues; write about people and things.

“All ready, 28 deaths and over 800 illnesses are attributed to the West Nile
Virus.”

Everybody ready! This came from an Assemblyman Rick Keene press release and
the error has been up on his Web site since Sept. 9. One of the benefits of
posting stuff on Web sites is that you can quickly fix errors and repost it.
Rick must be too busy.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger promptly issued a directive to all state agencies to
instruct Medi-Cal providers to immediately stop prescribing erectile
dysfunction drugs to known sex offenders. At the same time, Schwarzenegger
called on lawmakers to swiftly approve a legislative solution.”
Assemblyman George Plescia’s staff turned this one out. I usually take it in
pill form, but a solution, I guess, would be OK too.

“AB 394 unravels the bureaucratic mess that currently exists with regard to
cleaning up these CC&Rs. It is unfortunate that this type of language ever
existed in our country, but because it does, we need to do everything we can
to remove any statutory impediments that would prevent a homeowner from
eliminating this language,” stated Assemblyman Niello.

This is from a Roger Niello. I can tell Roger doesn’t like bureaucracy. He
calls it a mess. But he writes (quoting himself in the third person) like a
bureaucrat. I had to Sister-Mary-Martin the last clause (diagram it) to
untangle the negatives: remove, impediments, prevent, eliminating. So after
study, I think I understand it. That’s the problem, Roger. You make the
reader study your writing. It’s inconsiderate. Take a little more care in
making it clear on the first read.

“California is 1 of only 17 states that bars people who have been convicted
for felony drug convictions from public assistance.”

Here are two from a press release by Assemblywoman Karen Bass. First is her
use of “only.” Seventeen is 34 percent of the states. Does that merit an
“only”? Not to me. My second gripe about is the sloppiness of “convicted for
felony drug convictions.” Apparently, there was no editing before Sept. 2
when she posted the release on her Web site, and nobody’s read it since.
Hello! Does anyone in Karen’s office care?

Finally, here’s one from Assemblyman Tom Harman. At the end of a 250-word,
seven-paragraph press release thanking the governor for signing a bill
Harman had written, he gives the reader this important information:

“Assemblyman Tom Harman voted in favor of this bill when it came before him
on the Assembly floor.”

Duh.


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