Publication date: February 18, 2009 | print version
Welcome to the Era of Information…
At school we usually learn that today’s society is called post-industrial. The peculiarity of this stage of civilization development lies in the key role of high technology and information processing technology – this stage is also called information society. Give a glance at the software market: numerous developers release great numbers of new programs. Most of PC users do not even imagine this production scale – every field of activity employs specially developed software, whether it be banking management or forensic analysis, translating or design. Even if we take into consideration the software for end users, the number is tremendous and is increasing rapidly.
Now the inevitable trouble begins. Users need effective and convenient programs, developers need customers – how can they find one another? Nowadays the amount of daily information for every person to deal with exceeds human capabilities. In many cases the information simply fails to reach the person it is intended for: developers and their potential customers cannot hear each other. How is this problem solved? With the help of intermediaries, for example, the press (represented by editors). Developers send press-releases to an editor who is to choose what seems deserving the readers’ consideration. And the readers are all potential customers. Simple and smart.
The Shoals of Press-Release Writing
To write an effective software press-release it is essential for an author to combine what is practically not combinable: linguistic and technical literacy. Any disbalance is dangerous. Who is engaged into writing press-releases for IT companies? Anybody who wants to: from developers to secretaries. Why is not the developer the best author of promo texts on his or her product? The one who developed the software knows it best of all!.. The main problem of most engineers lies in absolute inability to take advantage of language resources as well as in overestimating common users’ knowledge. A press-release is an important PR document; therefore, you need to pay special attention to stylistic and semantic details, creative approach to headings and other important features that are quite far from technical aspect. To pass the “face control” of an editor it is not sufficient for a release to describe software functions. In the worst cases of such a “techno-syndrome” one gets releases remarkable for stylistic howlers similar to the following:
Or like that:
Try to imagine a journalist able not only to get the meaning of this, but also to make it understandable for a reader. Quite difficult. Whom is such a release for?
Sometimes technical writers deal with press-releases, and this makes sense. Technical writers can describe program features and functions professionally. It is them who write technical documents and user manuals, which require a relatively high level of technical literacy and an ability to explain the main ideas connectedly and intelligibly. But still, you run a high risk to get a manual summary instead of a press-release.
In general, writers with liberal arts education are the best in writing press-releases on user programs. First of all, they are quite adequate, and they also possess the minimal technical literacy, necessary for understanding the point of the product. In this case you get the required combination of technical literacy, ability to speak literary language and the skill of rendering special information in an understandable form. The information given by the developer is transformed into a text intended for a common user – correspondent to the basic level of technical literacy, but containing all the essential information on the program. And this is called translating from technical language to human one. Of course, very few of so-called “liberal arts girls” will be ever able to reach the geek level of a developer and to speak computer slang fluently. But what is the point of co-operating with the press? To make sure that nobody knows your software better than you – or to provide journalists with the news they dig for? If it is the second option, do not be afraid of reflecting on your technical specialists’ linguistic skills. After all, it can be rewarding. Try out something new: in fact, most PR specialists are those very same liberal arts girls, and they know better than many others what editors expect from the companies.
Hou to Rite Korectly?
While writing a press-release it is also very important to keep in mind that it may be potentially published. Of course, a text full of mistakes will be rejected no matter how valuable the contents are. Editors are quite busy with work, and they have no spare time for correcting silly mistakes. It is a pity, but many highly qualified technical specialists completely forget about spelling and punctuation. And a writer can easily compose a press-release for an editor, taking into account potential users and pressing punctuation keys from time to time.
For the sake of justice it should be noted, that if you deal with single-purposed programs developed for a closed user group achievable through one or two field mass media, there is no point in employing writers: you will simply lose time on consulting them. In such cases technical writers are more suitable, as they understand the technical aspect quite well. But if you claim to develop mass product, the author you need is a humanist with technical literacy of a minimum necessary level. Such an author would create the most adequate, informative, literate and interesting text – just what an editor would choose for publishing.
¹The quotations are taken from S. Skripnikov’s report at the PR section of ISDEF 2008.