Category Archives: Tools & Tactics

Grammar Hammer: Whether You Like it or Not

Today’s burning grammar question – are “if” and “whether” interchangeable? If (2)Let’s consider the possibilities:

The easy part

Use “if” in a conditional sentence and “whether” when you are offering options.

RIGHT: We’ll be able to make it to the football game if it stops raining by noon.

RIGHT: We’ll go to the football game whether it rains or not.

Now, the tricky part

Which word would you choose for these examples?

Example #1: She didn’t know if/whether her test scores were high enough in order to secure a scholarship.

Example #2:  I couldn’t remember if/whether I paid the lawn service bill.

In both of these cases, either word is correct. “If” or “whether” can be applied interchangeably for indirect questions (example #1) or yes/no questions (example #2).

Finally, the grammar geek part

Use “whether”:

  • After prepositions
  • Before infinitives
  • When the sentence contains a two-part option
  • If the alternatives lead the sentence

EXAMPLE: Whether or not I’ve saved enough money, I’m going to Paris next spring.

If this helps, remember that using “if” introduces one condition and “whether” introduces alternative possibilities.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

6 Last Minute Tips for PR Success at the American International Toy Fair 2014

Scenes from the American International Toy Fair 2014

Scenes from the American International Toy Fair 2014

We’ve made it to the final stretch for the American International Toy Fair.  If you’re anything like us at Virtual Press Office, the last few days leading up to an event become a blur of last minute to-dos.

So- you’ve secured your online press kit and release distribution through the Toy Fair Virtual Press Office? That’s great! But before you move down your list, let’s take a few minutes to fine-tune. Below are some tips from VPO to help you tidy up all the content for Toy Fair you’ve been working to create these past few months.

Do The Research For The Media

Journalists love the free candy you have waiting for them. But want to know what they really appreciate? When you package up everything they could possibly need to cover your story in one space. Be sure your press kit includes:

  • Your booth number
  • Your current logo
  • A phone number and email where you can be reached during the show
  • Your calendar of events during the show. Do you have a press conference? Celebrity appearance? Panel discussion? Happy hour? Let them know.
  • Links to all of your social network channels
  • Product shots
  • Company bios
An exhibitor on the show floor

An exhibitor on the show floor

The Best Time To Send Your News Release

We get this question a lot, especially because Toy Fair falls on a Sunday. Don’t shy away from sending news for Toy Fair over the weekend. The media are tuned-in and looking for updates. In 2013 the majority of the news issued through VPO for Toy Fair was sent on Sunday- day one of the show. And if you’re sending during the week, the general rule of thumb for any release is to avoid the open and close of the financial market.

Second Guess Your Headline

Does your headline sound something like “XYZ Company announces new line of products at 2014 Toy Fair?” Yawn.  You are at Toy Fair because you have an exciting story to share, right? Draw in your reader. During a recent PR Newswire media panel discussion, contributing journalists challenged the PR industry to change the format of the traditional press release.  Break the rules. Make your headline short, snappy, include a hook, and get your reader excited. Check out this headline from Whole Foods:

This is what your grocery store looks like without bees.

Whole Foods Market® partners with The Xerces Society to “Share the Buzz” and protect pollinator populations

This Whole Foods story ended up as a cover story on Time Magazine.

Break out of that boring template and tell your story!

Multimedia Increases Engagement

Click to view the entire press release from Saban

Click to view the entire press release from Saban

Toy Fair is one of the most visual trade show events.  What images, graphics and videos do you have that will help tell your story?  Press releases that include multimedia get more views- up to 9.7 times more views than releases that do not include multimedia.

The most viewed news release from the VPO Toy Fair in 2013 came from Saban Brands- this release announcing the Power Rangers 20th Anniversary addition of Monopoly. Saban included a multimedia gallery that featured product shots and a logo. The result? They led the pack in release engagements, online views, media views and search views. PR Newswire’s multimedia capabilities are now more affordable and easier than ever to utilize.

Be Social

Keep your online buzz going during the show. The Toy Fair hashtags are #TF14 and #TFNY. Be sure to have someone updating your social media throughout the day, and be conversational. Follow the bloggers and influencers that most interest you at Toy Fair, and chime into their online conversations that pertain to your brand.

Look At The Big Picture

Take a step back and look at how your product has affected or changed the market. Have you set a new standard for outdoor play at Toy Fair this year? Write a follow-up release from a feature writer’s perspective- maybe a release listing 10 activities for families who want to spend more quality time outside. Then add a quote from your CEO, link your Youtube video, and product image. Don’t wait for the media to tell an incredible story- be your own storyteller!

For more ideas visit the Toy Fair PR Boot Camp page. Now go get a manicure- you’ve got lots of firm hand shakes in your near future.

Author Lisa Kopec-Miller is a member of the Virtual Press Office staff. 

7 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Influencers

Influencer Marketing Forum 2

While digital communication has afforded brands more opportunities to reach their audiences, consumers have developed a heightened awareness of traditional marketing tactics and look to their peers as a trusted source of information. Brands are now harnessing the power of those influencers for a return on investment that goes beyond retweets and Facebook likes. PR Newswire and Business Development Institute recently co-hosted the Influencer Marketing Forum featuring senior-level marketing and communications leaders who have successfully boosted sales by engaging their social influencers. Here are some of the valuable strategies they offered to help other organizations target and tap into their network:

Leverage the power of other brands that are thought-leaders in your desired market

Alberto Canal, Vice President of Verizon Communications Inc., hoped to establish his company’s brand as a technology innovator beyond cell phone devices. To accomplish this, Verizon teamed with the MIT Enterprise Forum and Mashable to host offline meet up sessions with start-up tech companies. Engaging with these notable brands and initiating personal interaction with other influencers enhanced Verizon’s efforts and increased their value as a part of the tech community.

Pick your social channels with a purpose 

Stats on social moms via Sharon Vinderine

Stats on social moms via Sharon Vinderine

According to Sharon Vinderine, founder and CEO of Parent Tested, Parent Approved Media, over 90% of the time spent online is by moms who rely on social media more than email as a means of communication. However, each social channel is valued for a different reason. Vinderine has observed that Twitter is used to view breaking news, Facebook to connect with friends and family, and Pinterest as a source of creative inspiration. Marketers need to understand their audience intentions on each these channels in order to customize the messages that connect and engage.

Establish a blog

Hosting a blog is key to reaching niche markets because it is viewed as an educational resource that builds credibility.  Sprout It CEO, Matt Armstead, sought the help of six influential bloggers within the home and garden industry to develop engaging content that promoted his company’s new iPad app and “backyard takeover” Instagram contest. The move helped Sprout It generate awareness among thousands of contest participants and firmly establish the brand within the home and gardening space on a conservative budget. It also earned Sprout It a spot on the list of 10 Best Influencer Marketing Campaigns of 2013.

Create visually stimulating content

Tap Influence’s Head of Business Development, Jennifer Swartley, believes that

Photos drive the most engagement on social channels.

Photos drive the most engagement on social channels.

in the age of constant connection, a brand’s social hub is “always on” and must be able to stand out against an overflowing stream of social chatter. According to Swartley, eye-catching images are the types of compelling content that “cuts through on every platform” and provides something of value for audiences to connect with emotionally. A recent survey conducted by PR Newswire supports this notion, proving that photos indeed drive the most engagement on social channels.

Mine your influencers and follow the people they follow

Social engagement is what drives discoverability of a brand’s messages. Therefore, brands need to seek out not just single influencers, but entire communities of people who are participants in the conversation. AARP was able to find a voice amongst an older generation of social media users by listening to conversations and targeting the same people that their identified influencers follow.  As Tammy Gordon, AARP’s Vice President of Social Communications says, “You want the people they care about to be delivering your messages.”

The 5 types of social influencers according to Neil Beam

The 5 types of social influencers according to Neil Beam

Know who your advocates are

Neil Beam, research and measurement council chair at WOMMA, identified five categories of social influencers: advocate, ambassador, celebrity, professional occupational, and citizen. According to Beam, advocates are the most powerful voice among all five categories because they are uncompensated and independent thinkers who bring the most financial return to the brands they support. By identifying advocates, brands are able to gain a number of valuable insights  such as competitive intelligence, locating target audiences , and diagnosing campaign strengths and weaknesses.

Drive new discovery through distribution 

Social media is undoubtedly a valuable tool for engaging with communities that share a common interest, enabling brands to gain visibility and traction among new audiences. To reach fresh audiences and continually introduce organization’s messages to new audiences, brands must put some thought – and some effort – behind the distribution of content they produce.  Reaching beyond your brand’s existing followers is crucial to both acquiring new audiences and driving ongoing discovery of the brand’s content.

Distribution can mean a variety of things, from developing a presence within a

A snapshot PR Newswire's press releases shared on Twitter within 3 minutes

A snapshot PR Newswire’s press releases shared on Twitter within 3 minutes

connected industry community to distributing granular content across a network of web sites.  Re-thinking your PR approach is important too – your audiences, as well as the bloggers and journalists who cover your space – are voraciously consuming and sharing content. Want proof? Take a look at the live feed of tweets about press releases issued via PR Newswire! Distribution beyond social channels will ultimately drive more visibility for your messages everywhere, including those same social channels.  When thinking about reaching audiences, remember that content distribution is additive, channeling more attention to your brand’s owned content.

For more thinking on how content distribution drives ongoing discovery and visibility for brands, click to download our free ebook Driving Content Discovery: How to Generate Ongoing Visibility for Your Content.

Grammar Hammer: More Than vs. Over

via Dee Ann Adams

via Dee Ann Adams

In a really great article published on Mediabistro, author Shawn Paul Wood narrows down the top five grammar issues that PR people still can’t agree upon. The one I find most peeve-inducing is the difference between “more than” vs. “over.” Just as Wood explained, I’d always learned that “more than” refers to quantities and “over” when it comes to spatial relationships. But according to my research, there is no hard and fast rule that fully sets the record straight.

My first line of defense is my handy-dandy AP Stylebook.  It says, “See over” when I look up “more than.” When I look up the word “over” in the AP Stylebook, it says is “generally refers to spatial relationships,” but then offers the encouragement to “let your ear be your guide.”

If I’m letting my ear be my guide, I would never refer to my age as being “more than …” (come on, a lady never reveals her age). Let’s just say I’m “over 29” and be done with it.  I would also never say I have “over 10 gray hairs” (which reminds me I need to schedule a much-needed appointment so I can cover up the more than 10 gray hairs I may or may not admit to having).

For as many references that I can find listing out the above rule (“more than” for numbers, “over” for spatial relationships), there are just as many that say it’s a  style preference.  I leave it to you, dear reader, to consult your favorite style guide (and your ear) to determine which word is best for the context and content that you are carefully crafting.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Why Would a Good Man Such As Yourself Do a Thing Like That?

Why would a good manThis week’s topic explores the proper use of “like” versus “such as.” While we love to pepper our sentences with this classic crutch word, grammatically speaking, there is a very specific time and place for like.

For those about to take the GMAT, this little tidbit will help you get at least one question right. The technical use of the word “like” should be used for comparison, NOT for examples. An example should be introduced by “such as.”

Example: Cathy plays several musical instruments such as the flute, the piano, and the kazoo.

In this example, I’m telling you specific examples of instruments I play. Technically, if I said I played instruments like the flute, the piano and the kazoo, you could speculate as to what type of instrument is “like” a flute (pan flute, recorder, tin whistle), a piano, and a kazoo.

Outside of the GMAT world, though, the big grammatical sticking point is becoming all but obsolete. Follett said in Modern American Usage (1966) that “such as” leads the mind “to imagine an indefinite group of objects” while “like” suggests “a closer resemblance among things compared.”

In layman’s terms, test-takers should remember this:

  • Use “like” when emphasizing similar characteristics.
  • Use “such as” when introducing examples.

For the rest of us in the English-speaking world, there isn’t much distinction between using “like” and “such as” in a casual setting. Therefore, consider the context and if a more formal tone is needed, and you need to show an example of how the shoe fits, use “such as.” Otherwise, I don’t think you’ll confuse or offend anyone if you continue to use “like.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Feeling Nauseous?

Don’t tell someone you are nauseous, you wouldn’t want them to agree with you. lil tweet bird

An employee comes up to me –looking pale and visibly clammy, and says, “I feel nauseous. Ok to head out?” First of all, yes. Please go. Take your germs with you. Secondly, if you’re about to get sick anywhere near me, it’s not the time for me to spend too much time thinking about whether you should have said you were feeling nauseated instead of nauseous.

  • To be nauseous, according to the dictionary, is an adjective and means to be “affected with nausea; nauseated: to feel nauseous.”
  • To be nauseated (verb), means “to affect with nausea; sicken” or “to cause to feel extreme disgust.”

Is there enough of a difference between nauseated and nauseous to be concerned about proper usage? My wonderful grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, would have said, “Well, now granddaughter, if you’re feeling sick, you are feeling nauseated. Nauseous means that something is making you sick. Don’t tell someone you are nauseous, you wouldn’t want them to agree with you.”


In today’s world, saying you feel nauseous is pretty commonplace. Is it worth getting into a grammatical spat? While purists may currently consider misuse of nauseous and nauseating a mistake, it might not even make the radar in another 20 years. My advice, take two of whatever will ease the pain and call me in the morning.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Real Time Reactions & Timely Tweets From #Chiberia

I live in the Chicago suburbs, and we’re freezing our tailfeathers off tonight as the polar vortex makes another swing through the Midwest. As I write this post, the temperature is -4 F.  However, the fun is just starting.  We’re going to hit -20 tonight.

At this point, most of us have pretty much had it with the weather, but let’s face it. It is what it is.  Complaining will get you nowhere.   And nowhere is that sentiment evidenced more clearly than on the #chiberia hashtag on Twitter, where local brands and their fans are not hunkering down.   Here are some great examples of timely, topical tweets from local media and brands that are generating positive exposure and conversation on this coldest-of-cold days.

The folks at Crain’s Chicago Business are (wisely) crowd-sourcing photos of the frozen locale, and they’re generating a fantastic (and beautiful) response. 

The team at Today’s Chicago Woman magazine know that many potential readers out there are stuck somewhere, and are offering empathy, and a suggestion to alleviate the boredom:

The Sun-Times is dishing secrets for staying warm from TV reporters – specifically, the intrepid souls who do live traffic spots at 4 a.m. on bridges above expressways:

The intrepid souls at Fleet Feet Chicago aren’t letting the cold deter them from encouraging and interacting with their audience.  Enjoy those runs, folks, wave as you go by.

The folks at LA Valet services are capitalizing in a very timely way by offering their snow-plowing services under the #chiberia hashtag.  It  may not be the most interesting tweet, but given the high winds we’ve been having, coupled the copious snow and frigid temperatures, there are probably more than a few people out there who are ready to seek professional help for snow removal.

The lesson here for brands?  Stay warm, and stay engaged. Follow trending hashtags, gauge the audience spirit and go with it.  The brand tweets I shared are very consistent with the resilient (albeit resigned) tone of the #chiberia tweets.  Spirits are pretty positive.  Heck, we’re even joking about the Cubs. 

Keep on top of hashtags, influencers and social conversations with the Agility platform. You can even research media, build targeted lists and distribute content while you’re at it – it’s easy and fast.  Learn more about Agility here: 
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Grammar Hammer: Because

It’s the exchange that has befuddled small children forever:

Offspring: “Why?”

Parent: “Because.”

Sound familiar?  I heard that a lot as a kid, and you probably did, too. But what about this one?

“I’m moving to Hawaii because winter.”

Did the conjunction “because” just become a preposition? When did that happen? I know I may miss things from time to time, like whatever new TV series everyone else is watching but me, but I think I’d remember if a word I have always used as a subordinating conjunction now takes on new life as a preposition. Not a compound preposition (“because of…”), but an outright preposition.

Is this just a fad? Will this eventually morph into what is considered acceptable vernacular (like saying someone graduated college, a topic I addressed last spring)? Or is this just meme-induced slang?

This is apparently a THING now. The “prepositional-because.” Linguists have named it the “because NOUN”. Neal Whitman, in a post for Grammar Girl, found an example from 2008 and described it as “putting hand waving into words.”

I’ve been pouring over articles this week, reading about my beloved home state of West Virginia cleaning up after a major chemical spill that hit the water supply of some 300,000 residents in nine counties. The overall population of the state of West Virginia in 2012 was 1.855 million, and this chemical spill affected 16% of the entire state’s population. For some perspective, the population of New York City in 2012 was 8.337 million – if something pollutes 16% of their water supply, we’re talking about 1.33 million people. Sixteen percent of a population without access to clean, potable water is a big deal, because human rights.

If you know me personally, you’ll be able infer my tone, my sense of humor (although chemical spills are never funny), and the implied “there’s-more-to-the-story-but-you-already-know-it”. If you don’t, the reasons behind the “because” are left solely to your interpretation.

Is this just the next step in the devolution of language? My sister recently rented the movie “Cloud Atlas.” She said she had to turn on the subtitles during the most futuristic part of the movie because the characters spoke in such abbreviated language. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know what she’s talking about. I haven’t yet, so I’ll just take her word for it.

Internet memes aside, whether or not this continues as a trend, a fad, or a passing fancy remains to be seen. I’ve said before I’m a purist at heart and tend to cling to old-school rules when it comes to grammar. Maybe this will find its way into more than just the vernacular. Until then, I will keep my subordinating conjunctions and compound prepositions to myself because…

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Social Media Lessons from The New York Times: They’re Not Just for Newsrooms


2013 was a big year for The New York Times’ social media staff; they added three editors to their team, expanded their role in tweeting the news, and grew @NYTimes by nearly 5 million followers.

Last week they took to the Nieman Journalism Lab to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Although the post was intended for newsrooms, many of their lessons can be adapted by any organization’s social media team.

Social Media’s Human Element

Social media automation has a few benefits – it helps your feed stay live in the evenings or days your team is unable to consistently tweet.

However, as NYT’s staff has learned from automation gone wrong, “our Twitter accounts are better when we staff them.”

When a headline was auto-tweeted implying Andy Murray of Scotland was English, the mistake snowballed in a way it wouldn’t have had a social media editor been there. Their team has caught and quickly fixed similar errors.

“When our hands are minding the feed,” the @NYTimes team wrote, “errors like that either don’t happen or have less of an impact.”

Instead of auto-tweeting your blog posts as they are published, have your social media team take a second look and manually tweet them. In addition to catching a glaring error the original author may have missed, they may also come up with something better for the tweet.

The best headlines don’t always make the most engaging tweets. For instance, the headline “The Rock ’n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero” did not perform nearly as well on Twitter as @NYTimes’ rewrite:

Monitoring the original tweet helped @NYTimes see that they needed a different approach for social media.

Tweet What’s Interesting and Helpful to Your Audience

Not surprisingly, breaking news tweets about the Boston Marathon, Supreme Court rulings, George Zimmerman, and Nelson Mandela were among @NYTimes’ most clicked and retweeted last year.

The public has historically turned to The New York Times in times of major events to stay informed and updated. It’s what audiences expect in the print and online editions, as well as on social media.

Subsequently, The New York Times’ social media desk works “in concert with, not independent of, our main newsdesk.” They coordinate with their reporters and editors to send out tweets tied to their news coverage.

We say it all the time: Know your audience. Know why they turn to you and how your products and services can help them. Know what interests your audience and pick content for your social media posts that reflects that.

Just as the NYT team coordinates with their news desk, your social media team should coordinate with your product teams, customer service, sales, marketing, and PR. Everyone will develop a better understanding of your organization’s audience, and you’ll provide consistently helpful content across all of your platforms.

Don’t Lose Your Tweet in Crafty Clutter

The New York Times experiments with their tweets, occasionally putting posts out there that are witty or tease the story they’re trying to get people to click on.

However, they learned a simple tweet that sets clear expectations for the article was often the most effective. If readers could quickly determine what they were going to get by clicking on an article link, they were more likely to click.

When writing tweets, headlines, and lead paragraphs, a funny, cute, or extreme turn of phrase may grab readers’ attention.  However, don’t let it go too far and steal attention away from the actual story.

If your content and call to action get lost in the pursuit of wit, there’s no point.

Revisit and Recycle – with Restraint

Even a well-written tweet can get lost in the sheer volume of other tweets. And sometimes a person may see a tweet that interests them, but want to go back to it at a more convenient time.

This is why The New York Times schedules multiple tweets around one article.  They found that tweets scheduled on Saturday and Sunday had a much higher click-per-tweet.

Weekends may not see a lot of traction for your company’s social media; however, everyone can benefit from experimenting with their tweets’ timing.  Schedule the same tweet throughout the week at different times of day. Then monitor the results for a pattern of higher engagement.

However, as The New York Times cautions, show restraint. Don’t schedule duplicates of everything. Keep an eye out for tweets that worked well the first time, and choose tweets that link to the most interesting, evergreen content. For instance, breaking news first tweeted on Monday was no longer of interest the following Sunday.

Lessons from PR Newswire’s Twitter Distribution Network

We try to follow these best practices not only on @PRNewswire, but also our Twitter Distribution Network of nearly 50 industry news accounts.

The human element plays a significant role in these accounts’ success. From @PRNpolicy to @PRNtech, a team of social media ambassadors consisting of volunteers  from across the company curates content relevant to the industry topic of the Twitter account.

Curators volunteer to cover topics that interest them; they understand what sort of content audiences want because they’re part of that audience.

“Our volunteer curators are part of the topic communities they tweet about,” says Victoria Harres, VP of audience development and social media for PR Newswire. “Most of them are very passionate about the content they volunteer to curate and it shows. Our Twitter network of curators was the reason PR Newswire won a 2013 IMA Impact award for Twitter.”

Wire content also appears on these feeds through our SocialPost service.

Clients provide a tweet that is sent over three of our Twitter accounts with a link to their news release.  The tweets are staggered a few hours apart to increase their effectiveness.

We encourage clients to follow the above best practices when writing their tweet. The press release headline can be used as the tweet if it’s short enough and interesting. However, when looking at six months of SocialPost data, one of the most-clicked links belonged to a tweet that took a different approach than the release headline: “How to Handle a Medical Emergency” was rewritten for SocialPost as “Find tips for handling senior medical emergencies in this easy-to-use infographic”.

To have your company news appear on PR Newswire’s Twitter distribution network, select SocialPost on our News Release Order Form. Additional tips on how to write a tweet can be found on PR Newswire’s Knowledge Center.

Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager and member of PR Newswire’s social media team. You can find her on Twitter @PRNewswire and @ADHicken, as well as the PR Newswire Pulse Tumblr.

Join us for a free webinar titled “Newsworthiness: New Context & Opportunities for PR,” on January 23.  What’s newsworthy? The very definition of “news” is changing, and this evolution creates the opportunity for PR pros to create timely content that earns credibility, earns media and generates ongoing (and relevant) visibility for the brand. Taking pages from the journalistic and content marketing playbooks, this webinar will include a discussion on the evolution of news, how to map the resources within your own organization and ways to identify different opportunities a responsive PR department can capitalize upon.

Grammar Hammer: Passive Aggressive Voice (Not Behavior!)

This week we’re looking at the difference between the active and passive voices, and how to use (or avoid) their use.

Active voice: the subject of the sentence performs the action described in the verb.

Example: “I shoveled the driveway.”

The subject does the action to the object. I shoveled the driveway. The benefit to using active voice?  It makes your writing more concise and keeps the meaning of the sentence clear.

Passive voice: the subject is acted upon.

Example: “The driveway was shoveled.”

I intentionally left off the “by me” part of this to illustrate one way of determining passive voice.  If you can add “by so-and-so” to the end, the sentence is written in passive voice.

Passive voice is often used in scientific writing. It allows the writer to present information without having to attribute it to a particular agent. For non-scientific writing, passive voice is useful when the agent doing the action is obvious or unimportant, or if the writer wants to avoid mentioning the agent until the end of the sentence, if at all.

Identifying passive voice: if the object of the sentence is in the subject position = passive.

Three quick tips for avoiding passive voice mistakes:

  1. Don’t start a sentence in active voice and change it to passive voice (or vice versa).
  2. Avoid dangling modifiers.
  3. Trust your judgment. Your computer-programmed grammar checker may not have all the answers, you know.

And because English is confusing, remember that passive voice will always include some form of “to be” – am, is, was, were, are, been – but the presence of that verb doesn’t always mean passive voice.

If you really want to reduce your use of the passive voice, try the Paramedic Method.

Write your sentence and pick it apart!

  1. Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into)
  2. Draw a box around the “is” verb forms
  3. Ask, “Where’s the action?”
  4. Change the “action” into a simple verb
  5. Move the doer into the subject (Who’s kicking whom)
  6. Eliminate any unnecessary slow wind-ups
  7. Eliminate any redundancies.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

What’s your top PR resolution for 2014? Tell us in this quick, one-question survey!

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.