Category Archives: Tools & Tactics

Grammar Hammer: Hypothetically Speaking…

Image via Screened

It’s not often that we get into science when we start talking about writing. So, this week, we’ll delve into a little geek-speak and look at the differences between hypothetical things and theoretical things.

Hypothetical refers to things that are “assumed by hypothesis; of, pertaining to, or characterized by hypothesis; given to making hypotheses.” The fourth definition involves the principles of logic of either a highly conjectural/not well supported by available evidence proposition or a conditional proposition.

Theoretical refers to something that is “of, or pertaining to, or consisting in theory.” Theories are a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct.

Here’s the kicker – theory/hypothesis; hypothetical/theoretical – the dictionary lists them as SYNONYMS. Sigh, ok, so what’s a well-meaning word nerd to do? Common usage has these two words being fairly interchangeable when considering something “speculative.”

“Hypothetically, if I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight.”

“Theoretically, if I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight.”

If I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight – is that a theory (tested general proposition, commonly regarded as correct) or a hypothesis (a proposition set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena)? Remember that a theory started out as a hypothesis, and through proven experiments, became a fully-tested theory. A hypothesis starts out as an educated guess on what we think will happen. Proving ourselves right or wrong will take that hypothesis to a theory.

My #1 writing tip is to always consider your audience. If I’m writing for a scientific journal, I’m going to make darn sure that I’ve got my hypotheses and theories in separate corners and dragging them out in appropriate context, lest I be raked over the coals by someone with multiple advanced degrees and published works on a particular theory.  In less formal writing, I don’t know that anyone else would really know the difference.

Quick recap:

  • Educated guess? Hypothesis.
  • Proven and generally accepted as true? Theory.

This topic came up as we were trying to troubleshoot a technical issue, so it is really interesting to look at this in that context. When asked if the fix we were trying to put in would work, should we have said, “Theoretically, yes.” or “Hypothetically, yes.”?

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 and will probably never run 10 miles a day, ever.

Grammar Hammer: Into the Great Wide Open

You know what’s been tripping me up as of late? When to use “in” versus “into.” I don’t know why this is suddenly so complicated to me, but that’s the beauty of having a weekly deadline where I can write about such things; it gives me an excuse to settle the spectacular arguments I have with myself on how something should be written.

In order to try and simplify the differences here, I’m going to break things down by function.

Easy: “In” refers to position.

Example: “My keys are always in my pocket.”

“Into” refers to movement that is happening.

Example: “I shoved the pile of dirty laundry into the closet before my mother arrived.”

Not as easy: “In” can be an adverb, preposition, noun, or adjective. “To” can be a preposition, an adverb, or part of an infinitive, so let’s consider function.

Motion or Direction

Example: “She walked into the store, swinging her purse wildly.” (Into is the preposition, showing which direction she was walking.)

Example: “My kitten, Pip, crashed into the bookcase during last night’s 3 a.m. racing spell.” (Into references movement)

I think this last part is where I get tripped up the most – when “in” or “to” are part of the verb. If I say, “We dove [in to/into] the pool as soon as we reached the hotel,” which should it be? Here’s the one thing I can remember – if the word “to” is being used as an infinitive, it should be kept separate from “in.” For example, “She came in to hear the beautiful music that was being played.”

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: To Complement Your Compliment

Nutella pie. (Good luck thinking about anything else for the rest of the day.)

Occasionally, I see a “compliment/complement” typo in a news release that crosses my desk. It doesn’t happen that often, so when I do see it, I always pause for a moment to review. I think it’s because this is a homophone, where the words sound the same regardless of spelling. It’s only one little letter, right? That one little letter changes its meaning, so it’s important to learn which is which.


“Bill makes the best pies! His Nutella pie is my favorite.” I’ve just given Bill a compliment – a kind or flattering remark.


Bourbon whipped cream is the perfect complement to Bill’s Nutella pie. Complement, with an “e,” refers to bringing something to perfection or a number or quantity of something required to make a group complete. In this example, Nutella pie and bourbon whipped cream is a set (a perfectly matched one, in my opinion).  To put it another way, “We needed a full complement of friends to finish Bill’s fantastic Nutella pie.” A complement to your compliment.

Quick tip

Easiest way I’ve found to remember compliment vs. complement – it’s all about me.  I like to give compliments. Adding emphasis to the “i” in compliment helps me remember that I’m saying something nice.

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.

Photo credit: Bill Hart-Davidson. Recipe for nutella pie found here.

Grammar Hammer: The Things You Miss on Vacation

Our belated nod to National Punctuation Day.

I recently returned from a two-week vacation to Wyoming, visiting family and some of the greatest national parks (yes, this was pre-shutdown). The downside to coming back from vacation is that I always seem to miss the best stuff while I’m out.

I missed National Punctuation Day (NPD). National Punctuation Day® takes place every year on September 24 and this year marks the 10th anniversary. The National Punctuation Day web site offers lots of ideas on how to celebrate National Punctuation Day. You can enter an essay contest to commemorate NPD. In no more than 250 words, talk about how NPD has affected the way you think about punctuation (or not). You could cook the official meat loaf of National Punctuation Day®, a punctuation meat loaf. Or, you could pick up a copy of the local paper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find with a red pen (um, I sort of do this with everything I read, don’t you?). I’ve tackled a few topics on punctuation for Grammar Hammer (ellipsis, commas, semi-colons), but I’m sure there are more topics to conquer.

I missed Talk Like a Pirate Day. Held annually on September 19, this is your chance to ditch the vernacular and instead communicate in all ways pirate. Why? Why not? Really, sometimes the best point to something is that there is no point. For years, I’ve had the discussion with my team on whether or not we can answer the phone, “Thank you for calling P Arrrrrrrrrrrr Newswire…” but yet, every year, we chicken out and stick with the more professional option. Talk Like a Pirate Day started in 1995 (which is the same year I started at P Arrrrrrrrrrr Newswire, actually) when John Baur and Mark Summers started speaking in pirate slang during a racquetball game. Columnist Dave Barry took up the charge and helped propel Talk Like a Pirate Day into the stratosphere with this column. Now, there are books, games, pickup lines, and even knitting patterns you can purchase.

With my vacation over, I’m getting back into the routine of weekly grammar topics. Maybe I need to hook into Grammarly’s NaNoWriMo for a chance to pen 800 words of an epic, crowd-sourced novel.

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.

(Correction to photo credit: In the post “To Pique Your Interest”, the photo of the Tetons was taken by my uncle, Ralph Haberfeld. The photo was used with his permission.)

Grammar Hammer: I Just Can’t Go Any Further (or Farther).

I forget why I decided that this would be my topic for the week. I probably had an email I was writing and trying to figure out which word to use when I experienced a brain drain so severe I rewrote the sentence to avoid using either word. Here’s the good news – further and farther essentially mean the same thing (at a greater distance), but there are some specific guidelines to follow for correct grammatical usage.

Here’s an easy way to remember which to use when referring to that greater distance:

  • Physical distance = farther

Example #1 – “I rode my bike 25 miles today, which is farther than I’ve ever gone before.”

  • Metaphorical or figurative distance = further

Example – “She was the first woman in her family to graduate college, taking her education further than anyone else had.”

What if it’s not 100% related to physical or figurative distance? Let’s say that my book club’s latest choice is to read War and Peace. The following month, at least half of us haven’t finished the book by the time we meet to discuss. Since we still want to talk about the book, we want to know where everyone has ended up, so we ask each person for an update. How would we ask that question?

“How much further do you have to go?” meaning the figurative distance in the story? Or would you say, “How much farther do you have to go?” meaning the physical number of pages left to read?

Thankfully, resources like the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern American Usage give us some leeway in using further/farther interchangeably, particularly if the distinction isn’t clear (number of pages versus where you ended up in the storyline).  If you are still unsure on which word to use, you can’t go wrong with using further, according to Grammarist. I think that wraps things up pretty nicely, so I don’t see a need to go any further.

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.

8 Simple Rules for Succeeding as an Entrepreneur

The upcoming live event WomanCon 2013 at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City will feature powerhouse female professionals who have courageously challenged the status quo to reign as thought leaders within the business, technology, and media industries.  Each panel at the conference will focus on a major challenge of building a successful empire.

Brett Simon of PR Newswire

One challenge that every entrepreneur, marketer, or salesperson must face is effectively executing the classic elevator pitch. Conference attendees will have a rare opportunity to put their elevator pitch to the test before seasoned media relations professionals during the panel, “Pitch the Media Live.” PR Newswire’s Senior Manager, Media Relations Brett Simon (@savisimon), an ex-TV reporter in her own right, will offer her extensive insight on media pitching as she moderates the panel.

“Working at PR Newswire offers a chance to work on ‘both sides of the fence’–with members of the media who use PR Newswire for Journalists and ProfNet to get story ideas and sources, and clients who use our services to send their content to audiences including journalists, B2B and consumer buyers,” she says, “I’m really excited to use this unique perspective as I moderate WomanCon’s Pitch the Media Live panel, which will offer women entrepreneurs and small business owners in attendance the opportunity to use their elevator pitch and get feedback on the spot.”

The accomplishments of this year’s speakers are a true inspiration for aspiring women entrepreneurs who, at times, are still subjected to discrimination within the workplace. Prior to WomanCon 2013, several of the highly-anticipated speakers shared their personal advice with PR Newswire for those who hope to face their greatest challenges and push the boundaries of success.

1. Focus on building a strong brand
“You need to think about your brand promise, what sets you apart, and then use every single touch point at your disposal to communicate a consistent message” says BrandTwist Founder and CEO, Julie Cottineau. Defining a brand and its strategic criteria before website development is most important because trial and error “can end up costing entrepreneurs a lot of money they don’t have, or money could that could be better invested elsewhere in their business.”
Ms. Cottineau will be presenting her “5 Strategies to Build Your Brand” using case studies from global giant, Virgin Enterprises.

2. Be persistent
“It takes persistence to become successful, when you believe in an idea that will never let you go, never, ever give up,” urges Kay Koplovitz, Chairman and Co-Founder of Springboard Enterprises. Ms. Koplovitz endured 7 long years before she saw her dreams come to fruition as the first female CEO in television for USA Networks.

She will be featured in the panel discussion “Angels, VCs and More: Getting Money for Growth” discussing the value of human capital and building out your network.

3. Be confident, not defensive
Yao-Hui Huang, partner at Pereg Industries and founder of The Hatchery believes “It’s not just about how smart you are or how great your business is. It is how you answer the questions, how you interact with others, it is how you respond.” She attributes this lesson to spending over a decade building one of New York’s largest networks in technology through various people, projects and deals.

Ms. Huang will share her expertise during the presentation “Turning Ideas Into Companies,” which will cover how to transition your passions into tangible creations.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
“Many times we don’t tap in to the most valuable resource we have, which is our network and connections” advises WomanCon Founder and Producer, Laura Leites. “People will help you, you just have to ask.”

Ms. Leites founded WomanCon as a way to provide educational and inspirational resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. She credits her trusted and loyal network for helping turn her dreams into a reality.

5. Reach out for support from advisors, mentors, and fellow entrepreneurs
“Being an entrepreneur can feel like the loneliest job in the world” admits Geri Stengel, president of Ventureneer and Forbes contributor. “When you hit an obstacle, get out there and talk to advisors, mentors and your fellow entrepreneurs. Your peers in particular understand what you’re going through. Their advice and encouragement is invaluable.”

Ms. Stengel will be monitoring the panel discussion “Angels, VCs and More: Getting Money for Growth” which will educate, motivate, and inspire women to fuel their growth with outside funding.

6. Attend as many networking events for women and entrepreneurs as possible
Colleen DeBaise, director of digital media at StoryExchange, realized the importance of attending networking events after interviewing successful African-American entrepreneur, Judi Henderson-Townsend. Ms. Henderson shared her fear of being mistreated in an industry that lacked diversity, but believed that she learned how to have confidence after observing the behaviors of white businessmen. From this story, Ms. Debaise encourages others to “Surround yourself with entrepreneurs who may have a completely different perspective than you. It can be an eye-opening experience.”

Ms. Debaise will share her insights on how to pitch the media in her presentation “Pitch the Media Live.”

7. Take it one step at a time
After serving as CEO and Co-Founder of BatchBook Software while balancing life as a proud mother, Pamela O’Hara appreciates the value of stepping back and reflecting. “Take it one day at a time,” she says, “understand that entrepreneurship is a constant juggling act and you’ll constantly need to re-prioritize. Change is the only constant, so just embrace it!”

Ms. O’Hara will discuss the challenges of balancing work and life in her presentation “How to Stay Human in a High Tech World.”

8. Be flexible and willing to modify your plan
“It is so important that entrepreneurs validate that they are truly filling a customer need” says Peggy Wallace, managing partner at Golden Seeds. “Listen to the customers and develop products with their needs in mind.”

Ms. Wallace will be featured in the panel discussion “Angels, VCs and More: Getting Money for Growth” addressing the different types of funding for start-up companies

The speakers of WomanCon 2013 prove that while life as a female entrepreneur poses unique challenges, it is not impossible. Their stories are powerful reminders that any goal is attainable as long as you have the confidence in your ideas, the patience for progress, the humility to listen, and the drive to succeed.
To hear real behind-the-scenes stories of accomplished female entrepreneurs and gain practical advice on how to grow your business, register here for WomanCon 2013:

Work smarter!  Hone your pitches and streamline your workflow with Agility, the PR Newswire platform that enables you to target, monitor and engage with traditional and social media, all in one place.

Author Shannon Ramlochan is a proud Brooklyn native, a pop culture enthusiast, and a member of PR Newswire’s marketing team.

Grammar Hammer: A Fall Reading List

The kids are back in school. Fall schedules have started to fill with football games, soccer games, and band practice. Those household projects you’d planned to do all summer are now more pressing as the leaves start to fall and the weather cooperates less and less. I start looking for those rare moments when I can grab my book, a cup of coffee, and park myself in a chair to read for a few minutes.

I’m all about reading lists right now, compiling my list of books to keep me company on planes, trains, and automobiles as my family and I tour Yellowstone and the countryside of Wyoming later in September. I’m taking suggestions for must-reads on my trip.

I’ve also been asked for my favorite grammar reads, so in the spirit of my fall reading list, I’m sharing my favorite books for my fellow grammarians and word nerds.

  • “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss – “It’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days,” Truss writes. YES. Yes, it is.
  • “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” by Mignon Fogarty – Grammar Girl was one of the first resources I sought out when I was asked to take over the Grammar Hammer feature for PR Newswire. Her tips have been invaluable. Follow her on Twitter @GrammarGirl.
  • “Yes, I Could Care Less,” “The Elephants of Style,” and “Lapsing Into a Comma” three books by Bill Walsh – I bought Walsh’s first book (“Lapsing Into a Comma”) right after it was published in 2000. I’ve always enjoyed his books and appreciate his dedication to the craft. In case you missed it, there was a fun Q&A with Walsh on the Washington Post this week. Follow him on Twitter @TheSlot.

There are also a few staple resources I would recommend:

  • AP Stylebook and Manual – I don’t get this question as often as I used to, but periodically clients would ask me what style they should use in their press releases. We always recommended AP style and it’s usually the first place I look if I’m trying to figure out the proper way of listing something.
  • Chicago Manual of Style – One of my career regrets was not taking advantage of a class that was just a few blocks from where I worked in Chicago that taught the Chicago Manual of Style. The most recent edition also offers key tips in electronic publishing.
  • “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White – Concise and powerful, this book is a staple for any writer.

What books make the cut for your shelf?

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: To Pique Your Interest

This gorgeous picture was taken by the Grammar Hammer herself.

The Teton Range in Wyoming has 12 peaks that are over 12,000 feet in elevation. The highest peak is the Grand Teton, which has a staggering height of 13,770 feet. The reason I’m bringing this up is that I’ll be spending a couple of weeks visiting family who live in Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park.

This is a part of the country I’ve not visited before, so naturally, my curiosity is piqued. What sort of animals will we see? How cold will it get being that high above sea level? I decided to take a peek at the website for the Grand Teton National Park and got lots of details on the geology of the mountain range, when the land was officially declared a national park and some key things to see when I visit.

I’ve had several requests to explore the differences between pique, peak, and peek. All three words sound the same, but each word has a distinct meaning.

The two words that are probably most easily confused are peek and peak. Here’s how I keep them straight:

  • Peek – in order to take a peek at something, you need to SEE with your eyes, so SEE and PEEK both have a double-E.
  • Peak – this word takes a couple of different forms. Using “peak” as a noun means “a high point.” Example: I expect to see the peaks of the Teton Mountain Range from the airplane as I’m flying into Jackson. Think of it this way, the peak of a mountain has a peak like the top of the letter “A.” You can also use “peak” as a verb, which means “to reach a high point.” For example: My interest in mountain climbing peaked when I was about 10.

And if all of this has piqued your interest, you’re referring to “pique” which is a French word for “to stimulate.”

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 So Tense?

“While I was walking through the park, this giant spider appears out of nowhere and scared the living daylights out of me!” What’s wrong with that sentence? Absolutely nothing, if you’re as terrified of spiders as I am*, but at least a few things if you’re a stickler for verb tense.

Verb tense is a slippery slope when we mix in informal writing, casual speech and the art of storytelling. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping the tension to a minimum on verb tense.

Verb tense reflects a sense of time. And timing, as they say, is everything. Here’s a quick rundown on your basic verb tenses:

  • Present tense – things are happening now.

Simple present tense – I walk. He walks. They walk.

Simple present progressive – I am walking. He is walking. They are walking.

  • Past tense – been there, done that.

Simple past tense (completed action or condition) – I walked. He walked. They walked.

Present perfect (completed or continuing action or condition) – I have been walking for an hour. My feet have been hurting.

Past perfect (action completed  before another) – I had walked at least two miles before you joined me for the last two.

Past progressive (continuous completed action) – I had three good walks last week.

Present perfect progressive (action going into present) – I have been walking every day this week.

Past perfect progressive (continuing action interrupted by another) – I had been walking through the park when it started to rain.

  • Future tense – things that will happen.

Simple future – I will walk tomorrow morning.

Future perfect (future action done before another) – By the time this post is out, I will have walked two miles.

Future progressive (continuing future action) – I will be walking every day on my vacation.

Future perfect progressive (continuing future action done before another) – When we get to the airport, I will have met my walking goal of 10 miles per week.

How we apply this in our writing, as always, depends on context. There are two overall guidelines I would recommend you follow.

  1. Don’t change the tense of the verb unless the timing of an action demands that you do.
  2. Keep verb tense consistent in sentences, paragraphs, and essays.

*Note to the spider lovers out there – I respect spiders immensely for the job they do as long as they follow one cardinal rule:  do not come into my house. If a spider enters my house, it has crossed MY web and, therefore, must be destroyed. Unless, of course, it moves at all, then I will scream and throw my shoe at it. Check out a beautiful (albeit terrifying in any other setting than a garden) Orb Weaver I saw on a recent visit to a friend’s farm.

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 and occasional arachnophobe.

Content We Love: Bullets for Breakfast


“Content We Love” is a weekly feature written by a team of our content specialists. We’re showcasing some of the great content distributed through our channels, and our content specialists are up for the task: they spend a lot of time with the press releases and other content our customers create, proof reading and formatting it, suggesting targeted distribution strategy and offering content optimization advice. In Content We Love, we’re going to shine the spotlight on the press releases and other messages that stood out to us, and we’ll tell you why. We hope you find the releases enjoyable and the insights gained from discussing them enlightening.

milk breakfastLooking back, mornings at the beginning of the school year always felt hectic and frenetic to me.  Always in a rush to get out the door, the priority was to have something in our stomachs by the time that first bell rang to be in class.

It’s known breakfast is the most important meal of the day. With that in mind, the California Milk Processor Board set out to make sure kids are fed a nutritious meal before school starts. Their release, Eat Breakfast, Win Money For Your School sets the tone of the priorities and establishes it with killer content.

The premise of this promotion is simple:

  • Breakfast is important.
  • And so is good content.

Making breakfast exciting? A headline, bullet points, and an image keep the audience captivated.  What sets this release apart is how seamlessly certain assets are interspersed to naturally draw the reader’s attention.

  • Headlines are notorious for being paramount; this is the introduction to a story and readership depends upon it.

Eat Breakfast, Win Money For Your School automatically captures attention because…sure, I’ll eat breakfast to win money for my school! Pithy and succinct headlines DO matter and have a direct correlation to those taking an interest in the release. For the case of the California Milk Processor Board, I couldn’t help but be intrigued which ultimately lead to this feature!

The use of a bulleted list to indicate school districts invited to participate is an easy and simple draw; it breaks up chunks of text to allow “breathing room” for readability. While bullet points are unnecessary in novels, the attention span of an audience rarely maintains throughout a multitude of lengthy paragraphs. Bullets not only break up the text, but also provide key points to deliver your message.

This release proves that your release doesn’t have to be excessively flashy to draw the eye, and it is remarkably fitting to have a straightforward release for an important message.

Breakfast is important. Content delivers every time.

Thank you to California Milk Processor Board for allowing us to showcase a terrific release!

Author Robbie Thomsen is a Customer Content Specialist for PR Newswire. Off duty, he often can be found in the kitchen, experimenting with myriad foods and techniques. You can follow his tests and trials in front of the stove at