The Right Way to Write About COVID-19

Everyone needs a Bible, and for many journalists and PR pros, that's the AP Style Book.  The Associated Press has produced this valuable guide since before I was in college.

Now in an online, easily searchable format, the stylebook tells you everything you need to know about what you should capitalize and when.  It goes into how to use organizations' names and has FAQs, and if they don't answer your question there, an editor will. It also grants permission, somewhat grudgingly, to make grammatical changes, such as using "over" instead of "more than."  I'm waiting for "like" to be endorsed so I can drop "such as."

I can't tell you how excited I was when AP blessed the use of "they" instead of the cumbersome "he or she" a couple of years ago. 

Plus they keep up with the latest trends. Did you know that you're supposed to capitalize Black when writing about Black people, but not the w in white? 

Here's a brief story explaining the latest ways to talk about COVID-19.  AP says it's OK to refer to it as the coronavirus on the first reference in an article — even if though that's inaccurate because there are numerous coronaviruses.  Sometimes if you misuse words long enough they get accepted into the lexicon.  

 

 

Words that seem close enough, but aren’t

Dose, dosage – really, what is the difference?  I really didn't know and I write about pharmacy a lot.  This article, 11 tricky word pairs that can fonduse writers by Laura Hale Brockway explains it so nicely – dosage is the amount of med you take over a period of time, e.g., 1x a day for a month, and a dose is the amount you take at one time–10mg in the morning.

There's a lot of other good ones here, too, such as averse and adverse, further and farther, drag and drug.  Some, like seasonal and seasonable, are so close, you can understand why they are misused.  

Words that are easily misused

So many words.  So many ways to misuse them. So many articles and posts about this.  This article highlights some of the less obvious ones, like perquisite and prerequisite.  Perk comes from perquisite – something extra you get with your job or your apartment, like an extra parking spot.  While a prerequisite is a requirement.  A brother & sister team, Kathryn and Ross Petras wrote this piece.  I'll have to check out their other articles.  Bet their dinner table conversations are fun.   

 

COVID-19 Writing Tips

COVID-19 brought huge changes to the way we live, do business, deal with cybersecurity, handle workers' compensation claims — and our language. 

The Associated Press (AP) stylebook created a new topical section around the terms that says "Because COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus, it is not accurate to write "a new virus called COVID-19" and not to abbreviate its name to COVID or Covid even in headlines. The guide adds, "Also incorrect are usages such as COVID-19 spreads through the air; scientists are investigating how long COVID-19 may remain on surfaces; she worries about catching COVID-19. In each of those, it should be the coronavirus, not COVID-19."

Good to know. 

For more context, Marc Nichol dives into the meanings of terms and phrases surrounding the coronavirus in this piece. 

And, one of my favorite writing instructors, Anne Wylie, teamed up with PRSA for an excellent webinar on writing during these times. 

Just about everyone has been affected by COVID-19 and economic shutdowns.  Some people have been furloughed or have been laid off and face major financial problems.  Others are overwhelmed with work, often while also caring for small children and are overwhelmed.  Just about everyone is stressed.  Our cognitive ability is lower than usual, so Wylie recommends using short words and short sentences in short copy. 

The webinar is available and free until October.  If you write in any capacity, I encourage you to watch the recording.  

 

Overcoming “Writers Block”

My favorite writing teacher Anne Wylie provides practical tips on the writing process in this article

I'll add that when you're just shoving copy around on a page, it's time to take a break and change the channel in your brain.  Check your email, toss the frisbee for the dog, walk around the office, get some coffee or water, exercise, or talk to someone and you'll stimulate the flow of ideas. But, enough from me; here is Anne's advice – and see how cleverly she promoted a business offering?  

Prepping for a media interview

My good friend Yvonne Guibert has started the Experts in WorkersCompensation blog (http://expertsinwc.com/) and invited me to contribute some articles on media relations.  When working with the media, keep the "relations" word in mind.  What attributes go into building a business relationship?  Respect. Timeliness.  Accuracy. Understanding. Helpfulness. These apply to your relationship with reporters.  The first post deals with preparing for a media interview–a process that is much easier now that Twitter, LinkedIn and online publications are around.  I hope the post is useful and that you'll email me with any questions at helen@kingknight.com.