Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip-Top Press Release

Authors sometimes contact us to ask whether we can help them to publicise their paper on publication. As PLoS ONE publishes many papers each week, we can select only those that we feel will appeal the most to a broad audience (and therefore to journalists) to press release.

We normally contact the corresponding author of those papers we are potentially interested in press releasing soon after they have been editorially accepted and we provide these authors with further information about our process and how we may be able to help.

It is important to note that we are not able to distribute all the press releases we receive (or invite) and we cannot confirm whether we are able to distribute a press release on behalf of our authors until it has been approved by one of our staff editors, who may ask for changes to the text. We don’t have in-house editors to write press releases from scratch, therefore although we will help in any way we can, the burden of writing the release will fall on the author. We usually suggest that authors contact the media/press officer at their institution in the first instance.

Authors often ask us for advice as to what they should include when writing a press release so we have put together our top ten tips.

  1. Remember your audience. Press releases are read by journalists and so must be informative enough for them to be able to write their story. Journalists look for a story that will appeal to a broad range of people, most of whom won’t be specialists in the field. You should therefore consider the style and tone of your post and leave out any overly technical language -  a press release is very different from the abstract of a paper!
  2. Why does it matter? Before you begin, try to identify your study’s key points of interest. Think about why your findings matter and what the potential implications are. It is also worth considering where the human interest of the story lies.
  3. Choose a catchy, concise and correct title. The title of a press release is the first thing a journalist reads (and may be the only part they read) so it is important to choose a title that is interesting and informative but that doesn’t overstate the findings reported in the paper.
  4. Size matters. We find that the most successful press releases are about four to five paragraphs long (one page, at most). Each paragraph should contain a few short sentences, each of which must contain a fact.
  5. Cover the basics early on. The first paragraph should answer several important questions: what is being done, who did the research, where are the authors based/where is the paper published, and why are the findings important, interesting or unexpected?
  6. Don’t sensationalise. Although it is important to make your release appeal to a wide range of people, it is just as crucial that the information conveyed is accurate and reflects the findings of the paper. You should make it clear when a remark is speculative rather than a confirmed result or fact.
  7. Get some quotations. Including quotations from authors or others involved on the paper providing some more information on the study or explaining its importance can make your release come alive.
  8. “One good anecdote…” Quirky extra details about the research, such as things that went on “behind the scenes,” and pithy, amusing anecdotes can add more of a human connection to the story and it can be worth including one of these towards the end of your release.
  9. Be transparent. We include details of any specific funding the authors received for their study and any potential competing interests they have declared in their paper in press releases before we distribute them. See the PLoS Competing Interests policy for more information.
  10. Add some multimedia. Journalists like to receive images or videos, which they can use when preparing their story. If you have any images or video files to include, these will invigorate your release. When the images and videos form part of your published article, the content can be reused freely under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. If you use files that aren’t part of the paper, you should include the credit/copyright information and a caption.

The most successful press releases tend to follow these guidelines and if we invite you to send us a press release for our consideration, or if you plan to send out a release via your own contacts, we encourage you to do the same. For more information about our media relations process and how we may be able to help you get the most attention for your paper, check out our Media page and you can read other everyONE posts on media topics here. You can also contact Bex Walton (rwalton [at] plos.org) or Jen Laloup (jlaloup [at] plos.org) with any questions.

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