Acing the Writing Test

Acing the Writing Test Workshop

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By Nicole Odziewa

If you are like me and are graduating this year, trying to tread the waters of the post-grad job
search can be stressful. Even just looking for the dream summer internship is overwhelming.
With the pressure come the questions on how to nail an interview, networking and passing the
dreaded writing test. This year PRSSA’s popular writing workshop, “How to Ace the Writing
Test” led by DePaul PRAD professor, Jill Stewart, answered all these questions and left me with
valuable professional advice.

Understanding journalists and what makes them read past the first line of a pitch is the secret PR
professionals are always chasing after. For this very reason, I found having most of the guest
speakers be experienced journalists practical as well as delivered some fresh perspectives. Alex
Sobczak from Weber Shandwick and a DePaul alum, Jon Hilkevitch from DePaul’s Journalism
school and former Chicago Tribune reporter, Amy Merrick also from DePaul’s Journalism
school and former Wall Street Journal reporter, Eric Benderoff, Chicago Tribune reporter turned
Director at Burson-Marsteller, and Lynn Hazan, a long-time job recruiter provided a full
overview of what it takes to be successful and standout in your career.

As everyone in PR will tell you, succinct and good writing is the bread and butter of being a PR
professional. The writing samples you have in your portfolio when applying for jobs or
internships should reflect those skills. Alex Sobczak shared when applying to Weber Shandwick,
she submitted a blog post, an opinion article, and a press release. Her main advice is each sample
you provide should be different and be able to show off your flexibility as a writer.
Majority of the panel was spent on how to hone your writing skills. The speakers shared their
horror stories as well as their best tricks. What seemed to be the common theme among those
stories was capturing the reader and editing. You need to be able to engage the reader in two to
three sentences. When it comes to reading over your writing, you should be editing for two
things: content and grammar. However, each one needs to be looked at separately.

The last thing I will leave you with is 5 major tips from the panelists:

1. Read, read, and read some more. Read the news 7 days a week (no, Skimm does not
count as reading the news).
2. Make sure you are writing for the person on the other end. If you are pitching a journalist,
take the time to understand their publication and their beat.
3. Create an infographic about yourself to make yourself stand out as an applicant, and help
you get a better idea of how to tell your story when going into an interview.
4. Write your own obituary. You probably have the same look of confusion I did, but hear
me out. First, take the time to read an obituary before you start. Once you do you will see
an entire person’s life crammed into one short paragraph, not much different than trying
to pitch a reporter or write a press release. It is a good exercise to improve your skills at
being a succinct and creative writer.
5. Trying to improve your writing in general? Buy these two books: How to Not Write Bad
by Ben Yagoda and A Writer’s Coach by Jack Hart

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