It would certainly make my work easier if I had a magic formula to create the “aha” moments that help me write the perfect headline, rewrite a particularly difficult sentence, or find the unifying theme for a complex story.
But, alas, inspiration rarely comes on command. Instead, it comes when least expected, on a walk, in the shower, or in the middle of the night, whenever a new synapse is formed — and typically when there’s no pencil or paper available.
I’ve always found the unpredictability of creative thinking and problem solving to be particular intriguing. Which is why I decided to explore it in a bit more depth recently.
Here’s what I discovered:
….MORE TO COME
Thought for the day:
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
Okay. I can’t be the only one who is annoyed with how the media is using “sequestration” to talk about the huge U.S. budget decisions that have been kicked down the road.
It’s all the buzz in the news media, and the latest shorthand for a huge quagmire of problems related to the government’s (mis)management of our tax dollars. But why the need for a single handle to talk about the situation? I suppose it makes life easier for the news people, just as the “fiscal cliff” did just a few short weeks ago. (Of course, Bernanke’s moniker was clear, strong, and, unlike “sequestration,” immediately understandable to all. A stroke of marketing genius, says my colleague, Paul Lombino. Read more in “The Beauty of Brevity” on his site. Thanks, Paul!)
My biggest beef: the use of “sequestration” flies in the face of what the word really means. Here’s what Dictionary.com (a.k.a. Merriam-Webster) has to say:
- The action of taking legal possession of assets until a debt has been paid or other claims have been met;
- the action of taking forcible possession of something; confiscation.
I guess the “forcible” nature of what is to take place on March 1 is inarguable. But the idea that anyone is taking possession of anything – or even being fully accountable for what’s happening — gets lost in the miasma of hyped up news coverage.
For a helpful description of how the Budget office currently uses the term, check out the recent column by Tom Murse on About.com.
According to Murse, the idea of imposing automatic spending cuts in the federal budget was first put in place nearly 30 years ago by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. But the media didn’t call it sequestration back then.
The fact that this is a government-manufactured term — designed to obfuscate and not communicate –is noted by Dr. Paul Johnson from the Department of Political Science at Auburn University.
According to Dr. Johnson (who is rather inclined to turgid prose) “…the term has been adapted by Congress in more recent years to describe a new fiscal policy procedure originally provided for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 — an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the Federal governments’ budget deficit a matter of conscious choice rather than simply the arithmetical outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them.”
Johnson goes on to suggest that sequestration has been relatively successful as a deterrent to avoiding the hard budget decisions. “The prospect of sequestration has thus come to seem so catastrophic that Congress so far has been unwilling actually to let it happen,” he says.
Whether sequestration truly is a deterrent this time around remains to be seen. (We’ll know better on March 1.)
In the meantime, why not just use “budget deadline” or “payment due date, ” instead? Those are certainly phrases that anyone who has ever tried to balance a checkbook or budget can understand.
Thought for the day …
Be at war with your vices,
at peace with your neighbors,
and let every new year find you a better man.
… Benjamin Franklin
Thought for the day …
in all things,
the supreme excellence is simplicity.
. . . Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Just how savvy are U.S. investors? Not as smart as most investment companies would like to think, says the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). According to their Financial Literacy Report, released this summer as part of the Dodd-Frank Act:
- Investors do not understand the most elementary financial concepts, such as compound interest and inflation, diversification or the differences between stocks and bonds.
- They are not fully aware of investment costs and their impact on investment returns.
- They also lack critical knowledge of ways to avoid investment fraud.
Troublesome conclusions to be sure, especially today as the demise of defined benefit pension plans and uncertainty about Social Security means that successful investing for retirement depends on individual initiative and informed decision-making.
The goal of the SEC Study was to “identify the existing level of financial literacy among retail investors” and explore ways to increase it. The SEC used input from online surveys of several thousand investors and comments from more than 80 individuals, financial professionals, industry groups, academics, not-for-profit organizations, and other regulators.
Its conclusions confirm what most of us who write about investing and finance have known for a very long time: individual investors need more education and better information — and they need it in a readily accessible format and plain language.
As author and editor Susan Weiner, CFA, reminded us recently: “Keep it simple.”
Susan, who is an accomplished writer (and ghost writer) on financial topics, also offered an eye-popping statistic she had seen in a recent New York Times piece by speechwriter Roger Lehrman: Americans read at a seventh-grade level.
If you want to reach them, you must write at their level, says Lehrman, “You can’t hand your boss a speech saying, ‘It’s got all of your ideas. But 40 percent of your audience won’t know what you’re talking about.’”
If you’re writing for a general audience, use plain English and keep it short. Short sentences also tend to be easier to understand.
But what if your clients are all college-educated. Do you still need to keep it simple?
Yes, Lehrman says. ”Your writing’s grade level is a measure of how hard you’re making your readers work to understand you. If you make their lives easier, they’re more likely to stick with you.”
Thought for the day …
Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.
–William Butler Yeats
Editing a particularly difficult document this past week — full of extra words and turgid, academic prose — I was reminded of Elizabeth Swann’s priceless line from the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Using the most pretentious dialogue she can muster to confound Jack Sparrow, Swann says, “I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”
In other words, “No.”
Which brings me to the topic, once again, of plain language, and to Joseph Kimble’s excellent reminder that the goal of good writing is NOT to showcase how brilliant you are (or by proxy, your client is), but rather to have your reader feel smarter.
With that in mind, what words work better than others? The simpler the better, I say. “Eschew obfuscation,” William Safire would offer, if he were still here to advise us.
Of course, there are always exceptions for emphasis or cadence, but in pursuit of clarity and simplicity, I offer a list below of alternatives that are easier to digest. (I’m sure you have your own to add. If so, let me know!)
|Instead of ….
||Instead of …
more, added, other
write, tell, talk
consist of, contain, include
about, on, for
now (or delete it!)
send out, distribute
meet, face, run into
equal, the same
hasten, speed up
payment, expense, cost
make easier, help
work out, create
begin, start, carry out
say, show, suggest
begin, start, set up
keep, continue, support
most, largest, greatest
see, watch, follow
best, better, preferred
earlier, last, past
go, go ahead
about, on, for
repay, pay back
is, makes up, stands for
twice a year
think of, imagine
Thought for the day:
Drawing on my fine command
of the English language,
I said nothing.
Thought for the day:
Listening, not imitation,
may be the sincerest form of flattery.
Dr. Joyce Brothers
Looking back at last month’s post about real vs. virtual meetings, I got to thinking today about whether virtual interviews are adequate substitutes for the real thing. Of course it depends on the purpose of the interview. If you need to capture the essence of someone’s personality and mannerisms, then the answer is probably NO.
But for the most part, as verified by the hundreds of satellite and phone interviews aired on radio and TV every day, my answer is YES. And it absolutely beats trying to construct a story from written documents alone.
A recent case in point:
One of my clients asked me to create a piece that introduced prospective customers to the unique physical and cultural environment of their sprawling corporate headquarters in the southern U.S. Of course I jumped at the chance to visit the site and interview its inhabitants face-to-face to learn more — and perhaps squeeze in a round of golf. This was February after all; the month when we typically get the most snow here in the Northeast.
But, my hopes for a short trip and golf outing were swiftly dashed when I learned that the assignment didn’t include travel. (I also learned that this company is quite frugal when it comes to sending their consultants on what they deem unnecessary “junkets”.) I took the assignment anyway, but not without some misgiving about being able to talk convincingly about a place that I’d never seen.
To my surprise, it worked out remarkably well because the client chose the right people for me to interview. They were passionate and knowledgeable about the subject, and more than willing to provide the details, diagrams, and anecdotes I needed. (Fortunately, I also discovered great photos of the location through an exhaustive search on the Internet.)
I know the final piece was a better product than what I could have created from written sources alone. And it’s pretty close to what I might have constructed from the onsite interviews that were part of my hoped-for mini-vacation.
The experience definitely reinforced my belief in the value of a good phone interview. As health writer Jane Sherwin reminded me in her April newsletter, an effective telephone interview gives you
- room for new and unexpected topics, angles, opinions to emerge,
- spontaneity and livelier language than the printed word — and livelier language is always better for readers,
- richer perspectives and more candor from the interviewees when they sense your interest in the topic and what they have to say about it.
This post from financial writer/editor Art McPherson was written as a follow up to our recent discussion about the virtues and pitfalls of today’s “virtual” meetings and the value of meeting face-to-face with real people. Perhaps his most cogent point: ”A virtual beer just doesn’t taste the same.” What do you think? –PJW (Thanks, Art!)
By Arthur MacPherson [firstname.lastname@example.org]
“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’” — Dave Barry
Admit it. You cringe at the mention of “meetings.” Even if well-planned and tightly run, they eat up your time, taking you away from the work you already have and creating more work. But they’re an integral part of business life.
When I started my business career, a meeting always involved people gathering in a conference room or convention hall, coffee mug in one hand, and pen and paper in the other. But today we live in an age of “virtual” meetings — teleconferences, video conferences, online presentations, Webinars.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that companies are increasingly turning to electronic gatherings, particularly when budgets are tight. For a convention or company sales conference, virtual meetings can mean significant savings (50%-80% by one estimate) on travel and hotel expenses, and creating and shipping displays and boxes of brochures and trinkets.
In a company setting, meeting virtually allows you to sit at your desk instead of being held hostage for an hour in a conference room. You can even “attend” a meeting sitting at home in jeans and a t-shirt. There’s another advantage, discussed with a wink and a smile, if at all; you can multi-task. (Don’t deny it — you’ve done it, too.)
Cheaper, more convenient and less demanding on your time. Virtual meetings are clearly better than face-to-face in a conference room. Then again, maybe not, for a couple of reasons.
First, going “virtual” lacks the personal contact and connections that can make a meeting productive and worth the effort. Getting together in person lets you chat with others before and maybe go out for a drink afterwards (a virtual beer just doesn’t taste the same), building a sense of “team” and stronger relationships with co-workers. A glance across the table or someone’s body language can give you an insight into the dynamics of a project and the people on it. It’s human interaction that even the most sophisticated technology can’t replicate.
The second reason that some question the value of virtual meetings is the very thing that many of us value. Multi-tasking may seem more productive, but that email you’re reading (while listening in to make sure nobody asks you a direct question) is a distraction and you may miss an important detail or two. In fact, multi-tasking can prevent information from being retained in long-term memory, according to a widely quoted 2010 white paper by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and marketing services company Maritz.
I dislike having my calendar clogged with meetings as much as the next person (especially the day last year when I had eight of them). But as Victor Torregroza, event marketing manager at Intel Corp., said in a 2011 article on BtoBonline.com, “The impact of people coming together for a common cause is extremely powerful. The quality is much more everlasting and impactful.”
Thought for the day:
How wonderful it is
that nobody need wait
a single moment
to improve the world.
”Collaboration is in. But it may not be conducive to creativity.”
That was the teaser for a recent (Jan. 15) New York Times article on “Groupthink.” And it got me thinking about whether collaboration truly is the enemy of creativity.
I suppose it depends on how you choose to define collaboration and what your objectives are. But if you’re talking about sharing ideas to create better communications, then I believe getting together as a group with the people who know the subject matter and the audience is a critical exercise – especially if you want to engage and delight your readers.
Here are the three essential activities that writers, editors, and communications professionals must pursue to create successful messages for your audience:
1. A ”discovery” session. This is the “client briefing” where you and your technical experts talk about your message and your audience in detail, what you want to achieve, what your thoughts are on how to achieve it, and what documentation you have to support your arguments. (This is akin to “groupthink,” I suppose, but it can help you get everything out on the table and it gives everyone lots of information to fuel #2 below.)
2. Interviews and exploration. After the brief, the writers and/or editors for the project will typically retreat to their offices (or cubes) to review the data they’ve been given and call the experts for their views (taking copious notes and/or recording the interviews). They’ll also take a look at what’s available on the Internet from others — including any similar information from your competitors. These activities often uncover promising new insights about a complex issue or a hard to explain topic.
3. Check-in on possible approaches. After processing the information gathered in Steps 1 and 2, the writer will be prepared to share new ideas and possible approaches with you so you can agree on objectives, tone, style, and overall direction before beginning the creative writing process.
Thought for the day …
“And now let us welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Just ran across a recent blog post from writing expert/instructor L Michelle Baker, PhD on active vs. passive sentence construction.
Like most versatile, creative writers, she advocates using both the active and the passive voice, depending on what you need to make the information clear, and the cadence and rhythm engaging. But she also suggests that passive sentences can be a deliberate way to evade responsibility.
We’ve all seen it in the corporate-speak memos from HR where such phrases as, “Employees are now expected to,” or “The new policy is designed to …” No one really wants to identify the bad guy here — which is, obviously, “we, the company management”.
Or as Ms. Baker puts it in her post: “When the passive becomes problematic it is because the agent disappears in some way that feels uncomfortable to the reader.” She offers two example sentences derived from the many “beasts” she had a hand in creating as an accountant during the dot.com bubble. (That was before she went to graduate school to study English.) To wit:
–Contracts with key employees have not been signed.
–Cash is hemorrhaging at an alarming rate.
Commenting on the above, she explains how writers use passive sentence structures to side step responsibility:
“The first of those sentences is indeed in the passive voice. The agent of the action – whoever should have been signing those contracts – is not in the sentence. And the reason is obvious. Why didn’t we say “we”? Well because then someone would have to take responsibility for this omission …”
“But the second sentence – that’s written in the present progressive. The agent of that action is cash. Still, the sentence is elusive, because someone is allowing that to happen, and that someone has not been named.”
Baker’s conclusion: “… there are all kinds of ways to evade responsibility. The passive voice is just one of them.” So, she says, “Let’s keep all of what we write responsible. We do that by using the active voice … and by keeping subjects and verbs close together. When we know the agent of the action, and when that agent matters, name it. Employ the active or the passive in a way that lends rhythm, passion, and purpose to your language.”
Thanks L. Michelle. I couldn’t have said it better!
Editing an article today on how diversification can help investors manage risk, I quickly lost count of the number of times I change “equities” to “stocks” and “fixed income” to “bonds.” And while I know those changes may raise my client’s eyebrows, I’m confident that making them is the right thing to do.
I also know that I’m not alone in this seemingly endless quest to speak with consumers in language they understand.
I have the support of the government’s initiative for Plain Language, passed in the fall of 2010, and dozens of experts on sites (like Plain Train) with a passion for communicating better. More recently, the investment companies themselves have taken up the banner.
In a Wall Street Journal piece published this spring about the difficulty that most consumers have with financial jargon, journalist Brett Arends cites the work that Invesco has been doing to eliminate jargon and confusion in financial communications.
Interviewed for that article, Scott West, head of consulting at Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, couldn’t have been clearer. “You’ve basically got a language problem,” Mr. West says. Or, as the warden in Hud so bluntly put it: ”a failure to communicate.”
Apparently Invesco surveyed 800 investors to find out which words and techniques work best when advisors talk about investments and personal finance, and which miss the mark. Their conclusion: Investors hate jargon and technical language.
So where people steeped in investments might talk about “equities,” “fixed income” and “asset allocation,” they should be talking about stocks, bonds and diversification. In fact, the WSJ reported, when Invesco tested the phrase “institutional-quality money management” in their focus groups, it prompted one participant to question why prison inmates were handling the money.
The need for financial literacy — and plain language — has never been greater as so many Americans are now in charge of their own investing decisions when they contribute to their workplace 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans. Even the government is getting into the fray, according to a recent Forbes article. It will be interesting to see how that plays out!
Thought for the day:
We may be disappointed if we fail, but we are doomed if we don’t try.
Thought for the day:
“Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it, and don’t let the fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
– Mark Twain
Among the many observations that language expert Joe Kimble shared with the corporate lawyers at his “Sure Fire Ways to Improve Your Writing” workshop last week, three in particular stuck with me:
1) Plain language is not about “dumbing down.” It is about writing more clearly and effectively for your audience. For lawyers, in particular, he cautioned, “It is the opposite of the jumbled, dense, verbose, archaic style that has come to be called legalese.”
2) Writing in plain language can be “devilishly” difficult. Good writers just make it look easy in the same way that a good athlete makes a tough play look effortless.
3) Finally, said Kimble: “Good writers make their readers feel smart. “
The last point resonated with me again today when a client suggested that I needed to make the language in a financial information brochure “more highfalutin and intellectual” so the readers would know “how smart the company is.”
Catching – and keeping – the reader’s attention
I agree that it’s absolutely essential for a company to let customers and shareholders know “how smart it is” and to remind them in myriad ways that it remains fiscally sound, socially responsible, and prudent about managing investment risk. But that doesn’t require that the content to support those points be labored, pretentious, or difficult to digest. On the contrary, the idea is to communicate the company’s strength clearly and convincingly, with factual, direct statements that engage readers, make them feel smart — and keep them wanting more. (“So how do you manage market risk?”)
Of course, you don’t want to get too folksy and risk diminishing the value of the message. But neither do you want to give your reader any excuse to stop reading, skimming, scrolling, or clicking through. In the 24-7 information age, it’s hard enough to capture someone’s attention, much less hold on for more than 51 seconds. [See my blog: Can you tell your story in less than a minute?]
Top 10 ideas for clear, concise content
So what are some of the rules to follow as a plain language advocate? At a recent client seminar, I offered these top 10 best practices for plain language:
- Write it the way you say it.
- Talk to real people about real situations.
- Use the active voice.
- Be precise, concrete, and specific.
- Follow a logical structure.
- Don’t be wordy.
- Use acronyms sparingly.
- Think visually.
- Avoid industry and legal jargon.
- Test your documents on typical readers.
More observations on plain language in my next post.
 Professor Joseph Kimble, Thomas Cooley Law School, Lansing, MI
 from the Dutch word verlooten, meaning stilted
Thought for the day:
There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle
or the mirror that reflects it.
A design colleague and I were asked recently to help find a solution for a marketing piece that was in its eighth round of revisions. Imagine. Eight rounds! Unfortunately, at this point, the client had begun both re-writing and re-designing the piece herself, apparently despairing of ever getting what she needed.
On further analysis, we (designer and I) decided that – before putting fingers to keyboard or mouse to graphics program for version number nine, it was time to go back and revisit the strategy document behind the assignment.
Not surprisingly, there wasn’t one. Not even a short memo with a quick sentence or two about what the piece should try to do. No wonder the wheels kept spinning: There was no way to know when the final product had arrived at its destination!
Fortunately, the client agreed to stop the madness, take a deep breath with us, and talk about the objectives and audience for the project. That gave us what we needed to develop a messaging strategy before another word was written.
In a recent blog post on the subject, corporate writer Andy Bartling suggests that developing a messaging strategy can reduce time spent on writing projects by as much as 30%. Why? Bartling says it’s because a corporate message strategy “ensures you’ll always deliver the right message, to the right audience, at the right moment in time. Even better,” he adds, “when a corporate writer works from a messaging platform, you never start from scratch–because your foundation story is already baked in.”
Corporate messaging platforms are “the surest way to write with clarity, consistency and efficiency, every time. (Not to mention the lower costs, if you’re a company outsourcing to corporate writers and designers.)” concludes Bartling.
For more on how to build a messaging platform for your organization, visit his site, www.corporatewriterinsider.com.
Thought for the day:
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
–Thomas Alva Edison
Thought for the day:
is often a very good thing to say.
How to not hypnotize chickens.
Okay. Let’s be honest. The reason the PowerPoint presentation software has “power” in its name is that the program’s hidden agenda is to conquer the world, via boredom.
Case in point: the news item in the New York Times recently on the U.S. military’s use (or rather, mis-use) of the medium.
Apparently the ubiquitous use of computer-generated presentations that has reached near epidemic proportions in corporate America has also penetrated the military complex. There are designated specialists (hundreds of them presumably) whose entire job it is to create PowerPoint presentations for briefings.
While some who have seen those briefings suggest that you can’t reduce military strategy to bullet points, there are others who see some merit in the deliberate obfuscation and mind-numbing quality of these slide-like presentations, particularly when working with the media. Some noteworthy excerpts from the NY Times piece:
Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.
The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”
The problem as I see it, is not in the PowerPoint, but in ourselves, that we often haven’t a clue as to how to use this powerful tool most effectively. To that end, and with the NY Times expose as their reference point, I asked three of my esteemed colleagues to offer their views on creating effective PowerPoint presentations. Here are their thoughts. Continue reading Tips on building better PowerPoint presentations.
Thought for the day
Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.
Mary Kay Ash
… and courtesy of the government’s Plain Language site, enjoy these headlines that prove once again that English can be a very difficult FIRST language!
- Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
- Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
- Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
- Farmer Bill Dies in House
- British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
- Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
- Miners Refuse to Work after Death
- Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
- War Dims Hope for Peace
- If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
- Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
- Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
- Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
- Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge
- New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
- Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
- Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
- Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
- Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
- Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
- Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Thought for the day:
If the wind will not serve,
take to the oars.
Today, I offer a quick follow up to my last post on the Digital vs. Print Debate, using excerpts from a recent Wall Street Journal article by Teri Evans, who interviewed small business owners and marketing experts for her story, “Firms Hold Fast to Snail Mail Marketing.”
What she discovered:
- Some entrepreneurs who were quick to write off direct mail as too pricey or passé are finding it’s not so easy to dismiss.
- Today’s successful campaigns shun the old-fashioned – and expensive — boiler-plate approach (purchasing lists and sending fliers or coupons to a mass audience) in favor of personalized mailings to a hand-picked list of current and prospective customers.
- The idea is to send something that is more appealing than ‘junk’ mail and potentially more noticeable than an email message, to “offer a personal touch the larger firms may not be able to have,” according to Eric Anderson, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of management.
- Business owners are trying to figure out how to integrate their Web marketing efforts — email campaigns, banner ads, and social-networking sites—with direct mail. According to Professor Anderson, “The introduction of new media has forced business owners to go back and revisit the whole playbook on what’s the best way to communicate with customers.”
1) Use online, electronic marketing messages to complement your print direct mail effort.
2) Keep the messages highly targeted and personal, with a signature, if possible, on each piece.
What do you think?
From The Wall Street Journal
, January 12, 2010
Thought for the day:
If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
- Thomas Edison
In an intriguing MarketingProfs.com post last spring, Doug Stern observed that “digital or print” is the new “paper or plastic.”
It’s hardly news that most companies have moved from delivering print messages via the USPS to going totally online for a variety of economic and philosophical reasons: to “go green,” to save money on paper and postage, to get to market more quickly, and to tap into the interactivity and direct buying potential that only a link on the Web can supply. In fact, Stern cited an estimate that 70% of all business communication was being done online.
But is it really an either/or question? I say, “No.” While more often than not the answer should be “both” for the reinforcement that a dual approach offers (paper AND plastic; digital AND print), sometimes only print will do. Continue reading Digital or Print? – Revisiting the debate
|Thought for the day:
Thought for the day:
To lose patience
is to lose the battle.
In today’s time crunched world, we’re all getting better at processing our electronic inboxes at breakneck speed, rapidly discarding what looks superfluous, quickly scanning what captures our attention, and giving less than 60 seconds to our subscription e-newsletters.
In fact, according to a 2006 study by researchers at Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), the average time spent after opening an online newsletter was just 51 seconds!
So, as writer Richard Ketchen aptly noted in the second paragraph of his November Exchanges newsletter, “if that statistic is true, I’m now talking to myself.” (Props to Richard for alerting me to the NNG study!)
But those of us who work on e-newsletters for a living also can find solace in the Nielsen Norman research Continue reading Can you tell your story in less than a minute?
Thought for the day:
Goodness is the only investment
that never fails.
Henry David Thoreau
Brit Police Chiefs Suspected of Word Crimes
My thanks to professional writer and editor Richard Ketchen for sharing the missive below in his recent Exchanges e-newsletter. The 102-word sentence, excerpted from the Association of Chief Police Officers’ response to the British Government’s green paper on policing, is a top contender for this year’s Golden Bull Awards competition (sponsored by Plain English Campaign). Need I say more?
“The promise of reform which the Green Paper heralds holds much for the public and Service alike; local policing, customized to local need with authentic answerability, strengthened accountabilities at force level through reforms to Police Authorities and HMIC, performance management at the service of localities with targets and plans tailored to local needs, the end of centrally engineered one size fits all initiatives, an intelligent approach to cutting red tape through redesign of processes and cultures, a renewed emphasis on strategic development so as to better equip our Service to meet the amorphous challenges of managing cross force harms, risks and opportunities.”
Marie Clair, spokeswoman for Plain English Campaign says, “I fell asleep halfway through that sentence and didn’t get round to pondering the meanings of ‘centrally engineered one size fits all initiatives’ or ‘amorphous challenges’. Is that wrestling with a jellyfish, maybe?”
by Lauren Libitz, President, Yankee IABC
[See what The Friendly Curmudgeon had to say about Twitter back in June.]
I’m a big fan of the old saying, “Don’t knock it ‘till you try it.” Most recently for me it has meant trying new foods that I thought would taste awful when they turned out to be incredibly delicious (I’m looking at you sweet breads from Toro restaurant); clothing styles that I assumed wouldn’t look good on me until I stepped into the dressing room (hello dresses with pockets from Nordstrom); and social media tools.
While more and more people are seeing the value of LinkedIn for maintaining professional connections and Facebook for keeping in touch with family and friends, my impression is that people are quick to dismiss Twitter when they haven’t spent any time exploring it. They haven’t set up a profile, haven’t “followed” people who are experts in their field, and haven’t gotten involved in the conversation, and yet are convinced that the only people using it are self-absorbed navel gazers. How do you know that the tool is useless when you haven’t even tried it? Continue reading Note to Curmudgeon: Give Twitter a Chance
Part 3: Ideas for building ones that work.
Once you’ve determined that a White Paper is the right solution (see Part Two of this series), you’ll want to make it as compelling as possible. Fortunately, there are excellent online resources to help you achieve this yourself or find a skilled wordsmith to do it for you.
All of these resources follow the same basic rules of white paper construction:
Know your reader well.
Before you set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) you’ll need to be very clear about who your target audience is and what problems they’re facing. Of course this is the first rule for any good communication, but it bears repeating here because a White Paper is a factual document that relies primarily on the written word (and logical arguments) to engage readers rather than on the emotional language, photos, or graphics that are more typical of a marketing brochure. Continue reading Is a White Paper the Best Solution?