Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The short list: 5 more books on writing short

You write a post about word-limited storytelling from Hemingway to NPR, and another about a book on Microstyle, and guess what? You'll keep hearing from readers who want more about how to write short. Microcontent, headlines, web content, you name it. Brevity is not just the soul of wit these days, but a necessary format.

I'm happy to oblige. Here are more books to add to your (ideally short) bookshelf on short writing:
  1. How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times is writing guru Roy Peter Clark's contribution to the brevity business. He walks you through how to write short in the first half of the book, then how to do it with purpose, just to up the ante.
  2. Heads You Win!: An Easy Guide to Better Headline and Caption Writing is Paul LaRocque's laser-focused guide to the true short stuff. Headlines are more important than ever in building traffic, and captions never allow enough room. This guide walks you through structure, traps, pitfalls and the actual mechanics of writing headlines and captions, with exercises to try.
  3. Copywriting: Headline Wizardry: Learn How to Write Spellbinding Headlines, by Jack Chapman, takes a different tack, dissecting headlines by their purposes, tone and intent. You won't look at a headline the same way again.
  4. Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works includes clear-writing advice as well as content strategy for websites, SEO and social media.
  5. Get to the Point! Painless Advice for Writing Memos, Letters and Emails Your Colleagues and Clients Will Understand, Second Edition deals with our most common forms of day-to-day writing, not noble but necessary.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The weekend read

I don't know about you, but I spent all week thinking it was one day closer to the weekend than the calendar said...the equivalent of peeking through the blinds to see if that package has arrived yet. You don't have to hide behind the blinds and peek any longer, communicators. It's the weekend, out in full view on the porch, and so close you could touch it. Time to settle down with my finds of the week, curated just for you from my Twitterstream, and let the sunshine in:
I spy the weekend. So glad you take the time to start it here with me!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The children's menu: Are you serving the chicken fingers of social media?

Living, as I do, in Washington, DC, I get visitors. Many with kids in tow. So the question I most often get doesn't involve monuments, but menus.

"We'd love to meet you for dinner," my friends say. "Is there a restaurant where we can get chicken fingers for Sara and buttered noodles or mac and cheese for George--that's really all they will eat." Sometimes, as an afterthought, they'll add, "And a steak and a martini for Mom and Dad. And do you mind eating at 5pm?"

We get something like 19 million tourists annually here, so yes, we have restaurants that meet those specifications (try Cafe Deluxe, Old Ebbitt Grill or Clyde's). I've stopped suggesting anything seemingly exotic, as long as the entire table doesn't need to eat the fingers of chicken, in deference to my guests. But we're missing some fabulous Lebanese and Analucian and Indian and French food. Just sayin'.

Looks as if that chicken-fingers approach is still afoot in companies and organizations just getting their toes wet in social media, as this post notes about Morgan Stanley's robotic tweets from brokers. "Planning a beach vacation?" or "Looking for some new golf clubs?" aren't questions you'd ask strangers in a bar, not if you actually wanted to connect with them. And I'm not sure I'd be talking about them with a new broker. They are, however, safe posts. Safe from controversy, safe from potential damage to the company image, and certainly in no danger of engaging anyone. Just to be sure of all that, they're also pre-approved by management.

Seth Godin recently described this "children's menu" approach, saying:
...chicken fingers are just a symptom. If we want to insulate ourselves from new experiences, ensure that we never eat something we don't like, never engage with someone we disagree with, never have to hold two opposing ideas in our head at the same time—chicken fingers are a great way to start.
His fix? Try new things, purposefully. In the world of social media, that might look like a pilot project--two of the most magical and little-used words in your arsenal of tricks--of three to six months' duration, something long enough to try a new tactic, measure the baseline at the beginning and your results throughout. It's careful without being comatose, reasonable without the robotics. Call it learning to swim without hanging on to the side of the pool, which really messes up your stroke, let alone your ability to get anywhere.

What's on your social media menu? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to work on your strategy.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by street walkings)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The weekend read

Was this week a blur, communicators? Too many things flying by too fast in your feeds? No worries. You can push pause and check out my curated collection of this week's finds on my Twitterstream. After all, there's still time to get smarter by Monday:
I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. Join us!

I'm not at all fuzzy on this: Love that you head back here every Friday. Please share the weekend read with your friends and colleagues. Just like a deadline, it sharpens the mind wonderfully.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's your list of words you love not wisely, but too well?

Words we love too much is one of the entries in the New York Times's blog After Deadline: Newsroom Notes on Usage and Style, a collection "adapted from a weekly newsroom critique overseen by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, who is also in charge of The Times’s style manual."

The examination shows that both "deep-pocketed" is overused as a descriptor for the wealthy, and bars are too often "watering holes," which Corbett feels should be reserved for science stories about herds of zebras. I foresee a piece about high-end bars called "Watering Holes for the Deep-Pocketed." 

You don't need an ombudsman to search your own databases of published documents, particularly press releases, for the terms that appear over and over again. Try it once a quarter. Pop all the text into a word cloud and see which words take precedence, then share them with the team to come up with alternatives.

You'll find more on this issue in You and the overused word: A major problem of historic proportions. What's your favorite overused word?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The weekend read

This week, I've been backstage at the TEDMED conference in Washington, DC, coaching speakers and hearing about new ideas in health and medicine. Coaching this conference backstage is a lot like the weekend read: Speakers share all sorts of things with me and I help them focus on what's important. So here's your roundup of what's important, communicators, all in aid of getting smarter by Monday:
I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. Join us!