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Archive for the ‘Business Writing’ Category

They flouted their disregard for the laws concerning proper disposal of hazardous waste.

Oh, he’s just playing politics. He’s flaunting the state’s constitution to push a political agenda, but what he’s trying to do won’t hold up under legal scrutiny.

In the examples shown above, flouted should be flaunted, and flaunting should be flouting.

Recently I’ve run across these and many similar misuses of the words “flout” and “flaunt” in print, online and on the radio. It seems as though a lot of people have only a fuzzy idea of the difference between flout and flaunt, so I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about them.

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Flout

Flout

Unfortunately, dogs can't read ... This one enjoys taking a stroll at Kerrycroy near a sign that states “No dogs.” Where is the dog’s rule-flouting owner? (Click image for source and credit)

To flout is to ignore or defy authority, or to treat laws with contemptuous disregard and scorn. It can also mean to mock or insult someone, or treat someone with contempt.

Brazen defiance and deliberate offense are contained in the notion of flout. If someone chooses to flout a rule or law or social convention, for example, their act shows a certain brash arrogance toward others. Why? Because to flout is to challenge and to affront, all while in the act of making one’s disdain plainly evident.

You can see, then, that the sentence beginning with “they flouted their disregard …” makes no sense, because it means the people in question ignored their disregard or treated it with contempt. By contrast, the correct word, flaunted, means they proudly or ostentatiously displayed their disregard in front of others in a way that indicated they mocked the laws.

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Flaunt

Flaunt

Do you flaunt what you’ve got to inspire envy in others? (Click image for source and credit)

To flaunt means to ostentatiously display oneself or something, or to parade in a showy and public way, often with the intent to inspire envy in others.

Flaunt contains an element of strut and swagger, of grandstanding and shameless spectacle. Those who flaunt engage in a theatrical, flashy exhibition that is intended to impress others in some dramatic way.

Consider the sentence that opens with “he’s flaunting the state’s constitution ….” In that case, the rest of the sentence indicates that the politician in question is not trying to show off or pretentiously parade any part of the constitution to his advantage. Rather, by attempting to defy or ignore it in order to further his agenda, he is flouting the state’s constitution.

Writers, readers and listeners, are you among those who have been flouting when you should flaunt, and vice versa? If so, maybe now is the time to draw a clear distinction between the two in your own mind, and then do your part to stop the epidemic of misuse of flaunt and flout.

Talkback: Have you found examples of misuses of flout and flaunt? Do you have any favorites? Now is your chance to weigh in on this topic and share your insights, anecdotes and stories by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Semantics: The Meaning of Words

Let’s untangle the meanings of “nauseous” and “nauseated” without having a cat fight. They share the same root word, but have different meanings. (Click here for image credit and source.)

Lately I’ve been spotting many misuses of nauseous and nauseated, which is unsettling, to say the least. And also kind of humorous.

While the two words both stem from the Latin nausea, meaning seasickness, they have different meanings.

The careful writer makes a distinction between them.

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Nauseous

Something that is nauseous causes nausea.

For example, if you smell a nauseous odor, it makes you feel sick to your stomach.

You can also use the word figuratively to mean sickening, disgusting, or loathsome. For example, a nauseous idea or statement is one that disgusts you.

A perfectly fine synonym for nauseous is nauseating.

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Nauseated

If something makes you feel sick to your stomach, you are nauseated.

Figuratively, the word can also be used to mean you feel sickened or disgusted.

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Common Misuse

The most common misuse seems to be something similar to this: “I feel nauseous,” which actually means: “I feel I make other people sick to their stomachs.”

Hey, could be. But probably the speaker means to say: “I feel nauseated,” meaning: “I feel sick to my stomach.”

Now it’s your turn: Has the misuse of these two words caught your eye? Do you have any examples to share with us? Thanks for leaving a comment!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Geographic Information System (GIS)

How can Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help writers and content creators visualize data? Do you use information visualization in your publications and documents? (Click image for credit and source)

Data visualization is becoming the new frontier in content, writing, and communication. In this post, I want to share with you a remarkable type of map.

There are your standard, average sorts of maps, and then there are your WOW! amazing, captivating maps.

In The World in Tweets and Photos and Infographic of the Day: Using Twitter and Flickr Geotags to Map the World, Eric Fischer has created a marvelous series of geographic maps of the WOW! kind showing overlays of geotagged photos posted to Flickr and tweets to Twitter.

This fascinating project visualizes the intersection of geography and vast quantities of user-generated data.

When you look at Fischer’s images, you will see clusters of multi-colored dots that represent where people are when they send photos and tweets. Red dots correspond to Flickr photos; blue dots signify tweets; and white dots indicate locations from which both have been sent.

From New York and Washington to the entire United States to Europe to the entire world, you can see images that instantly communicate how many people are using those two social media, and where they are when using them.

In an earlier post, Information Visualization: How Can It Improve Your Publications?, I wrote about the value of using visualization to extract meaningful information from a sea of data, and gave you some guidelines for successfully doing just that.

I think Eric Fischer’s maps beautifully illustrate the best reason for visualizing large and complex data sets: visualization is a technique that allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

That type of large-scale analysis gives writers and other communications professionals a powerful tool to connect with their audiences and convey a story in moving and unforgettable ways.

Enjoy Fischer’s glorious maps. I hope they inspire you to come up with even better visualizations for your own publications and documents.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of Fischer’s maps? Do you use information visualization in your own work? What software tools do you use to take large sets of data and convert them to visual form? Please share your tips, techniques and experiences – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Weasel Words

How do you respond to weasel words? Do you find them useful, annoying, or deliberately misleading? (Click image for credit and source)

Ah, weasel words.

People often use weasel-speak in business to create the impression that they have said something important, meaningful and to the point when, in fact, their claims are ambiguous, their assertions little more than assumptions, and their statements vague and misleading.

When you hear weasel-speak, don’t you just want to raise your eyebrows in alarm and mutter What sesquipedalian tergiversation!

Here are a few common weasel phrases as examples:

Studies show …

The vast majority …

People say …

Critics claim …

There is evidence that …

Experience shows …

If you use such phrases, you can avoid weaseldom in one of two ways:

  • Substitute the exact figures, names or details in place of the weasel phrase in the body of the text.
  • Use footnotes or appendices in which you give exact figures, details, names, places, and so on.

Notice that the key idea in both suggestions is the same: Prefer language that is concrete, factual, specific and detailed. Substantiate all claims. Provide supporting evidence for all assertions. Avoid the clutter of bureaucratic phrases. Simpler language almost always communicates better.

You can also use what is known as the “general-concrete” pattern. In this method of writing, general and abstract statements are followed by a concrete case. Use specific examples, illustrations and detailed explanations to get your exact point across to your readers. Don’t just present concepts and sweeping generalities. Clarify each one with a concrete case, specific figures, or detailed examples to convey what you mean and help prevent weasel-speak from creeping into your writing.

Now let’s take the example weasel phrases above and remove the smoke screens. The following examples banish the empty weasel words and restore substance and specificity:

Two studies, the 2003 Hirt Report on Nicotine Use and the 2007 CDC Mortality Rates Report, show …

89 percent of respondents said …

People we interviewed agreed that …. Here is a list of their names and departments …

The movie critics of the following newspapers claim … (provide the names of the papers and critics)

The 26 supporting studies we cite in the appendix offer evidence that …

Based on the self-reported experience of the following 10 people … (give their names, describe each person’s experience in detail, and how each person’s experience supports your point)

Oh, it’s so easy, isn’t it? A little weasel here, another slithery weasel there, and before you know it, clear, substantive speech can find itself on the slippery slope to puffery, devoid of all real content.

To help you maintain sense and meaning in your writing, here is a list of handy resources I think you will enjoy:

Now it’s your turn: What weasel phrases do you dislike the most? How do you avoid using weasel words? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Create Headlines That Work

Do your headlines and article titles sizzle? Do they grab readers’ attention? Do they make readers want to read the body copy?

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Headline, title, lead, opener – however you refer to it, the headline is the first impression your audience gets.

Whether read in a print piece or heard on radio or TV, the headline can spell the difference between success or failure: Is that first impression exciting and attention-grabbing? Does the headline offer useful information or news or promise readers they will gain something? Does the headline motivate the reader to keep reading, or make the listener continue to pay attention to what follows?

Whatever type of piece you are writing, the headline has to deliver, if it’s going to beat the competition and win people’s attention.

The secret that powers every successful headline is simple. The winners answer the most important question people ask themselves every time they read or hear a headline: What’s in it for me?

If a headline makes you interested in knowing more, it’s done its job, which is to:

  • Grab your attention.
  • Appeal to your self-interest.
  • Deliver the main message.
  • Persuade you to continue reading or listening.

Here are four sure-fire tips for writing headlines that get the job done.

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“Direct” Headline

This type of headline directly states what will follow. It clearly summarizes the message in the piece without using wordplay, hidden meanings, cleverness, or oblique references.

Select an important benefit that appeals to your readers’ self-interest, and then craft a statement that is bold, direct and perhaps even a little dramatic. For example:

Embedding Videos in Your PDF Documents

Get a Free Subscription to the Monthly Newsletter

Tank Tops – 25% Off Until Wednesday

Keep it short. Keep it simple. The “direct” headline gets right to the point.

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“How To” Headline

This one has been called “pure magic” in its ability to draw attention and compel people to continue reading or listening.

The “how to” headline dangles an irresistible promise before the reader: Listen to me. Pay attention to me. I can help you solve a problem. I can answer your question. I can help you learn something you want to know. For example:

How to Easily Save $300 a Month

How to Get More Sleep

How to Communicate Well

The “how to” says you are not alone. It relieves stress. It brings hope. This headline assures readers that others share their concern or have the same problem and, best of all, promises: You can fix it, solve it, learn it, overcome it—and here’s how.

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“Question” Headline

When you use the “question” headline, remember to focus on your audience. It’s all about their self-interest, so address your question to them. What fires up their curiosity? What fears or needs can your headline appeal to? For example:

What Won’t the Neighbors Tell You?

Which Foods Can Keep You Looking Young?

Is Your Air-Conditioner Costing You More Than It Should?

“Reason-Why” Headline

The “reason-why” headline is useful when you want to list the features of your product or service. It is also a good hook for pieces that offer advice or something to learn. For example:

Three Reasons Why You Should Get a College Degree

Six Ways of Chic Dressing on a Tight Budget

Five Steps to Looking Better and Living Longer

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These headline types are tested and proven—just look around and see what draws your attention. Ask your family, friends and colleagues. Ask businesspeople. Ask other writers. Do some research on what makes a headline effective.

Your challenge, as a writer, is to create headlines and titles that compel people to focus their attention on what you have to say and stay glued to every word.

Now it’s your turn: What sorts of headlines appeal to you? Writers, which headlines have worked well for you? Do you have any analytical insights into headline effectiveness? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Writer Ideas

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis - Video Ads vs. Social Marketing vs. Pay-Per-Click Ads vs. Search Engine-Optimization

It’s no secret that Google recently changed its search formulas.

Google’s intent was to decrease the occurrence of “content farms” in search results, because the farms were clogging the search rankings. Content farms tend to be heavy on ads, post information without much regard for quality, and often use text copied from other sources.

So good for Google! Time to stop rewarding the content farms.

Alas, however, Google’s modifications to its search algorithms also spawned some unintended (and negative) consequences for legitimate companies.

If you own or work at a small business with a web presence, then one or more of the accidental side effects may be giving you a real headache.

Recent articles on CNN Money and in the Wall Street Journal noted that, as a result of Google’s changes, many small businesses have seen dramatic declines in their web traffic and web-generated sales – think drops in sales of as much as 40 percent.

Wouldn’t that make you sit up and take notice? Thought so. As you might imagine, then, those businesses are now taking action.

Which brings us to the “silver lining in the cloud” part.

If you are a freelance writer, pay close attention here, because one tactic favored by those companies is to hire more freelance writers to customize copy.

You see, many of the affected companies sell lots and lots of different products. Formerly, they relied on the manufacturers’ product descriptions, meaning they basically just copied the text. The manufacturers certainly didn’t mind (it’s partly why they created the copy, after all), but that approach seems to have caused their sites to lose their place in Google’s rankings.

So rejoice, freelance writers. As Carol Tice says in her excellent post about this subject: “Google’s change is opening up a world of freelance writing opportunities.”

In addition to writing original product descriptions, companies also need copy for email marketing campaigns, customer Q&A, social media, direct customer communication and much more that will help each company distinguish itself from its competition.

Companies, although you’re going to suffer some short-term pain, in my opinion you have been handed a golden opportunity to make your businesses even more profitable and productive. You and your customers will eventually benefit enormously from what good freelance writers can bring to the table.

Remember, good communication is the heartbeat of a great business. (And better Google rankings.)

Bonus just for you: If you’d like to read more about substantive content and SEO, and why you should care, check out these recent posts:

Now it’s your turn: How do you present your products and services in an original, creative way? What keeps your customers coming back to your website and actually buying stuff? Writers, what do you think about the opportunities presented by Google’s changes? Please share your thoughts and keep the conversation going in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write ideas


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