Posts Tagged ‘Business Writing’
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.
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.
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
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
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:
- CSU – Jargon, Weasel Words and Gobbledygook
- WSU – The Power of Words
- Changing Minds – Weasel Words
- Weasel Words
- Edgalaxy – Weasel Words
- Say Uncle – How Business People Air Their Grievances
- Tony Goodson – Weasel Words
- 37 Signals – Corporate Speak
- Flickr – Weasel-Speak Ad
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
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.
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:
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Keep it short. Keep it simple. The “direct” headline gets right to the point.
“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.
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?
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
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
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:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): What Really Works?
- How Does Writing Generate Knowledge Value?
- Writers Solve Problems
- Good Documents Are Smart Business
- 5 Keys to Writing Winning Marketing Copy
- Business Blogs: 9 Tips for Great Results
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
Radio interviews are a dynamite way to get massive exposure that can reach way beyond a local market. So think BIG—think global. Why confine your marketing to one or more local markets when you could be heard all over the world?
There are thousands of internet radio shows on over 10,000 internet radio stations. Some of these are “terrestrial” stations that also offer streaming or podcasts over the internet; others are entirely creatures of the internet.
And these stations all have one thing in common: their talk shows always need new content. Every day, each show has to feed the engine that draws listeners and powers the world of news and information.
Finding Internet Radio Shows
How do you find the shows you would like to be on? Here are two tips:
Audience. Define the target audience for your product, service, or message. You might segment your audience by demographics – age, gender, education, socioeconomics, and so on. Or perhaps it makes more sense for you to classify your audience by interests or lifestyle. Remember that a product intended for one group may also appeal to another, if only as an item to give as a gift. The takeaway here is to analyze your audience very carefully so you don’t overlook a healthy market.
Research. Use the following links to check out the types of talk shows that appeal to your audience. If your topic is kitchen tools and gadgets, for example, you wouldn’t be looking for an interview on a radio show about fashion accessories or gardening. Use specific keywords in your search for shows.
Contacting an Internet Radio Show
When you find a show you are interested in, the station or show website will display a Contact tab or menu option. Make a note of the show’s producer or host, including the email address and any other contact information. In most cases, email will be the best way of contacting someone and will also help you keep your lists organized and under control.
When you send an email letter, introduce yourself and let the producer or host know why you are contacting them. Tell them a little about yourself, why you would like to be a guest on their show, and how talking with you will benefit their radio listeners.
Be sure to keep your email lists updated and organized as you continue trying to book yourself on radio shows. You may have to follow up if your initial contact attempt gets no response (and expect that in a few cases you may never get a response to your query).
Continue searching for more contacts, and be persistent in trying to book yourself on shows. Eventually you should get some interviews.
So … What Are You Going to Say?
Congratulations! You’ve finally snagged an internet radio interview and now you’re preparing for your guest spot. What are you going to say?
Don’t even think of “winging it.”
Map your outline in such a way that your interview will have a storyline – a beginning, a middle, and an end. What are your key points? What is your overall purpose?
Break your storyline down into topics (speaking points), and create a question to introduce each topic.
Develop each topic by writing out the answer to its question. As you write, your objective is to get your message across by appealing to your audience’s needs and interests.
Remember to time each topic, according to the timelines your contact gave you, so you will be a good guest and not force the host to cut you off mid-sentence when show time is up.
Read everything you have written out loud. If some part of your script sounds odd or just doesn’t seem conversational enough, rewrite it. Edit and rewrite your material until it sounds right, says what you intend to say for your audience, and stays within the timelines you’ve been given.
Email a copy of your question-and-answer storyline to your interviewer well ahead of your interview date.
Now you’re on your way … soon to be a guest on an internet radio talk show. And guess what? You can use the same interview script, or a lightly tweaked version of it, for other guest appearances on shows that play to the same audience. Nice job.
Now it’s your turn: Have you ever been a guest on an internet radio talk show? What was your experience? Share your thoughts and opinions in a comment – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
Okay, you’re ready to take the plunge. You’ve decided it’s time to create a business blog and connect with your customers on a whole new level … but … how do you do that?
Relax. It’s not difficult. To help you get started, here are some red-hot tips for creating a successful business blog.
Objective. Your very first step is to define the objective of your company’s blog. Go no further until you know what your blog is supposed to accomplish.
Audience. You must know who your customers are so you can relate to them in ways that make sense to them and their experiences. You have to be able to get inside their heads and speak to them in ways they will find useful and appealing.
Plan. Sketch out a plan that lists topics, publication dates, research sources and experts to interview. Maybe you’re comfortable planning for two months of blog posts, or perhaps you’re the type who wants six months or even a year’s worth of topics ready to roll. The key is to create a topic outline, so you can work ahead and stay on top of publication deadlines. If you need to get buy-in or approvals from other staff members, a solid plan will make that part of the job much easier.
Reviews. Establish who is on the review panel. Depending on the size of your company and your industry, your reviewers may include people from the technical, legal, regulatory, marketing, sales and other departments. Really good advice: Keep the number of reviewers as small as possible. Remember that reviewers are meant to verify or question the accuracy of content; in all cases, the writer needs to be the “voice” of the blog.
Length. Generally, a typical business blog post is 300 to 500 words long.
Frequency. How often to post varies widely from company to company, but as a rule of thumb you should plan on blogging three to four times a week.
Comments. Allow comments—after all, you want customer feedback, right? A big part of the blog’s job is to connect with customers, and encouraging an ongoing conversation is a really good way to do that. Remember to monitor comments and respond to them. Depending on your company, you may need to develop an internal process for handling technical questions, requests for information, sales leads, and so on.
Keywords. As much as possible, use company keywords in every post. Just be sure you don’t get too “sales-y” or overtly promotional, unless sales and marketing are the explicit objectives of the blog.
Value. To keep your customers coming back and interacting, your blog must contain information your customers find useful. Blog about things your customers can relate to and care about, and you will build good business relationships through conversation.
You may also like to read one of my recent posts on the top reasons why your company needs a business blog.
Now let’s talk: Have business blogs worked for you? Does your company use blogs to create a customer community? Do you have any tips, secrets or techniques for creating successful business blogs? Please leave your comments. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas