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Posts Tagged ‘Content

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

Metaphor: The Open Road

Can we imagine any part of our life without using a metaphor? Do we need metaphors to create meaning? (Click image for credit and source)

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All is connected, all is real, and all is metaphor.

Do you think this statement is true?

Recently I ran across a website of metaphor examples. According to its author, the site is based on the idea that metaphorical relationships can be considered to be “universal” in scope: a sort of Rosetta Stone between disciplines, if you will.

A related view is that metaphors provide a set of tools to compare two (seemingly) unlike things that are alike in at least one important way. Pick the tool of your choice – simile, analogy, personification, and others – and use it to explore and better understand the unknowns.

Then there’s this definition: “A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea … Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance.”

And what of visual metaphorsCognitive metaphors? Root metaphors?

If you follow some of the links in this post, you will see that metaphors of all kinds appear to be an indispensable key to understanding as well as creating our reality. They also allow us to connect to other forms of reality and to live beyond the boundaries of our own space.

Could we write, or communicate in any way, without metaphors?

Can you think of any aspect of your life that is metaphor-free?

If you were deprived of all metaphors, could you exist?

Do you think humans are responsible for creating metaphors, or do we just notice all the connections around us and attempt to describe their interfaces and correspondences?

In a recent post titled Language: The Government Wants Your Metaphors, I discussed IARPA’s Metaphor Program, which seeks to “exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture” in order to “characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

Although analytically and intellectually admirable, at least as a mathematical construct, such a project may ultimately prove too daunting to be practicable, because what metaphors say is so complex, interlocking and interrelated that it seems quite a challenge to untangle all the possible meanings and connections. And never mind that all of those qualities are dynamic.

If, as some suggest, metaphors are the foundation of our conceptual systems, then apparently we require them in order to think and act.

And if we can only understand or experience one thing in terms of another, that is, by using metaphors, then what don’t metaphors say?

Now it’s your turn: Do you think metaphors are the engine of communication? Could language itself be construed as a form of metaphor for life? Without communication of all kinds would life exist? Thanks for leaving your comments!   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

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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

Make a Metaphor

Are metaphors cultural memes? Do they say something about your culture, or just you? (Click image for credit and source.)

Did you know your tax dollars will soon be hard at work mining massive amounts of text?

It seems that Uncle Sam’s spy researchers are building “software sieves” that will be able to parse automatically what English, Farsi, Russian and Spanish speakers say and write, and pluck out the metaphors lurking in their streams of words.

The Intelligence Advanced Projects Research Activity (IARPA) wants to analyze and evaluate how people use metaphors, and then map that usage to their worldview, beliefs and mindset.

IARPA describes the Metaphor Program this way in a synopsis on its website:

“The Metaphor Program will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture … performers will develop automated tools and techniques for recognizing, defining and categorizing linguistic metaphors associated with target concepts and found in large amounts of native-language text … the program will characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

One fascinating aspect of the project is that IARPA sees metaphors as representing a general cultural mindset or worldview, rather than merely an individual’s expression of personal beliefs or attitudes.

This is interesting, because although it might be true that metaphors can influence your beliefs or how you perceive other people, events and issues, it is no doubt equally true that the arrows of influence can fly in the opposite direction. Maybe, just maybe, you can change your culture, even if only a little, by how you use language. Creativity and originality, anyone?

At any given moment, does your use of metaphors represent you, the individual, engaged in expressing your own ideas, which might run counter to those dominant in your culture or group? Or you, the “member of a culture” who merely echoes the received thematic mindset and attitudes associated with your kind?

And how could an outsider, a third-party someone (or software application) truly make that distinction with any accuracy?

As Alexis Madrigal points out in his superb article in The Atlantic: “[T]his project wants to parse, say, all the pages in Farsi on the Internet looking for hidden levers into the consciousness of a people … The assumption is that common turns of phrase, dissected and reassembled through cognitive linguistics, could say something about the views of those citizens that they might not be able to say themselves. The language of a culture as reflected in a bunch of text on the Internet might hide secrets about the way people think.”

Alright, then. What do the following metaphors say about Americans – not you as “an American,” mind you, but “Americans”? Because one implication (or perhaps, better: assumption) of the project appears to be that we are each more or less cultural cogs than we are individuals and, therefore, our use of metaphors shows “the consciousness of a people,” which tidily presumes we all agree on what a given metaphor means and only apply it to agreed-upon contexts and situations. Some American metaphors for your consideration:

That’s as American as motherhood and apple pie.

Saddle up.

Let’s roll.

It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings.

The best defense is a good offense.

He’s wearing cement booties and sleeping with the fishes.

A stitch in time saves nine.

He made it by the skin of his teeth.

May the force be with you.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Sow the seeds of progress.

They’re in default mode.

And those examples represent just “we the people” inventing and using common, every-day metaphors. What of those created by great writers, poets, scientists and thinkers?

Read any of Shakespeare’s works, say, or Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. What do the metaphors in those works say about their authors and their respective cultures?

For example, should the meaning(s) of Neruda’s metaphors be understood as saying something about the consciousness of the culture to which he belongs? And what, exactly, would that be? Do Neruda’s readers interpret his metaphors in the same way he does? If they repeat one of his metaphors, do they merely pass along the original (Neruda’s) meaning, or modify it, re-shape it, alter it and re-cast it to fit their own thinking, experiences and intent?

Let me tangentially note that many writers and editors (and readers, too) would call cultural metaphors, such as the examples in the list above, boring and unimaginative platitudes, or tired figures of speech, or hackneyed phrases, and frown on using them. Cultural metaphors are not, by definition, very original.

But do they capture the consciousness of an entire people? The truth of an entire culture?

Do they show how we understand ourselves, each other, and the world?

I think even attempting to build such a cultural-linguistic knowledge database that possesses the slimmest margin of accuracy will prove to be an extraordinarily challenging, complex, very long-term undertaking. The research will have to focus, in part, on word relationships, frames, logics, structures, processing rules, cognitive linguistics, syntactics, pragmatics, semantics, morphologies of various sorts, linguistic biases, permutations and combinations, probabilities, literal versus figurative speech, and … on and on it goes.

Language is a living substance. It is one of the outward expressions of the functioning brain. In essence, this project seeks to build a sort of linguistic Fast Fourier Transform to ingest the metaphorical statements of hundreds of millions of functioning brains and convert them into patterns that show the worldview, the consciousness, and the beliefs of their respective cultures.

What are the odds of such a project producing anything coherent, much less generating accurate, usable, actionable intelligence or insight?

If you view metaphors as cultural memes, you would do well to remember that a culture is a living organism, a society of minds in which ideas and thoughts constantly arise, emerge, evolve, transform, grow, replicate, mutate, decline, and die. Although the metaphors of any given time might mirror something about an individual as well as societal life, and vice versa, what is it?

The Metaphor Program promises to be great fun. This is one of the yummiest projects I’ve heard of in a long time.

What do you think of it? Do you feel like circling the wagons and hunkering down, or are you raring to saddle up and head out to join the effort and offer your metaphors to your country?

To help you decide, you might find it useful to read: What Do Metaphors Say?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about the government poking around in your metaphors? Do you think such a project can capture the ceaseless realtime exchange of information between individuals and their culture, decode the meanings encrypted in metaphors, and interpret them in accurate and useful ways? Do you even like metaphors? Do you use them?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Marketing EBooks

Could digital marketing across multiple platforms represent a new business model for publishers? Could this model work for books on paper as well as ebooks?

Just a few years ago, who would have thought the subject of book publishing and marketing could have become as contentious and sometimes rancorous as it has these days?

Authors, agents, publishers and readers tussle over which is preferable: digital or traditional (print) publishing … and lately it seems that the trend is swinging toward a blend of both. But hold on to your hat! The blend itself is probably just another transition phase …

And do you even want to wade into the fray about book marketing?

Authors think it’s the publishers’ job. Agents and publishers insist that, for the most part and for most authors, it’s primarily the authors’ responsibility. And the audience … wait, do they even know you just published a book and are frantically trying to get their attention?

Yes, how exactly are you going to market your book to your target audience?

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Multi-Platform Marketing Campaign

Use various types of channels and media to build a multi-platform marketing campaign. (Click image for credit and source)

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A New Marketing Model?

How does the following approach to marketing your book grab you?  Let’s say you could reach out and connect with your audience in these ways:

Market your backlist books online.

Create frontlist fiction and non-fiction books digitally, and publish them as ebooks as well as online to various devices and as POD (print-on-demand) in selected retail outlets.

Team up with independent, traditional publishers to bring your ebooks to a larger audience through enhanced marketing, publicity and editorial strategies; these strategies would be implemented online via social media, blog postings, videos, photos, written pieces and interactive promotions.

Partner with agents and publishers who could do far more than just sell film and TV rights. Imagine partnering with someone who could actually develop selected ebooks for all screens (film, TV, web, mobile).

Collaborate with publishers who would build up your list of ebooks as well as other curated, complementary pieces, and then package and syndicate your digital publications as appropriate to other outlets, for example, social networks, blogs and mainstream media portals.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Here are two ways of thinking about digital marketing—before the sale (top) and after the sale (bottom).

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Digital Marketing on Top

Digital Marketing on Top: Use a multi-platform blended approach of digital and traditional media to move your customers from awareness to purchase. This example emphasizes digital media. (Click image for credit and source)

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Digital Marketing on Bottom

Digital Marketing on Bottom: Use a multi-platform blended approach of digital and traditional media to keep your customers loyal and committed to giving your company their repeat business. This example emphasizes digital media. (Click image for credit and source)

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If you want to learn more about how one publishing company is going about creating this type of new, digital multi-platform marketing model, take a peek at the website of Open Road Integrated Media (ORIM).

One purpose of this type of digital marketing model is to forge strong connections between authors and their audiences in ways that haven’t been possible before now.

Even though authors may not always meet and greet their fans in person, authors must still reach out and connect their ideas to … well … to other people and their ideas. In essence, you have to create mind links.

Is that sort of connection necessarily any less real if it’s done digitally instead of in person?

Could we be catching a glimpse of where book publishing must go if it is to survive as an industry?

Should traditional publishers consider retooling their operations around a similar model?

If you are one of the 80,000 independent publishers, would you consider partnering with a digital marketing company?

In fact, will traditional publishers even survive if their business model does not emphasize heavy-duty marketing, especially digital multi-platform marketing?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think? Is this model the book-marketing wave that authors, agents and publishers alike have to catch to survive and thrive? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write 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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