Posts Tagged ‘Reviewing Writing’
Meet two of my pet peeves in word usage: trooper and trouper
I am currently on a linguistic rampage about how to distinguish one from the other, because lately I’ve noticed an outbreak of misuse and misunderstanding involving these two words. Whenever I come across such an unfortunate lapse, it causes me to raise one eyebrow in dismay while staring at the offending noun through gimlet eyes.
The guilty know who they are (or, worse, maybe not).
Troop refers to a throng, crowd, herd or group. For example:
- a troop of State Police officers
- a troop (group) of friends
- a troop (flock) of birds
Trooper typically designates a member of a military unit or a police force, or a member of a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop.
Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary lists the following as examples of troopers:
- enlisted cavalryman
- paratrooper or soldier
- mounted policeman
- one of a body of State police, usually using motorized vehicles
- Girl Scout or Boy Scout
By extension, “to be a real trooper” has come to mean “to show bravery and courage, especially in the face of adversity while on duty.”
Troupe refers to a company or group of performers on the stage: a company of actors and actresses; a theatrical troupe.
Trouper typically designates someone who is a member of a troupe, that is, an actor or an actress who belongs to a particular acting company.
By extension, “to be a real trouper” has come to mean knowing “the show must go on,” whatever it takes. Thus, a “real trouper” is a professional you can count on to help achieve the group’s goal, especially when the going gets rough. “Real troupers” will come through for you, no matter what, because they are committed, reliable and tenacious.
Once more then: Are you a trooper or a trouper?
Now it’s your turn: What are your pet “word pair” peeves? What sorts of homonymic misusage get under your skin, prompting you to think that civilization is irreversibly in decline? What confusions of meaning goad you into reaching for your red pen? What sorts of linguistic pratfalls provoke your inner editor to sally forth? Tell all in your comments – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
When you write sales and marketing copy, remember that the layout will affect the readability and eye appeal of your words.
Will your text appear online or in print? If you are responsible for the layout as well as the copy, you’ll want to experiment with graphics, colors and typeface. Consider also that you may need more than one layout if your copy will appear in more than one medium. If you are working with a graphics designer, review at least one draft of the piece to be sure the layout is clean, easy to read and eye-catching.
Does the layout draw readers into the copy? Is it inviting? Are there enough (but not too many) subheads to break the information into logical chunks? Does the use of typeface encourage readers to notice the most important information first? Does the layout move the reader along from the headlines through the copy to the contact information and take-action statements? Do photos or drawings convey what you intend to communicate about the product or service? Do captions make sense in the context of the piece?
Here are some tips for enhancing the eye appeal of your copy:
- Use large, bold type for the headline.
- Use one, dominant visual image. Keep visuals fairly simple and easily understandable by your audience.
- Place body copy below the headline and the primary visual.
- Use a clean, readable typeface for body copy. Generally, a dark typeface on a light background works best.
- Use subheads to break information into logical chunks, which will help lead the eye through the text.
- Leave enough space between paragraphs so the page appears clean and uncluttered.
- Remember that short paragraphs are easier to read than long ones.
- Keep the lead paragraph very short; three lines (or fewer) are optimal to drive your point home.
- Remember that a simple, clean layout is usually the most effective way to communicate your message.
A good layout should grab readers’ attention and make your copy sparkle. It’s the “secret sauce” that can add the right touch of magic.
How well are your company’s sales and marketing communications working? What layout tips would you recommend? Elizabeth Lexleigh lexpower The Write Ideas
How much copy have you written (and read!) for brochures, direct mail, catalogs, ads, and other marketing literature? The online and print worlds are awash in copy looking to grab your attention, hook your interest, create a need, list the benefits you will enjoy by purchasing the touted product and, finally, asking you for your order.
And you snap at the bait and go for it, only to realize … something’s missing.
Companies spend a lot of time and money trying to generate traffic and motivate people to buy their products. They get real creative. Flatter you. Use great visuals. Tell good stories. Pitch great messages. Get you to identify with the product image. So far so good.
But sometimes, when it comes right down to the moment of truth, the writers forget to include basic information that any potential customer absolutely must have. And every so often the editors don’t catch the missing details, either.
The problem is that those missing details can cost your company a sale. They can make the difference between a good customer experience and a bad one.
When you write marketing and sales copy, remember to proofread for the obvious details! Here are some examples:
- Website and email addresses
- Phone numbers, including toll-free
- Company name, logo, street address
- Directions or map
- Store hours
- Branch locations
- Instructions for placing orders on the website, by email, by phone, or by mail
- Accepted methods of payment
- Product prices, guarantees and warranties
- Shipping and service information
What other obvious details would you include? Elizabeth Lexleigh lexpower The Write Ideas
In any document you write, your overriding objective is to make the content immediately understandable and usable by your audience.
If someone tells you that your work is not clear, the problem typically falls into one or more of these categories: planning, conceptual design, information, and language usage. To analyze the problem, start by asking the following questions:
Planning. Did you complete a thorough planning phase at the beginning of the writing project? Did you use the results in writing the document? For example, do you understand the purpose of the product? The purpose of the document? Do you know who your audience is? Do you know how your audience will use the document? You should have answered these and other planning questions at the outset, and then implemented the answers as you conceptually designed the document, gathered the information to be included, and wrote and reviewed the material.
Conceptual Design. Did you answer all of the important design questions? For example, do you know what your audience is looking for in the document? What is the most important part of the document? What are the key requirements that the document must meet? What are the editorial standards you are to use in your work? And so on. Further, did you establish page and text formatting guidelines? And, critically, did you build an outline based on your planning and design decisions?
Information. Did you scope out the content to be included in the document? Content to be excluded? Did you keep in close touch with your subject-matter experts and have them review the document, giving you feedback? How much do you yourself know about the subject matter? How good a researcher are you? Do you have the right material for the document, based on your outline?
Language. Do you have the necessary knowledge and grasp of the craft of language: spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, vocabulary and word usage? If you feel you need to improve in this area, do two things: read and write. Read good writing by good writers, and practice writing. Make both a daily habit. If you want regular critiques of your writing, join a local writers’ group, or check out classes for adult learners at your local university, community college, or online.
A final tip on analyzing problems involving clarity of writing: be careful of telling stories or going off on tangents when you write. All content and how you handle it must serve the purpose of the document, based on your planning and design decisions, and your outline. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
What do you think? Do you agree with these suggestions? What would you add? Elizabeth Lexleigh The Write Ideas lexpower
At the very moment you think your document is ready for your audience, stop. Don’t send it or publish it just yet. There is one final step in the writing process that you should take, the step that can elevate your message above the rest and help your document command the attention of your readers. It is this:
Read your words aloud.
No matter how pleased you were with what you heard in your mind’s ear as you wrote the document, listening to the actual, out-loud sound of your words will probably inspire you to edit, trim and rewrite. Why is this so?
Reading aloud gives a writer a much better appreciation of the structure of a piece, its pacing, rhythms, word usage, and logic flow. You will find out if your sentences are strong and well formed, or not. You will hear how they fit together. You will feel the storyline more acutely and sense whether it is tight, moving with force and conviction, or weak and rambling.
To gain an interactive perspective on your work, see if you can rustle up a live audience to read to. Perhaps you could round up a few colleagues or the reviewers on your project team. Their response could prove invaluable in assessing how successful your document is likely to be with your target audience.
Remember to listen to the voice of your document before you send it to your customers, prospects and other audiences.
Well, dear reader, what do you think about this idea? Do you read your words aloud before you publish a document? Elizabeth Lexleigh lexpower The Write Ideas
Somewhere along the way in nearly every person’s life, there comes a time when it is necessary to write a letter of complaint to someone. A time when you feel you have exhausted all other reasonable avenues, yet still cannot get the offending party — merchant? neighbor? government agency? family member? colleague? — to cooperate and work toward a satisfactory resolution.
Now, assuming you truly wish to find a workable solution to your dilemma, let me share with you the most important secret you need to know and absolutely must use in writing your letter: Avoid emotionalism.
Emotional words are loaded words. They can be loaded with accusations, expressions of anger or hatred, insinuation, libel, spite, self-righteousness, sarcasm, condescension, sneering, blaming, and name-calling. They can be loaded with assumptions and indignation. They can be loaded with fact-free imaginings and derogatory statements.
Think such an emotional approach will help you win your argument? Surmount the problem? Resolve the issue? Enlighten the other person and help them see the error of their ways? Make them realize you are not someone to trifle with? No. Rudeness will only decrease the other party’s sympathy for you and reduce your chances of success. The road to disaster is often paved with emotionalism.
So before you pen the REAL letter, sit down and write the I-Accuse-You-Horrible-Person-Rant-Cant-Whack-‘Em-Smack-‘Em-You’ll-Never-Forget-This-Letter missive. Take out your verbal flame-thrower and scorch the earth. Discharge all your roiling emotions, so that your mind will be free to deal with the facts of the case in a cool, calm and equable manner.
Now, place another sheet of paper before you, and write the real letter, the one in which you methodically and logically state your case in a polite and businesslike way:
- Explain the problem clearly.
- Get to the point.
- Be as brief as possible (save the over-wrought narrative, and do not go into excessive detail).
- Use objective, neutral words to present the facts as you see them.
- Stick to the issues.
- Be honest in your descriptions.
- Be clear in your objective. What action do you want your reader to take?
Keep the letter overnight, and review it the next day. Delete any shred of emotionalism. Remember, you want to win, and loaded words will not help you achieve your goal. Elizabeth Lexleigh The Write Ideas lexpower
How does a writer measure performance against intent?
Start with a general review of the document to get a sense of how it flows. Does anything in the document puzzle you? Does everything have a purpose?
To help answer those questions, check the document against the project requirements and specifications — remember those? You and the project team established them way back during the planning phase, and you have been using them to guide all of your work on the document. Now is their moment to shine as the indispensable “yardsticks” they are in measuring the results of your work. If the document meets all project requirements, it is one large step closer to success.
Next, compare the approved outline to the document’s table of contents. They should be identical, or very similar, in their content and sequencing. As you read through the document, you should get the feeling that information is presented in a coherent, meaningful pattern.
Another vitally important checkpoint is to have a qualified reviewer try to use the document for its intended purpose and report the outcome to you. For example, if the document is a user manual for a software application, can the reviewer successfully complete all tasks, procedures or other operations as explained in the document?
A “test drive” or two will help you discover any deficiencies in your document (before your customer does!) and give you the opportunity to make improvements.