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Posts Tagged ‘Writing

Kitten and Sponge Try to Communicate

Are you communicating with your audiences in a way that helps you reach your objectives?

Happy New Year! As you make your business resolutions for the coming year, communicating better is likely on your list. Whether you are an entrepreneur charging forward at the head of a fast-track startup or are growing an established small, midsize or large company, you know that telling your story and getting your message out to your customers and prospects is absolutely vital to your continued success.

With my best wishes to you for a kickin’ and profitable New Year, here are four hot-off-the-press tips that will work wonders for you in 2011.

1. Set Your Objective

Establish an objective to serve as the framework for your communication project. In other words, what is your purpose in reaching out to your customers, a colleague, prospects, your staff, or the general public? What do you want your audience to know, do, think, or feel? What results are you looking to get? From a single letter to an entire advertising campaign in a variety of media, you must know why you are communicating.

Taking aim and knowing what your target is before you take action gives you a real edge over your competition. So don’t bypass the tried-and-true advantage of figuring out where you want to go before you hit the trail: set an objective.

2. Develop Your Strategy

Now that you have an objective, you need a way to get there. The path to your objective is your strategy.

A useful way of thinking about strategy is to ask this question: what achievable steps can I take to reach my objective? In other words …

What is your product, process, idea, and so on? Who are your audiences? How can you engage and hold their interest? What sort of material (white papers, letters, brochures, books, manuals, videos, websites, blogs and other social media, and so on) do you need to create to reach your audiences? What must you say to your audiences to accomplish your objective? What is your point of view? How do you begin to tell your story, make your pitch, start your message to get through to your audiences?

Basically, you can think of strategy as defining the who, what, where, when, and how as specifically as you can. Strategy is your gameplan, and every step must lead to the why, which is your objective.

3. Establish Your Theme

Good Writing Establishes a Theme, Just As in Music

Is your communication organized around a theme, which holds everything together?

In music, a theme is a pattern of notes that makes the dominant statement at the opening of a composition. After establishing a theme in a piece, the composer develops it and plays with it until the end, when the musical exploration is resolved into a re-statement of the theme.

Communicating by words and images is similar. A good theme lets you own one or several words in the marketplace which are identifiably yours. In this sense, a theme positions or brands your message, that is, it creates “shelf space” in the minds of your audiences.

A theme is the glue that holds your strategy together. If you are spangling messages across market segments and platforms, what is the tie that binds, the unifying element, the cohesive force? Your theme.

You want coherence and organic unity? Grab yourself a dominant theme and stick with it for the project.

4. Create Your Message

Build your message around your theme. The message also must fit within some part of your strategy, so that it helps achieve your objective.

The persuasiveness and effectiveness of a message stem from four factors: what you say, how you say it, where you say it, and how often you say it.

The most important aspect of a message, however, is that you have to write for the audience. Do you know your audience well enough to send them a message they will find meaningful? Will your audience understand your message? Are you using words and images that are relevant and familiar to your audience? Will your message achieve the desired results with your target audience? Is the message appropriate for the medium you have selected, for example, the digital market space, a print magazine, a video or a white paper?

Howling Pups on a Communication Roll

Are you just howling into the wind, or are you on target with an objective, strategy, theme and message set?

What are your thoughts on how to communicate well? Please share them by leaving a comment. Thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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U.S. Department of State and Unencrypted Diplomatic Cables

The U.S. Department of State is currently managing the fallout from the unauthorized release of a slew of unencrypted diplomatic cables. All political considerations aside, this post looks at the use of language in diplomacy.

From the sampling I’ve read and heard, the unencrypted diplomatic cables now being splashed onto the world stage seem to cover a rather wide range of topics, from the trivial to the important. Some give first-person accounts of meetings, others offer candid views of allies and world leaders. Some are lighthearted and amusing, others serious and filled with official acronyms, diplo-speak and numbing amounts of often arcane detail.

But let’s leave aside for the moment all political and moral questions involved in the unauthorized release of the cables, as well as any consideration of potential fallout, international distress, or issues of national interest.

Important as those things are, the cables also reveal something else that captured my attention.

As I listened and read, a pattern began to emerge. A common thread seems to run through the cables that are the most interesting from a writing perspective, and that is story.

Yes, it appears (to me at least) that a first-rate diplomatic cable tells a good story.

Grab Attention with a Strong Lead

The most engaging and memorable cables open with a strong lead sentence. They grab the reader’s attention by making a strong point right up front.

A good opening lead shows the writer comprehends the issue at hand, has a purpose in mind, knows who the audience is, and understands how to write for that audience.

Tell the Story

In the well-written cables, the author then proceeds to elaborate on the initial idea in the lead sentence by telling a lively and vivid story. The best of these are fairly short, punchy and use memorable, descriptive language to get the point across.

Once the writer has established the subject in the lead sentence, everything in the story must support and explain it. You can spot a lack of unity by looking for information that is not relevant to the lead sentence.

Wrap It Up

The author closes by stating any supporting details, data or technical information.

In some cases, there may be a call to action or a formal concluding statement.

 

Now, if the government had stored those cables in encrypted form, writers the world over would never have had the chance to appreciate how nicely written many of them are.

Before you leave … share your thoughts in a comment. Have you read any of the diplomatic cables? Did you notice anything about the writing, or how they were constructed? What is your opinion?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Writers Are Always Looking for a Good Idea or Angle

Writers Are Always Looking for a Good Idea or Angle

As we consider all the things for which we can be thankful during the Thanksgiving holiday, writers in every field and genre will give thanks for finding that new idea or a fresh angle on it. Which writer, in passing the cranberry sauce or savoring a bite of pumpkin pie, will not sigh in relief at having tackled a project and successfully wrestled it into a form that delighted a reader, a client or an editor?

As we look beyond the oncoming holidays and over the winter horizon, we writers anticipate our next projects and assignments with pleasure, even as we hope our “idea well” does not run dry.

In the spirit of holiday sharing and giving, then, here are some of the methods I use to keep ideas flowing.

  • Practice “stream of consciousness” writing to jog ideas loose.
  • Read news websites.
  • Read blogs.
  • Read and participate in online discussion forums.
  • Search a topic, and then visit at least 10 of the sites that appear in the results list.
  • Engage in conversation with colleagues.
  • Read a wide variety of magazines, newspapers, and other publications.
  • Talk with family.
  • Talk with friends.
  • Read product literature.
  • Research a topic formally to learn the details and find out what the experts have to say.
  • Read textbooks on the subject.
  • Make diagrams as you read, to juxtapose topic points and make new associations.
  • Take part in brainstorming sessions.
  • Read encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesauruses.
  • Make time for meditation.
  • Ask yourself random questions, and take notes.
  • Write down ideas that pop into your head as you go about other activities.
  • Attend seminars and lectures.
  • Take one or more classes.
  • Look at photos, randomly or categorized by subject.
  • Keep a running outline and list every point you want to make as you work through a “big idea.”
  • Find out what people want to know about a particular topic.
  • Surf the net to “shake it up.”
  • Browse through bookstores and libraries – you never know what you’ll run across.
  • Practice taking a subject and seeing how many ways you can spin it for niche audiences.
  • Get out and about; have experiences, go on adventures and engage in activities.
  • Mine your own life experiences: What are your interests? What do you enjoy doing?
  • Use “freewriting” to spark ideas: Set a timer for, say, 10 minutes, and then just write. Write anything. Just keep writing until the timer goes off.
  • Read your work out loud.
  • Find your plinth, and then stand on it. This means establish your subject, or angle on it, and then focus relentlessly on it (especially useful for short pieces).
  • Visit “question websites” (writing-prompt generators) to find questions to use as writing prompts.
  • Listen to music lyrics from various musical genres to help jump-start your creative engine.
  • Keep an idea notebook.

How do you generate ideas and new perspectives on them? What helps you write?

Share your tricks of the trade—we’d all love to hear your story. Thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

 

How often do we need teaching and training materials of some type?

I’m sure you’ll recognize these common formats, which can be presented in a variety of media: teaching aids, guides, manuals, tutorials, procedures, documentation, directions, textbooks, applied exercises, and workbooks.

If you are a business writer or a technical writer, then you already know that writing training materials is one of the most frequent projects in the workplace. You also know that this type of writing has lasting consequences for your audience and affects your company’s success in the marketplace. How best to meet the needs of your audience? Which techniques really work to help achieve your company’s training objectives?

If you are a teacher or a trainer, whether in a school or a corporate classroom, you’re aware of the constant need to find innovative, effective methods of teaching your subject. It’s a never-ending hunt for new ideas and approaches, isn’t it?

If you are a lifelong learner, you know the impact that really good teaching materials can have on how well you learn, and whether you can apply your new knowledge. But it’s easy to forget the details as the years wear on, and maybe there are some aspects of a subject you just never really got around to learning, but would like to. Wouldn’t it be great to have another resource that supplied that information for you whenever you wanted it?

As Fortune Would Have It, Here Is Something You May Find Worthwhile

Today I read an article in Fortune magazine about one of Bill Gates’ favorite online educational websites, the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that is the brainchild of one man, Salman Kahn.

Khan, who created the 1,600-plus titles in the video library, states on the site that his library has become the “most-used educational video resource as measured by YouTube video views per day and unique users per month.” In addition to creating more videos, he is also busy enhancing his ever-growing library with user-paced exercises.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s all free? The goal of “the Khan Academy [is] to become the free classroom for the World.”

The website offers short videos (about 15 minutes each), which provide mini-lectures about a slew of subjects, ranging from mathematics to the sciences to history to finance/banking to current economics, and more.

The tutorials are conversational and low-key. Viewers see an electronic blackboard on which Kahn doodles and diagrams and draws as he speaks, communicating his concepts in a way that is easy to understand. The short segments convey the substance of each topic in a memorable way.

Learning Is Fundamental to Our Success

Writer, trainer or learner, we can all agree that teaching and learning are fundamental to our success as individuals, as companies and as a country.

And we can all benefit from exploring different ways of teaching and learning. No one has cornered the market on methodology, and new technologies can expand our horizons. We should be open to new possibilities and curious about discovering fresh ways of communicating ideas and knowledge.

Khan’s playlist of tutorials now gets an average of 70,000 hits a day, according to the Fortune article. Clearly, he’s offering something that many people the world over find very useful. What about you?

What do you think of Khan’s teaching library? If you are a writer, does it give you any new ideas to apply in creating training materials? If you are a teacher or trainer, do you find his approach usable in your own work?

Please leave comments to share your thoughts and insights with the rest of us.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

The "At" Symbol

The "At" Symbol

How many times a day do you see or use the @ symbol? Think of all the emails you send and receive each day. If you are on social websites such as Twitter, how often do you use an @ symbol to link to or refer to another user?

Each day, millions of people directly or indirectly use the @ symbol on the Internet and in emails. The @ symbol has become one of the icons of our age.

How did this symbol achieve such importance?

Just as all words have a past, symbols do too. Their origins may be murky or fully verifiable. Their path from the past to our time may be a pure, clean arc of a single meaning or usage or, instead, perhaps a meandering, sketchy tale of multiple meanings and dodgy stopovers in many countries, fields and professions. Rare is the word or symbol that arrives on our doorstep without baggage.

And so it is with the @ symbol. Where exactly did it originate? And why?  It seems to be of deliciously obscure provenance. Although no one has entirely solved the “whodunit” or offered proof beyond all doubt, there are several contenders. Here are two.

It Was the Scribes, They Claim

In one camp, there are those linguists who argue that it all started with Latin scribes around the 6th or 7th centuries CE. It seems those scribes might have intended to create a shortcut for the Latin word ad, which means at or to, in order to decrease their number of pen strokes.

Combining the two letters in such an elegant way, with the upstroke of the “d” curving gracefully up to the left and then all the way around the plump little apple-shaped body of the “a,” satisfied the scribes’ requirements in one pen stroke and in a visually appealing manner.

Now, it might seem odd to us today to shorten such a small word, but in fact the Latin word ad was very frequently used in manuscripts, just as its English counterpart is widely used today in various media. So while ad is a short word, its rate of usage apparently made it a candidate for compression (nor, by the way, was it the only word shortened into a symbol).

And note the words scribe and manuscript. The few people who were literate and could write at that time used quill pens, or something similar, which they had to dip often into a well of ink. Write, dip, drip, fix. Try repeating that eight or more hours a day.

Since the printing press would not be invented for many centuries yet, the scribes had to painstakingly hand-write every letter of every word in every document, which would have given new meaning to the concept of “production” when someone wanted to publish a book: “You want how many copies!??”

If you had been one of those scribes, laboriously copying out manuscripts, wouldn’t you also have wanted to find a way to reduce the number of pen strokes per word? Especially for common, frequently used words?

No, No, It Was All About Commerce

Another top theory of origin among linguists is that traders, merchants and others involved in commerce in the 18th century CE developed the @ symbol to denote price per unit.

For example, if you saw a sign that read Apples @ 10¢, it meant the apples were 10¢ each. So if you bought eight apples, the total bill would be 80¢.

But not so fast. In 2000, a professor of the history of science at La Sapienza University (Italy), named Giorgio Stabile, apparently discovered 14th-century documents that used the @ symbol to denote a measure of quantity, the amphora, a word of Greek origin meaning jar. Merchants of the day used the amphora, a standard-size container, to carry wine and grain. According to professor Stabile, the form of the symbol derived from the uppercase “A” embellished with the florid Florentine script, and the meaning of “at the price of” stemmed from its association with the amphora. In this scenario, the @ nicely conflates the “a” at the beginning of amphora and the idea of the price of a standard measure.

Other theories about commercial origins abound, some placing the invention of @ in the Italian Renaissance, or giving credit to the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Arabs, the Greeks, or the Norman French.

Naturally, there are those who say that this commercial usage of the symbol is all well and good, whenever it actually began, but that business was just borrowing, updating and recycling what the Latin scribes had created.

In any case, the symbol’s place in commerce and business was solidified when it appeared as a standard key on typewriters of the 1880s.

The Rise to Email Phenomenon

When Ray Tomlinson developed the first electronic mail system in 1972, he needed a way to separate the user’s name from the machine and domain names. Because the character could not appear in any name, he could not select a letter or a number. And if the character could also indicate the user’s location, wouldn’t that be optimal?

Legend has it that Mr. Tomlinson perused his keyboard, a Model 33 Teletype. In a stroke of insight and perhaps genius, he decided to go with the @ symbol, which duly appeared in the first electronic mail message he sent.

In that first, single message address, the idea of “user name at location name,” encoded by Mr. Tomlinson as “username@locationname,” became established as the standard for electronic mail.

As email and Internet systems developed, the fortunes of the @ symbol rose along with them. Today, although the symbol is known by many names around the world, it stands as the most recognized emblem of email systems and social media, worldwide.

Want More Information about the @ Symbol?

If you are intrigued by the history of the @ symbol and would like to know more, be sure to check out these sites: Webopedia, Wikipedia and AtSymbol.

To listen to a fascinating podcast about the @ symbol, originally broadcast by Studio 360 on August 13, 2010, on National Public Radio, go to Studio 360 episodes for August 13 and scroll down the page to the title Design for the Real World: @Elizabeth Lexleigh   LexPower  The Write Ideas

Do you need to learn how to use a software feature? Have a question about your taxes? Interested in keeping up with the local news? Are you a life-long learner with a passion for expanding your knowledge in one or more subject areas? Are you trying to change careers and need to acquire certification in a technical field?

Day in, day out, we all need or want to know more about certain subjects. Our “need to know” is never-ending.

It is in this sense, then, that all of us have a “problem”: we need some type of information, and we must go about finding it. How do we resolve our dilemma?

We turn to writers, who supply the solutions we need.

You see, there would be no point in writing if there were no readers who needed to know something. Every piece of writing, from newspapers and magazines to fiction and nonfiction of all genres to technical documentation and beyond, seeks to satisfy someone’s need or desire to know.

The writer’s job is to recognize a specific audience’s problems (what do my readers want to know), define the problems in a way that makes sense for that audience (why do my readers want to know), respond in a way that will interest that audience, and communicate the right information.

If the writer is successful in that effort, readers will get what they need.

Good writers know that all writing is problem-oriented, in the sense that the “need to know” reflects the existence of a problem.

So, writers, let us thank our readers, for without the problem of their thirst for information, we would have no reason to write.

As readers, let us all thank the writers who have answered our questions, filled in our knowledge blanks, satisfied our curiosity, and given us so many hours of reading pleasure.

What sort of writing has helped you?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

The deep-water oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico continues to blast out miles-long plumes of unmitigated disaster. Slimes of black and rusty oil, toxic bursts of methane and jets of volatile organics geyser outward, exploding, spurting, surging, leaping from the wellhead.

This defective, uncontrollable wellhead spews a cataclysmic onslaught that befouls the sea, the land, the air, and an entire way of life for generations to come. Up to 60,000 barrels a day for more than a month now. No end in sight. The misguided use of underwater dispersants increases the scope of the problem and makes cleanup unbearably arduous and maybe futile.

How to describe the genesis of this wellhead run amok? Was it due to carelessness? Stupidity? A gluttonous, one-quarter worldview that places profits before conscience? A freak accident? A fool’s notion of self-interest that blew up in everyone’s face? Whatever the pathetic and wretched misdeeds, the lazy missteps and pitiful intentions, our world is now sorely afflicted.

What do we want to know about pelican chicks crushed in their nests, their fluffy down tousled by hydrocarbon-laced sea breezes, because those who were placing booms did not know or care enough to avoid nesting sites?

What do we say to the Louisiana pancake batfish, which lives 1,500 feet below the surface, as its insides burn and dissolve from ingesting an oil-coated meal?

How should we talk about the numb, grief-stricken look in an oysterman’s eyes, the weary slump of his shoulders, as he stares out toward the Gulf, his mind whirring with memories, aware that 100 years of a family business are dying along with the oyster beds?

What words can we offer to help comfort the residents of the Gulf Coast states?  Caring … moral support … financial reimbursement … volunteer … tourist … we stand with you. Do these suffice? What else?

How can we express our own feelings about the catastrophe? Rage. Bitterness. Anger. Bravery. Fear. Horror. Compassion. Grief. Patience. Shock. Steadfastness. Hatred. Anxiety. Dread. Fury. Courage. Hmm, courage? What else do we have to muster in order to move forward?

And what abject apologies do we beg Mother Nature to accept? “Sorry” just does not cut it. What about “We promise to do better next time, Ma’am”? Or perhaps “If we grovel, would you please, pretty please, let us off the hook on this one”? Maybe “Just make it all go away”? Nah. Our only realistic option is to start screaming “Mommy, help us!!”

Still we keep right on drilling and pumping, don’t we, even in the most tenuous and risky environments. All things considered, then, we’d better start polishing our words, better start honing our descriptions, better start buffing our phrases to a lustrous shine. Because it looks like we’re going to need a lot of them in the years ahead.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


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