Writing Briefs: Engaging Employees; Compelling Stories

February 1, 2016

[blend images/corbis]
[blend images/corbis]

To Engage Employees, Tell Stories of Shared Purpose

Companies can engage and activate their employees by telling them stories about a common purpose or challenge that everyone in the organization shares, according to a Jan. 8 HuffPost article. Stories of how people achieved a common goal illustrate that the work people do every day connects to a deeper meaning, making the listener or reader feel like they’re part of the journey.

To connect with your audience, first think about their needs. What keeps them listening? Is the organization making its story their story? To make employees want to grab hold of purpose and run with it, listen to their stories too. You’ll learn what motivates them and makes them feel like their work is purposeful. — Greg Beaubien

To Write a Compelling Story, First Determine What It’s Really About

The best stories are well focused, and sometimes you have to cut interesting material that doesn’t quite fit, says writing instructor Roy Peter Clark. As he wrote for Poynter, limiting the scope of your subject helps determine your story angle. Look for the sharpest possible focus, so you don’t miss the chance to gather the evidence to make your point.

Try writing a lead that captures your focus — what nonfiction author John McPhee calls “the flashlight that shines down into the story.” This opening sentence or paragraph should show readers what’s coming in the piece.

Often, a story’s deeper meaning is expressed in thematic abstractions. Under the surface, it might be about fear, courage, family, etc. Write a six-word theme statement.

Your job as a writer is to illustrate that theme through vivid examples. Cut story elements that are least supportive of your focus. Ask yourself what feeling you want to instill in the reader, and the questions the story should answer. And if you can’t come up with a good title or headline, then your piece isn’t focused enough yet. — G.B.

As Good as It Gets:  Avoiding ‘Dead’ Words Can Encourage Livelier Writing

“Good” is no longer good enough, or so say some English and writing teachers throughout the country.

According to The Wall Street Journal, many instructors are imploring their students to avoid “dead” words such as “good,” “bad” and “said” to encourage livelier writing.

“There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,” said Leilen Shelton, a middle-school teacher in Costa Mesa, Calif. Shelton has even published a manual, “Banish Boring Words,” which has sold nearly 80,000 copies since its 2009 publication.

Robert C. March, a writing teacher in Winston-Salem, N.C., has a list of forbidden words, such as “I,” “you,” “we,” “why” and “it.” A page on his website states “any banned word or contraction that appears in a work submitted to me will count as minus five points off the total grade.”

But not all teachers are on board with the movement.

Shekema Holmes Silveri, a veteran English teacher in Atlanta, asked, “How in the world is a word dead that people use every day? Sometimes, ‘she said’ is just the very best way to say that.” — Renée Ruggeri


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