Tips and Insight from Tactic’s Writing Issue

February 1, 2011

Questions to ask yourself when writing

  • Does my lead capture the reader’s attention and force him or her to keep reading?
  • Does it tell the reader why this is written and why he ought to read it?
  • Is my lead fresh?

Source: FireandKnowledge.org

Stress benefits, not features
Everything you write in business, from sales letters to budget plans, is intended to elicit a response. In sales letters, you want a client to grant you an appointment so that you can demonstrate your latest product. In budget proposals, you want the board of directors to fund a new project for your department.

To be successful in business and in writing, you must persuade. Persuasive writing stresses benefits instead of features. Your reader doesn’t care how many bells and whistles your product has. The reader wants to know what your product is going to do for him.

Consider the perfume industry. Perfumeries do not sell stuff that makes you smell nice (the feature). They sell romance — how he will court her after she sprays it on (the benefit).

Feature: Our widget has three new attachments — a cat feeder, a plant waterer and a thermostat controller.

Benefit: Buy our widget with its three new attachments and, finally, relax on a vacation. Our widget works while you enjoy yourself. There’s no need to worry; our widget will make sure your cat is fed, your plants are watered and the temperature of your home is maintained at a constant, fuel-saving level.

Source: EditorialService.com

Say what you did
When it comes to writing résumés, choose verbs that mean something. “Assisted,” “worked on” or “contributed to” don’t convey much to a prospective employer. Instead, say what you did: “wrote,” “designed” or “managed.” The more specific, the better.

Source: Harvard Business Review

“Clarity is the most important characteristic of good business writing,” says Mignon Fogarty, creator of the “Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” podcast. “Often, businesspeople will use big 10 dollar words because they want to sound intelligent. Instead, they end up sounding like they’re trying too hard.”   

Source: Forbes

Ernest Hemingway’s tips for writing well
Really, who better than Ernest Hemingway to emulate? Rather than embracing the flowery prose of the literati, he chose to eschew obfuscation at every turn and write simply and clearly.

  • Use short sentences. Hemingway was famous for a terse, minimalist style of writing that dispensed with flowery adjectives and got straight to the point. 
  • Use short first paragraphs
  • Use vigorous English. Vigorous English comes from passion, focus and intention.  
  • Be positive, not negative. Since Hemingway wasn’t the cheeriest guy in the world, what does he mean by be positive? Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.


The art of the hashtag
All hashtags are not created equal. What does a great hashtag look like? How does it work?

The true masters of the hashtag are the folks at MTV’s corporate sibling, BET — specifically, the team behind the live daily show “106 and Park.” You’ve seen its handiwork, although you probably don’t realize it. “106 and Park” hashtags make it into the global trending topics list all the time, in part because they take on a life of their own and reach out well beyond the show’s audience.

What makes them so good? 

  • Mad libs. A great hashtag starts a sentence, or forms parts of one. It’s a little grammatical cliffhanger — reading it, you can’t help but fill in the blank yourself. Think of #MyResolutionIs or #HaveUEver.
  • Universal particulars. Sometimes when you’re trying to jump-start participation, your first instinct is to go really broad. Instead, you want to go specific. Think of #WhenIWasYoung. A great hashtag needs a focus, but it also needs to be potentially universal — to connect to an experience that’s shared, like memory, personality, music or food. 
  • Feedback loops. When [a hashtag is] plugged into another platform, it really takes off. “106 and Park” gives each hashtag a shout-out at the top of the show. Then, it showcases tweets in pop-ups [during] music videos for the next two hours. This gives people a focal point and a prize to strive for.

Source: Twitter Media

Where to find inspiration for headline ideas
Headlines are bloody important. According to Copyblogger: “On average, eight out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only two out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.”

How about looking for inspiration from online sites, cult classic books and master copywriters who consistently field the best headlines in the business? Nothing gets the creative juices bubbling like seeing great headlines in action.

Here are some places you can go to for headline inspiration:

  • Readers Digest 
  • Slate’s “Life Section”
  • Digg 
  • Problogger Archives 
  • Amazon.com 
  • Newser.com
  • Men’s Health magazine 
  • Huffington Post

Source: PushingSocial.com

The elements of clunk
Consider: For our one year anniversary, my girlfriend and myself are going to a Yankees game, with whomever amongst our friends can go. But, the Weather Channel just changed their forecast and the skies are grey, so we might go with the girl that lives next door to see the movie, “Iron Man 2”.

Those two hypothetical sentences contain 11 mistakes. They are as follows:

  1. There should be no comma after “But.”
  2. The period after “Iron Man 2” should be inside the quotation marks around the title (which would be italicized in most publications).
  3. No comma is needed after “movie.”
  4. “Its,” not “their,” is needed with “Weather Channel.”
  5. “Whomever” should be “whoever.”
  6. “Myself” should be “I.”
  7. “Girl that” should be “girl who.”
  8. “Gray” is the correct spelling, not “grey.”
  9. “Amongst” should be “among.”
  10. “One year anniversary” should be written as “one-year anniversary,” but, really, “first anniversary.”
  11. It’s a “Yankee,” not “Yankees,” game.

Source: Chronicle.com – Ben Yagoda

Writing news releases that garner attention
Writing good content for a blog is only half of the equation: Promoting your blog to drive traffic is the other half. Here are a few tips on how to write a news release for maximum media exposure:

  1. Create compelling headlines. While it’s important to include keywords in your headline whenever possible, only use them when they make sense in context. Headlines should compel a reader to consume your content.
  2. Draw the reader in with the lead. The first sentence of the body — the lead — should compel the viewer to keep reading.
  3. Use anchor text links. It’s a fundamental, but often overlooked, point: Anchor text links are pivotal! Be sure to hyperlink your keywords to pages on your blog that are optimized for the same key words.
  4. Include a powerful call to action. What action would you like people to take? Invite them to do it. This often means visiting the blog, subscribing via RSS or signing up for e-mail alerts.
  5. Choose a strong press release topic.When you’re coming up with an idea, think like a PR pro — what about your blog, personal life or business could be picked up by mainstream media? Your release content should focus on the trend.

Source: ProBlogger.net

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
— Thomas Jefferson

10 new entries and recent changes from AP Stylebook Online

  • check-in (n. and adj.), check in (v.)
  • copy editor Seldom a formal  title. Also copy editing, copy edit. See titles.
  • do’s and don’ts
  • ecotourism
  • handheld (n.) hand-held (adj.)
  • Listserv A trademark for a software program for setting up and maintaining discussion groups through e-mail.
  • nonprofit
  • Post-it  A trademark for small pieces of paper with an adhesive strip on the back that can be attached to documents.
  • problem-solving
  • trade show                    

Source: AP Stylebook



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