Need to Emphasize Your Words? Here’s How

One way to show that your written words are IMPORTANT!!! is to emphasize them with bold, italic, full capitals and end with a bunch of exclamation points. Unfortunately, that technique loses its impact quickly.

A full course of bolding, italics, capitals, underlining, and exclamation points has the same impact as shouting. It might get attention the first time but it will definitely annoy the longer it goes on. Better techniques involve framing the sentence or paragraph for emphasis, using repetition correctly, and engaging a professional graphic designer.

Frame a Sentence for Emphasis

When you have something important to tell your readers, take a chance and say it without the tantrum. For example, in the preceding sentence, you probably placed a stress on “without” although nothing in the sentence directed you to do that. The rhythm and sense of the sentence alone produced the stress on “without.”

Make sentences and paragraphs short–average 25 words per sentence and three sentences per paragraph. Information at the end of a sentence or at the start or very end of a paragraph is more likely to be remembered than information in the middle.

Use Repetition

Repetition creates emphasis if it is done correctly. Tell your reader what you plan to write about and then write about. At the end, summarize the information. But make sure each repetition is exact. If you promise to write about trips to Spain, Italy, and England, then write about them in th/at order and do not throw Portugal in the mix.

On the other hand, simply repeating one word (“this is very very very important”) has the same annoying effect overall as piling on exclamation points.

Engage a Professional Graphic Designer

A well laid-out page draws the reader’s eye exactly where you want it through font selection, color, graphics, and illustrations. Professional graphic designers work wonders that way but amateurs risk creating design overload.

Keep in mind this general rule of thumb: The more devices used to emphasize text, the less power any of them have.

In the best case, writers and graphic designers work together to give you marketing collateral that delivers your message with just the right jolt of emphasis. TWP Marketing & Technical Communications can help you find that perfect team. Contact us today.

Writing Well When English Is Your Second Language

If you are a writer for whom English is a second language, you probably have several advantages over native-English speakers. You may be more likely to write with short sentences, short paragraphs, and everyday words–these are choices that more people should make.

But you may also face writing challenges in these four areas:

  • Sentence construction. Many constructions that are acceptable in other languages–for example, putting a verb at the end of a sentence–are uncommon in English. Some constructions used in British English (for example, “Well done, you!”) sound odd to US ears.
  • Spelling. US English has borrowed words from many countries, yet rejected their original spelling (confidant/confidante or colour/color). Homophones are common: vein/vane/vain and they’re/their. Another problem arises with close spellings, such as effect/affect and compliment/complement.
  • Contractions. US writing includes lots of contractions, even in formal situations. Some contractions can be especially challenging: “I’d” could mean “I had” or “I would” or “I should,” depending on context.
  • Verb choice. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about gender when using English verbs. The bad news is that it is very easy to get tangled up in participles, gerunds, verb/noun agreement, and whether the past participle of lay is lain or laid (laid is correct).
  • Local differences. You probably know that US football is not soccer, but you may not know about US nonsmoking laws, wildly different climates from East Coast to West, or other legal, cultural, and geographic differences. In addition, every country has sensitive topics; failing to navigate them can detract from the message you intended to send.

Are you concerned that your message is being lost among problems with US or British sentence construction, spelling, contractions, verb choice, and cultural differences? Consider asking a professional, native English writer to review your written materials.

In the course of my career, I have helped individuals and companies from China, Russia, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Britain write in standard and idiomatic US English. I would be delighted to help you. Contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Insight Papers: Is Your Expertise Going to Waste?

Insight papers or white papers are a perfect way to present your expertise to current and future clients and customers. They are also a way to develop a deeper understanding of your own business and consolidate your marketing focus.

A true insight paper requires more than writing down everything you have learned in your career. It should present a new perspective on a current industry problem; information that has not been gathered in one place before; and support for a stance.

Here are five steps toward building an insight paper:

  1. Research the current trend(s) in your industry. For example, if you are a kitchen designer, you might want to research the use of color, metallic, and engineered surfaces.
  2. Ask your clients and experts in your field about their experiences with that trend. Most people are happy to be cited in an insight paper, but treat their comments with respect whether or not they agree with your preconceptions.
  3. Research the topic of your insight paper. For example, if you are a manufacturer, you might research statistics on how just in time manufacturing has affected innovation in your industry.
  4. Take a stance–one you believe in. For example, if you are an executive coach, you might argue that some team building exercises alienate employees instead of inspiring them.
  5. Make it interesting. No one wants to read two thousand (and more) words of statistics or a lecture on what you believe. Use quotes, stories, illustrations, and even humor to make your point.

One of the easiest ways to construct an insight paper is to create it from your own blog posts or other marketing collateral. But remember that an insight paper must go beyond a reiteration of your own thoughts: it must be substantiated with quotes from experts, statistics, and stories about real experiences. A well-constructed insight paper is far more valuable as a source of future blog posts and marketing collateral.

One of the advantages of your research is the insight it will give you into your business. Are you taking advantage of recent trends, marketing to the concerns of your customers, and developing solutions that meet their needs and set you apart from your competition?

You might decide to self-publish your insight paper on your website; provide a hard copy to potential clients; email it to past customers to remind them of your expertise; or submit it to industry magazines. It can serve to generate qualified leads, when people are interested enough to leave their contact information in return for the insight paper.

If writing an insight paper feels like a momentous task, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. You’ll be delighted with how efficiently an insight paper can be written and delighted with the results.

7 Years of Blogging: Lessons Learned

I have been writing blog posts for various customers for over 7 years–weekly or bimonthly–and I’ve learned several important lessons about regular blogging.

Three Important Facts about Blogging

First, regular blog posts gather dedicated readers over time. They prompt comments, requests for contributions from industry organizations, and discussions on LinkedIn.

Second, blogging and the reactions to it often clarify customer expectations and what a company should be doing. It may lead to a shift in the company’s entire marketing plan or become the basis for an insight or white paper that confirms the company’s expertise.

Third, writing a great blog post is a matter of following a few basic rules:

  1. Focus on one idea at a time–there’s always an opportunity to write another post.
  2. Aim to educate, not sell.
  3. Keep the post short; but concentrate first on quality content, then size.
  4. Write with a recognizable and consistent voice.
  5. Deliver details (e.g., 10 steps to…), not vague generalities.
  6. Make sure blog posts appear regularly, whether once a week or twice a month.
  7. Recognize your blog is one tool in a marketing toolbox–not the entire box.
  8. Obey the rules of all great marketing content: concise, clear, concrete, and passionate.
  9. Take time to find an interesting title.
  10. End with a next step for readers.

How to Rescue a Faltering Blog

Are you hesitating to write a blog, are you running out of ideas, or has your blog languished, untouched, for over a month? Consider asking a professional freelance writer to take over.

One of the advantages of having a professional writer handle your blog posts–besides the savings in time and energy–is that you may be too close to your business to understand what customers find interesting and informative. What seems to you to be a boring detail or information that “everyone” knows may actually be fascinating to customers.

A professional freelance writer adapts to your comfort level: submitting ideas for approval, researching content, interviewing customers and employees, tracking the competition–whatever you need. You can review individual ideas before a post is ever written and/or approve the completed post before it appears online..

Conclusion

For a professional writer, blogs posts are interesting and fun to write, and I have written them for many businesses in fields as varied as home construction, clinical trials, executive consulting, and marketing.

Contact me if you need help setting up and maintaining your blog content; that’s what I’m here for.

10 Questions for Your Freelance Writer

Here are 10 questions to ask a freelance writer before you start a project–and the reasons why those questions are important.

  1. What is your native language? You want a writer whose first language is the same as your audience’s to avoid cultural, idiomatic, and other missteps.
  2. How long have you been a freelance writer? You want a professional freelance writer with a track record who won’t abandon you the moment a “real” job comes along.
  3. What software do you use? Every freelance writer should be expert at Word and Acrobat (the editing version, not the reader). In addition, you may need expertise in FrameMaker, Excel, etc.
  4. What is your process? Find out if the writer charges separately for multiple iterations and for nudging to get a response to a question.
  5. Do you travel? Some freelance writers are willing to go to your site; others prefer telecommuting only.
  6. Do you have samples? The samples should show you the freelance writer’s style and whether it will align with your goals. They also are proof that the writer has completed assignments successfully in the past.
  7. Have you worked in this industry before? Lack of experience in your specific industry may or may not be a deal breaker; breadth of experience in your type of project (blog post, website copy, case study, etc.) may be more important.
  8. What are your typical prices and what is your turn-around time? Often a freelance writer cannot answer these questions without a better idea of your project–but do find out if the writer charges an hourly or project rate. Usually, a project rate is better for you.Also share your deadline and find out if it’s feasible.
  9. How do you want to be paid? Some freelance writers take credit cards; some don’t. For a long project, you may be asked to pay at milestones or at the end of each month.
  10. Do you offer any services aside from writing? Don’t assume that “writing” includes interviewing, graphic design, public relations, publishing, or proofreading. Ask if you have a specific need.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is a sole-proprietorship that offers writing, editing, and proofreading services to a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, consulting, and energy. For nearly 20 years, I have written blog posts, website copy, case studies, user manuals, insight papers, and more. Please contact me if you have questions or want to discuss a project. I welcome inquiries.

10 Things to Never Say in Your Marketing Copy

Are you looking at your marketing copy from your customers’ viewpoint–or your own? Is your marketing copy creating honest communication between you and your customer–or is it leaving them with unanswered questions?

Make a true connection by never saying these 10 things in your marketing copy:

  1. Never simply say you’re the best; prove you’re the best. It is far better to show your achievements, through testimonials, case studies, photographs, awards, achievements, and examples.
  2. Never use your marketing copy to disparage other companies. Why give your competitors free publicity? Instead, use that space to educate customers about what they should expect from a truly great provider (like you).
  3. Never threaten your customers with the dire consequences of not using your services. They know they have a problem; what they need are solutions.
  4. Never be vague about what you can and cannot deliver. Rather than saying you finish projects in “about” three weeks, provide a range or increase the time to a definite four weeks and make customers ecstatic when you deliver ahead of schedule.
  5. Never start your marketing copy with features when you can start with benefits; never drown your customer in a long list of capabilities when you can excite them with potential results.
  6. Never switch your audience in mid-stream. Talk to “you” (the customer) and make sure you (the business) know who that customer is at all times.
  7. Never make disparaging remarks about individuals who refused–or eventually accepted–your services. Customers shy away from a mean spirited provider.
  8. Never fill your marketing copy with 10-dollar words, jargon, and acronyms under the mistaken belief that they make you sound more knowledgeable. Your customers are already depending on you to be knowledgeable. Use everyday language they understand to explain what you do and why it works.
  9. Never allow typos, inconsistencies, or grammatical errors in your marketing copy. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  10. Never write solely for search engines. Your customers are people. Write for people.

Marketing copy that is clear, precise, interesting, and focused on your customers will always be read. That’s the type of copy we write at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Contact us today.

Grammar: When Good Copy Goes Bad

Mistakes in grammar pass by many a writer’s radar but they can cause huge problems with marketing copy.

For example, see if you can spot the error in this sentence: “The operations team reported an upward trend in efficiency, training, productivity, morale, failure rates, and innovation.”  An “upward trend” in failure rates would mean that the rates increased, not exactly something to boast about. The writer could fix this problem by changing “failure rates” to “operating life” or by starting another sentence with information about downward trends.

Many problems with grammar come from relying on the grammar checker that comes with Word. That grammar checker seems to hate the word “who,” leading to a proliferation of sentences where people are referred to as things: “The engineers that are responsible for this innovation….” ought to be “The engineers who are responsible for this innovation.” But try telling that to Word.

Common mistakes in grammar include random changes in verb tense from past to present and back again, indecision about whether a company should refer to itself as “we” or “it,” lists that change in midstream from phrases to whole sentences, and lack of agreement between noun and verb.

Why is bad grammar a problem?

  • First, as shown in our initial example, it can send the exactly wrong message to your readers.
  • Second, bad grammar is one of the markers for online scams, according to the founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911. You don’t want your message to be tagged as spam.
  • Third, bad grammar sounds unprofessional. Yes, the misuse of “that” for “who” is so common now that most people will accept it; but it still sounds bad (or it ought to!) and interrupts the smooth flow of your message.
  • Fourth, more and more companies are international. Your readers who speak English as a second language (and any translation software they use) will struggle needlessly if your English is grammatically wrong.
  • Finally, how can your readers trust the quality of your products and services if you can’t even describe them in standard English?

If you aren’t confident in your grammar, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to review and edit your marketing or technical writing. Make sure your message goes out the way you intended.

10 Ways to Make Writing Easier

Professional writers love to write. But if writing is not your first career choice, you may find it slow at best and painful at worst. So here are 10 tips to make writing easier.

  1. Write first, edit last. Editing at the same time that you write is like taking a giant step back for every two steps forward. That voice in your head that keeps saying a word isn’t perfect or an idea could be expressed better–ignore it for now.
  2. Let the ideal first sentence wait. Holding out for that golden first sentence is frustrating, especially since the best opening sentence often emerges at the end, when your thoughts have coalesced. Start writing and the perfect first sentence will appear eventually.
  3. Start with the simplest structure–first to last, top 10, 3 ways to do something, or 3 reasons for taking action. Delete whatever doesn’t fit that structure. What you don’t use may become another day’s blog post or tweet. That’s a good thing.
  4. Write like you talk, because even your most sophisticated customer knows less about your product and service than you do. Share your knowledge; don’t struggle to sound like a marketing guru or subject-matter-expert. Your expertise will shine through and more important, everyone will understand your message quickly.
  5. Keep your audience in mind. Your goal is not to make yourself sound and look good; your goal is to solve a problem for your customers. Keep your eye on their problem and your solution.
  6. Know your limits. You may be able to write a 300-word blog but trying to write a 1000-word insight paper gives you an overwhelming urge to run away from home. The solution is to keep doing blogs, but wait until you can hire a professional to write insight papers. Alternatively, you may eventually be able to combine 3 or 4 of your related blogs into one long paper.
  7. Review with a fresh eye. Put away the finished piece for at least 24 hours. But remember to take it out again! The review is important.
  8. Edit, don’t destroy. Your goal is to improve what your wrote, not throw it away. Keep your attention on important fixes: Look for sentences longer than 18 words (no period, no colon), words longer than 3 syllables, strings of adjectives or adverbs, inconsistencies ($5M, $5 million), misspellings, and vague words (“on time”) when you could be specific (“within 4 days”).
  9. Listen to outside reviewers–mostly. Ask only one or two people to review and ask them to concentrate on errors or confusion in the content; don’t start debates over synonyms or serial commas. But pay attention to what they say. If you refuse to listen to your reviewers, find new reviewers you will listen to.
  10. Know when to stop. Your marketing copy starts working for you when you send it out into the real world. Words can always be edited after they’ve had a chance to make an impact. Give them a chance to start.

What approaches have you found helpful in easing the pain of writing? Please share them. And if you want totally painless writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, where our words mean business.

When Marketing Copy Confuses Customers: What Next?

As much as business owners try to communicate clearly, sometimes customers still find marketing copy confusing.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize four basic ways that marketing copy confuses customers:

  • Confusion over the message. One of my clients began by helping her clients work through financial issues and then found herself offering advice on straightening out their staff and customer relations. Her background and education made her a gifted consultant in all three areas; but her marketing copy stayed focused on finance, creating confusion for potential clients and referrals. We worked together to sharpen her mission and suddenly everything she offered fell into place.
  • Confusion over the audience. Another client, a website developer, never quite defined his customers’ level of expertise. Part of the time his marketing copy assumed customers recognized high-tech jargon and acronyms; part of the time his copy defined basic concepts in excruciating detail. Customers were either baffled or bored. We settled on a middle course, cutting back on the jargon, acronyms, and explanations to focus on benefits to all his customers. After all, what customers want to know most is: What do I get out of it?
  • Confusion over organization. A company started its marketing copy by listing the products it manufactured–but then the rest of the marketing copy ignored those products entirely and focused on the manufacturing process. Customers want to know where marketing copy is headed. If you say you have four products, they want to read about four products, not three products and a process. If you say regulatory compliance is important, they want to hear about compliance. Guide them carefully along or you’ll lose them in poor organization.
  • Confusion over individual words. Sometimes marketing copy uses the wrong word (for example, “intransient problem” instead of “intransigent problem”). Sometimes it piles on adjectives (“this extraordinary, unparalleled, unique opportunity”) as if more adjectives equal more information. In either case, I always advise clients to use the simplest and most precise language they can–to write like they talk when they are talking to their favorite customers.

Let’s make sure your marketing copy never confuses customers. I’ll help you define your message, audience, and organization, and then choose the right words to grab and keep their attention. Contact TWP today.

How Do I Tell a Marketing Story about My Business?

Q. I’m a small business owner, and I carve gift items out of wood. Everywhere I look for marketing advice these days, the gurus tell me to tell a story. I enjoy what I do but where’s the story? I buy wood, I carve an item, people buy it. End of story, right?

The problem with doing something really well is that it’s easy to forget that other people can’t do it. When I hear that you carve gift items out of wood, I want to know more: What drove you to that business, what tools do you use, what types of wood, what advice would you give me for taking care of the item I purchase, what advice would you give me if I were interested in learning about wood carving?

Each of those questions is the gateway to a marketing story, about you, your skills, and your relationship with customers.

How do you tell your marketing story so that it resonates with potential customers? The best stories feature:

  • An appeal to the senses: Write about the smell of sawdust, the textures of different woods, or how a tool interacts with the wood.
  • Interesting characters: Write about a customer who came in searching for a gift for a special occasion. Write about your fellow woodcarvers or your own history.
  • Interesting events: Write about the journey wood makes from the forest to your workshop or the process that turns a random piece of wood into a beautiful gift.
  • A clear purpose: Motivate potential and current customers to purchase or to spread information about your business.

Stories about your small business and your customers are all around you. You may need to take a step back to see them–but they do exist and they are interesting.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes memorable marketing stories for B2C and B2B businesses, large and small. Contact us today and let us tell your story.