For a Long Life, Read This…

If you want your customers to live a long life, give them something to read. A recent article in AARP’s Bulletin states that book readers have a 20% lower chance of dying than nonreaders, according to a study of over 3,600 adults.

Good writing makes for good reading, and evidently good reading makes for good living.

Blog posts, success stories, and Q&As fall easily into the “good reading” category. People love hearing about others in their same situation, and they appreciate answers to their questions about your products and services. Even a short injection of information–like my Friday #writingtips–can engage customers and, who knew?, keep them healthy.

If you have problems organizing writing resources, consider hiring a freelance writer like me to take over the writing duties for you. Afraid that I can’t possibly understand and represent your business as well as you do? Keep in mind that:

  • A professional freelance writer is your partner, not your replacement. I will work with you to make sure that everything I write has the tone, direction, and format that works best for you and your business.
  • A professional freelance writer has years of experience partnering with many different businesses, some exactly like your own. My current client roster includes manufacturers, educators, executive coaches, resume writers, and healthcare professionals. In the past, I’ve worked with many other companies, including nonprofits, banks, and clinical research organizations.
  • A professional freelance writer is passionate about communicating. That means I’ll make every effort to ensure that my words not only clearly represent what you want to say but resonate with the customers you want to reach.
  • A professional freelance writer reads and researches. If reading extends a life by 20%, I’ve earned my 20% over and over. If you run out of ideas, I will research new ones; if your customers raise questions, I’ll research answers; and if your competitors seem to have closed all the doors to interesting content, I’ll open new doors.

Contact me today at write [at] twriteplus.com and let’s get started on your writing project.

Blogs: Finding the Ideas You Didn’t Think You Had

What will I write in my blog today, this week, this month? That question can freeze anyone, preventing them from ever beginning.If you are ready to write about insights from your business or career on LinkedIn or other social media, then you need content. You need to find the ideas you didn’t think you had.

Let’s say you sell security devices, specifically locks for both home and commercial customers. Your first blog post explains what you do. But then what? Here are ten ideas for writing new blog posts:

  1. Separate and compare. Write separate blogs on home locks and on commercial locks and explain the ways each type of lock is different (or the same)–maybe they are different because the doors, quality, amount of use, or styles are different. Each difference could itself become a separate blog post.
  2. Delve into the choices. We’ve now established that home locks have certain characteristics. What choices do those characteristics create and why would a homeowner choose one over the other? Ask the same question about commercial locks in another blog post.
  3. Describe how it works. What are the mechanics of locks? What makes a lock more or less likely to fail or be picked? What is the difference between locks that use keypads and those that use physical keys?
  4. Explain the evolution. Why did home locks end up looking/working the way they do? Why do commercial locks look/work the way the do? What decisions were made long ago that affect purchases today.
  5. Explain the trends. Is artificial intelligence affecting the way people secure their doors? Are new types of materials used to build doors or buildings affecting the materials for locks?
  6. Consider the worst. What happens if someone locks themselves out of or into a room or building?  What is the correct response? What if a lock fails? Can and should locks be repaired?
  7. Enjoy the history. What types of locks were used on dungeons? Is Ali Baba’s “Open Sesame” the first Alexa-type lock? Where did the concept come from of a locked heart opening with a key?
  8. Interview a customer. Ask a customer: why they decided on a better/bigger/different lock; how did they choose their first lock; why did they come to your business for a lock; what do they want the lock to accomplish? Create a Q&A using a “virtual” customer to ask the questions customers should be asking.
  9. Provide 10 reasons. Rank locks from best to worst for certain tasks. List the reasons why someone should consider a new or different type of lock. List the top factors that contribute to lock failure and how to avoid them.
  10. Describe how to prepare for a buy. What information will a lock salesperson need about the home or business and how should the home or business owner decide whether to buy a lock from that salesperson or another?

These ten ways of finding ideas for a blog all involve sifting through information you already have but may not have realized your customers need. The ideas root deeper and deeper into very basic questions: what are locks, how are they used, and how do I know what lock to buy? But if you begin and end your posts by answering only those three questions, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your customers.

You can apply these ten categories of ideas to any business to create a year’s worth of blog posts. If you are having trouble finding ideas and writing an ongoing blog, please contact me through LinkedIn or at write at twriteplus.com.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Writing

Before you start writing any marketing copy, whether website content, blog post, success story, insight paper, brochure or article, you should know the answers to these questions:

1. Who are you talking to? Are you targeting the purchaser, user, or maintainer of the product or service you are selling? Does your audience have a little knowledge about your products/services or a lot (when in doubt, presume a little)?

2. Where do your customers get their information? Are they likely to be online, walking into your store, reading newspapers, or randomly searching for someone in your field? Do they attend trade shows or networking events? You want to write copy that your customers will actually see.

3. What do your customers want and what do you want to give them? Every customer arrives at your physical or e-door with a problem, whether finding out what shoes to buy or how to train operators at a nuclear energy plant. Your marketing copy must provide a solution for the customer’s problem. You have to target the problem, be able to solve it, want to solve it, and know how to communicate all that to the customer.

4. What are your resources? How much time are you prepared to spend? A regular newsletter or blog takes time; so does tweeting and maintaining a Facebook presence. Do you have enough money? Do you adequate writing or technology skills or do you need to hire someone?

5. What is your deadline? A website or proposal that is due in a month but takes four months to finish is worthless. Your marketing copy can’t start working for you until it reaches your customers.

6. Do you really need this additional marketing copy? Don’t send out a brochure because “everyone” in your field sends out brochures. Maybe customers will be more captivated by an unexpected postcard or email.

If you are having trouble defining and reaching your audience or finding the resources and time to complete writing projects, contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

English the Right Way

The English language is joyful–and exasperating. It provides so many ways to say what you mean, and all of them are correct. Or in other words: No matter what you want to say, there are dozens of ways to say it right.

So here are four guidelines to help you make sure you are using English correctly:

  1. Recognize the limits of words. An engineer once asked me for a single word that meant cost-effective, high quality and efficient. No such word exists. If he tried to create one, he would be asking customers to read his mind. If you are not sure whether a word exists or you are using it properly, look it up in a dictionary. Online dictionaries are as helpful as paper ones; just make sure you rely on a dictionary and not a spell checker because spell checkers will happily let you use the wrong word, as long you spell it correctly.
  2. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar gives writing its spine. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook is a good source. The glossary and index alone are worth the price. Do not rely on online grammar checkers. They will send you in the wrong direction; they question perfectly grammatical sentences and promote howlers like using “that” instead of “who.”
  3. Listen to your ear, and write like you talk. This is a harder rule to follow if your native language is not English. Read everything you write out loud. If it sounds stilted, pompous, long-winded and confusing, then it probably is stilted, pompous long-winded and confusing. When you talk to your customers, you use clear, familiar language that lets your excitement about your product or service shine through. Good writing is good talking. If you need help, turn to The Elements of Style by Wlliam Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. In less than 100 pages, this classic book will transform your ideas about style.
  4. Limit yourself to one or two trusted reviewers. Because English is so flexible, heated debates arise over a single comma or a single synonym. If you find yourself fighting your reviewers, then check the sources suggested above. Or find new reviewers. Writing by committee is impossible. If you must work with several authors to finish a project, place one of the authors in charge of the whole–that’s the only way to ensure consistency and clarity from page to page.

Perhaps the most important writing advice is to know when to stop revising. With the flexibility of English, you can second guess yourself into stagnation. But your website, blog post, brochure or success story can’t start working for you until you send it out.

If English is driving you (and your reviewers) crazy, you have one more resource you can count on: Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications (write at twriteplus.com). We’ll help you discover the best way to say what your customers want to hear.

 

 

A New Year’s Look at Your Website

Have you taken a gander yet at the latest in website design?

The Latest Website Design

On home pages, the content is tighter, with more visual interest.

Navigation bars are simpler, so that visitors can quickly dive into the solution they need.

Instead of wading through large blocks of text, visitors click on a photo with accompanying caption to search for more information on a specific topic. Or they listen to a video.

The website is constantly refreshed with blog posts, case studies, news releases, and insight papers.

And there are opportunities on every page for visitors to click through to the contact information.

Help for Your Website

You don’t have to adopt all these changes, but you should take a close look at your website content for wordiness, static copy, and complex navigation. You want to ensure that your website has:

  • Clear, concise, compelling, and factual content that quickly attracts and holds the interest of your audience.
  • Content organized to highlight your most important products and services while helping visitors navigate through your site.
  • Photos, videos, and other interactive elements that take full advantage of the internet’s capabilities.
  • Interviews, testimonials, and exciting insights in blog posts, success stories, press releases, and insight papers to keep your website fresh.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

Based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I offer the highest quality writing–with credits in Forbes, the Boston Review, Oil & Gas Journal, and other publications. I work with sole proprietors, large corporations, and anyone in between in both technical and nontechnical fields. Because I’m a freelance writer, you have the option of using me just once on a specific website project or over-and-over as the need for new content arises. Some of my clients have disappeared for years and then resurfaced with a new need–and some keep me busy every week writing blog posts, newsletters, or press releases.

Not clear what your writing needs are? I’m happy to discuss your current website and how I can help bring it to the next level. Keep ahead of the times and your competition! Contact me at write at twriteplus.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

What Comes First When You Have Too Many Great Ideas?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is figuring out what to say first. If you dump everything you want to say into one web page or one article or one blog post, you are likely to end up with a mess that no one understands. And yet, how can you let those great ideas slip away?

The first rule of organizing any writing is that there is always another sentence, paragraph, and page. You do not need to cram everything into one opportunity. What you need is focus.

A Basic Structure for Organizing Ideas

Let’s say you run a car repair shop and want to draw in customers by performing annual car inspections.

  • First write a “thesis“–a central idea–that takes this form: You (the customer) should (do this) to get (that). In this example, the thesis states, “You should have your car inspected every year to make sure it is running properly.”
  • Next write the reasons why this thesis is true: “The inspection checks for problems with safety equipment, such as brake lights, and for violations of regulations, such as emission standards.”
  • Next write a conclusion based on the information you have given. “If your car passes inspection, you will know it is safe to operate for another year.”
  • Finally, call the readers to action. “Sign up for a car inspection today and we will give you a 20% discount.”

When you are finished, look through the content to make sure your opening sentence is as strong as it can be. Sometimes opening turns out to be buried in the conclusion–by then, you’re thought out exactly what you want to say. But this structure keeps your thoughts on track–in this case, you stay focused on car inspections.

Other Ways to Organize Content

Here are a few other ways to organize your ideas:

  • Write about three benefits/features of your product or service (Our car inspection service covers three safety concerns…). Three is usually the optimum number.
  • Create a list (10 ways to keep your car safe).
  • Set up a Q&A. Create a question (“I’m afraid to have my car inspected. What should I do?”), building up a scene that might have prompted a real customer to ask that question. Then answer it.
  • Tell a true story (“One of our customers wanted to buy a car that had no record of inspections. We suggested…”).

Get Help from TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

You have lots of great ideas for marketing content. If you find your writing wandering all over the universe and back, contact me. I’ll make sure your marketing content is always organized to show off your best ideas.

Why I Hate Online Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers drive me crazy. Here’s the problem with online grammar checkers–and yes, I mean Grammarly also–they can’t think. When confronted with the slightest complication in a sentence, they default to “wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Recently, a client used an online grammar checker on a sentence like this:

We give sales, marketing, and executive teams greater visibility into financial performance.

In context, the grammar checker insisted that “teams” needed to be a possessive: team’s or teams’. In truth, the sentence was perfectly correct as it stood. Adding an apostrophe would make it grammatically incorrect.

Grammar checkers break down over possessives and contractions. I often catch them preferring “you’re” to “your” in a statement like “what should you do if your house collapses?” They are also baffled by capitalization: the Word grammar checker insists on capitalizing company even in a sentence like “we all went to the company picnic.”

Here’s another example of grammar checker bungling:

If you are going to send someone a long email, make sure that you start by listing the topics under discussion and that you are being as concise as you possibly can.

The grammar checker objected to the word “being” because (pause for irony) it wasn’t concise enough. This client asked me to remove “being.” But if I removed it, the client would be left with the phrase “you are as concise as you possibly can.” That phrase is simply awkward; compare it to “you are as happy as you possibly can.” Clearly there is a verb missing: if “being” disappears, then the phrase has to become “you are as concise as you possibly can be.”

The grammar checker choked on the original sentence because grammar checkers do not understand subordinate clauses. They also go into tailspins over compound subjects and compound sentences. Grammar checkers make suggestions without recognizing the need for alternatives that make sense.

I long ago reached the frustrating conclusion that grammar checkers are of least use to people who seek help with their English grammar. Those individuals may write a perfect sentence only to change it to something ungrammatical in response to a grammar checkers’ whim.

Should you ignore grammar checkers entirely? Well, like the watch that stopped at 6 o’clock, grammar checkers have to be right some times. But be aware of their shortcomings and that you might benefit more from someone like me, with 20 years of freelance writing, editing, and proofreading experience and skill.

Contact me whenever grammar and grammar checkers are driving you crazy.

The Magic Word in Marketing Content

One word always catches the attention of customers. One word always sells. That magic word is you.

It appears on every list of words-that-sell and is one of the ten most frequently spoken and written words in the English language. Everyone recognizes it; everyone responds to it. You, the customer; you, the person this document is written for. When you is missing from a marketing message, a vital connection disappears.

That’s the situation in this message from TopDesign:

“BuildRight tools help create better designs with less training. BuildRight offers a free trial period for determining which tools are useful.”

TopDesign is talking, but who’s listening? Who wants to create designs, who cares about less training, who uses the tools and, above all, who acquires them? The addition of “you” makes that clear:

“BuildRight tools help you and your staff create better designs with less training. Use BuildRight free, for a trial period. Then buy only the tools that you need most.”

You in all its forms, whether explicit (“you need”) or implied (“use,” “buy”), gives your writing the same intimacy as a face-to-face conversation. If you were talking to a customer face-to-face, you would speak the word you often, from “how can I help you?” to “do you want to pay by cash or credit card?” Why deny your online and print customers that same courtesy? When customers hear you talking to them, they listen.

Another way to get the you into your marketing content is to feature photos and success stories about customers who are similar to the customers you want to attract. In this case the you is “someone we helped with the same problem you have” or “someone who faced the same concerns you have about our products and services.”

Just make sure that you are always defining you the same way. For example, if designers, trainers, and buyers are usually three different people, then TopDesign should make sure their marketing content clearly distinguishes one from the other. On a website, that might require three separate web pages.

If you are ready to put more you into your marketing content, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll help you connect with your customers online and in print.

 

 

Plagiarism and Creativity

In college, I had a professor who failed one of my papers because it sounded like something his favorite author had written. I asked if he had found any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that matched that author, whom I had never heard of. This was before online plagiarism checkers, and the teacher admitted he couldn’t find any duplication–the paper simply “sounded like.” This is not the definition of plagiarism.

What Plagiarism Is

Someone who plagiarizes takes another person’s work and passes it off as their own. For that to happen, the plagiarism must do more than merely sound like it might have been written by the other person; it must exactly duplicate the original work. And it has to encompass more than a mere phrase or a word or two.

You are plagiarizing if you quote from any online or print article, blog post, book, movie, or other creative work without permission and without citing the source. You are plagiarizing, for example, if you take a photo off the internet and pass it off as your own. The only exceptions are for information that is clearly marked as free to share. Do not assume that a work is in the public domain or that “public domain” frees you from citing a source: there is only one Romeo and Juliet and if you quote huge chunks of it, you should mention Shakespeare.

Whenever you give a complete attribution for a work by someone else–and there are many online sites that will explain how to do this–you are guarding against plagiarism by admitting that someone else created the content you are using. As mentioned, you may also need to ask the original creator’s or publisher’s permission first.

What Plagiarism Is Not

If you are fooling around with ideas, you don’t need to put quotes around “fooling around” as if you feared plagiarizing; it’s an overused cliché but it isn’t owned by any other person.

If you are writing for a client, as I do, then a work becomes the client’s (not yours) as soon as it is paid for and you cannot duplicate it for another client. But if no one has bought the work, it is yours to duplicate as you wish–in articles, blog posts, website content, success stores, and so on. (If you are writing for an independent publication, such as an industry magazine, make sure you understand their policies on ownership.) Generally, you need not fear plagiarizing from yourself.

It is not plagiarism if, on occasion, more than one person comes up with the same phrase. Let’s say, in the course of giving instructions to a DIY builder, you write this phrase: “Create a tight joint using glue and screws.” I can guarantee you that at least one how-to book, if not every one, contains a sentence identical to that. There are only a few ways to explain how glue and screws create a tight joint.

Creativity versus Plagiarism

These days teachers, managers, and editors can run anything you write through an online plagiarism checker to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently plagiarized from another source. That’s fine, but prevention can easily be carried too far.

Let’s suppose you write a sentence all on your own and the online computer program says that the sentence also appeared in a book someone published in 1918 that you never heard of and never read. Inadvertent repetition is part of the creative process in every field. A little simultaneous creativity isn’t necessarily plagiarism.

For example, scientists often scramble to be the first in their field because so many people are aiming for the same result and may reach it at the same time. They aren’t plagiarizing from each other (one hopes); they are merely following the same creative path to the same conclusion.

Creativity should never be manacled by slavish devotion to computer programs. You can use a computer program to find evidence of plagiarism, but never abandon common sense or devalue the results of independent thought.

By the way, that teacher who falsely accused me of plagiarism ultimately gave me an A for the course. A high standard of writing is not plagiarism, no matter how young you are.

I am proud of my ability to write marketing and technical content that is clear, consistent, concise, and creative. If you need writing like that, please contact me today.

Start Writing with Your Wow Factor

Every new product or service has a wow factor—it’s faster, smaller, more beautiful, more reliable, more precise, or greater value than the competition. Your best selling opportunity is to start writing with your wow factor. Too many companies bury that important information deep in their copy. To identify your wow factor and give it the top billing it deserves, follow these four steps:

Step 1. Make sure you know what your customer wants most. Your customer’s priorities might be quite different from yours. You may want to boast about your success at miniaturizing internal components while your customer is only interested in whether the product looks cool. Your marketing copy must speak to the customer’s priorities, even if this means ignoring your finest achievements.

Step 2. Concentrate on the specifics—they set your product or service apart. If accuracy to 5 microns is important to your customers, your text should state “accurate to 5 microns” rather than relying solely on vague adjectives like “extremely accurate.” If personal service is important, let photographs, testimonials, and case studies reveal exactly how personal your service is.

Step 3. Select your language to empower, not overwhelm, your customer. In an effort to be concise, companies sometimes cram 10 selling points into one long sentence or string of nouns (“a robust email marketing newsletter solution service”). First be clear, then concise. Educate customers slowly in everyday language; no matter how proficient customers are in their own field, they come to you for your special expertise, so share it in a way they can understand.

Step 4. Focus first on your strongest benefit. Always remember that the most powerful message you can send to a potential customer is “we can solve your problem.” When you identify a compelling problem and solution, you have your first sentence: your wow factor. Then you can detail the other benefits and features you offer. But customers can absorb only a limited amount of new information at once (some research suggests a 4-item limit). Stay well within those boundaries at the start of your marketing copy.

Are you struggling to find and write about your wow factor? Contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications; I’m here to help.