The Wonders of Humor

During this pandemic, I’ve received many emails from family and friends with jokes about muddling through. I’ve listened to funny songs about staying safe and watched hilarious videos about the difficulties of sewing a face mask for the first time. Humor often turned around a tedious and boring day. I love humor.

Here is why that humor works:

  • It includes all of us. When humor is aimed at one particular group on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, or any other grouping, and especially if it aims at belittling that group, it is not humor but attack.
  • It is good-natured. When humor aims to demean another person, especially a person with less power, it is bullying.
  • It is appropriate. Suffering can be laughed at but not at the expense of the person who is suffering.
  • It invites us to laugh at ourselves. Laugh at yourself whenever you like but think carefully before laughing at someone else if they did not invite the laughter.
  • It doesn’t need an apology. “I was only joking” is not an apology. It is the last retreat of bullying, aggressive, and clueless adults–and perfectly normal five-year-olds.

When you use humor in your writing–and you should–make sure that it fits all the criteria above. As Jerry Seinfeld says in one of his specials, people think that what he does is easy. He just gets up on a stage and says humorous things and people laugh. But he spent years finding the right combination of words that made people laugh–instead of, for example, running him out of town, tarred and feathered.

Even appropriateness, possibly the easiest criteria, can be hard to judge. I once had a client, a plumber, who wanted to fill his website home page with bathroom humor. But most people who desperately need a plumber are not in the mood for bathroom humor. If you don’t know your audience or their circumstances, be cautious.

Humor that is aimed at yourself or that plays on words is almost always safe. But if ever your humor misfires, apologize–really apologize. For humor gone wrong, it’s the only grown-up response.

Need words to engage your audience and keep them engaged? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Marketing Copy for Nonprofits

Over the years, I have worked with several nonprofits, serving on the boards of two and helping others volunteering in different capacities. In every case, marketing the organization–in websites, events, social media, local newspapers, brochures, flyers, and case studies–was a primary concern.

I have learned that marketing copy for a nonprofit is most successful when:

  1. It concentrates on hope, not fear. For example, a nonprofit that works with children with dyslexia changed its marketing copy to stress a child’s ability to overcome reading challenges, while acknowledging but not wallowing in the struggle. Parents already know their child is suffering. They need hope.
  2. It offers facts and figures as well as anecdotes. The anecdotes are very important, to reinforce how the nonprofit helps people or animals or the environment. But especially for donors, feeling good is often not enough. They want to know the hard facts, including how their donation (large or small) will be used.
  3. It shows as much as it tells. Photos and videos are very important whether on websites, newsletters, or letters to donors.
  4. It explains the mission in very direct terms and makes contact information easy to find. For example, an organization helping families in crisis spent so much time on its website asking for donations that there was no way for a family in crisis to figure out how to actually apply for services.
  5. It celebrates volunteers and donors; they are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Not only do you make the volunteers and donors feel good about donating their time but their involvement inspires others to participate.

What is your audience looking for and what do you want them to do? Is feeling bad about a situation or feeling good about your organization enough? Is there a next step that is even more important?

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps nonprofits connect with the right audience in the right way for the right reasons. Email us today.

Reap the Rewards of Hiring a Freelance Writer

I want my clients to succeed in their marketing because I’m passionate about clear, honest communication between people: business owners, customers, vendors, and employees. And every successful client project means more word of mouth marketing for me. But what do my clients get out this relationship?

  1. Competitive edge. Like you, my clients know what they do is special; but sometimes customers fail to recognize the true value of a product or service–beyond its price. I work with you to find and celebrate the differentiators that make you stand out from the competition.
  2. Objective answers to hard questions. If you asked your customers, “what can we do better?,” you’d receive polite responses at best. But when I ask, your customers open up.
  3. Concise, clear, creative, and passionate language. Subtle changes in wording make a tremendous difference in the tone and interest of marketing content. When your customers come to a website, it’s the website’s job to keep them there; when they take a brochure, it’s the brochures job to urge them to read.
  4. Less pressure. Very few goals are reachable by someone acting completely alone. If you find yourself spinning in multiple directions, call me. Whether a client wants to edit and rewrite together or hand the whole project on to me, I’m ready to provide the exact type of freelance writing or editing that each client needs.
  5. New ideas. As a remote, freelance writer, I work with multiple clients; their cross-industry, cross-geography background sparks new ideas and new configurations of proven ideas. Besides, having a clear, organized mind is essential for a writer. Your next great idea is probably already within your reach; you just need someone to put it in words.
  6. Consistency and accuracy. The wrong wording can bore customers; even worse, it can mislead them. Consistent and accurate content builds trust between a company and its customer, whether on the level of good grammar or of good faith.
  7. Trust. After nearly 20 years as a freelance, remote writer, my current clients know that I’ll be ready when their next project arises–whether that is next week or several years from now. I’ll remember them and their priorities.
  8. Partnership. My clients know that I will deliver their projects on (or before) time, on (or under) budget, and to the highest standard–that’s why they keep coming back. For the length of your project, whenever you need me, I am a full partner.
  9. Fun. Being a remote writer means I work with clients from across borders, industries, and functions; and with every client I learn something new. I enjoy that adventure, which means that you and your customers get to enjoy the results!

Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today and let’s talk about how I can show you the love.


Does Your Marketing Content Capture Your Business Today?

A client of mine asked her business support group an interesting question: She worked closely with large businesses but how could she convince the owners of small businesses to use her services? The problem, the group told her, was that her website focused so much on large businesses that small business owners were overawed. Her services seemed too expensive and too intense.

Has Your Business Shifted?

In a constantly changing marketplace, marketing content can easily fall out of synch with your current vision for your company. Products, services, and customer expectations and demographics are quite different now than 10, 5 or even 2 years ago.

When I first started my sole proprietorship in New Hampshire, I thought I would be writing user manuals full time for software development companies. Years later, I concentrate almost solely on marketing copy for both technical and nontechnical companies in a wide variety of industries, from home renovation to manufacturing and from education to healthcare.

Is It Time for a Communications Audit?

It may be time to re-examine your website, blog posts, case studies, and other marketing content to see if they line up with the customers you want, the competition you are facing , and the services/products you are supplying–right now.

In a marketing communications audit, I examine your marketing content, page by page, with a fresh eye for inconsistencies and opportunities: What are you saying that no longer jibes with your mission and what could you be saying that you haven’t said? Then I produce a report that details problems and oversights and what you can do to make sure your customers receive a correct, consistent, clear, and compelling marketing message.

At that point, you can decide whether to take the next steps of revising current marketing content or generating new content. I can help with both.


If you haven’t examined your marketing content in a long while, a marketing communications audit is a cost-effective way to make sure your message connects with the right customers in the right way. Contact me today for more information.

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.



5 Pet Writing Peeves

My five pet writing peeves may not be identical to your own top 5–but I think you’ll agree that they are “peeve-worthy.”

  1. People that need people. No, no, no. For once, a song lyric has the grammar right: people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. However, people that need people are probably robots. “That” is appropriate for a thing. “Who” is the only word appropriate for people.
  2. Entitlement. If I could ban one word, I would ban entitlement. It has become so warped in meaning that people use it as a generalized insult. “Kids today, they feel so entitled.” Entitled to what? Food, clothing, education, muscle cars–what?
  3. Rampant semicolons. I’m not sure when everyone decided that semicolons are the same as commas, but I’m here to assure you that they aren’t. Try a comma first.
  4. Electronic online grammar checkers. They are useless. They are worse than useless because they are generally 100% wrong and yet people believe them.
  5. i.e., e.g., and etc. No one speaks Latin anymore, which hasn’t stopped us from using it. “Id est” (i.e.) means “that is” or “to clarify what I said previously” while “exempli gratia” (e.g.) means “for example.” They are not interchangeable. “Et cetera” (etc.) means “and other things” or “and so on.” Do not use “and etc.”; it translates to “and and so on.” Please note the use of periods.

I remember when my pet peeve was the use of “data” (many pieces of information) to mean “datum” (one piece of information). Boy, did I lose that battle. So maybe there’s no hope to reverse the trends indicated by my pet peeves.

Do you have a pet writing peeve? I’d enjoy hearing about it. Maybe it will make my top 5 next year!

For clear, concise, accurate, writing with passion, contact Sharon at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Little Words That Change Content in Big Ways

Once upon a very real time in New York City, an environmental official removed the word “not” from a report determining whether a road should be built along a river. The report emphasized this project should not be allowed because it would pollute the water; but the official said, “I’m not going to stop this project because of one little word.” So he deleted “not.”

Little, simple words can have a lot of power. In fact, the word “simple” itself is one of those words. The actions or instructions that you tell your customers are “simple” will baffle at least some of them. Then they have to decide if they are too dumb to follow simple instructions or if your instructions and product are terrible. Guess what choice they make? To check whether your instructions are clear, accurate and complete, follow what you’ve written down to the letter. If you find your hands doing something that is not written down, then you have to add that step to your instructions. And avoid saying anything is “simple.”

Another word with a lot of power is “only.” When you misplace the word “only,” you also change the meaning of your content. Consider “we only designed one product” versus “we designed only one product.” In the first instance, you only designed (you didn’t manufacture or distribute); in the second instance, you designed only one product (instead of many products). The difference in meaning is significant. Be careful where you place your “only.”

I once heard a story about lawmakers who wanted to ban the importation of fruit trees. However, they placed a comma between “fruit” and “trees” and thereby went without fruit for months before they could change the bill. A misplaced comma can drastically change your content. Consider the difference between “we pay attention to details, generating quality” and “we pay attention to details generating quality.” In the first instance, the act of paying attention to ideas generates quality; in the second instance, you’re paying attention to just those details that generate quality–all the other details you ignore. Where you place commas, periods, semicolons, and colons is important.

If you are worrying whether your content is saying exactly what you mean, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We make sure content is clear, accurate, and compelling, down to the smallest detail.


No One Reads Anymore (and Other Myths)

Every so often another article or blog post appears claiming that no one reads anymore. It’s an interesting tactic to write about no one reading. Side-by-side with that argument is usually another article or blog post bemoaning how often people check their smart phones for a new text message or search the internet for reviews of the latest restaurant. Someone is reading those texts and reviews.

So clearly people are reading. They may be reading in shorter bursts. They may insist on information that is targeted to their specific interests. They may be reading in places that didn’t even exist a decade ago. They may be reading online instead of print. But they are reading.

And in many ways their demands for content haven’t changed.

  • They still want to be told first what they want to know most. Burying vital information deep in the text is more counter-productive than ever. When you have the length of a tweet to get to the point, you ought to get to it fast.
  • They still want clear communication. Yes, emoticons and abbreviations have flooded personal emails, but customers expect businesses to state clearly and accurately what they do, how they do it, why anyone would be interested–that demand hasn’t disappeared.
  • They still like pictures, videos, and artwork. A great picture is still worth 1000 words; and people still recognize consistent brands quickly.
  • They still want to connect with you. The passive voice keeps customers at arm’s length; it didn’t engage them in the past and it doesn’t engage them now.
  • They still want to know why they should choose you and not your competitor. That’s one reason why online reviews, success stories and testimonials are so powerful.

If you need help writing materials that engage customers online or in print, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll establish the connection and keep it strong.

Marketing Collateral: How Much Is Enough?

Many of my clients come to me with multiple printed or online marketing pieces–rack cards, postcards, brochures, newsletters, prints of articles. While it is a good policy to stay in contact with your customers, you can save time, money and customer exasperation if you ask yourself these questions before embarking on yet another piece of marketing collateral:

  • Can I get the marketing collateral to my customers? For example, rack cards are excellent to hand out at trade shows or place in racks at Chambers of Commerce, libraries, tourist attractions and so on. But if your customers interaction is completely online and mail order from around the country, maybe you don’t need a rack card at all.
  • Am I reaching my customers in the way they want to be reached? Your marketing collateral, especially your newsletter, may need to work well both in print and online.
  • Am I being consistent? Marketing materials with the same color scheme, font, logo and contact information allow customers to recognize you at a glance.
  • Am I repeating myself? Yes, you need several attempts before customers take advantage of an offer or remember that you exist. But a little variety in content ensures that they actually read your communication before they throw it out.
  • Am I able to find something to say and the time to write it? Before you start a blog or newsletter, build up a backlog of several posts or articles to ensure that you have something to say about your company, products and services and that the content will interest your customers. If you lack subject matter or time, consider hiring a professional writer to take over.

As a professional marketing writer, I not only recognize the need to communicate with customers, I recognize the need to stop and take stock. The best marketing collateral reaches customers in the way they prefer, with timely information they want, in a consistent format and with interesting content. TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is ready to help.

Add Clarity to Your Message with Bullets & Numbers

From the moment writing was invented, a communication problem arose. Person-to-person, a speaker has to take a breath at some point, allowing the listener a chance to respond. On anything written, from website to email or from manual to product insert, monologue is the rule. The recipient cannot interrupt to answer or ask questions or to verify an important point.

One solution: bulleted and numbered lists.

If you are writing to ask questions and you genuinely want answers, then number each question. Do not group questions into long paragraphs. Numbers prevent the recipient from becoming confused by the relationship between questions that are haphazardly grouped together. If a question is missed or misunderstood, both sender and recipient can easily refer to it by number.

As for directions, take a hint from Google Maps, where each step in a set of driving directions is numbered. They know that dense paragraphs of directions are always misread because the tendency of a reader is to scan, not break them down. Using numbers not only ensures that the directions are followed step-by-step, but it allows for questions about a particular step if the reader needs clarification or verification.

In general marketing material, such as brochures or websites, bullets and numbers bring interest as well as clarity to the text, avoiding large and forbidding blocks of type. Be careful to be consistent in your use and selection of bullets/numbers, as readers are thrown off by arbitrary changes from, say, round bullets to dashes or Roman to Arabic numerals. They believe the change signals a change in importance (or simple sloppiness, which is also undesirable).

When clear communication is important to you and your customers, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is ready to help.