Elephant dancing on a glockenspiel

Are You Yelling? What’s with the All Caps in Online Comments?

It would be so lovely is social media platforms provided for italics for people to emphasize words. Why not? After all, websites can use italics.

Instead, we gentle readers of comments on news stories or comments on friends’ political posts on Facebook are thrown back by a barrage of all caps. I will refrain from blasting you with all caps, even for demonstration purposes.

The beauty of italics is the letters lean over, as if they are whispering to a confident or in a conspiratorial fashion. The italics are letting the reader in on something. Pssst, I want you to know I am applying emphasis to this word to stress a particular point. That is so much more pleasant and effective than all caps.

Also, the excessive use of all caps makes the writer of such a comment look deranged, as if the person is screaming, I refuse to follow your rules of grammar, syntax and civility, you M.F.-ers! Excuse us? The point is lost. Who cares what they were trying to say? Do you really want to work through a wall of angry all caps?

Granted, all caps were used in telegrams. So was the word stop. There is no need to write out stop and there is no longer a need for all caps. The U.S. National Hurricane Center persists in using all caps in portions of its bulletins, especially the opening line of an advisory, which is warranted because it is warning people about potentially deadly storms. The U.S. Navy, in 2013, dropped the all caps in its messaging system, a tradition stemming from the teletype machine.

Reviving 18th Century Rules of Capitalization

As an aside, you may have noticed that the above subhead is in all caps. That is because it is a sub-headline and such breaks in copy (text) are easy to see when set off in caps. It’s not a form of emphasis. Now, as for the rules of capitalization, please read on.

Many professional writers in the United States, especially news writers, use AP Style. This style guide will remind users that proper nouns are capitalized, such as a name or city, but not all nouns. Oddly, I keep seeing people capitalizing some nouns but not all nouns, as if possessed by a spirit that wishes to confound and confuse the living with randomly capitalized words sprinkled throughout a Facebook or Twitter rant.

Remember, you are seeking to persuade people to see your point of view. You are not writing the Declaration of Independence. So, drop the caps on all the nouns you wish to emphasize.

Yes, Spelling Still Matters

Are you being mocked by elitists on Facebook who retort that your flagrant spelling errors in news story comments make you look uneducated? Perhaps you are using voice-to-text to comment and that is why your text is as intelligible as an elephant trying to send Morse code on a glockenspiel.

Please, use your fingers and opposable thumbs to type out your comments. You may even take a moment to read it before sending. In a moment of self-reflection, you might even edit it for clarity. Just leave out the all caps.

Katharine Fraser

Crystal ball used for telepathy

Confusion Reigns in the Communications Game of Telepathy

Remember the game of telephone we played as kids in which one person starts the game by whispering a sentence to the person to their right? This goes around until the message circled back to the last person, who would say it out loud. With messages routinely garbled, hilarity ensued.

But have you ever played the game of telepathy? This is when you communicate to someone while assuming they know all the same facts that you do! Hilarity does not always ensue in these cases.

Sometimes the issue is minor, such as a scheduling mix-up. When a client called me today, he engaged in semi-small talk, including the basic how are you. When I said I was looking forward to meeting him tomorrow, it turned out the meeting was earlier today. It was then I realized why he was checking in with me. He was too polite to say, where were you? We then realized that the meeting schedule was miscommunicated. We pivoted to making another plan.

What about more nuanced or longer-running misunderstandings. You and a business associate or colleague could have been talking past each other without realizing it. I used to work for a corporation whose management training focused in part on this phenomenon.

A trainer asked if anyone ever thought someone else was an idiot. Once the laughter quieted, the trainer had a follow-up: what if the other person was simply armed with a separate set of facts than you? Furthermore, what if the so-called, hypothetical “idiot” actually had different marching orders than you?

Surely, we’ve all experienced that realization that another party or team is being instructed differently, even in the same company. I once had a boss who found it annoying when another team had a meeting to talk about how to integrate with our team, but did not invite him to their chat.

Or, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of a bewildering email. Sometimes, even in seeking clarification based on what you know the situation becomes even more confusing and/or aggravating. Now, you are just plain fed up. Before firing off an angry email in response, consider a different approach.

You could write something to the effect of, say, Joe, I feel like we’re approaching this situation from very different perspectives – maybe you know something I don’t know! Hopefully, you will diffuse any annoyance or worse emotion on the other end. Indeed, maybe he does know something you don’t know. Also, the dollop of self-deprecation may soften the tone. Joe might also realize it’s possible you know something he does not. At the very least, Joe should appreciate the neutral acknowledgement that something is screwy and you want to pleasantly clear it up.

Simply put, the game of telepathy is always a loser. Use your communication skills to gracefully ask questions, including open-ended questions that may elicit answers you did not expect. Listen as carefully as you speak to ensure you do not miss important information or cues. Best of all, if a digital dialogue is going nowhere fast, use the telephone function of your phone verbally make the connection!

Hands working a craft.

The Craft of Writing Content and Copy

 

When you visualize someone honing a craft, images of woodworkers or potters might come to mind. Writing too is a craft.

Old school news writers refer to their craft because good writing is a product that comes from forethought and practice. Writers learn their craft from more experienced writers, much like old time apprentices.

When it comes to social media marketing and digital content writing, I’m taking this analogy a step further and comparing these services to craft beer. Microbrewing harkens back to the old days when neighborhood bars sold locally produced beer. Of late, big corporate, multi-national brewing companies have rolled out brands that emulate local craft beers. They have cute labels and names, and their recipes differ from the flagship brand. In addition, some craft beer companies have been acquired by big brewers.

But craft beer purists will content this is beer blasphemy. It comes down, though, to consumer choice. Some people love basic big brewery beer and the price. Craft beer aficionados, by contrast, are willing to pay a bit more for a higher quality product with unique recipes and flavors. What does this have to do with social media?

Perhaps you’ve heard of white label social media. This is like buying beer brewed according to a single recipe that tastes the same in every outlet. It’s uniform. It may not be what you like. It might be perfectly serviceable, but perhaps not specific to your needs or desires.

Or, you could go to the local craft brewery and find they make, in small batches, highly specialized and sophisticated beers aimed at the palates and tastes of discerning customers. Likewise, hiring a local digital marketing company means the writer will craft your business storytelling to suit your local target audience. Something generic that works in another market or for a similar business will not meet your specific needs.

To learn more about the craft honed by Adroit Narratives, check out Katharine Fraser’s bio.

 

Graphic reading I love writing

No Such Thing as Free Writing

Here is my free professional advice: talent is not free. I recently received an unsolicited offer, i.e., spam email, from a guy offering his free writing services to me. He wanted me to post his blogs on my website. Riiiiiiiight.

My response included this tidbit of advice: “never work for free. Professional writing is a craft and it commands a price.”

Another offer for poor writing services arrived as as a comment on a client’s well-written article posted to their company website. See below – do you see the grammatical error here?

Best Writing Service

Get an expert academic writing assistance! We can write any post on any subject within the tightest deadline.

To correct the syntax, the first line should read, “Get expert academic writing assistance.” But, I’m wondering why this marketer is offering academic writing to a commercial entity. Don’t get me started on opening a sentence with the word “get.” Also, do they only provide a single service? Better make that “Worst Writing Services.”

Am I nit-picking? You bet. I used to get paid to pick apart other people’s writing. News editors see the darndest things. Many errors result from rushed writing, which is an occupational hazard for reporters writing about breaking news.

To give you an example, I will out myself as someone who may have goofed at some point in a 20+-year-career as a working journalist. I was covering a fire at an oil refinery or some such and urgently pulled together all the facts. This involves pressing and priming real people for information, not just running a Google search. I wrote a tight story with clean copy to quickly deliver the best information to our paying subscribers.

The story’s editor remarked it was excellent work, but for a crucial omission: the time element. The story’s first sentence left out the fact this disaster had broken out that very day. Why would I tell you this? To illustrate that good writing requires self-awareness.

There is an inverse correlation I have observed many times: the worst writers are the most confident. Good writers check themselves, use the dictionary, perform solo dramatic readings of their work to listen for and detect errors, and seek review by others. Bad writers think they nailed it. Bad writers are also the sort of people to offer their work for free. This reminds me of a job applicant for a reporting job who boasted in his cover letter he would “work long and hard,” if he got the position. The editor moaned, “No, I don’t want anyone who wants to work long and hard.” His premise there being that good writers can quickly synthesize information to deftly draft a compelling, error-free story.

If someone offers to write a blog for a buck (per blog, not the $1.50-2.00/word rate magazine articles can command), ask them how they can be so cheap. Ask them for a resume and work examples. Ask them if they provide content writing as a full-time profession. Ask them if they love writing. There are many factors that foster excellent writing skills, including relevant educational background and professional credentials, but the love of writing is essential too.

For a quote on my writing services, please contact Katharine Fraser of Adroit Narratives, LLC.

grammar

Why Good Writing Still Matters in the Digital Age

Digital content marketing displays for all to see what is good writing and what is plain terrible. To promote your business, which would you prefer?

There is even a trend of purposefully poor writing that is meant to be cute. This may have started when people needed to introduce the meaning of their memes. For example, they post to social media an image of a forlorn animal flopping on the ground or some such with the caption: My Monday Be Like. Or maybe, When You Start Mondaying. Whether you find these memes cute or annoying in your personal Facebook feed, ask yourself whether it is good for business. Depends on the business, right?

If you run a gym and want to encourage people to work out with you, a silly post about being tired but able to Zumba would be cute. If you are selling in the B2B arena, avoid memes. Really. Please don’t use memes in B2B. You are not living in an episode of “The Office.”

This casual, broken grammar vernacular is entering speech patterns and even being used on purpose in television ads.

ACCIDENTAL LANGUAGE DESTRUCTION

Separately, we’re all seeing language destruction in news articles, even those published by historically well-regarded newspaper companies. I recently saw a post to Facebook by the Washington Post that was grammatically incoherent and the commenters shredded the institution for this lapse. Having worked in news as a reporter and editor, I can attest that everyone makes mistakes.grammar

But, what we are seeing now in terms of mistakes is their prevalence rather than an anomaly. For example, today I read this phrase in a news story – “She has since changed coarse…” – and wondered if the writer and/or editor would even realize the mistake. In my estimation, this is occurring as news staffs at many organizations have shrunk due to budgetary considerations.

ABBREVIATIONS, ACRONYMS and OH NOs

Twitter’s 140-character limit seems to drive people into a fear of writing too long, so they write too short with weird little abbreviations. If you have to rely on the device of stringing together sets of capital letters, I suggest you try rephrasing that sentiment. Some acronyms and abbreviations are very well known, with many going back to the days of the telegraph, but try to avoid using more than two in a Tweet.

Finally, here’s an abbreviation often seen in Twitter that really needs to go:

“Please RT!”

Cheers,

Katharine Fraser, consultant, content creator and owner of Adroit Narratives, LLC

love writing

On Good Writing and How to Get It

When I tell people I am a writer, I tend to get two reactions:

“Oh, I could never write well.”

“Do you like it?”

For the latter, consider whether I would work as a professional writer for more than 20 years if I disliked it. As for the former proposition, the only way to become is a good writer is to do a lot of writing.

You also must be willing to take and incorporate critiques. In college, my two majors happened to require contrasting writing styles. In journalism, you start a story by telling the reader the upshot or outcome. For history, by contrast, you start at the beginning and build a case toward a conclusion. One day, my history advisor stopped me on campus to tell me that my writing had become “weird.” That was to say I opened a history paper with a news lede.

At my first newspaper job, I was blessed with strong editors who gently guided me away from writing too much or writing in a manner too fancy to get the job done. With good writing, there is no need to gild the lily. You just say it straight. Get to the point. Yet so much of what we read online buries the lede. For example, how many recipe blogs start out with hundreds and hundreds of words before mentioning the recipe’s ingredients and directions? To be fair, I publish a lifestyle blog that narrates my cooking adventures, but they are rarely more than 500 words and the instructions are higher up in the copy. By contrast, I have found myself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling down a recipe post before finding the recipe.

Now, to be sure, there is some SEO method to this madness, but let’s not get totally carried away by padding blogs with search terms. I also suspect that people who write meandering musings in their blog never had a tough, wise-cracking news editor bearing down on their copy. Remember, the whole point of writing something is to engage the reader. What is the use of bringing someone to your blog if you are boring?

You have just a moment to grab their attention, which is the objective of a news headline. That’s akin to a great Tweet or the opening of a social media post. In news writing, people ask themselves – before hitting the keystrokes – what is my lede? (Lede is old-time news spelling for lead sentence.) In other words, what is the most important, new thing you need to convey to the reader? For marketing a product or service, you should give the reader information they just may not have been aware of; this educational material shows you know your stuff and gives the audience a reason to know who you are.

Say you own a jewelry store. Running a social media post about the cheapest diamonds in town is going to send the wrong message. What if instead you crafted a post about an electric toothbrush being a diamond’s best friend? That made you curious, right? Turns out, some jewelers recommend using a electric toothbrush to polish your diamond. Just don’t use the same brushhead you put in your mouth. My point is social media is supposed to be fun and you can use elements of humor and surprise to be quirky in marketing. Still, don’t go crazy. If you are a small business and doing your own marketing, be sure to go to trusted friends as sounding boards and test out any wacky ideas.

The beauty of social media, though, is it more often rewards experiments than it punishes mistakes. Your experiment would have to be really, really awful to hurt much. I like to try different art or animations for the images. I play with video editing and photo editing on design platforms. As a result, I can stay fresh with content presentation.

The writing can be playful too. As for regular day-to-day writing for your newsletters and social media, have a coworker read it first. At the very least, they can clean up the copy to free it of typos, which can hurt your credibility. Finally, one piece of biased advice: do not publish yourself unless you are an experienced professional editor.

Cheers,

Katharine Fraser, Adroit Narratives

How to Write a Blog for Your Business

Where do you start when sitting down to write a blog to market your business? Overcome whatever inertia is holding you back. You may only need a half hour to an hour to do this. You also need not be the greatest writer in the world – you just need to be good at writing.

In this blog, I will walk you through three basic steps to writing a blog.

  • Pick a topic and break it down into a series of related blogs
  • Aim to write about 500 words per blog
  • Edit yourself!

Blogging a Marketing Campaign

You have a lot to say; you built a better mousetrap and want the world to beat a path to your door. But, it’s complicated. Your business model is complex and your product’s value proposition is hard to explain in short order. This is why it is OK to give away some basic information for free. You are not giving away the farm, but instead getting people interested. Now, they view you as a resource and if you are good at what you do, they are more likely to buy. Speak from experience, use real-life examples to tell a story and paint the picture of what your product or service will do for them.

By stringing out a series of blogs under an umbrella topic you can showcase your product or service more in-depth. If you were selling mousetraps, you could first blog about why a breakthrough has been long overdue and highlight the simplest reason your product provides that. The next blog could be a quick history of how your product was developed and who is behind it. The third blog could be a customer experience story (how your product solved a problem for a customer). The fourth blog could overtly pitch the better mousetrap.

By mapping out a structure for yourself, you can easily write with purpose. Keep your audience in mind and write as it you are answering their questions:

  • What is this about?
  • Why do I care?
  • Why should I trust you?
  • Is this of value?

Always keep the writing fairly simple. You are not writing the Great American Novel. Speak as if your prospect is sitting across from you. The tone should be straightforward. Try not to get to casual or comedic; it’s still business.

Organizing Each Blog with Purpose

Create a roadmap or outline before you begin typing. I believe in the power of threes and usually set out a bulleted list of the three most important things I wish to convey. I developed this habit when I was a news reporter. I would come in fresh from an assignment and feel slightly overwhelmed by everything I gathered. My mind was awash with ideas. To get started, I would jot down the three most important aspects of the story. Then, I would ask myself, what is the lede (lede is news speak for lead sentence) that will hook the reader? It does not have to be sensational, but it needs to be interesting. Some ledes write themselves while others take some thought. Once you write that introduction and fill out the three sections, you will be amazed at how quickly you have written close to 500 words. Maybe you even ran over that amount.

Proofreading is Essential

To start editing yourself, take advantage of the tools in the program you are using. For instance, in Word, the tools menu includes word count. The red, squiggly underline will point out spelling errors. To catch other boo-boos, read your content from the bottom up. Print out the page and proofread the copy with fresh eyes and a pen to scratch out what’s wrong. Walk away for a few minutes and return with a critical eye. If you think it will help you, read it out loud. We often catch our own mistakes with a dramatic reading.

Pop question: did I follow my own advice with the structure and tone of this blog? Let me know what you think. Contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

How to Write Quality Content for Websites and Social Media

There’s an old story about a dog who chased cars for years and when he actually caught hold of a bumper, he had no idea what to do with it. Same goes for businesses that are singularly focused on SEO [search engine optimization] but don’t have good underlying marketing copy, or content, to keep people on their website. A knowledgeable SEO provider can get you a higher ranking in SERP (search engine results pages), but that’s no good if your website content is boring, or worse, shoddy. Another problem apparent in some website content these days is content written by software for SEO purposes. Quite frankly, a dramatic reading of this content requires a robotic voice. It’s bad enough if a typo is on your website, so why allow horrific grammar and awkward wording to be on there? Instead, you can pair good SEO practices and good content writing. After all, what is the point of driving traffic to your website if the content on it is embarrassing or uninformative?

Pros and Cons of SEO Writing

You’ve probably seen or use a blog plugin for SEO writing that advises you if you are properly using your keyword and supplies other pieces of pragmatic advice. But that doesn’t allow for nuances. Note how the word content is not in the first sentence of this blog. Well, technically, that is a no-no, but then how would I have given you the analogy of the car-chasing dog? What would be more memorable – the visual of the dog grabbing hold of a bumper in its mouth or the use of the word “content”? As an aside, I’m not even a fan of the word content (which is dreaded in certain writing circles as dull and meaningless) but I use it nonetheless because it is a word I know people are using in web searches as it has a specific meaning. Here is where old-fashioned good writing and SEO writing actually align: use specific words. Always be as specific as possible. This is good for traditional writing in that specificity provides clarity. It is also good for SEO because key words are findable.

Don’t Make Perfect the Enemy of Good content

I hear from a lot of people that they have an idea for a blog or for their website but they are not ready to post it because it doesn’t seem perfect. If you were striving to win a literature prize, this inertia would be understandable. If you are a business owner looking to announce a new offering or provide background on what you company does, please do not hold back. Start writing. Give yourself parameters to make it approachable, such as:

  • setting aside 30 minutes to give the writing your undivided attention
  • just write 500 words per blog or webpage
  • segment the content into business categories by services/products, seasonal campaigns, etc.

Proofread

For the love of Pete, please proofread your writing before publishing. Ask a colleague or employee to edit it. Print it out and re-read it with fresh eyes. Walk away from it for an hour and return to review it anew. Proofread for typos and grammar woes by reading the content from the bottom up, starting from the last sentence. You are more likely to catch errors this way than if taking it from the top only to read right past your mistakes.

Own It

Take the same pride in authorship as you do in your business. Writing for the web about your business is no different than standing up at a local business breakfast to give an elevator pitch about your company. Put the same thought and consideration into what you write as what you say to customers and prospects.

For more writing advice, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

dictionary

tools of the trade: real writers check dictionaries and style guides

Telling Your Business Story, Conveying Value Propositions

Websites and other digital content venues are living documents in which we communicate where we are going… together with our customers. Has your business model changed but not your content? Do you have new products, services or hires that clients and prospects should hear about in newsletters, on your website, social media, etc.? Then you need some new content.

Let me tell you how I go about my work as a business communications consultant. When I get a grasp of what a business is and how it works, then I want to write about it. The type of work I typically handle are blogs, other website content, social media and presentations.

What I do is tell a business story. Sometimes that is selling someone on an experience. For instance, the About Us section of a website should give someone the sense they have visited with your company in person and more importantly, that they want to buy from you.

Business stories should build confidence in the customer. When I covered Wall Street as a financial writer, the expression my editor used was “numbers tell the story.” I find out what metrics and other key indicators mean the most to you and your customers and make sure we get those points across to drive home your business story.

Enhancing communications, elevating the brand

I’ve worked on website launches where the client has a web designer who is expert in web development and SEO, but not a business writer. This is where I come in and craft unique content for that business that ensures all the key points and key words are addressed. This is not just writing for search engines, but writing for people and speaking in a voice conversant in your business culture.

Strong business writing is a specialty unto itself. My background covering a variety of businesses as a news reporter gives me a huge scope of expertise in different sectors. I can speak your business language and your customers’ language.

I interview the business principals to get in depth about what differentiates them, what their reputation is, what they are going after.

In one such conversation, I realized something major was missing from the initial website content. Turns out, a company has a star player who attracts business and that person’s name wasn’t on its website. I crafted paragraphs on this person and their contribution to the clients, and got that over to the web developer. If you had Google searched for that person in that business sector, I don’t think you would have found them at their new company.

In other cases, a business may be running on autopilot and remaining profitable with its existing customer base. And, it wants to reach new pools of customers. It’s time to rev up some fresh content targeted to those audiences. You don’t need to change everything. You are expanding on your messaging. It’s not a costume change. Instead, we can reach more people with added vocabulary. The new content can keep you engaged and relevant.

Tips for Better, Clearer Writing

The first one sounds simple, but I know professional writers who skip this step:

Edit yourself. Let’s use email as an example. This is not a quick glance through what you just banged out. Read the content from the bottom up – sentence by sentence – that’s how you catch the big oops you would have glossed over when glancing down to the end.

When approaching writing, especially a presentation, blog or new marketing material, some people may feel like Charlie Brown with the football. Every time they intend to write something, it is as if the blank screen is Lucy taunting Charlie Brown with a football kickoff. They intend to do it, but don’t want to flop on their back.

Reimagine your audience as your friendly neighbor over the fence. You cannot see his facial expression, but you know who they are, a nice guy, a smart guy. Let’s say he doesn’t know anything about your business – how would you explain the situation to him? You’d simplify it. You wouldn’t dumb it down, but you’d frame your business scenario in a way that would be clear, sensible and persuasive. Now, write down what you just said in that imaginary conversation and work from there! Most of the time, good writing is matter of a reflection. Or, as a good editor will tell you, “Think before you write!”

For more tips on better business communications or to obtain customized consulting, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives