Managing Terms is Tough

The USDA site ChooseMyPlate.gov features a new icon for nutritional guidance. (Bye bye, food pyramid.) Here’s an amusing snippet from the section entitled “Beans and peas are unique foods”: “Green peas and green (string) beans are not considered to be ‘Beans and Peas.’”

Writing Benefits-Centered Copy

I’ve adopted a quick new test for figuring out if I’m conveying benefits clearly. A graduate school prof, lecturing on behaviorism, said, “There are only three primary reinforcers: food, air, and orgasm.” Everything else is a secondary reinforcer, learned by association. I think there are really only three essential benefits: Make or save money Save… Read more »

Trust Words

I’m working on some outward-facing materials for a large corporation. My charge: to make them more “customer-friendly.” I’m perplexed at the resistance I get to edits that seem like no-brainers to me. For example: I’m going back and forth about the word “necessary,” as in, “you may incur additional charges for necessary work done by… Read more »

I’ll Have 1,000 Words

It happened again. I followed a Tweet to a blog post promising some information that I’ve been looking for and found something I’ve come to dread: a video embedded where I expected text. Clever shorts can be entertaining and informative. Slideshows or video tutorials with voiceover can be effective as well. However it is boring… Read more »

What is a Book?

Just began a project on a team revising a book. The title is old enough to contain vague references to “the World Wide Web.” The challenges: more visuals! use links to information that may expire! use interactive calculators online where there were previously worksheets! Some people insist that the Web is killing the book. I… Read more »

Write Naked

One of my favorite viral posts is this, on the power dynamic surrounding the use of academic language. The same could apply, in many contexts, to business and legal jargon – or to the specialized language of any domain, really. When I coach business owners and independent professionals about marketing, I notice that they are… Read more »

The Artful Recommendation Letter

I love to write recommendation letters. It’s an everyday application of my fascination with biography. On occasion I read reference letters that don’t do what they could to make an individual stand out from the pack. Two simple tips: Emphasize the distinct capabilities that the letter’s subject offers. People hiring for lower-level jobs may want… Read more »

When Content Thinks

“In just a few more years, the current homogenized ‘voice’ of business, the sound of mission statements and brochures, will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.” – The Cluetrain Manifesto It’s exciting to meet so many English majors at the Intelligent Content Conference 2011. Underneath all the… Read more »

15 Minutes of Fame: the Orphaned Pet Version

Need to find a new home for your pet? I frequently post to Facebook and Tweet about animal welfare issues (and about my own pets.) As a result, friends (and friends of friends) often write me to ask for advice about finding a new home for a pet. Here are some tips for doing this… Read more »

How Not To Work With Writers

Imagine a photographer taking executive portraits at a corporate site. The client asks: “What should I wear?” “Why can’t we take this photo on my surfboard? I think that will demonstrate that I’m a risk taker.” “We’ve changed our minds about the head shots. Can we do a couple of sessions to get candids on… Read more »