7 Ways to Avoid Writing Missteps that Drive Editors Crazy

The writer–editor relationship can be fabulous, and it can be fragile.

In my career, I’ve worked from behind a variety of writers’ desks — from a corporate communications and marketing professional to a journalist and magazine editor. I’ve had the benefit of receiving guidance from superb editors, but I’ve also felt the strain as an editor of providing feedback to writers whose work was sloppy and tenuous. The sad part is I don’t think all who turned in sloppy work were bad writers. They just didn’t take the time to focus on the details.

Editing other people’s work is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your own. Is my introduction lackluster? Was I too lazy to fact check? Did I actually use spell check? Does the end of my article drop off like a cliff because I was racing to meet a deadline?

As an editor, those things drove me crazy. Each writer has his or her own style, strengths and level of creativity. But, when we neglect those basic things, your editor may just be pulling her hair out or screaming at his computer screen.

Some of these may seem basic. That’s the point. Start with the basics and let your talent shine through. Your editor will love you for it.

7 Tips for Living Peacefully with Even the Most Demanding Editor

  1. Fact check. Fact check. Fact check. I have no idea how writers and editors accomplished anything on a deadline before the internet, but Google search is my best friend. When I was writing for a health care magazine and my source mentioned a mentor at Johns Hopkins University, guess how I checked the spelling of that mentor’s name (and of Johns Hopkins)? This also goes for trademarks, registered marks and any other proprietary designations that may apply to the products or services you’re writing about.
  2. Research is for more than academic papers. Cite your sources. If you say 50 percent of Americans have blah, blah, blah… Prove it. It makes your argument stronger. Microsoft Word makes it easy to use their built-in tools to cite sources based on the style guide you choose to follow. [Check out our blog on Style Guides and why you need one.] Don’t be lazy and make your editor track down this information.
  3. Spell check or bust. This is such a no-brainer and so basic, yet I can’t tell you how many times I received articles with misspelled words. Also pay attention to homophones — like there, their, they’re — that spell check won’t catch. It shows you have an eye for detail, which editors appreciate.
  4. Give your lede some love. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an article, blog or social media post, a strong leading idea is crucial. It’s what makes readers read on, click through and want to learn more. It’s also critical that the lede pays off in the copy. Be sure to connect the dots.
  5. Consistency is critical. Double check your tone, writing style, headlines, subheads, anything where your overall message should be the same. Being consistent in your copy is critical to communicating a clear message.
  6. Be a ruthless self-editor. I’m guilty of writing long and growing attached to a well-crafted turn of phrase. Yeah, they sound nice, but do they serve a purpose? Ask yourself, what is the main idea/purpose of this piece? Cut any copy that doesn’t support that main idea. Also look for superfluous words or phrases that are self-serving. At WordsFresh, we call it “cutting the flab.”
  7. Come to a conclusion. Unlike movies, good business writing doesn’t end with a cliff-hanger. Sum up your copy, tie back to the intro and leave your readers being glad they read until the end.

Thinking, and writing, like an editor can make your copy more precise and impactful. Isn’t that what we all want? And, it’ll improve your relationship with your editor in the process.

Need a good editor? Contact us.

FeaturedWordsFresh Named GLI Very Small Business of the Year

The writers of WordsFresh were nearly at a loss for words on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 when WordsFresh was named the Very Small Business of the Year at the 2018 GLI Inc.credible Awards.

The Greater Louisville Inc. Inc.credible Awards recognize the best small businesses in the Greater Louisville area. The criteria for Very Small Business of the Year is a company of fewer than nine employees that exemplifies both business and civic leadership in the areas of community involvement, management practices and overall financial performance.

WordsFresh is the only writing agency in the Louisville region and one of the few offering writing services in the United States. We help other businesses and organizations persuade, inspire and educate audiences through a variety of communications—from marketing campaigns to technical reports to internal communications.

“We believe when you start with words you develop communications that are strategic, precise, on-target, compelling and authentic. These are what any business needs to be successful,” said Mary Pat Nimon, WordsFresh president and message strategist, when accepting the award.

Nimon also recognized her award-winning team of writers and WordsFresh’s awesome clients. “We have so much gratitude for our clients, big and small, and all the opportunities you give us to get better every day,” she said. WordsFresh writes for some of the most respected brands in the country, including Little Brownie Bakers, a division of the Kellogg Company, GE Appliances, Schott North America, University of Louisville, ADP and Switcher Studio.

The WordsFresh team works from three core beliefs: 1. We believe great writing supercharges all communications. 2. We believe it’s noble work to help grow the companies and organizations that make a difference. 3. We believe helping others succeed is a splendid way to live.

This year marked the 18th annual GLI Inc.credible Awards. The event, held at the Kentucky Center for the Arts and presented by Citizens Union Bank, hosted more than 300 guests.

Looking for an award-winning writer to help with your next communications project? Contact us to see if WordsFresh is a good fit for your business.

 

7 tips for writing headlines that maximize your 15 seconds

As writers, we often value the “meat” of our copy or the creativity we used to get there. Sometimes, we treat the headline as an afterthought, the pre-stick bow we slap on an otherwise beautifully wrapped package.

The truth is, no matter how much we strategize, brainstorm, research, edit, re-edit and, simply, pound the keyboard, often our copy goes unread. In a study published in Time, Chartbeat found that 55 percent of web visitors spent less than 15 seconds on a page.

What do readers look at in those 15 seconds? Headlines.

According to a survey by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only four in 10 Americans read beyond headlines for a deeper understanding of news. That means, in general, 60 percent of Americans are simply skimming headlines to consume their news.

The same is reflected in social media, where Forbes reported that 59 percent of article links are shared without ever being read.

What does this mean for us as writers? Our headlines, and subheads, may just be the most important thing we write. They have to have substance, and they have to make an impression, meaning they have to be creative enough to stick with your reader.

Here are seven tips for writing headlines that maximize your 15 seconds of exposure:

1. Consider your medium.

Writing a headline for a magazine article is very different from writing for a webpage or blog post. For example, I wrote the headline – By the Letter – for a nursing magazine a few years ago. By itself, it’s clever, but it doesn’t give the reader any information. It would never have worked as a standalone headline for a blog, but it worked in the magazine because I used the kicker/intro to explain who and what the article was about.

2. Identify your target audience.

Just like anything else you would write, knowing your audience is critical to understanding what will connect with them. Why should your audience care about what you are writing? That’s what your headline should speak to.

3. Check your brand voice and tone.

Again, the same rules as most writing apply. Be sure you are in tune with the company’s brand voice and align your tone with your objective and your audience. Is humor appropriate? What about industry jargon?

4. Focus on clarity first.

The clarity versus creativity debate is a big one, especially when you have precious few characters to get your point across in a headline. At WordsFresh, we believe a headline can be both clear and creative. But, I’m advocating for clarity first. If you have only seconds to get your readers’ attention, you don’t have time to be vague, suggestive or creative for creativity’s sake. What is the one message your readers need to take away?

5. Inject creativity, but be discerning.

Creativity is the hook that may just extend your 15 seconds, get a reader to share your link or make an impression that lingers. The key is to be discerning. We call it “cutting the flab.” Don’t just add adjectives or fluff to generate flowery language. Ignore the clichés and choose crisp, active words that spark interest or engagement.

6. If all else fails, approach it like a tweet.

I am a long-form writer. I like lots of room to breathe and build my case. The Twitter revolution initially gave me hives. But I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of Twitter and social media as great practice for writing short, direct messages. If you’re having trouble writing a headline, think of it as a tweet. How would you reduce the context of this article for Twitter? The caveat is your headline should be even shorter than 140 characters, but it’s a good exercise to get you thinking small.

7. Be consistent.

Don’t just exert all your creative muscles on the headline. If your piece has subheads, give them just as much attention as the headline and make sure their tone and style match. Subheads are your secondary source for precise message delivery.

Need help with a headline? WordsFresh does that. Contact us to get started.

Watch Your Tone: How to write content that connects with your audience

At WordsFresh, we’re big fans of Merriam-Webster’s digital presence. I know, as self-proclaimed “word nerds,” it’s no surprise that we follow the social media accounts of a dictionary. But this is one brand that has done an excellent job of reinventing themselves to target a generation of Twitter users who live by spell check and Wikipedia and probably have never even cracked a hard copy reference book.

What’s Merriam-Webster’s secret? They have made themselves relevant again by creating a brand voice and tone on their digital channels that resonate with millennials as well as dictionary users of old. They have created a fresh impression with a tone that is fun, witty, playful and sometimes irreverent. It’s exactly the kind of thing that entertains people on social media.

On the flip side, I recently read a blog post that had multiple personality disorder. Conversational, edgy, academic, it was trying too hard to be multiple things to multiple audiences.

What’s the Difference between Tone and Brand Voice?

It’s important to note that brand voice and tone are two different things. Your brand voice is your brand’s personality. It represents who you are as a company or organization. Think of it like Jiminy Cricket: It should be standing on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, informing all your company’s communications.

Your tone should be an extension of your brand voice but is different in that it can change based on the audience, situation or channel. It’s more of an attitude. Do you want to be playful? Is it more important to sound knowledgeable? Do you want to be upbeat or are you looking for an edge? Your tone can accomplish this.

Determining Your Tone

One of the most important questions to ask as you sit down to write anything for your business communications is “Who is your target audience?” Once you identify your target, the tone of your writing should be geared to connect with that audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a blog post, a tweet, a brochure or a sales presentation. If you don’t have the right personality and attitude for the project at hand, you’re not going to meet your goals.

For example, if you’re writing a whitepaper for a pharmaceutical company, using contractions and colloquialisms might come off as too casual and uninformed.

On the other hand, if you’re writing Facebook posts for a product targeting tween girls, you probably want to be playful, and maybe even a bit sassy.

If you’re unsure what the appropriate tone is for your audience, take a minute to study some of your favorite brands on social media. Ask yourself: Who is their target audience? What is their tone? Why do I like their brand messaging? These questions are typically easy to answer when a brand has a clear voice and tone.

In addition to knowing your audience, it’s important to identify your goals. What is the purpose of your communication? Is it meant to sell a product, educate a consumer or grow your followers? What action do you want your audience to take? Your tone has a role in this too.

For Maximum Impact, Be Single-Minded

Finally, while your tone can vary across communications, in a single communication, you should pick a tone and stick with it. No matter how good a writer you are, research shows readers’ attention spans are often mere seconds. (If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, you’re probably in the minority.) Choose your tone wisely and see it through. Your audience will respond accordingly.

Need help crafting the right tone to connect with your audience? WordsFresh can help. Contact us today.