Tip of the Week: Forming Plurals; Bonus: The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

Saw a sign the other day for a fundraising “sausage and pancake’s” breakfast, and thought about how often plural words are confused with plural possessive words. The easy way to remember the difference is that plural words – unless they are plural possessive words – do not have an apostrophe. The apostrophe is only used for possessive words – plural or singular, or for contractions.

A “singular” is one, while a “plural” is more than one. Generally, to form a plural, add an “s.” There are some exceptions:

  •  To words ending in a consonant plus “y,” drop the “y” and add “ies.”
  •  To words ending in a consonant plus “o” or to words ending in “x,” “s,” “z,” “ch,” or “sh,” add “es.”

So, for example, “uncle” becomes “uncles“; “company” becomes “companies“; and “Jones” becomes “Joneses.”

  • You could have one uncle, or six uncles.
  • You could talk about one company, or eight companies.
  • Your friend could be Joe Jones, and his family would be the Joneses.

Note: There are a few words that change in the plural form, e.g., woman becomes women; man becomes men; child becomes children.

Did you notice that when you are making a plural word, you do not use an apostrophe?

Bonus: The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

  1. Read more. The eye recognizes words by their shapes. Have you ever looked at a word and said, “That just doesn’t look right”? Train your eye by reading more, so that it recognizes the shapes of correctly spelled words more readily.
  2. Develop a “hit list.” As you are reading, keep a pen and paper at your elbow. When you see a word that doesn’t look like it is correctly spelled, make a note of it to check out with the dictionary later. If the word is correctly spelled, put it on your “hit list.” You can also add unfamiliar words to your list.
  3. Obtain a pad of self-stick notes. There are usually about 20-25 sheets to a 2 ½” or 3” pad.
  4. Write the first word on your “hit list” on each sheet in your own handwriting. Work on just one word at a time.
  5. Post those individual sheets everywhere. On the mirror, by the coffee pot, on the front door, on the back door, on the refrigerator, and – well, you get the idea.
  6. Leave the sheets up for 24 to 48 hours, then remove them.

Follow these six steps, and the correct spelling is yours!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Test Yourself: Are You a Word Cognoscente?

A few weeks ago, you challenged yourself to pick out the grammar, spelling, and usage errors in a group of sample sentences. (Love a Challenge? Test  Yourself – Just for Fun) Thank you for your email – seems we struck a chord, and many of you enjoyed the challenge.

So let’s do it again! This time let’s take a look at words. For each of the following words, three possible answers are shown. Please select the best answer(s). Here goes:

  1. criticism

a. A negative comment or comments

b. A carefully thought out discussion of both the good and bad points of books, software, movies, and so forth

c. Disapproval of something, or someone

2. sanguine

a. Cheerful, optimistic, confident, hopeful

b. What the singer did, while drinking wine

c. Smart

3. apologist

a. Someone who says, “I’m sorry”

b. A NASA scientist

c. Someone who defends, supports, writes or speaks about something that is being criticized or attacked by someone else

4. decimate

a. A process used in mathematics

b. To destroy a large part

c. A way to classify books in the library

  1. egregious

a. Extremely bad, and readily noticed

b. A type of omelet

c. A skin rash

  1. spatial

a. A cooking utensil

b. Having to do with outer space

c. Something or someone unusual or different in a positive way

  1. clandestine

a. Something done in secret, or in a private place or way

b. A Scottish meeting

c. A future happening

  1. cognoscente

a. A type of Italian liqueur

b. A subject matter expert

c. An exotic perfume

 

ANSWER KEY

  1. criticism

a. A negative comment or comments

b. A carefully thought out discussion of both the good and bad points of books, software, movies, and so forth

c. Disapproval of something, or someone

 Answer: a., b., c.

While we tend to think of “criticism” as being always negative, or disapproving – and it generally is –  “criticism” can also be used, as in b., above, to mean nearly the opposite. So all three answers are correct.

  1. sanguine

a. Cheerful, optimistic, confident, hopeful

b. What the singer did, while drinking wine

c. Smart

Answer:  a.

“Sanguine” actually has a number of meanings, among them is consisting of, or relating to blood, as in bloodthirsty. It can also mean a ruddy complexion, or a blood-red color. First used in the 14th century, synonyms include bloody, homicidal, and murderous.

  1. apologist

a. Someone who says, “I’m sorry”

b. A NASA scientist

c. Someone who defends, supports, writes, or speaks about something that is being criticized or attacked by someone else

Answer: c.

  1. decimate

a. process used in mathematics

b. To destroy a large part

c. A way to classify books in the library

Answer: b.

“Decimate” comes from Latin meaning, “10th,” or “10,” and while it now is most often used to mean to destroy a large part of something, historically it was used to describe the process where every 10th man was selected by lot to be killed, or where a 10th part of something was destroyed. It was also used to mean to extract a tax of 10%.

  1. egregious

a. Extremely bad, and readily noticed

b. A type of omelet

c. A skin rash

Answer: a.

  1. spatial

a. A cooking utensil

b. Having to do with outer space

c. Something or someone unusual or different in a positive way

Answer: b.

“Spacial” is shown as a  “variant of spatial,” and each word has to do with the relationship of objects in space.

  1. clandestine

a. Something done in secret, or in a private place or way

b. A Scottish meeting

c. A future happening

Answer: a.

  1. cognoscente

a. A type of Italian liqueur

b. A subject matter expert

c. An exotic perfume

Answer: b.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this version of “test yourself,” and  – if you’re not already – are well on your way to being a “word cognoscente.”   What are your favorite words?   Let us hear from you.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving! I am very thankful this year to have loyal readers like you, and as always, look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and suggestions. Let me know how I can help you, and I will do my very best!

Here’s a quick Thanksgiving reminder: After you’ve enjoyed a wonderful holiday feast, please be sure not only to thank your hosts at the time, but to send a quick handwritten note afterwards as well, letting them know how much you enjoyed your time together. This definitely goes for parents or relatives as well as friends. Writing has a “weight” lacking in the spoken word, as important as the spoken word may be.

Please, do not make this thank you note generic. You can easily include things very specific to this occasion, such as compliments on a special dish (probably best to make sure it was prepared by your host or hostess, not purchased, or brought by another guest).

Or perhaps you will express appreciation for the décor, comment on how delightful the children were, how much you enjoyed the other guests, or refer to something particularly interesting that your host(s) may have mentioned, and that you have, or intend to, follow up on. This could be a recommended book, a movie, a sports figure to keep an eye on, a household tip, a “handyman how-to,” a recipe, a new restaurant to try, a new golf swing… Well, you get the idea.

If you are sincere about it (and that means you really will do something about it) you might even mention a specific future get-together. Put a note in your phone or datebook to make sure you do follow through.

For me, Thanksgiving is probably the most nostalgic holiday – the hustle and bustle of planning, shopping, cooking, and finally, most importantly – sitting down around the table with friends and family who mean so much to us.

You know how the little things you do for the first time can wind up being “family traditions”?

I think about going around the table, with each person – even the youngest – sharing what he or she is most grateful for, each year.

For the kids in the family, after dinner was the time to get away from adult conversation, and start thinking about what they were hoping Santa Claus would bring for Christmas. This led to elaborate, wonderfully decorated Christmas wish lists, to be posted on the back of the bathroom door on Friday.

Polishing the silver was always a “paid job,” resulting in a little extra for the children’s holiday gift-giving fund. But, truth to tell, the hand-made gifts have always been our favorites, and meant the most.

Oh, and I can’t forget making the bread or cornbread stuffing for the turkey. This was a tradition that even the very youngest kids could take part in – after their hands were scrubbed thoroughly! We sat around the table and tore the bread into bits to stuff the turkey the next morning.

Wonderful traditions. Everyone is older, and some of the earlier traditions are being replaced with the new. We use boxed stuffing mix now, but it is traditional for the same, now grown-up kid to make the stuffing in the microwave. New traditions continue with another grown-up kid always making the gravy. Another carving the turkey. Another makes the Thanksgiving table centerpiece. And so it goes.

Let us hear about your family’s traditions!

 

 

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Love a Challenge? Test Yourself – Just for Fun

Each of the following sentences has at least one grammatical, spelling, or usage error. See how many you can catch:

  1. Each of our employees needs to quickly review the company policy on checking personal email at their desk.
  1. To answer you’re question, having our Weekly Staff Meeting at 8:00 a.m. is not that much different than having it later in the day.
  1. Less sick days were taken this year than last, when over 1500 were used.
  1. Are you implying that Mary is not doing her job.Thats what she inferred!

Ready for the answers?

  1. Each of our employees needs to quickly review the company policy on checking personal email at their desk.
  • Each of our employees needs to do a quick review of the company policy on checking personal email at his or her desk.

Errors: (1) “Each” (singular) does not match “their” (plural). (2) “To quickly review” is a split infinitive. Don’t put anything between the “to” and the action word – in this case, “review.”

More Explanation: Who we’re talking about here is “Each.” “Of our employees” is a prepositional phrase explaining who “Each” is. Because “each” is singular, we would use “his or her desk.”

If we knew that all employees were male, we could say “his.” If all employees were female, we could say “her.” We could use “their” if we said, “All of our employees….” In this case, the correct sentence would read:

All of our employees need to do a quick review of the company policy on checking personal email at their desks.

While it is correct, putting “quickly” at the end of the sentence seems a bit contrived, and could easily be misunderstood. I would probably use a “workaround” and re-write the sentence. Something like (and note the change of tone here):

Take a quick look at the company policy on checking personal email at your desk before our 4:00 p.m. meeting today.

  1. To answer you’re question, having our Weekly Staff Meeting at 8:00 a.m. is not that much different than having it later in the day.
  • To answer your question, having our weekly staff meeting at 8:00 a.m. is not that much different from having it later in the day.

Errors:(1) “You’re” means you are. “Your” is possessive, and should be used here. (2)  “Weekly Staff Meeting” should not be capitalized, unless  “Weekly” starts the sentence. (3) Things are different from, not different than.

  1. Less sick days were taken this year than last, when over 1500 were used.
  • Fewer sick days were taken this year than last, when more than 1500 were used.

Errors:  (1) Use “fewer” when it is something you can count. Use “more than,” rather than  “over” when you’re talking about quantities. “Over,” means above, and describes where something or someone is located.

  1. Are you implying that Mary is not doing her job. Thats what she inferred!
  • Are you implying that Mary is not doing her job? That’s what she inferred.

Errors: (1) “job” should probably have a question mark after it, rather than a period if you really mean it as a question. (2) The customary one space should come after the period, and before “Thats.” (3) “That’s” should be spelled with the apostrophe, and means “that is.”

More Explanation: (1) Let’s take a look at two words: “imply,” and “infer.” “Imply” means something a person is indicating, whether he or she says it in the exact words or not. “Infer” means the way the listener, or reader “gets it,” whether it has been said in the exact words or not.

Just an interesting side note: Did you notice that what follows the colon in the first line of this paragraph (above) begins with a capitalized word, while in the first line of the paragraph just above, the colon was followed by a lower-case word? Why?

Because, if what follows a colon is a complete sentence, or a proper name, the first word after the colon is capitalized. If it is not a complete sentence – say, for example, a series of things – it is not capitalized.

So how did you do? Let me know how you enjoyed testing yourself.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Most likely, we can agree that the truth concept is essential. The logistical issue for those of us who write emails, reports, instructions, and the plethora of business writing that we do every day is:

How much truth can we tell? What is “the whole truth”? In all likelihood, we know far more about the subject then we have time, space, or willing readers to read everything we know. So it’s not a matter of holding things back with our writing, but rather a matter of how much our readers can read and absorb, and how much is necessary and appropriate.

What is the “whole truth”? Are we ethically bound to share every single thing we know about an issue with today’s “skim and skip” reader, and run the risk of his or her not reading much, if any of what we have said? So the question becomes, “How much is enough, and how much is too much, or too little?” And how do I know?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Consider your reader. Always a good starting point. Here are some things to think about:
  • How well educated your reader is in the matter under discussion will tell you how much, if any, backgrounding you will have to provide for him or for her.
  • How many of the details, such as who was, is, or will be involved; the timeline; the location; the “why”; or the ” how,” are all essential to your content. How much your reader already knows about these details will determine whether you may cover each of these points with a quick reference, or if not, the amount of detail required.
  • If you are writing about a contentious issue, it could be helpful to know which side your reader is on – whether he or she already has a bias, or a certain point of view. How influential is your reader, and with whom? This information will help you both with your content, and with your approach, as you determine how much should, or should not be added.
  • It may seem obvious, but also consider how much your reader is likely to read to determine how much to write. If you want the piece to be read, and you know your reader is a typical “skim and skip” reader, you will want to load the most important information – the “who-what-when-where-why-how” – into the first paragraph, so that in the likely event that is all he or she reads, or at least reads with full attention, you will have a reasonable chance of your reader “getting” at least most of what you want to say. As long as you use no more than five lines to do it.
  1. Consider your purpose for writing. Focus very tightly on the job this piece of writing needs to do. Should the way you have written this piece get the results you need?
  1. Now look at the type of piece you are writing. Are you writing a 27-page report when a short memo would be more effective? Email instructions when a quick training session with a “how to” handout could be more effective?

After considering these points, and the others that will come to your mind during the process, here are three more essential things to consider:

  1. Your reader’s need for the information
  1. Your reader’s use of the information
  1. Your purpose for writing

That’s it. The best, and easiest, way I know to determine “How much is enough, and how much is too much, or too little?” And how do I know?

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Slang, Regional Expressions, and All That Stuff

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slang, Regional Expressions, and All That Stuff

  • “John threw Mary under the bus.”
  • “At the end of the day…”
  • “You’re pulling my chain.”
  • “I couldn’t care less.”
  • “You’re messing with my mind.”
  • “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
  • “I’m mixed up.”

We could go on. Do these phrases seem familiar? Have you heard them lots of times? Now, pretend you are not a native English speaker, and from that point of view, how much sense do these common English-language phrases make?

“Slang,” my Merriam-Webster’s tells me means, “(1) language peculiar to a particular group”; and “(2) an informal nonstandard vocabulary….” Slang can be a lot of fun! Slang can make sense in a colorful way. Frequently it makes your point more effectively – except for the reader who is translating your words or phrases literally!

Slang can be regional phrases that make a lot of sense to someone who has heard these phrases over and over throughout his or her whole life. Yet for the reader who takes your words literally, they very well could have a totally different meaning from what was intended.

Did John really throw Mary under a bus? Were the police called? Is John in jail? Why did John throw Mary under the bus?

What’s a rodeo? Do you go to very many? How many?

And, are you really “mixed up”? What are you mixed up with? I’ve heard of people looking like they combed their hair with an eggbeater, but what were you mixed up by?

Well, you get the point. In the last example, if we want to use the phrase “mixed up,” we would have to add something like, “and I find it difficult to understand…” to help the reader understand what we’re talking about – thereby adding several more words. For brevity’s sake, as well as for clarity, why not just say, “I’m confused”?

Challenge yourself with a quick mind-expanding exercise you can do right now.

Go up to the list of slang words and phrases, and time yourself: How quickly can you think of a short, business-acceptable substitute for each of the phrases shown?

Notice, as you are working out the substitutions, it will be almost automatic to substitute a similar sort 0f phrase, e.g., “When all is said and done,” for “At the end of the day….”

The purpose of this quick exercise is (1) to recognize some of the common slang we all use that could cause serious communication issues for those who do not “speak the language” – whether they are native English speakers or not; and (2) to help you think quickly of words or phrases you can use to “translate” the thoughts these phrases express into appropriate words for the business situation – whether in writing, or in speaking.

Now, listen to the words and phrases used all around you every day. Identity the “slang” you hear. Clearly, when “they” said, “Write the way you speak,” this was not what “they” had in mind – at least not for the literal-minded reader.

Finally, how do you write to the “home office” when you work for a foreign-owned company? This question comes up frequently in class. The answer? Follow your office guidelines. In my experience, most foreign-owned organizations expect correct American English correspondence from their American offices. If not, they will tell you.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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How to Write Instructions that Work

Remember the last time you started to install, or assemble, or repair something, following the appropriate set of manufacturer’s instructions – only to find that, while they included steps 2, 5, 6-8, 10, and 12 – they had forgotten to include steps 1, 3-4, 9, and 11?

How did you feel about the person who wrote those instructions and what about the company the instructions came from?

The instructions you and I write on the job are usually somewhat simpler, and certainly different from the late Christmas Eve “special gift” assembly guidelines described above. But the writing process for creating a clear, effective instruction that allows your reader to get the job done is very similar.

To begin with, you must understand the process thoroughly yourself. If you do not, what do you have to do, or to learn, to be able to instruct your reader? Do it. Learn it. Simply watching someone else do it – even if you take careful notes – can create major problems for the writer, and potentially, foggy instruction for the reader.

Once you can work the process successfully every time yourself, you are ready to think about your reader. What should he or she be able to accomplish as a result of following your instructions? How much does he or she already know? Be careful here. Frustrations for the reader trying to follow our instructions frequently result because we assume that every reader will understand the vocabulary, and that the possibly missing steps are so obvious that we don’t need to include them.

Err on the side of including those “obvious” steps. Include a glossary of terms if there is any question that your reader could be unfamiliar with any of them. Show, and label every piece, every part you will be talking about. Show its location, as well as a close-up of the piece itself.

If you are writing a technical instruction, or technical manual, your company or client will probably ask you to use their format. If you are writing a simple instruction, perhaps to your co-workers, or for a largely non-technical audience, here is a useful writing structure.

Introduction:

  1. Do a “set up” paragraph. Tell the reader what this instruction will teach him or her to do, and why the reader needs to know how to do it. What is the ultimate outcome? This sort of strong, short explanation will work in most cases.
  1. List any parts, tools, software, or equipment that will be needed to accomplish the task.
  1. When appropriate, include necessary safety instructions.

Body:

  1. It’s probably easiest, both for the writer and for the reader, to use a list format to describe step-by-step, in detail, what the reader needs to do, how to do it, and the order he or she needs to do it in. Use pictures if, and where needed.

End:

  1. End on a positive, encouraging note! Assure your reader that by following these steps, he or she can easily, comfortably, and safely accomplish….

Now that you have completed your draft, review it for completeness, conciseness, and clarity. Is it absolutely correct? Have you used precise terminology? And finally, check for correct grammar, usage, and spelling – especially of those technical terms.

Next step: Do it yourself. Test it. Follow your written instructions exactly – as though you know nothing about it. Does it work?

Here’s an exercise we like to use in class that will be helpful. Ask someone who knows little or nothing about the process your instructions cover, to read and follow those instructions. Make any necessary adjustments, and you’re ready to go!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Six Easy Steps to Organize Your Writing – Fast!

Is there a quick and easy way to organize your business writing? Of course! Here’s how to do it.

We’ve talked about where the most important information should go – whether it should be in the first paragraph, or in the last. The answer: The most important piece of information, the point of the piece, generally goes in the first paragraph. Let the reader know up front what the piece is about, so that if the first paragraph is all he or she reads, the reader will know, at least in general terms, what the piece is about, and, more importantly, whether, or what he or she is supposed to do with this information.

Even if the reader does not read the last paragraph with 100% attention, it can be helpful to reinforce the message from paragraph 1 in the final paragraph. So there we go with the “book ends.” The first paragraph and the last paragraph will both contain the most important information. And then you just fill in the space in between.

While it may be about that easy, there is a bit more to it than that:

  1. To write and organize the first paragraph, decide (a) what you want to tell your reader in that first paragraph; and then (b) include who (who did the action); what (what the action was); when; where; why; and how. This usually will be about a sentence, sometimes two. Example:

We have outgrown our Center City facilities, and need your help to find a new location that will support our current production standards.

Note that the who-what-when-where-why-how information in your first paragraph can be organized in any order. Experiment with variations, and notice how this technique – called syntax – can strengthen your writing. The “why” is frequently a good place to start, although you will find that the majority of the sentences you read frequently start with the “who-what.”

  1. Also note that if you can say it all in that first paragraph – not more than five lines – quit. If you have included the who-what-when-where-why-how in sufficient detail in that five lines or less, that’s all you need. You can write less, and say more, saving both your and your reader’s time this way.
  1. Next, list in any random order as the thoughts occur to you, a word or two to remind you what you want to talk about in this piece.
  1. Now, to organize your content, put the same number (“1,” “2,” “3,” and so on) in front of each of the listed items on the same subject, so that all of the items with a “1” in front of them will be on the same subject, all those marked “2,” will be on the same subject, and so on. This organizes your information so that you know what information will go in each paragraph.
  1. To organize your paragraphs, now that you know what information will go in each, select an organizational pattern, such as procedural, most important first, time sequence, or natural flow from the first paragraph. Number each “paragraph group” to put them in order.
  1. You are organized! You’ve already written your lead paragraph, you know what content will go into each of the following paragraphs. And you know what order the paragraphs will be in. All you have to do now is just put it together.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Need a Good Headline? (part 2)

In this post, let’s pick up from last week with five more types of headlines, and some words or phrases you can use or adapt. If you need a headline for your company newsletter articles, website posts, white papers, sales sheets, catalogs, product descriptions, or PowerPoint presentations, just for a few examples, I hope these will be useful thought starters. It will help to review sections 1 through 6a from last week, and today we’ll start from there:

6b. The self-interest headline is always a good one. What makes this one work – or not – depends on how well you know your readers, and how well you address their needs or wants. Also critical is how well you match the benefits of your product or service to solving their problem, or getting them what they need, or want. For example: How to Write the Novel that Will Make You Rich Note that you could add a “time” element, e.g., “in just one week.” Or a “how” element, e.g., “with this amazing new system.” Or a qualifying element, e.g., “whether you’re an experienced writer, or have never written a word for publication.” Some of these thoughts could be added to the headline, or they could become subheads. Longer headlines will work, as long as they pile on appropriate benefits for your reader, addressing his or her specific needs or wants. Note, too, that headlines will be written and re-written many times to polish them just the way they should be. You won’t get it polished-perfect the first time. Try it.

 

Write your Self-Interest headline below: ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________

 

6c. You could try a headline that will “flag down the appropriate reader.” You don’t care if everyone in the company, or even in the whole world reads your headline (although it should be written so they could). You do care about those who have the issue you are solving.  That’s who you will appeal to. Again, know your reader. Who are you appealing to? For example: If You’re Having Trouble With the New XYZ Software, Here’s Help!  Notice that the reader you are “flagging down” is defined up front, and that it is virtually mandatory to add the benefit, or the “promise” in your headline, to grab the reader and move him or her into reading the information that follows. Be sure to deliver on the headline promise in that copy. Try it. Write your Flag Down the Reader headline below:

____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________

 

6d. A label headline is just that – a label, and is certainly appropriate to “label” a catalog item, or even the entire catalog. Or for the headline on an informational brochure or handout, among its many other uses. For example: 27 Ways Ajax Technologies Solves Your Technology Issues  Notice that while it is not always possible to put a benefit into a label headline (think “Things to Do at Crater Lake,” or “Jones Brothers Widgets”) it helps! Also, using numbers provides substance and credibility. Try it. Write your Label headline below:

____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________

 

6e. Try promising quick results. It’s likely no one you write to in the business situation wants to do anything that will eat up more of his or her time. So, for example: Cut Your Writing Time in Half! Try it. Write your Quick Results headline below: ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________

 

6f. Freestyle.

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Need a Good Headline?

Maybe you’ve been given the responsibility for producing a newsletter, or are writing a piece for your company’s newsletter, and need a headline for it.

Or maybe you’re writing a blogsite post. Or it could be a white paper. How about a sales sheet? A catalog item, or a Power Point presentation?

You may very well be writing any of a number of pieces on the job that require a headline. How do you come up with a “killer headline”?

Well, a “killer headline” admittedly takes great genius, and in some cases many weeks to come up with. But as for the rest of us, writing very good, and even excellent headlines relatively quickly is a skill that can be learned. And who knows – a “killer headline” may even sneak in from time to time!

Here’s how…

 

  1. Begin by thinking of the type of publication where this headline will appear: digital or print; commercial; in-house; company-specific; a sales piece (e.g., catalog item, sales sheet, sales letter); and the sort of subject matter it carries.
  1. Who is the most likely reader, and what is the problem you will solve for him or her? Remember you are writing to that person who needs to read what follows. What is most likely to catch his or her attention, and cause that reader to want to read more?
  1. Considering the reader and the type and “feel” of the publication, what is the most appropriate tone to use? Tone is the relationship the writer sets up, or reinforces, with the reader.

For some headlines, a play on words, or a humorous headline may work very well. For others, a simple “label” headline, clearly “labeling” what the piece is about, may be far more appropriate. Regular day-to-day business email subject lines often fall into this category. Think about the appropriateness of your headline, considering the tone and expectations of your organization, and “how we do things around here,” when writing for, and to, your organization, and its readers.

An email inviting employees to the company picnic, for example, will probably be a bit more light-hearted than, say, writing a “command performance” memo to employees to ensure their attendance at the annual meeting.

  1. Decide whether you are writing to inform (generally a “label” headline will be the safest, if not always the most interesting), or to persuade – frequently this involves “sales,” but not always.
  1. Next time you’re in the checkout line at the super market, read the headlines on the magazines displayed there. Do a bit of primary research. Make a note of which magazine headlines draw you in, the ones that make you want to learn more. What it is that makes those headlines “work”? No matter the subject of the headlines that appeal to you, most can still be adapted for your use.
  1. You’ll probably notice that many ideas will be floating around in your head, as you consider your headline while reading others. That’s good! You’ll get many of your headlines right there at the super market. Now, see if you can analyze your favorites by type, as you read the following “thought starters”:

a. Provocative headlines that generate curiosity. While this type of headline usually rates at, or near the top of the experts’ lists of favorite headlines, beware! This one is also arguably the toughest to make work, and may not be your best choice. It’s tough to write one that does not seem a bit amateurish, and perhaps a bit sophomoric as well. Not generally the right tone on the job.

A classic example of a provocative headline, still used in headline writing classes:

If a Fire Broke Out in Your Home Tonight, Could You Get Your Family Out in Time?

Take a minute right now, to draft a provocative headline for a piece you are writing:

_____________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________

And let’s leave it there for now. We’ll continue next week, with at least five more types of headlines, and a list of words and phrases you can use, or adapt.

See you then!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

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