Category Archives: Descriptive Writing

Nothing Fits “All of Your Needs”

The phrase appears everywhere.  Our service or products will fit “all of your needs.”  Wow!  This is it.  I’ve hit the Holy Grail.  ALL of my needs.  Where do I sign up??  I need a new wardrobe.  I need someone to wash my dog.  I need more time to watch Shark Tank Tuesdays.  I need a vacation.  And on and on…

The reality is, nothing fits “all of your needs.”  Not any one person, company, or product.  A search of Google yields about 121,000,000 results for “all of your needs.”  That large a number says that there are a lot of people and businesses that believe they can do it all.  (Humorous sidetrack:  the number one search result on Google for “all of your needs” returns a link to a Bible passage from Philippians 4:19 that says, “And my God will meet all your needs.” Score one for the big guy.)

Delete trite phrases

Delete trite phrases

One of the lessons that should be taught to content writers during their Marketing 101 course is to avoid using the phrase “all of your needs” in copy.  Forever.  In fact, there should be a law against using such a trite phrase that’s guaranteed to underdeliver.  Besides “all of your needs,” the Harvard Business Review released their own Bizspeak Blacklist of overused word phrases that display an absence of actual thought.  Some offenders:

  • Think outside the box

  • Mission-critical

  • Hit the ground running

  • Push the envelope

  • Value-added

  • Level the playing field

SHIFT Communications took overuse of a trite phrase one step further and sampled 62,768 press releases from 2013.  Their goal was to find the top 50 most overused words marketers penned in press releases.  Do you use (or overuse) any of these:  new, first, most, leading, best, great, largest, better, special, or better?  If so, you are not alone.  They made the 50 most overused words in press releases list for 2013 along with mobile, professional, current, real, and top.

4 Steps To Avoid Trite Marketing Phrases

  1. Describe what makes your item or service unique from others like it.  This is your chance to take a 30-second elevator pitch and translate into a few short sentences.  Some items to cover in your written description may include a guarantee, something that will be fixed, benefits when used, and specialties that will stand out from the crowd.

  1. Wrap your product around words that trip the senses.  Effective copy crafts words that make the reader believe they cannot possibly live without the product or service.  Paint a word picture that appeals to one or more of the five senses.  Create a sensory experience with words that let’s the reader see a vision, remember a smell, or desire to touch.  For inspiration, click on a few of the products from one of the best eCommerce brands today that knows how to appeal to the senses.  The Duluth Trading Company uses humor through the words on their t-shirt product descriptions.  One solves the problem of confronting the unsightly shock of happening upon someone with a much-feared “Plumbers Butt.”

  1. Share a true story or testimonial.  For marketers, nothing is better than word-of-mouth referrals where one customer sells another on a product or service.  BazaarVoice, a leader in gathering product or service reviews, reports that items with positive feedback convert 12.5% better than those without.  Let the praises of your customers sing for others and add their words in a quote format to your marketing copy.

  1. Appeal to the imagination.  The art of poetry is lost.  Bring wordsmithing back with words that evoke images for your products or services.  Words to Use is a website that can help remove writer’s block and find the right words about anything.  Can you describe a rose?

While you won’t be able to entirely eliminate trite phrases from your writing, editing with a mind toward using words with sizzle will bring your marketing prose to the next level.

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Content, Descriptive Writing, Narrative Writing, Revising & Proofreading, The Writing Process, Words Which Sell, Writer's Block

Are You Too Lazy to Write Better?

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Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver

Perhaps the biggest myth about writing is that if you’re good at it, it comes easily. People like the idea that a great writer is an inspired genius and the words just flow. Anyone who writes, however, knows that writing is hard work and getting better at writing can take a lot of time, energy, and maybe sweat and tears. If you find that your writing is in a rut or you’re struggling to improve your work, you may be the biggest obstacle in your way. Are you too lazy to write better?

Writing is Revising

Writing well means getting comfortable with the red pen or the backspace key. If you’re not revising your work heavily, you’re probably not getting much better. If you find that you’re getting sloppy with your grammar or style, give yourself a refresher to re-tune your revising practices. Pick up a grammar workbook and test yourself on punctuation and syntax. Read a style manual, such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to remind yourself of good writing rules. Then, go over your work with a fine-toothed comb. For example, Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method is a great revision method for precise writing. If you’re still struggling, find accountability and help in a writer’s circle or a writing partner. Another set of eyes can help you spot trouble areas and give you new ideas. Plus, having someone else’s feedback can help push you to work harder.

Finding the Focus

We all know what it looks like: you sit down to write and before you even open Word you find yourself on Facebook, Pinterest, and CNN all at once. In our highly-connected culture, laziness can sometimes masquerade as busyness. It’s way easier to browse the internet for hours than it is to sit down and focus on your work. Push yourself to set aside a certain distraction-free window or amount of time each day to dedicate solely to writing. A little discipline can revolutionize your writing by giving you mental clarity and freeing up energy for creativity. If you’re having trouble focusing, even when you set aside time just for writing, you might be interested in The Huffington Post’s tips on How-to Focus. Although you’ll definitely want to log-off email and social media while you’re writing, there are ways that your devices can work for you. For example, use add-ons like Google Chrome Stay Focused to limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites each day. Or, the silly site Written? Kitten! rewards you with an adorable kitten once you hit a set wordcount. Learning how to turn-off the distractions can help you free up time to work and get you out of lazy habits.

Staying well-read

Improving you writing might mean improving your reading. The conventional wisdom is that great writers are great readers. Keep abreast of what’s going on in the culture, so you can tap into the pulse and make your writing relevant. In addition to keeping well-informed, make time to read what other writers are writing. Good writers learn from each other. Spend some time reading good books and reading up on what books are garnering critical acclaim or popular attention. Lists such as the New York Times Bestsellers or NPR’s Best Books of 2013 can help you get a sense of what to read. As you read, keep a journal of writing trends, types of images, phrases you love, or techniques to try. While you don’t want to just copy other writers, experimenting with other writing ideas can inspire your own innovations and help your writing grow.

Endurance: Pushing for improvement

Just like with sports, dance, or learning to play an instrument, practice is the key to getting better at writing. If you’ve been working at it for awhile, you might hit a plateau and feel like your progress is stalling. Or, unlike with a workout or diet, it could be hard to see the improvements you’ve made. Take the time to reflect on your work in a writing journal or by rereading your older writing. Create a space to celebrate your progress, but keep pushing yourself. Endurance and the discipline to push harder is the only real way to get better at anything.

More Posts:

The Queen of Fluff Writing. Stop Her Reign Today

What Every Writer Should Remember from Freshman English

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

Writers—Organize Yourselves! Tools and Tips for Productivity

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Content, Descriptive Writing, Expository Writing, Revising & Proofreading, Web Writers, Writing Careers

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

By My Web Writers

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

As a recent college graduate I have learned the specific art of writing an academic paper. Now that I have graduated there are some rules I need to learn how to break. I know I can’t forget my spelling and grammar rules no matter what I write. There are a few rules about my style that needed to change, though. Here are the top 10 rules that I have had to forget.

1.  Big Words. In academic papers using larger words was encouraged. They were a way to show off my knowledge. This is not the case in more informal writing. Now, I need to use the clearest words I can.

2.  Long Papers. Instead of writing pages on end to reach my point I need to be more concise. When I search the Internet I am looking for quick answers to my questions. I skip past articles that don’t answer my questions in the first few sentences.

3.  Long Paragraphs. There was a time where I was quite proud of my well-constructed, page-long paragraphs. Now I realize that no one wants to wade through that much support for my points. Now I just get to my point and then I move on.

4.  “You” and “I”. Formal papers never use the words you or I because it is a direct connection between the reader and author. Informal writing stresses that connection to the audience. You can’t create a connection to someone if you don’t talk to them directly.

5.  Contractions. This is a rule that I am grateful to break. Writing out contractions has always sounded too stiff to me. Contractions are everywhere in speech and now my writing can reflect that. Related to contractions I am now free to use shortened forms of words instead of feeling forced to write out the entire word.

6.   Passive Voice. This is another rule that I am grateful to break; I have no reason to use the passive voice. The passive voice only creates overly complicated sentences which increases the likelihood of misunderstandings.

7.   Conjunctions. The classic English rule that a sentence can’t start with a conjunction (and, but, or) is largely ignored in most writing. It is still seen as slightly unprofessional, but it is a great way to get a point across.

8.   Slang. In formal writing it was frowned upon to use clichés or slang terms. Now, that I have graduated I am free to use whichever terms will help me get my point across.

9.   Emotion. I am no longer restricted by having to remain objective. I am allowed to connect with my readers and show my empathy and emotions for them.

10.  Headings. In writing my school papers I often wrote headlines and sub-headlines to keep myself organized by they rarely made it into my final draft. Now that I’m writing online I use headlines frequently to emphasize my main points. Headlines and sub-headlines tell my readers the main points I’m trying to get across.

Writing for teachers and professors has helped me hone my writing skills. Most importantly I have developed good spelling and grammar skills. There are still some elements of my style that I have had to throw out the window if I expect people to read my writing online. What parts of formal writing have you forgotten, or ignored, now that you’re writing for the web?

~Megan

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Capturing Audience, Descriptive Writing, Editors, Education Strategy, Narrative Writing, Resumes, Revising & Proofreading, Web Writers, Writing Careers

Famous Dead Authors’ Secrets for Writing Success

By Sara, My Web Writers Intern

It has been said that writers are born, not made. Some take that to mean that you are either born with talent, or you may as well not try. That’s probably bunk. If writers are born, they are born out of the sweat and tears of determination and practice. Whether you are drumming up SEO content or working on the next great American novel, writing well and employing the habits of effective writing are essential.

First, it’s important to practice.

Practice keeps you in the habit of writing and thinking about writing. Nineteenth century author C.S. Lewis, most famous for The Chronicles of Narnia, says that “what you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write… so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on.”

Another prolific writer, recently deceased Saul Bellow, observed that “somewhere in his journals Dostoyevsky remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace thing, scratch around in it long enough, pray and dig away long enough, and lo! soon he will hit upon the marvelous.” When you practice the craft of writing and pay diligence to it, you grow. Even if you write tweets for a business firm, you are bound to come up with more unique, interesting, and creative content when you practice. Imagine an athlete who only played her sport at game time — she wouldn’t be good at it and would not be long rewarded for her “efforts.” So practice, practice, practice. Start now. Call it writers’ Spring Training.

Having some “filler” in your drafts is o.k.

It’s certainly tempting for any writer to stop when we have so-called “writer’s block.” Larry Gelbart, though, says “don’t stop.” He wants us to put something there and keep moving. Recently I wrote an article on decade themed parties and decided to employ Gelbart’s advice. I could have stopped and stared at the computer screen when I was stumped on what to write about a 1970s party that wouldn’t be a tired cliché. Instead, I wrote, “too much Footloose not enough Studio 54,” and moved on to the 1980s. Later, while editing and revising, I realized Footloose wasn’t even set in the ’70s, but I understood where my mind was headed. If I had tried to flush that out in the first draft, I’d still be writing it. Listen to Larry. Use filler and keep writing.

Beware of clichés.

“Beware of clichés…. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought — even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.”

-Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer is not dead (here is his website), but this advice was too good not to share. Clichés are death to all that is interesting. I can’t say that clichés are never ok, because writing, like most art, only deals in absolutes for the strict business of breaking them. That being said, clichés are never ok. “It goes without saying” that the “early bird catches the worm” and “curiosity killed the cat” so a true “jack of all trades” would never to “keep up with Joneses” by recycling tired clichés.

If it goes without saying, then please, please, just don’t say it.

Ctrl-F and Delete those Adjectives

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

-Anton Chekhov

Adjectives are not the enemy here (Hint: its clichés). Adjectives can be a crutch, though. I recently read an article about a mama raccoon saving her litter of baby raccoons during a bout of bad weather. It passed through my twitter feed with the phrase, “mother raccoon shields her litter on turnpike from cold,” so of course I read it. I read it and said “awwww… how heartwarming and precious!” If the tweet had falling back on adjective addiction, I probably wouldn’t have clicked on the link following “Heartwarming and precious tale of courage.”

“Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘please, will you do the job for me?'”

-C.S. Lewis

Reflect on What You Wrote

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell claims that a “scrupulous writer” will constantly, even after every sentence (so definitely before sending that tweet), ask him or herself four questions. I leave you with those four questions to take back to your own stack of papers and document files (and practice!):

What am I trying to say?

  1. What words will express it?
  2. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  3. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

Other Articles from My Web Writers:

Tweet for ReTweets- Twitter Tips

My Favorite Writer and Online Marketing Websites and Blogs

What Stephen Covey Knew about Marketing

Tell a Better Story: Tips and Tricks from Mark Twain

Overcoming the Beautiful Little Fool

Annual Essay Contests You Shouldn’t Miss

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Conclusions, Descriptive Writing, Expository Writing, Narrative Writing, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, The Writing Process, Web Writers, Writer's Block