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

Guidelines for Writing E-Tail Category Content

by My Web Writers

Photo Courtesy of Geek Philosopher

As shoppers flock to stores for the holidays with their mobile phones, to buy everything from personal care products to electronics to even vehicles, consider the status of your product descriptions and category content.  When you update your e-stores, follow these guidelines for writing e-tail content.:

Inform Customers About the Details

Your first and greatest responsibility should be to inform readers about the e-tailer’s products. Take the time to read about the product you’ll be writing about. If possible, review it in person. Consider it as a potential customer would: what would you like to know? What stands out about the product? What is it made of? Where is it made?

Anticipate questions that customers would want answered, and then answer them. After you’ve written your content, read it aloud to someone. Ask her whether she feels your description adequately described the product. Is anything unclear? If so, address those issues.

Entertain

Your main goal in writing e-tail category content is to inform. But, you’ll also want to entertain. Let’s face it, most customers are more drawn to clever copy than to a dry recitation of facts. What is unique about the product? What is relevant about it today? Pull in those details and come up with a funny or intriguing “hook” that will make customers want to read further to learn more.  Category pages draw readers into the sales funnel of product level pages.  A sense of humor or smile that offers intriguing product uses or customer testimonials can build credibility and time on site.

Create Urgency

E-tailers are in business to sell. It’s great if your copy draws customers to the site, but the ultimate goal is for those customers to make a purchase. You can encourage purchases by writing content that creates a sense of urgency. You might mention multiple ways customers could use a product. You could mention that the product’s sale price is only valid for a limited time. Suggest that customers stock up by buying several of clearance items while they’re still available.

SEO Matters

Even if your writing is informative, entertaining, and creates a sense of urgency, you won’t reach many potential customers if you don’t employ good search engine optimization (SEO) principals.

There are many sites giving good information on how to optimize your content. But some basic ideas involve filling your copy with key words and phrases that potential customers would search for. In your content, link to other pages on the e-tailer’s site. Use popular keywords in your content’s titles and subtitles.

 Research

What if you utilize all these ideas, but your competition is still ranking higher than you in search engines or in sales? Research them! Look around their sites and take notes on what they do that seems to be effective. Try making a change or two on your own site and give it a few weeks to see whether those changes made a difference in traffic or sales. Then, try more ideas. Constantly be aware of what your competitors are doing, and use those ideas that will work for your site.

It’s not an easy environment to do business in. But by following a few basic rules, your e-tail company can achieve success.

~Susan

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Filed under Content, Descriptive Writing, E-Tail Category Content, Product Descriptions, Research Tips

Nab These Call to Action Verbs

By My Web Writers

Spice Up Your Meta Descriptions

After writing your fiftieth, meta description using the verbs “buy”, “look”, and “find”, you’re probably snoring.  Imagine how customers feel.  If just one of the below “vacation rentals” entries sparkled, it would capture a gold medal for creativity and extra site visits.

Capture Visitors with Enticing Action Verbs

Retailers lose income opportunities when potential customers ignore blah snippets.  Even a lower ranked snippet can capture additional clicks if its meta description and titles are alluring. Bookmark these engaging verbs for use in your web writing efforts.

Absorb Accept Acquire
Amaze Add Ask
Attract Bestow Borrow
Browse Charge Claim
Clean Click Clip
Collide Cook Copy
Create Deliver Design
Determine Discover Disrobe
Download Dream Drive
Earn Embark Empty
Engage Enroll Execute
Extract Fall Fatten
Visit Flirt Follow
Fondle Gallop Gamble
Gather Gobble Grab
Guess Hobble Hop
Hurdle Hurl Hustle
Inquire Jingle Juggle
Jump Learn Lease
Lie Listen Locate
Lose Move Nab
Obtain Park Peek
Polish Print Publish
Punt Push Query
Realize Redeem Refresh
Register Rent Sample
Save Search Seek
Shimmy Skip Slink
Smell Snap Sneak
Speak Steal Stomp
Store Swallow Trample
Uncover Unveil Watch
Wet Whisk Win

Shake up the use of verbs to capture more clicks and entertain your customers!

~Jean

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Filed under Content, Descriptive Writing, E-Tail Category Content, Persuasive Essay, Product Descriptions, Words Which Sell

Tell a Better Story: Tips and Tricks from Mark Twain

by My Web Writers

Mark Twain’s writing represents the hallmark of distinctly American literature in the late nineteenth century and also a shift in the writing techniques that constituted literary fiction at the time. Readers and non readers may recall fondly the image of Huckleberry Finn and Jim on a raft drifting down the Mississippi River in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) or Tom Sawyer’s appearance at his own funeral in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). These works, while some of the most famous, are hardly the nostalgic fare that these iconic scenes portray them to be. In fact, at the time of their writing, these works were considered quite innovative and continue to be a resource for writers even today.  Here are a few lessons to learn from the master for your own content development.

Dialog

Dialog is one of the most difficult components in fiction because it must sound like “real” speech without following the actual course of real speech. In daily life, conversations meander. Discussions go on tangents, return later to original topics and lots of comments about weather, current events, and appearance are stuck in along the way. Dialog in fiction must advance more quickly to the point. It must be intentional but not read that way. One method for writing dialog is to free write, allowing characters to talk and say any and everything they might to one another in a given situation. The writer must then return and revise by cutting out the majority of the text until only the essential remains. In Twain’s fiction, the dialog often runs counter what the reader knows to be true. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, two con men present themselves to Jim and Huck as a duke and prince. The dialog moves the men into the position of sharing the raft and soon Jim and Huck are calling them “Lord” and “Your Majesty”.

Dialect

Twain is considered a master of dialect and one who pioneered its use in literary fiction. While dialect is not necessary for all types of writing, it can be a useful tool when creating character and place. The contractions, odd spellings and strange pronunciations in Twain’s work have posed a challenge for some readers, and that is something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use it. But dialect also contributes to the sense of place and adds a flavor to the text. Likewise, Twain even uses dialect as a way to break up Huck’s voice and to introduce new perspectives.  Twain also uses a technique called eye dialect, where a word is misspelled, but still pronounced correctly—for example, “becuz” versus “because”—to delineate education.

 Show Don’t Tell

While Huck Finn, as the first person narrator, recounts his adventures in detail, effectively telling the story, the reader is constantly situated within the story through use of scene. Rather than dramatize all the events in the story, Twain glosses over travel scenes and dramatizes and slows down the scenes with the most action. Though Huck Finn is “telling” the story, the reader still experiences it. Details are one of the best ways to show not tell. When searching a wreck for supplies, rather than say, “we found a lot of gear,” Huck says, “We found boots, blankets, and clothes, and all sorts of other things, and a lot of books, and a spyglass, and three boxes of seegars.”

Situational Humor

Situational humor is often created in Twain’s work using dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows something that the characters do not. For example, when Huck and Jim’s raft is boarded by a king and a duke, who command the boy and the runaway slave to serve them in a variety of different ways, the reader quickly realizes that these supposed nobility are actually con men. At first, this knowledge creates a sense of danger, but as the storyline progresses, the behaviors of all the characters grow comical, specifically the fighting between the two con men. This type of humor is often more successful than jokes told in dialog or with a humorous tone. Remember, when dealing with humor, it is best to avoid clichés, and readers are more likely to be amused by scenes they can envision.

 Mark Twain continues to influence and inspire with his large volume of work. And these lessons only the scratch the surface of what can be learned from him. Probably the best advice he gives is to start out with a good story that will capture your readers’ imagination and then let these tips guide you along the way.

~Lindsey

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Content, Descriptive Writing, Narrative Writing, The Writing Process, Words Which Sell