Category Archives: Narrative Writing

How to Hook Readers without Swearing in Headlines

hookEverywhere you look, people are playing fast and loose with language—even on “family”-oriented sitcoms! Inappropriate language and cussing are becoming more and more commonplace, but that doesn’t mean they are in any way acceptable in articles or blogs. As writers, we should be able to use a wide array of language to catch the attention of the audience without cussing or using inappropriate language.  The headline is the part of the article that will make readers want to read—don’t waste that with poorly-chosen or inappropriate words. Here are some tips to catch readers’ attention without swearing.

Use clever wording to hook readers. Alliteration is always an amazing answer to your search for alternative wording! Alliteration, as demonstrated in the previous sentence, is the repetition of a letter (or sound) of words in a phrase, such as “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.” This requires you to flex your creative muscles in order to find the best words to use, but it also works as a great attention-getter in articles or blogs. Hooking readers with alliteration can also play throughout the article to keep hold of the attention of the readers and refer back to the title, making the article well-rounded and well-written.

Use an informative quote as your headline. Not only will this give readers a small insight into what your article is about, but it will show your readers that you’ve put in effort and done research as well as involving the community to produce a complete article. So many articles and blog posts these days are incomplete or poorly researched, so by showing readers that you put effort into writing because you enjoy it, it is likely that the work will shine through in the article and your readers will feel more engaged. Involving other members of the community also helps keep the attention of the readers, because they will be able to identify more with the article and it will be more important to the readers.

Reveal just a tidbit about your article. Paint a picture and reach out to the emotions of the readers. The goal of an article’s title is to pique the reader’s interest and reveal what will come in the article that will interest them. For example, if you’re writing a human interest piece about how the “downtown” portion of your city is taking shape, but it’s affecting pedestrians and bicyclists, try to portray the way in which the changes are affecting them. Try something such as, “Downtown Changes Mean Pedestrians and Cyclists Must Cross Paths.” The readers do not yet know whether crossing paths is a good thing or a bad thing, so they’ll keep reading to find out. The next challenge is keeping them interested paragraph after paragraph.

Use a question as a headline. “Will Changes to Downtown Spell Disaster for Small Businesses?” This asks a question that pertains to the community, the article, the readers, tugs at emotions, and may open up a new window of discussion. The audience will continue to read the article to find the answer, reasoning, and various expanded explanations as to why the question was brought to light. To ensure the undivided attention of the audience, use each paragraph for a different explanation or different reasoning before you answer the question at hand. Don’t overdo it, though, the reader will still want a quick, somewhat concise answer that won’t take them 45 minutes to sort out.

Overall, there are many ways to hook the attention of an audience without resorting to inappropriate language.  Alliteration, quotes, or questions and painting pictures for your readers to “pique and reveal” will create interest in your article.  Keep their attention throughout the article, which is the ultimate goal of any writer. PR Daily reminds us not to waste the space or take for granted the power that comes with a good headline because poorly-worded headlines are often simply skipped over by readers. Ask an editor to review your article to double-check that your headline works.

Get those creative juices flowing with the next article and write a strong headline to hook your readers! ~Hollyheadline

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Capturing Audience, Expository Writing, Introductions, Narrative Writing, Newsletters, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, Words Which Sell

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.

Leave a comment

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

Seven Ideas for Writing Better Email Newsletters

By My Web Writers

Billions of emails are sent every single day, and estimates from the Radicati Group show that in 2013, each user sends/receives more than 100 email messages daily with a majority of those – 78, they predict – coming into your inbox.

Once that email comes in, there’s no guarantee it’ll be read. According to mailchip.com statistics, email open rates vary among industries, peaking at 45.4% for food service and agriculture, and sinking down to 26.5% for vitamin supplements.

So how do you make your email newsletter stand out from all the rest?

Seven Tips for Writing Better Emails:

1 – Keep emails conversational. Sharing a story with a friend over coffee is much more enjoyable than watching a corporate PowerPoint presentation in a large conference room. Use that same approach to your email newsletter writing. Save the formal prose for your print newsletter and keep it casual online.

2 – K.I.S.S. You might remember this acronym from your grade school teacher: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart! Except in this case, you might want to change the “simple” to “short,” especially if you hit send frequently. The more you send, the shorter it should be.

3 – Drive traffic online. One way to keep your email newsletter short is to summarize your point one click away. It’s a great way to move customers to your website, which is a goal for many of us. A commonly accepted link-to-text ration is one hyperlink per 125 words.

4 – Know your goal. Want to gain awareness of your brand? Drive sales with click-throughs? Gain trust from your audience? Your desired end-result determines what you write. If writing isn’t your expertise, or if you just don’t have the time, find an expert writer.

5 – You think timing is everything? Think again. According to a post by email-marketing-reports.com, it really might not matter. Case in point: the author’s traditional every-other-Monday email was slated for a January 1 distribution if he kept to his regular schedule. He decided to keep it on that day just to see how big of a difference the distribution date makes. It was minimal. More important than timing, we believe, is consistency. Once a week on Tuesdays at 10 a.m., every day at 6:00 a.m., or the first of each month are all great examples.

6 – Know the rules. The CAN-SPAM Act was created in 2003 to protect consumers, and it carries hefty penalties for abusers – to the tune of $16,000 per email. Ouch! The Bureau of Consumer Protection has a nice summary of the rules and regulations if you need a refresher.

7 – If you’re an online store, share customer feedback – positive and negative – and provide your own commentary. This will give your customers insight into how you run your business, and create a trusting relationship between you and your (potential) customers.

What has and hasn’t worked for you in the past?

Leave your comments below.   ~Joanne


Other Posts:

How Gmail’s New Look will Change Email Marketing

Adding Content to their Website Increased Our Client’s Keyword Reach

Twenty-five Effective, Call-to-Action Phrases in E-commerce Content

Corporate Holiday Email Do’s and Don’ts

Five Considerations when Marketing to Women

3 Comments

Filed under Content, Content Marketing, Email Campaigns, Narrative Writing, Newsletters

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

3 Comments

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

1 Comment

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

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

8 Comments

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

Five Considerations When Marketing to Women

by My Web Writers

Women represent one of the largest buying forces in America’s economy both as individual buyers and as the chief purchasers in their households. Women also tend to be more vocal about products they like, and they often buy for others. This means that even products that are not specifically for women are often purchased by them. On average, women exchange gifts with other women more frequently than men exchange gifts with other men, and beyond this, many women serve as professional buyers for companies and organizations. With this kind of consumer on the loose, the savvy marketer will want to consider and address their specific needs and preferences. But a successful campaign will require more than pretty pink packaging and will need to take into account the fact that this demographic encompasses a variety of ages and lifestyles. There is certainly no one-size-fits-all marketing plan. However, here are a few tips on how to appeal to and respect female consumers.

1.      Create a Narrative for Women

Narrative is one of the many tools that successful brands like Starbucks, Nike and Dove use to connect with consumers on a level that goes beyond utility. Traditionally, these companies have paired quality products with carefully crafted consumer narratives. Where Starbucks represents an affordable luxury and an escape from the grind, Nike represents athletic prowess and maximum effort. In commercials and ad campaigns, consumers are invited to envision the best possible outcome of their interaction with the advertised product. This method can appeal to male and female consumers. Remember, part of advertising is helping the potential buyer to foresee the utility of the product, and a narrative is a packaged way of accomplishing this.

If you are new to the advertising world and need more examples, commercials are an easy place to identify a storyline. Once you have a better sense of the kinds of stories commercials tell, you can look more closely at online and print advertisements to see how well-placed graphics create a similar effect.

2.  Educate Both Female and Male Consumers

While women value emotional connections and often respond to products showcased using a narrative element, marketing cannot be successful without a quality product. Typically, women want well-made, practical items. So marketers will do well to educate consumers as to all the practical uses for their services or retail items. Don’t assume that everything about your product is intuitive; make the connections easy for your consumers. Furthermore, if you are marketing related products or products that can be purchased in a bundle, highlighting that information can result in additional sales. In this economy, women and men alike are looking to make their money go further.

3.      Market to Women Via Word Of Mouth

Women love to share bargains, brand names and favorite buys so it behooves the retailer to make the buying and return process as simple as possible, especially if the purchasing is done online. Women who have a positive buying, exchange and even return experience, and who find the product useful, will share this information with their friends. Allow your consumers to market for you by making it possible to “Like” your product on social media sites and by enabling on-site product reviews. Also, avoid tactics that take advantage of consumers such as hidden pricing that appears only at the time of sale and misrepresented bargains and ensure timely deliver. Negative information will get out via word-of-mouth and can reduce sales potential.

4.  Get Women Involved in Marketing and Purchasing Processes

Women often prefer to buy on recommendations from other women, and some companies have found that a woman sales force can increase revenue from the female demographic. Depending on your product, this may mean hiring additional female content writers or sales reps, seeking out women endorsements or simply involving women team members in product design and marketing if this is not already being done.

5.  Avoid Gender Marketing Stereotypes

While depictions of women in marketing ads have made great strides from the strict gender roles of the 1950’s, there are still plenty of opportunities to expand towards more realistic depictions. Remember, women do not whip into a frenzy at the mere sight of pink or the promise of easy weight loss solutions. They want more information to validate the claims made about a product before they buy. And at this point they’ve heard a lot of the bogus claims, seen the cheesy color schemes and the cliché-phrasing and it all has become one big turn-off. Remember, if your product is sold predominately online, women can easily compare it with your competitors.

Now, more than ever, women want efficient products that cater to their busy lives and that recognize and celebrate them as career-oriented, family-focused, and in general, people with a lot on their plates. Some are tired of browsing the bookstore in the “Men’s Interest” sections. Others want to be recognized and valued as caregivers, mentors, parents, or professionals. They want to see their diversity represented in age, race and body type. Within these categories and many others are opportunities for marketers to better reach this distinct group of consumers.

~Lindsey

1 Comment

Filed under Business Strategy, Content, Content Marketing, Customer Profile, Email Campaigns, Marketing, Narrative Writing, Women Writers, ZMOT