Category Archives: Narrative 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

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

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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

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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