Mrs. Halverson taught my fourth grade class. I fell in love with writing that year. And I am pretty sure it was because of the way she made writing and story telling come alive.
When I think back to the lessons I learned that year, three stand out that remain just as relevant now for me and my work. And because so many of us must write, blog, communicate and create content, these three things are great reminders for almost all of us grown-ups (who know a lot but sometimes forget the basics we learned in the first place.)
So, next time you need to create content or write something, take some tips from Mrs. Halverson and do these three things:
Start with a topic sentence
When you use a topic sentence to start each paragraph, it helps you write the rest of the paragraph. Here’s how you do it: Pick the one idea you want to get across in that paragraph. And then summarize it. That becomes the topic sentence. It is most convenient as the first sentence. Like the CEO of the paragraph, the topic sentence sets the tone, the direction and tasks of the other sentences in the paragraph.
A topic sentence helps readers, too. A good topic sentence directs the focus of a paragraph and signals what’s coming. It prepares the people reading your work for the information the rest of the paragraph gives. That means readers don’t have to work as hard to grasp the meaning. Why? Because all of the thoughts in a paragraph relate to each other and flow coherently from the main thought that started it.
(By the way, both of the paragraphs above start with a clear topic sentence that makes one point. And the rest of the sentences support that point with additional detail. Easier to write. Easier to read!)
Nothing is simpler in writing English than using this construction: subject/verb. Grass grows. Children play. Sun rises.
Even with an object that says what the subject did to (or with or about) something, it’s still joyfully simple. I cut the grass. The children played outside. The sun rose today.
When you get tangled up in a sentence and don’t know how to make it better, break it into more than one sentence. Then start each one with a subject followed by a verb. I promise you that doing this will let you make your point. It will also let your readers understand your point.
Here’s an example (with a topic sentence)
Fear hides sometimes. We dread change. We avoid new things. We form habits. And we like routines. We prefer what we know. Fear lurks in the unknown. We don’t always admit our fears. But our fears govern us, nonetheless. Sometimes we know it. Other times we don’t. Things that stay in the shadows stay scary.
Make it fun
Kids write stories for fun. They use their imaginations. They dream up amazing characters. And they love to tell people about their ideas. Remember that? Part of what made me love writing in Mrs. Halverson’s class was that it was just so darn fun.
We can all choose to reclaim some of that joy. Shake off some of the weight about writing that’s piled on top of many of us. Create like you can’t wait to show somebody. And have some fun.
Here’s another post about what to do when you get stuck for ideas.
Let me know if these three lessons help. I blog and Tweet about creating good content, among other things. So if you liked this post, please follow me for more ideas. I’m on Twitter here.
In researching material for a project, I came across this wonderful video by Jason Silva about optimism.
It offers real inspiration about the influence we each have on our own path through life.
We can’t control what happens. But we can control how we deal with what happens.
What are you going to choose to do today? Or tomorrow?
As Jason says: “We have the capacity to turn our lives into a work of art. Why shouldn’t we?”
A recent post of mine offered clear, simple and powerful words to substitute for jargon. Some of the comments and people who shared the post on Twitter and other social media sites questioned whether replacing jargon with shorter, more straightforward words would dilute meaning or even undercut the credibility of a company’s message.
I disagreed. But, I figured I should back up that assertion with examples drawn from real life.
So I trawled real corporate press releases sent out last week. Quickly, I found several examples that crossed my eyes and muddled my brain. (And I spent more than a decade as a financial journalist.)
Below, I’ve reprinted snippets from eight of those media releases. In each case, I rewrote the wordy phrases and trimmed the jargon and extra stuff. I used active verbs and shorter sentences. Each example is different, but the concept is the same.
The idea is to show how to strip away unneeded or fuzzy words and distill meaning. And this isn’t relevant for just PR professionals. This habit is essential for bloggers or others who want people to share their posts, buy their services or products or do something else they urge. In today’s economy, that’s pretty much all of us.
If our audience has to spend much time figuring out what we mean, they will move on and we will lose out. Why make it hard for them? And that’s what the eight press releases had in common: it was harder than it should have been to get the message. Great content is easy to read.
Sentences from real press releases
In these eight examples, the original phrasing from the release appears first, in gray italics. Then my rewrite appears below that, in black.
I kept each rewrite to just one phrase or sentence. For some of the rewrites, adding another short sentence might have helped convey the meaning more precisely. Nonetheless, the rewrites are definitely clearer. And they are jargon-free.
You can judge for yourself whether you think anything gets diluted.
1. Original: “The website is now fully operational with the ecommerce functionality all set up.”
1. Rewritten: The company has launched its website.
2. Original: “We are continuing our efforts that we began last fiscal year to pursue patent infringers in an effort to monetize the value of our extensive patent portfolio.”
2. Rewritten: To protect our many patents and the income they bring, we pursue violators.
3. Original: “In the fourth quarter we paced our promotional activities to avoid the holiday season promotion clutters in the market.”
3. Rewritten: We ran holiday promotions earlier this year to increase their effectiveness.
4. Original: “The new company and its management team has invested a substantial amount of their time and effort in laying the groundwork for the company’s unique value proposition to its potential customer base while setting the stage for developing its brand of products.“
4. Rewritten: The new company is developing its marketing plan.
5. Original: “We believe the confusion associated with our warrant accounting has caused some potential investors to eschew the company due to the complexity of our earnings calculations.”
5. Rewritten: Investors want simpler accounting for our warrants.
6. Original: “The company’s customer-centric business model provides a strong value proposition to consumers.”
6. Rewritten: Customers like the company’s prices and service.
7. Original: “We are cognizant that we must address our debt situation and our pending line of credit maturity but we ultimately believe striving to improve our core business is a fundamental component of a solution for all parties in this regard.”
7. Rewritten: We will cut the company’s debt as we build business.
8. Original: “Questions may be poised* to management by participants on the call and in response the company may disclose additional material information.” (* yes, the release used the word poised instead of posed)
8. Rewritten: Executives will answer questions during the call.
Here’s another post about how to make writing clearer and more direct.
Two pointers to keep in mind whether you are writing or editing:
- Avoid phrases and prepositions wherever possible
- Use active, strong verbs
Often, legal or other executives will resist simple language. It’s as if they take comfort in the convoluted. If you find yourself feeling that pressure, show this list to the jargon-pushers. Ask them which version they’d rather read. They might be surprised. You might get more cooperation in your quest for clarity.
Like any habit, scouting for extra words and jargon that clutter writing takes practice. Yet, it is a skill that can be learned. And mastering it will help you sell, persuade, reach and prompt action.
If you liked this post, please follow me on Twitter and through this blog. I’d like to hear your comments, too.
The advice to avoid jargon in writing is age-old and common. But it’s also smart.
We send out press releases, blog posts or content aimed at audiences because we want people to actually read and grasp the information and act on it in some way. That can’t happen if they have to struggle, even a little bit, to understand the message.
Knowing we’re supposed to banish jargon is the easy part. Doing it, though, can be excruciatingly hard – especially when a deadline looms.
So, here are 15 of the worst culprits from corporate communication, in my view. These words and phrases should never appear in a press release, email or other tool used to convey information.
Here, too, are suggestions for replacements for each one. The substitutes are not exact synonyms, in many cases. But, they are simple and clear words that could work in place of the jargon. Next time you get stuck and can’t find a way around “mission-critical” just take out this list and try to swap that phrase with something clearer.
- leverage ➙ get, gain, use, pull, win, do, take
- utilize ➙ use, show, fill, take, apply, push, work
- end-user ➙ client, customer, audience, shopper, buyer
- synergy ➙ team, powerful, effective, stronger, more, together
- strategic ➙ smart, sharp, strong, vital, savvy, wise, clever
- best-practice ➙ successful, prime, proven, winning, tested, solid
- mission-critical ➙ main, big, major, central, chief, crucial
- win-win ➙ good, smart, strong, clear, sound, skillful
- value-added ➙ worthwhile, effective, better, helpful, ahead
- ideate ➙ create, think, craft, whir, plan, test, solve
- operationalize ➙ make, do, put, carry, finish, use, see, work
- scalable ➙ grow, expand, wide, more, big, spread, include
- champion ➙ support, push, press, sell, do, spread, lead, guide
- deliverables ➙ results, value, outcome, change, effect
- outside the box ➙ different, bold, striking, unique, brave, exciting
Let me know if these work for you. Also, if jargon isn’t tripping you up as much as writer’s block is, here’s another post to help you break free and get unstuck.