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Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Writing Tip: Design your words

 

Writing Tip: Design your words

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: Design your worYou probably recognize good graphic design when you see it – even if you can’t explain it. Good design isn’t limited to images. It applies to writing, too. The way you arrange the words you write is important.

Good design is about aesthetics. It’s also about communication. Good graphic design helps tell a story. If it doesn’t do that, it hasn’t done its job – even if it’s aesthetically pleasing.

Words tell stories, too. And the way you arrange them on the page matters because good text layout helps your words tell your story more effectively.

The rules of typography are detailed and complex for those interested in exploring them in depth. But there are a few simple things you can do to help your words tell your story. Here are some of them:

  • White space is important. It keeps the text on the page from feeling too dense or heavy. Cramming too many words on a page makes your writing less readable. How much white space do you need? There are too many variables to cover here. But on a standard page, I like to leave margins of at least an inch on all sides. And leave a blank line between single-spaced paragraphs (bulleted lists are an exception).
  • Limit the fonts you use. Avoid the temptation to use all those fancy and unusual fonts available on your computer. Properly used, they can add zip to a document. Most of the time they just get in the way. A good rule of thumb: Limit yourself to one or two common fonts per document. If using two fonts, be consistent in how you use them: Sans serif font (like Arial) for headings, serif font (like Times New Roman) for body type, for example. If you want to use one of those unusual fonts, pick one that fits the message or mood you’re trying to convey.
  • Be consistent. Headings, subheads and other type elements should be consistent. They should help your readers understand what’s important, what goes together, how your story flows. Don’t use 14-point italics for one subhead and 12-point bold for another, for example.
  •  Limit the use of underlined, bold and italicized text. Underliningbold and italics are useful ways to emphasize certain words or phrases. They can’t do their job if you overuse them. Ditto for using different colors of type for emphasis.
  • Eliminate widows and orphans. In the world of typography, widows and orphans are lines and words stranded by themselves at the top or bottom of a page or a line at the end of a paragraph. Whenever possible, avoid leaving a single word by itself on a line at the end of a paragraph. And avoid stranding the first or last line of a paragraph by itself at the top or bottom of a page. Not always possible in electronic documents because line lengths and page breaks often aren’t under your control.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: No Sales Pitch

 

Storytelling Tip: No Sales Pitch

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: No Sales PitchSometimes the best sales pitch is no sales pitch.

We’ve all been subjected to the pressure tactics of a hard sales pitch at some time or another. Most of us have given in at least a time or two and bought what the arm twister was selling. And then regretted our decision.

But most of us are pretty good at turning away high-pressure salespeople. We turn them away because they turn us off.

As someone in the business world, you usually tell your story in hopes the rest of us will buy what you’re selling. Nothing wrong with that. If I’m in the market for what you sell, I want to hear what you have to say — as long as you don’t try too hard to “sell” me.

Several years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I started shopping early, several months before I planned to buy. And I made that clear right up front to all the salespeople I met with.

All but one of them heard me. They told me about the cars they had to offer. Let me test drive them. And said they’d love to hear from me when I was ready to buy. No arm twisting. No pressure. No “sales” pitch. But one guy wouldn’t let go. He made it sound like there wouldn’t be any cars left if I didn’t buy one today. And today’s deal wouldn’t be around if I didn’t drive home today in one of the cars on his lot. I had to make a decision today. Sell. Sell. Sell.

He did get me to make a decision that day: To eliminate him and his dealership from further consideration.

Tell your story. Make it relevant to your audience by telling us what you can do for us, why you have something interesting to say to us.

You want us to buy what you’re selling. That’s okay. Perfectly normal. Sometimes the best way to get us to do that is to skip the sales pitch.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

 

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?When it comes to telling your story, sometimes you know too much for your own good.

What’s the problem? When you know a lot, you may be tempted to include too much information in your story — to the point that the rest of us have trouble understanding what your story is. We can’t see your forest because of all the trees you’ve put in front of us.

I frequently warn clients not to let the facts get in the way of their story. I’m not suggesting they play fast and loose with the truth. I’m suggesting they avoid sharing so many facts that they forget to tell the rest of us a story we can understand and remember.

It’s easy to take something that’s simple and make it complicated. People do that all the time. And it’s really tempting to make your story complicated when you know too much. The temptation is to add all the exceptions and caveats to your generalizations. And to make just one more point in an effort to persuade us to buy what you’re selling.

It’s much harder to take something that’s complicated make it simple. And some people resist doing it. They equate simplifying your story with dumbing it down.

I’m not suggesting you dumb down your story. I am suggesting you simplify it.

Pare your message down to its essence. And craft it in a way that will attract our interest. Make sure we can see your “forest,” not just a collection of “trees.”

All those facts you want to share with us? Save them to share over time, once you know what part of your story we’re interested in exploring.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Write around it

 

Writing tip: Write around it

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Write around itWrite around it. It’s a useful concept I learned as a young reporter.

You find yourself on deadline. Have to turn in your story. And there’s a hole in it: A question you don’t know the answer to.

Do you guess? Not a good idea. You might guess wrong. And end up having to do a correction the next day. Doing that too often isn’t good for job security in a newsroom.

Whether you work in a newsroom or not, deadlines are a fact of life for most of us. And sometimes those deadlines come before we’re 100 percent ready to tell the story we’re telling that day.

Do you make something up? Guess? Fill the page with empty words designed to make it look like you have something worth saying when you don’t (remember those essay questions and term papers in school)? Lie?

Those are all bad alternatives. Sometimes the best you can do is write around it. Say what you have to stay while steering clear of something you don’t know or don’t want to discuss.

Let’s face it. Writing around an issue usually isn’t a great thing to do. And it isn’t something you want to do a lot. But, given the alternatives, it sometimes is the best choice you have.

So, do it when you have to. But don’t overdo it if you want to keep your credibility intact.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

 

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments okaySentence fragments. They’re okay. Occasionally. Just don’t overdo them.

We learned some things in school worth ignoring at times in the real world.

For example, we learned not to use sentence fragments. Good advice. Most of the time.

But short sentences and small words make your writing more readable. Easier to understand. And easier to remember. An occasional fragment can help, too.

We usually write in sentences. More likely to use fragments when we talk. Most of us are able to say what we mean when we talk. And make ourselves understood. But we clutter things up with bigger words and longer sentences when we write.

Formal language is important in some writing. Academic papers, for example.

But it’s usually not necessary when writing about your business. Talk on paper. The goal is to communicate. To make it as easy as possible for your audience to understand what you’re saying. And, you hope, buy what you’re selling.

Misspelled words and grammatical errors can kill your credibility. But you can ignore the rules of grammar. Sometimes. In fact, you should.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

 

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.Sometimes it paid to daydream in class. Because sometimes what your teachers were teaching wasn’t worth learning.

They taught you never to split an infinitive. Never to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Never to use contractions. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I’ve just introduced you to three of the Seven Nevers that appear in Writing with Style by John R. Trimble, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Texas.

The Seven Nevers are seven rules you learned in school that Trimble suggests — and I agree — are worth ignoring at least some of the time. Here’s the full list:

  • Never begin a sentence with “but” or “and.”
  • Never use contractions.
  • Never refer to the reader as you.
  • Never use the first-person pronoun I.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  • Never split an infinitive.
  • Never write a paragraph containing only one sentence.

So, if you were daydreaming when your teachers were teaching you to never do those things, you did yourself a favor. Because ignoring these seven nevers will make your writing more readable — and make your story easier to hear, understand and remember.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

 

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

KeyboardWhen I learned to type as a high school freshman, I learned to put two spaces after each period.

I stuck to this practice until this article changed my mind a couple years ago. Since then, I’ve been a one-space-after-periods guy.

When editing, I used to add a second space after each period if the writer didn’t. Now I delete the extra spaces of writers who use them.

Journalist Farhad Manjoo, author of the article that changed my mind about two spaces after periods, blames the practice on the manual typewriter.

“The problem with typewriters,” Manjoo says, “was that they used monospaced type — that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. . . . on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. . . . Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.”

“Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong,” Manjoo asserts. Until a couple years ago, I argued exactly the opposite.

I’m not ready to call two spaces after a period wrong. But I’ve switched to one. And it’s better.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

 

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?Commas don’t get always get a lot of respect. And I often urge clients to look for opportunities to turn them into periods.

But before you dismiss these misunderstood and abused little punctuation marks entirely, did you know there are Oxford and Harvard commas? And you almost certainly use one or the other of them when you write. So a little more respect, please.

You’re a Harvard-comma person if you write red, white and blue.

And you’re using Oxford commas if you write red, white, and blue.

The difference, if you didn’t pick up on it, is the choice of whether to skip the comma before the final item in the series (Harvard style) or put one in (Oxford style).

Oxford commas are also called serial commas. As far as I know that has nothing to do with any killer instincts. I hope not, anyway. Harvard commas are also called series commas.

In school, I learned to put that final comma in, Oxford-style — although we didn’t call it that. But in the world of journalism I became a Harvard man. The AP Stylebook says no comma before the final item in a series and most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook.

In fact, I’ve always thought of the difference as being a choice between AP Style and what everyone else does. That’s because most of the stylebooks I’m aware of favor the Oxford or serial comma.

Which one is correct? Which one should you use? It’s your choice. But be consistent. Use one or the other from beginning to end. Don’t switch back and forth.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

 

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.There’s nothing worse than coming in during the middle of a story. But sometimes that’s a good place to start when you’re putting your story together.

I’m not suggesting you start in the middle of your story when your audience is there to read or listen to it. That’s usually a bad idea.

But getting started is often the hardest part of putting your thoughts onto paper — or a computer screen.

Back in my days as a reporter, I often knew what the story was about. But it could take forever to come up with the right lead.

One way around that: Start by writing the middle of the story — the details of what you have to say. Then come back to the lead when the right one pops into your head. For me, that usually happens while the story is taking shape. But sometimes the lead is the last thing I write.

“Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.” I don’t know who first came up with that quote. But it’s often true when it comes to telling your story. Getting started can be the hardest part.

So, start in the middle — if you need to — when crafting your story. But start at the beginning when the rest of us are there to hear it.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

 

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.Do you rewrite what you’ve written? And then edit it? And then do some more editing. If not, you’re probably not telling your story as well as you could.

Here’s how Tom Coyne, who teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, put it in an article sent to me by a friend:

“Revision is what separates the pros from the part-timers. Non-writers have some imagination of a writer who sits at a typewriter, crossing out or adding a word every few pages, and finally writing The End and firing up a cigar. That’s a fiction no one will buy. Writers slog through draft after draft after draft after draft . . . being a real writer is more about being a real re-rewriter than anything else.”

Is writing hard? Here’s what Coyne says about that: “Of course it’s hard. It’s pounding your head on a granite countertop hard. It’s a soul-crushing, salvation-stealing, staring-into-the-abyss endeavor rife with rejection, self-loathing and unshakable self-doubt.”

Or, as the late journalist and screenwriter Gene Fowler once put it: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until beads of blood form on your forehead.”

Whether you’re writing your story yourself or have hired someone like me to write it for you, expect to go through some editing. Editing is a key part of writing.

And don’t be afraid to ask a professional writer you’ve hired to make changes. Sometimes people are reluctant to do that because they think they’ll hurt my feelings — or the feelings of whoever they’ve hired.

You’re not going to hurt my feelings. The goal is to get to the best version of your story. Editing and rewriting are part of that process. A good writer wants your feedback. If you’ve hired us, our job is to help you tell your story in a way that you’re happy with.

So, whether you do it yourself or hire someone else to write it for you, editing and rewriting are essential to getting to the best version of your story.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

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