Smarten up your text with real verbs

Too many businesses use nouns to describe an action. That makes your message harder to read. Here’s how to fix that.

Speaking in plain English is never dumb. In a previous post, I shared a list of words that can be simplified without dumbing it down. A couple examples were “base” instead of “foundation” and “help” instead of “assist”.

But it’s not just the words you use that can make your text harder to read. It’s also the structure of the words.

The poor structure I see most often is replacing verbs with nouns. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against nouns. Some of my best friends are nouns.

But nouns describe things.

Verbs describe actions. [Read more…]

Dumb it down, or clear it up?

When you write in plain English, you are not “dumbing it down”. You are clearing things up.

There are two main ways to make a text easier for everybody to read. One way is to use simpler concepts. This way, even people with little education will understand. Even people unfamiliar with the topic will understand.

For instance, try explaining climate change to someone with very little education. You could talk about the change in temperature and the melting ice caps and the rising oceans and how all this affects El Niño and… no way!

You’ll have to make the explanation itself simpler. [Read more…]

You are the center of the universe

It’s about the reader and only the reader. Use “you” in your text to give the reader ownership of your product or service, or the ideas you are putting forward.

You are the center of the universe. That is because you are the reader right now. As long as you keep reading, you are the center of the universe. Everything in this article is about you, because if you stop reading, I would just be writing in an echo chamber.

On your blog, “you” is also the center of the universe. But on your blog, you are not the “you”. You are just the writer; your readers are the all-important “you”.

If this sounds confusing, consider first why people come to your blog or website. There are several possible reasons: [Read more…]

Clarity – the key to effective writing

If you are writing non-fiction, clarity counts most. Here are four tips to write clearly.

Before sharing my incredibly useful tips with you, I must begin with two huge caveats.

First, fiction is not like non-fiction. In fiction, the mood is sometimes more important than the facts. But even in fiction, clarity counts. If your readers can’t follow the story well enough, they will get discouraged.

And, even hitting just the right mood, your story will fall flat if they just don’t get it. [Read more…]

14 useless words to throw away

Sometimes we throw in words that add nothing to the meaning. They make it harder to read your article, book or report. Here are some words you can throw away.

Go straight to the Infographic

Available

This word gets thrown into sentences all the time. Here are two ways it is thrown in for no good reason:

  • “This report is available with…” No, no, no. Instead, you can say “This report has…”. It’s much shorter and to the point.
  • “The line staff processed the available documents.” Hold on…they processed only the available ones? Really? Why didn’t they also process the unavailable ones? You see, there is no reason to specify that they processed the available documents.

Throw it away! [Read more…]

Making readability studies readable

Readability is in crisis. Even the abstracts from studies on readability are virtually incomprehensible. Let’s see what they really say.

What is readability? It’s a measure of how easy a text is to read. For example, how easy is it to read a blog post or white paper you wrote?

Readability is most commonly measured in grade levels. The average person reads in the range of Grade 6 to Grade 8. This might shock you. You’ve had 12 grades of education. Or you’ve had 15 or even 20. But you still read at a Grade 8 level or lower. Yes, you can read at a higher level, but you would do so only when you have to. Why is this?

[Read more…]

5 challenges you face as a writer

The survey results are in! Here are the top challenges writers face, and how some of those lead to hiring a ghostwriter.

We are often approached by people who can’t start writing their book or can’t finish it. Those are two of the biggest reasons people hire a freelance writing service like ours.

Bridget McNulty at NowNovel took a survey of her readers to find out what the five biggest writing challenges are. Here are the results she reported: [Read more…]

The Writer’s Guide to Time Travel

Any writer can travel in time, but to do it well takes effort…and a plan. Here is your plan to write convincing historical fiction or non-fiction.

Jenna Coleman did it.  You can, too.

Jenna played the role of The Doctor’s companion, first as Oswin Oswald, then as Clara Oswin Oswald and finally flying off in the Tardis as Clara Oswald for three seasons.

After all that time travel to shake her up, you’d think she would be eager to plant her feet firmly in her own time. But, no, she went straight back to the mid 1800s, playing Queen Victoria in Victoria. [Read more…]

5 lessons from America’s greatest ghostwriter

Alexander Hamilton was America’s greatest ghostwriter. Here are five lessons he leaves us, with quotes from the musical that bears his name.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius of a writer, taking the fairly base form of entertainment that hip-hop is and elevating it to artistic grandeur. Hamilton: An American Musical contains layers of meaning, and pulls people into the story of America’s greatest ghostwriter.

What? You thought Hamilton was a banker? Or a politician? Or a lawyer? [Read more…]

The most abused word in the English language

Some words in the English language take a whipping every day. Here is my pick for the most abused word in the English language.

Pop quiz time. Please read the following four sentences and tell me what’s wrong with them:

  • He only ate the green peppers.
  • They only had ten minutes to get there.
  • She only wants a few firecrackers.
  • We only ate a dozen hamburgers.

“Only” is a word with an unspoken implication – that there are many possibilities, but all are false except one. [Read more…]

Write for your audience (5 sneaky hiring ads)

When you really need talent, you can find a creative way to write for your audience. Here are five superb examples of uber-targeted communications.

A friend of mine implored me to fire up The Guardian on my laptop a few days ago, so that I could see a hiring ad.

“Where?” I asked.

“Go there,” he said, pointing to “UK news”.

Puzzled, I clicked on “UK News”. [Read more…]

Top 10 most common business grammar errors

The Grammar Monster doesn’t like what he sees in business documents. Let’s publicly flog the worst offenders.

I edit a lot of business documents, from blog posts to case studies, from book manuscripts to press releases. It’s funny how the same errors repeat themselves from document to document, from client to client. Here are some of those I see the most. [Read more…]

How To Dazzle With Dialogue

Screenplay writer Kristin Johnson offers five key principles of dialogue, with an example of all five from the movie “Steve Jobs”.

On February 9 I had the great fortune to speak to the Desert Screenwriters Group (DSG), a special interest group (SIG) critique group under the umbrella of the Palm Springs Writers Guild (PSWG). [Read more…]

Three ways to write for the Web

There are three ways to write for online readers.  Learn the basics on how to write for the Web below.

You might have heard that writing for the Web is different than other writing. And you would be right.  But it is not that simple.

There are three types of writing for the Web.  Each serves a different purpose.  Each takes a different approach.  If you master these three styles, you can write anything you will need to reach an online audience:

  • Sales copy
  • Task-oriented content
  • Storytelling

Your conversion rate, however you measure it, depends on directly identifying the style you need. [Read more…]

My favorite online research tools for writers

Here’s how I researched material for a book I was ghostwriting. You might like these tools, too.

You can’t find everything on the Internet…yet.  But you sure can find a lot.  I’ve been working on a true story, a non-fiction novel about a business being sabotaged.  You know what I’m talking about – the players involved, the conspiracy, the heartbreaks and all that goes into a real-life story of intrigue and drama.

If you own a business, so much of this can happen to you, too. But it probably won’t.

Because this is a true story, I had better get my facts right. Here are some of the online research tools I used to write this novel accurately. [Read more…]

Writers, just write

Ever wonder how to become a better writer? It’s simple. Sit down at your keyboard and start writing.

I have seen this question posed in various ways over the years: “How can I become a better writer?” And the answer really isn’t any different than “How can I become a better basketball player?” Or “How can I become a better guitar player?” Or “How can I become a better evil magician?” [Read more…]

Point of view – how storytellers create truth

Point of view tells us through whose eyes we see a story. No point of view, no story. This article tells you how to control point of view.

My daughter was reading Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige out loud while I was driving. It’s a pleasant way to pass some time, and we are both fans of Oz and its various spin-offs. [Read more…]

Story packing: Ara Grigorian’s Finding the Story Beats workshop (spoilers)

There is both an art and a science to setting the pace of your novel. Here is what Kristin learned at the Story Beats Workshop in Santa Barbara.

In a previous post we gave recommendations as to what to pack for a writers’ conference, in this case the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Your humble correspondent spent last week at #SBWC15 and her bags proved to be well-stocked.

Packing for a trip is a great analogy for constructing story structure. You need to know your must-haves without which your vacation, a.k.a. the journey in the story, can’t succeed. [Read more…]

Glossary of writing terms and definitions

Befudddled by the terms that writers and publishers use? Here is a glossary to help you navigate the lingo.

There are many terms used in writing, and a novice to this world could well be confused.  Here is a selection of writing terms and definitions that you are bound to run into sooner or later. I will try to leave out words specifically related to word usage, such as compound sentence, synonym and pronoun, as well as words related to poetry (so very many of those!).  This glossary is already long enough without them.

[Read more…]

The Best Worst Thing That Ever Happened

Every hero faces that moment when they are cursed – The Worst Possible Thing happens. It is upon the ruins of that curse that the hero can burst out in triumph!

“This is the worst day of my life.”

So says your main character, or a key character, at a critical moment.

“I’ll never get out of this.”

Same character says this.

“I am undone!” [Read more…]