Influence people

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tip #5 for the Business Writer

Keep Your Phrases Parallel
Part 5 of a 5-part series on writing well.



Parallelism adds clarity to your writing readers appreciate.


In a parallelism, you keep the structure of any series of related phrases consistent, repeating the same word forms (your nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) in the same order.


Parallelism can occur within a sentence or within a paragraph.

Here's an example (from Florida Coconuts) of a faulty parallelism within a sentence:

Coconut water is fat free, delicious, and a great way to rehydrate after strenuous physical activity.

To make her structure parallel, the writer should say:

Coconut water is fat free, delicious and refreshing. It provides a great way to rehydrate after strenuous physical activity.

Here's an example (from Sony) of a faulty parallelism within a paragraph:


The installation of 600 Sony SNC-DH140T cameras was decided upon for three main reasons. The first was Sony’s outstanding image quality, both at day and night, in any season, and under any light conditions. The second related to backlighting: cameras in an airport terminal have to offer good image quality of the traffic inside as well as the people outside. The third criterion focused on the necessary integration with ADP’s existing Genetec software. Sony delivered seamless compatibility here: as soon as a Sony camera is installed on the ADP network, the Genetec software can add it automatically, without human intervention.

To make his structure parallel, the writer should say:


The installation of 600 Sony SNC-DH140T cameras was decided upon for three main reasons. The first was Sony’s outstanding image quality: images are clear both at day and night, in any season, and under any light conditions. The second was Sony's exceptional backlighting capability: cameras in an airport terminal have to offer good image quality of the traffic inside as well as outside. The third was Sony's seamless compatibility with ADP’s Genetec software: as soon as a Sony camera is installed on the ADP network, the Genetec software can add it automatically, without human intervention.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tip #4 for the Business Writer

Avoid Imprecise Pronouns
Part 4 of a 5-part series on writing well.


If clarity is the aim of your prose, you miss the mark when you use imprecise pronouns. In particular, this and that.


These pronouns work only when clearly tied to a previous reference.


If used otherwise, they destroy clarity.


Here's an example (from Winterthur Technology Group) of an imprecise pronoun:


For the Winterthur group, the term "engineering" covers the complete consulting, support and training program. This helps customers to optimize the quality and efficiency of their grinding processes and achieve added value.


The pronoun this always refers to one thing. 

So, Winterthur, exactly what helps customers? Is it the term "engineering?" Consulting? Support? Or the training program?

The writer might have achieved clarity by saying:

For the Winterthur group, "engineering" means three things: consulting, support and training. Our three-pronged approach helps customers to optimize the quality and efficiency of their grinding processes and achieve added value.

Or the writer might say:

"Engineering" at Winterthur encompasses consulting, support and training, so you can optimize your grinding processes and get added value.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tip #3 for the Business Writer


Subordinate conjunctions: handle with care
Part 3 of a 5-part series on writing well.

If you botch your use of subordinate conjunctions, you might be understood by readers. But you won't get any medals for logic.

Subordinate conjunctions are the glue that binds the independent and dependent parts of your sentences.

Subordinate conjunctions—handy words like after, because, however, until, where, whether and why—depict vital parts of reality, such as cause, sequence, timing and location.

Careless writers use subordinate conjunctions in ways that defy reason.

Here's an example (from Mobile Deals):

Tiny smartphones are selling like hot cakes these days, and HTC Wildfire S is clearly the proof of this statement, however one company who was trying too hard to prove this point is now no longer between us.

The sentence is illogical. The writer wants to tell readers:
  • Sales of Wildfire S prove the high demand for tiny smartphones.
  • In spite of the demand, one manufacturer of tiny smartphones has failed.
He should say:

As the HTC Wildfire S proves, tiny smartphones are selling like hot cakes, although one company that tried hard to prove the point is no longer with us.

A better alternative might be:

Sales of HTC Wildfire S prove the popularity of tiny smartphones, although one company that tried to milk the demand has failed.

Here's another example (from Smucker's) of the faulty use of a subordinate conjunction:

Moms and dads work hard to make sure their kids have a great start each day, but time and organizational challenges can make mornings stressful. Whether rushed or relaxed, the makers of Smucker's Snack'n Waffles brand waffles want to hear about your morning routine.

The writer's real aim is to say: 
  • Morning routines are stressful for dutiful parents.
  • Smucker's wants to learn whether yours is rushed or relaxed.
But she puts the dependent part of her second sentence in the wrong place. She should say:

Moms and dads work hard to make sure their kids have a great start each day, but time and organizational challenges can make mornings stressful. The makers of Smucker's Snack'n Waffles brand waffles want to hear whether your morning routine is rushed or relaxed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tip #2 for the Business Writer

Choose the right modifiers
Part 2 of a 5-part series on writing well.


Modifiersthe words that qualify nouns and verbscan make or break your writing.


Like concrete nouns, modifiers can add precision your readers will appreciate.


But modifiers are tricky.


Use the right modifiers and your writing lifts off (think The Right Stuff).


Use the wrong modifers... use weak ones... use too many... or use clichés... and your writing fizzles.


As a rule, it's wise to omit modifiers, unless they add mojo to the nouns and verbs they qualify.


Here's an example (from Apple) of mangling your modifiers:


Sometimes life takes you by surprise. You’re reading a best seller on your iPad waiting for the morning train when you spy a gifted performer on the platform. Or you’re browsing the web on the couch when your dog trots by wearing your daughter’s tutu. The iSight camera on the new iPad lets you capture all these unpredictable, beautiful, and hilarious moments.


Does morning fortify the noun train? Only if the writer wanted us to think, "I can use my iPad while I commute."


Does iSight fortify camera? Positively.


Does new fortify iPad? Sure. No argument there.


Does gifted fortify performer? Nope. It's a cliché.


Do unpredictable, beautiful, and hilarious fortify moments? No. Once again, they're clichés.


How might the writer have better said this by omitting the modifiers?


Sometimes life takes you by surprise. You’re reading a best seller on your iPad waiting for the train when you spy a performer on the platform. Or you’re browsing the web on the couch when your dog trots by wearing your daughter’s tutu. The iSight camera on the new iPad lets you capture those moments.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tip #1 for the Business Writer

Use concrete nouns
Part 1 of a 5-part series on writing well.

Concrete nouns not only bring your writing to life, but signify to readers that you care about them.

Abstract nouns, on the other hand, are usually the sign of an indifferent writer.

Face it: abstract talk is easy.

Finding the right concrete noun is hard.

The indifferent writer, instead of doing the heavy lifting, simply labels general categories of things.

The result?

Readers are left with little or no grasp of the writer's point. 

Worse, they're left wondering if the writer even cares about connecting with them.


Here's an example (from Delta Airlines) of overusing abstract nouns:


Earth Day provides a great opportunity for us as an airline to reflect on the importance of sustainability efforts in our industry. We're proud to say we've made a lot of progress in recent years, yet remain aware of the work still ahead of us.


How might the writer have better said this by using concrete nouns?

Earth Day provides us a moment to reflect on Delta's responsibility to help sustain our planet. We're proud of the strides we've taken in recent years, yet aware there's work still ahead.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Staying Abreast

New media lovers take notice.


Just when you thought old media was dead, it grabs headlines and attention everywhere.


I'm referring of course to the controversial cover of this week's edition of Time.


The magazine's editors found a bewitching way to draw readers into an otherwise ho-hum story about so-called "attachment parenting."


Sure, Facebook is engaging, amusing and clubby.


But traditional media, when it wants to, can still pack a wallop.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Self-Inflicted Wounds


A military judge would argue that, in battle, there are no "accidental" self-inflicted wounds.
But I've discovered one in the war for attention.
It's an article offering Tips on Becoming a Good Writer that begins as follows:
"As the saying goes, the pen is sharper than the sword. A good writer is able to influence their readers into their train of thought; he or she is able to encourage and motivate the reader, gain their trust, and make the readers practice what they learnt from them. What it means to you that, whether you are aspiring to be a author of a bestselling novel or you are a marketer representing your company products and brand, being good in writing can put you in many advantages."
Chinese proverb: If your words are worthless, don't give advice.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Birthday Cake Moment

If it's true, as futurists predict, that the next great war will be an economic one, the US has already lost.

How do I know?

I've had my birthday cake moment.

In a crucial scene in Battle of the Bulgeone of my all-time favorite war moviesactor Robert Shaw, who plays a Nazi colonel, examines a birthday cake he's seized from an American POW.

He turns to his adjutant and says, "The enemy has the fuel and planes to fly cake over the Atlantic Ocean.  Do you know what this means?  Germany has already lost the war."

Last week, while waiting at the gate for a flight, I had my birthday cake moment.

It's important to note the flight number was 1175; the time of departure, 11:20.

A woman and her teenage daughter plopped down next to me.

The woman looked lost and confused. "Did we get here in time?" she snapped at the girl.

The teenager rolled her eyes, unfolded her boarding pass and scrutinized it.  "The plane doesn't leave until 1175," she insisted.

Seventeen years old... and she can't tell time.

Do you know what this means?

We have already lost the war.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Last Word in Websites


Pinterest may end the reign of the word, changing the Web into a mammoth picture book.
So says marketing consultant Frank Reed, writing for Biznology.
Reed claims "we are rapidly moving toward the point where we are going to be communicating in flash cards of imagesand words may be an unsettling extra, if needed at all."
Marketers may be forced to ditch copy for pictures, Reed says, for the simple reason that "everyone is doing it."
Googlebecause its engine indexes wordshas spurred marketers to build copy-intensive Websites, in an effort to optimize searches.
But the age of copy-heavy Websites may be at an end, thanks to the surge in popularity of Pinterest.
Customers' preference for pictures poses a predicament for marketers, Reed asserts. 
They must move quickly "toward toward a dumbed down version of communication," or run the risk of driving Website visitors away.
"Is your business ready for its image to be represented in images?" Reed asks.
"Are you able to help the over-informed get to your point as quickly as possible through eye candy? If not, you may find yourself looking antiquated quicker than you could have ever imagined."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Social Media Groupies Should Face Up to Facts

All those overeager riders on the social media bandwagon are bozos on a bus, according to The Face-to-Face Book (forthcoming from Free Press).


Authors Ed Keller and Brad Fay argue that social media marketing simply represents another gold rush, as temporary and thoughtless as tulip mania.


And while credulous marketers go on a fool's errand, the authors contend, "the largest social gold mine is literally right beneath our noses."


They're referring, of course, to word-of-mouth conversations.


In the book, Keller and Fay present research showing that over 90 percent of "true interpersonal influence" results from face-to-face.


"Social media is big and growing, but it is still dwarfed by the analog world in which people live and interact," they write.


Marketers who place their bets on social media "to chase a dream" will wind up big losers.


The authors offer Pepsi as an example.


In early 2010, PepsiCo slashed its traditional media spend to place its bet on social media.


But the company's wager "did not come close to achieving the pay dirt it intended."


Twelve months later, Diet Coke surpassed Pepsi as the Number Two soft drink (Coke is Number One) and PepsiCo returned to spending big on traditional media.


PepsiCo bought the social media hype at its own expense.


"Pepsi does in fact sell soft drinks because of social interactions, but not necessarily because of online interactions," the authors write.  "In virtually every decision we make, every one of us is influenced by other people, mostly the people we spend time with in the 'real world.'"
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