Tag Archives: editing

This ugly af writing tool is actually a secret weapon

A brand’s website is its storefront. So what does that make the headline… the window dressing? The display case? The sales tag? The devil is in the details, especially when it comes to the presentation and display of a brand’s message.

It’s a lot of responsibility, which is a trait I’ve never been known for, instead outsourcing the headline writing task to the editors. Well, no more. Now I’m the Head of Content at AirHelp, which means I’m the brand equivalent to the website’s Editor-in-Chief. I’ve got to say that it really is lonely at the top. I have no more editors to turn to. So, naturally I turned to the Internet.

Take one: Editorial headline writing 

The Columbia University headline guide tops the SEO search and therefore naturally became the only page I used for reference, but gawd is it boring af. I mean look at it. It reads like a undergrad curriculum. It uses words like “imperative,” which any good journalist knows is 1.) an adjective and is therefore lazy sentence structure and 2.) not likely to please the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. It makes three good points, though.

  • Headlines are usually written as an afterthought (true)
  • Readers look at headlines and photos first (true)
  • It must be correct, “easily understood,” interesting and set the tone of the article (non-negotiable requirement)

Take two: Advertorial headline writing

K, well, we’re not amateurs here so let’s move beyond the basics and into the real shit … the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline AnalyzerThis site could not be more ugly … or rude. It’s algorithm straight up judges your headline writing skills so hard and without empathy that it is now my most favorite tool to play. Here’s how it works.  

  1. Enter the headline into the text box (20 words or less, obviously)
  2. Select your industry category
  3. Submit your headline for analysis

Recently, the AirHelp tech dudes hosted a hackathon and the video that came out of it is so, so good that I knew the responsibility (ugh, this word) of selling this window display to the public was all mine. I tried 15 options before settling in on “Tears and caffeine are the two ingredients to a successful hackathon.” My score was a 45.45% and I officially ranked as a professional copywriter as I tapped into the blend of Intellectual and Spiritual. Hellz yeah.

Take three: Professional headline writing

This tool tests your resilience. It requires you to be a mix of both editorial and advertorial and I’m determined to beat it at its own game. The score indicates your headline as a percentage of Emotional Marketing Value Words (EMV)

It’s also where it gets super judgy, explaining, “Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30% – 40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words.Essentially, if your headline is less than 30% your writing is terrible. To put that into perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words – I’ve ranked at 10% more than once.

The ideal headline comprises three predominant emotions: Intellectual, Spiritual and Empathetic. Intellectual impact words are best aimed at people in the fields of education, law, medicine, research and politics. Spiritual words are for New Age and health-related markets as well as women, children and other ninnies. Empathetic words bring out profound and strong positive emotional reactions.

Just in case you were wondering – this headline scored a solid 60% EMV words. I’m officially gifted.

 

[Cover Letter Template]: Application for Assistant to the Coffeemaker

As a volunteer at a local old folk’s home in Virginia, my mom has unique insight into the bureaucracy and egoism that can be rampant in small towns. Politics play a huge role, even with something as simple as making coffee for the elderly, in an environment where everyone knows each other and needs to glean a sense of authority over one’s neighbors. Lots of big fishes in a small pond, if you will.

For example, accompanying my mom to one 45-minute volunteer stint required several rounds of permissions and approvals. It seems there are no less hoops to jump through when volunteering in a small town as there are for me to secure a job as a content lead in New York City. This is pretty commendable, which is why I wrote this template and it is what I would use if I were to move home and apply. Make no mistake about it – preparing coffee for the elderly can be just as important and detailed of a job as any other, depending on your perspective.

For those of you looking for an actual template on how to write a cover letter – and not the satirical paragraphs seen below – please pay heed to the footnotes for professional advice. Here’s hoping you enjoy this read while sipping your morning coffee.

—–

To Whom it May Concern,

I’m writing to request an interview for the unadvertised role of “Assistant to the Coffeemaker” at the Adult Care Center in Purcellville, Virginia. Hopefully you will find that my experience is in line with what you are not even looking for in an ideal candidate.

Tip: State your purpose clearly at the beginning. This is the idea behind the inverted pyramid used by journalists. It is followed up by the nut graph, which is a summation of the entire purpose of the document.

For starters, I am the daughter of the Coffeemaker. As a familial relation, my apprenticeship will not only include a step-by-step tutorial of the proper placement of each powdered donut hole and quarter-sliced apple pastry on the appropriate serving platter, but also a keen knowledge of the complete roster of every man and woman who has ever – or can ever be expected in the foreseeable future – been known to have drank the coffee made by this Maker.

Tip: When you can, make sure to use specifics. The more detailed you can be in pointing out your strengths, the better

It is to your benefit that I have already been given a tutorial of the coffee-making procedure in advance of a potential in-person interview. For instance, I already know that the decaf coffee comes in packets and that it is to be dispensed from the carafe marked with black Sharpie-scripted letters spelling “decaf.” The caffeinated variety, on the other hand, comes pre-ground and must be administered with a freeform filter.

Tip: Present the potential employer with the reasons why your unique set of skills is advantageous to them. Remember, it’s not about you getting the job – they don’t care about that. They care about how you can make the business run more smoothly and therefore make them more money.

If you need further proof, please let me show you that I am fully capable of meeting the key duties and responsibilities as outlined in the Assistant to the Coffeemaker role.

My Core Capabilities:

  • Ability to wash hands for no less, and no more, than 20 seconds while disposing of my paper towel properly in the trash bin
  • Awareness of the skill of serving one half scoop of ice into the milk dish; and a further one and one half scoops for the iced tea and apple juice, respectively
  • Experience warming apple turnovers and blueberry muffins in the microwave; with awareness that the powdered donut holes need an extra 30 seconds
  • Superior upper-body strength supports the need to lift and carry large portions of liquids from counter-to-cart-to-table
  • Keen knowledge of my rank, understanding that whatever the Coffeemaker says, is what goes, because she holds the key fob to the main entrance on a chain around her neck

Tip: Recruiters love bullet point lists. If most people spend 15 seconds or less on articles that they sourced themselves – and therefore are uniquely interested in – then how long do you think they’ll spend on reading a one-pager that’s all about you? Also, most people scroll down to the bottom first and then head back up to the top – don’t fool yourself that this is a key placement area for your core strengths.

I’m sure you are looking for someone who can tend to the Adult Care Members with the utmost of care. Your ideal candidate will probably know how to serve coffee made with love. This, I can assure you, is a core strength of mine as I have spent 31 years learning to love the endless list of mindless tasks served up to me by my Maker.

Tip: Always add a personal touch at the end – it humanizes you.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Hannah

Putin’s Cult of Commas

We’ve been struggling with some commas here lately. So, I have enlisted the help of a certain shirtless Russian to put together some top ‘commandments to commas’ as a refresher — and to keep you in line.

1. Commas separate the elements in a series of three or more things.
a. Both the American and Russian flags are red, white and blue. As you may recall from previous grammar posts, the decision to add the comma before “and” is preferential. Its name is the Oxford comma and I personally hate it. I will judge you so hard if you use it.

2. Commas should be inserted after the following conjunctions when connecting two independent clauses: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so.

Putin in a bubble
Putin pic courtesy of CNN.

a. It’s freezing outside, but I didn’t wear a heavy jacket since I’m in a bubble of my own device. An independent clause means that it can stand alone as its own sentence, even if the two were separated.

3. Use them after an introductory element.
a. While fly fishing shirtless, it never bothers me how arrogant I look.

4. Use them to set off parenthetical elements.
a. The Next Generation Cat Food Supply Summit, your industry’s top event, will never be held in Sochi because I am a dog lover.

Shirtless Putin
Putin pic courtesy of CNN.

5. Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.
a. Only beautiful, successful, shirtless delegates will be permitted to attend the upcoming Cosmetics Compliance event.

6. Typographical Reasons
a. The event is in St. Petersburg, Russia.
b. Vlad last spoke at the summit held September 4, 2013.

Rule of thumb.

A somewhat general rule of them is to consider where you would take a breath or pause when reading copy in your head. That’s where the comma should find itself.

Than versus then – the rules

Monday blues, anyone? You know what always cheers me up? A little bit of grammar time.

The same mistakes are being repeated in email copy and social media posts, so I figured it’s time I spell it out.

Than and then are not the same.

then_vs_than
Courtesy of The Oatmeal

Than is mainly used when comparing two (or more) different things. I repeat: than is a conjunction most often used in comparisons.

Examples:
I am taller than my sister.
My banana bread is better than Lauren’s cornbread.
Give more than just the numbers when executing your strategy.
I write my emails differently than you do.

Then is kind of like a time placeholder. A more scholarly explanation: then is an adverb that you can use to situate certain actions in a set timeframe.

Examples:
First I take the subway and then I walk four blocks to get to work.
If you’re late to this meeting, then you might have to skip lunch.
I wanted to bring print-outs, but then the printer broke down.
We had Cyber Monday deals today. It was then that the delegates decided to register.

A trick, thanks to the smart people at grammarist, is that then can be replaced by many other synonyms, but than cannot.

I am taller than my sister (No other word would work here.)
Vs.
First I take the subway and next I walk four blocks to get to work. (Bye, bye then.)

Extra credit!!
Up-to-date has hyphens
Onsite is one word
Sneak peek = take a peek = you’re peeking into something. Peak is the top of a mountain
The U.S. always has periods since it is an abbreviation

Create great copy: Things to remember

Who says that writers don’t know science? Writing is a science! If it weren’t, then anything that was ever written for marketing or advertising purposes would do its job and make you fast cash.

Know your audience.

The more you know, the better targeted and relevant your copy will be. Ask yourself:

  • —What does their everyday life look like? Who do they work with? What websites do they read?
  • —What are they passionate about? Hobbies?
  • —What past products/services have they purchased and how does your offering compare? Once this is identified, however, it’s ineffective to use comparison words in the copy itself. For instance, instead of saying “Our vacuum cleaner is better than the common household brand.” You identify how it is better, ie., “Our vacuum cleaner has five times the suction as other brands.” Now you’re showing them, not just telling them.

Identify key motivators.

A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in
A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in “-ing.” Awesome cartoon courtesy of Boggletondrive.com.

Great copy motivates people to feel, think or do something. One way of achieving this is by addressing them personally.— I don’t mean to say that you should call them out by name – I mean that they need to trust you. They need to like you.

  • —You can reach users by speaking directly to them – be conversational and as specific as possible. Avoid sweeping statements.
  • —Don’t use passive voice — write in the present tense (avoid gerunds, or, the “ing”)
  • —Short, Simple and Sincere (one way of doing this is by avoiding adjectives)

Layout matters.

The way you position words, pictures and paragraphs in your website copy or email are important.

  • —Indent sections & number paragraphs
  • —Capitalize and BOLD sparingly. Does anyone underline anymore?

What’s next. 

—Include a testimonial.

  • It’s always better to have someone else say how great you are so that you don’t have to. A brief and convincing quote from a respected source adds credibility to your campaign.

—Keep your copy clean and concise.

  • Cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas.
  • Have someone else read it to see if they understand the message.

—Avoid weasel words.

  • Weasel words include: may, maybe, hope
  • Instead, use words that emote power and prestige:  will and can

George Saunders on the writing life

George Saunders published an essay in The New Yorker on the influence of his teachers throughout his writing life. Here are some notable excerpts from the piece:

Writers are often seen as reclusive, shy, keep-to-themselves types. While at Syracuse, George learned a different and perhaps more valuable lesson; that writers are supposed to be interesting to the people they meet. If they’re not interesting in real life, how are they supposed to be interesting in print?

  • “We are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only allowed to think about audience, we’d better. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms.”

Writers are professionals at rejection. A majority of people can’t handle rejection in any form, but imagine putting in hours and hours of time and brainpower into a piece only to have it dragged through the mud by a reviewer, or worse, not have it see the light of day at all? George recounts a time when his college professor, and published author, Doug Unger faced a bad review with grace:

  • “Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.”

And a few other poignant lines:

  • “I’d forgotten: literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.”
  • “Good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit.”
  • [On providing someone undivided attention while they speak and/or share with you] “He is, with his attention, making a place for her to tell her story—giving her permission to tell it, blessing her telling of it.”

The Writer’s Manifesto – Stop Writing to Be Read & Adored

Jeff Goins“Writers don’t write to get published.
They write for another reason.
This is the first and only lesson every writer must learn.

Real writers don’t write for recognition.
They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety.
They do it because they cannot not write.”

It’s true, I can’t not write. Read the entire piece from Jeff Goins.

11 phrases you’re misusing

We all fall short, including me (however rarely). This morning a friend sent me a link to some of the most misused phrases and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait until Friday to send! Please note the first phrase – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I CouB letterldn’t Care Less, (could NOT care less)

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

First-Come, First-Served

The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. “First come, first serve” suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow.

Sneak Peek

A “peek” is a quick look. A “peak” is a mountain top. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something.

Shoo-In

“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory.

Emigrated From

The verb “emigrate” is always used with the preposition “from,” whereas immigrate is always used with the preposition “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere.

Peace of Mind

“Peace” of mind means calmness and tranquility. The expression “piece of mind” actually would suggest doling out sections of brain.

For All Intents and Purposes

The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” originates from English law dating back to the 1500s, which used the phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” to mean “officially” or “effectively.”

By and Large

The phrase “by and large” was first used in 1706 to mean “in general.” It was a nautical phrase derived from the sailing terms “by” and “large.” While it doesn’t have a literal meaning that makes sense, “by and large” is the correct version of this phrase.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Piqued My Interest

To “pique” means to arouse, so the correct phrase here is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was awakened. To say that something “peaked my interest” might suggest that my interest was taken to the highest possible level, but this is not what the idiom is meant to convey.

Case in Point

The correct phrase in this case is “case in point,” which derives its meaning from a dialect of Old French. While it may not make any logical sense today, it is a fixed idiom.

A love letter response to my post …

“It gives me peace of mind to know that our team of producers and marketers will have a resource that is not exclusive or first-come, first-served to conduct ample due diligence on the proper use of idioms that will, for all intents and purposes, improve our overall application of the English vernacular and emigrate from our brutish, rudimentary applications of this form of fixed expression.  By and large I could care less about the grammatical prowess of others but I feel this resource will make us all a shoo-in for impressing our contemporaries and will pique their interest in our events thusly providing a case in point for why the proper use of idioms works like a charm for separating sheep from goats

Idioms are the bees knees, yo!”

Published: It’s what happens when your press release rocks

The Detroit Business Journal wrote an article on my work’s upcoming military event off the back of a press release we sent out via PR Newswire. The end goal of any press release is to have it turn into a story, but that very rarely happens. Well, today is that day.

I’ll keep it short and sweet, but read this article I wrote if you want more information on how to write a press release.

Here’s the press release in its entirety:

Press Release

And, in summary:

IDGA’S LIGHTWEIGHT TACTICAL VEHICLES SUMMIT COMES TO DETROIT THIS MARCH
Advancements and Opportunities within the Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Programs

New York, NY (February 2, 2015) – IDGA is pleased to announce its debut event, the
Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Summit this March 16-18 in Detroit. The Summit will feature more than 20 highly qualified speakers, which include five military program managers who boast a combined 300 years of military experience.

This new program will bring together some of the military’s key decision makers in an intimate forum to give insight into future vehicle acquisition projects. Since fewer vehicles contract opportunities are available due to drawn down conflicts abroad and sequestration, the military must be more proactive in identifying best value solution providers. This event will serve as an ideal platform for the military decision makers to achieve that initiative.

The summit will bring together 20+ high profile speakers including; COL Kmiecik, Director of Mounted Requirements, COL Mike Milner, Program Manager, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, COL Jason Craft, Program Manager, Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles and COL James Schirmer, Program Manager, Armored Fighting Vehicles.

Never before has IDGA had the pleasure of announcing such a powerful faculty with speakers representing programs ranging from the AMPV to the ULCV.

2015 sessions will cover:
• Future of the Ultra Lightweight Combat Vehicle
• Ultra-Light Tactical Mobility and the Expeditionary Force
• Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles
• Alternate Vehicle Programs – The Future Fighting Vehicle
• Introducing the AMPV
• DAPRA Presents: The GXV-T
• Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy

And many more!

Join the vehicles community as they come together to learn best practices, programs and processes for 2015 and beyond. This will be a rare opportunity to speak with such a broad range of program managers, while meeting your future clients within this hard-to-reach military vehicles community. To access the full agenda or to register for the conference, visit http://www.lighttacticalvehiclesummit.com

About IDGA

The Institute for Defense & Government Advancement (IDGA): (www.idga.org) a division of IQPC, is a non‐partisan information‐based organization dedicated to the promotion of innovative ideas in public service and defense through live conferences and events. We bring together speaker panels and events comprised of military and government professionals.

Capitalization in Headlines & Subject Lines

Fix yo grammar.
Fix yo grammar.

Lately I’ve seen some inconsistencies between who is capitalizing what in certain subject lines and titles.

So, stop. It’s grammar time!

Opinions are divided across stylebooks on what words should be capitalized, but throughout my career I’ve been able to develop a universally-accepted, three-rule guideline:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word of the subject line/title (you all are perfect with this rule.)
  2. Capitalize any and all words that are four or more letters in length
  3. Do NOT capitalize conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).

Here’s a quiz I pulled off the World Wide Web to test you on these rules. Which words do you think should be capitalized in these titles/subject lines?

  • made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
  • the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
  • fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking

Think on it …

Still thinking ….

Do you know which words to uppercase yet?

Ok, let’s test those skills:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)

  • The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (through is a preposition, but is capitalized because it is greater than four letters)
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking

The most common errors I see are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.

I hope this helps! Next week a note on prepositions? Email me to let me know what you have questions about.

BONUS: Did you know there’s a name for the the “dot, dot, dot” … you see in emails and other correspondence? It’s called an ellipses (eee-lip-seas), and is used most frequently in writing when summarizing quotations.