Archive for August, 2011

Award-winning copy for newsletters

August 26th, 2011

In my last post I talked about the award-winning design of the American Institute of CPAs’ newsletter. In addition to the design, the content won points for “top-notch readability.” Let’s take a look. In what ways does the writing function well?

First of all, the headings, in an easy-on-the-eye blue, tell the reader exactly what to expect. Rather than being clever or amusing, they are highly specific. If it’s not your topic, you’ll know right away.

Within each section, the copy is clear and well written: no run-on sentences, no sentence fragments, or other grammatical errors to confuse or distract the reader. Furthermore, wording is simple and informal, without the weightiness or abstraction we might expect from people writing about accounting.

For example, in a section on cost-savings through environmental awareness, the opening sentence reads: “Manufacturers and service companies are finding that going green can save big bucks.” In addition to the informal word choice (going green; big bucks) the sentence easily makes clear that the savings are available to service companies as well as manufacturers.

You might want to take a look at your copy. Do your tone and word choice create the readibility you want?

  • Share/Bookmark

Award-winning newsletters to engage readers

August 23rd, 2011

Every year Communications Concepts presents publication awards to newsletters and other media demonstrating excellence in graphic design, editorial content, and the ability to achieve overall communications excellence.

Let’s take a close look at one of these: The American Institute of CPAs’ newsletter,  BusIndNews–February 2011 edition.

Communications Concepts likes this issue because “this clean, appealing design offers top-notch readability and easy-navigating functionality. Effective framing of text and deft use of white space complete the package.”

Let’s start with the “clean, appealing design.” Notice that the pattern is consistently horizontal–both text and headlines move across the page rather than up and down. At the same time, there is plenty of white space to lighten the effect, so the reader is not overwhelmed by copy. Second, there is only one noticeable graphic, the head shot of the VP introducing the newsletter. It’s an upbeat picture, and she’s in a lemon yellow suit–not the dark blue one might expect of a CPA.

There’s a very nice use of section heads that look just like file tabs–small and gray, not intrusive, but business-like. It’s as though the AICPA had said “We want to give the impression that we are a lively, energetic profession, prepared for the future, who are at the same time entirely reliable and solid.”

What about your newsletter design? Does it also convey who you are and what you are like?

  • Share/Bookmark

How to write titles using well-chosen words

August 19th, 2011

I’ve been arguing that reports and white papers and even web content call for more color than we usually see, and more length, too. Fiction titles are short, and can use colorful words because they don’t have to say that they are an ‘annual report’ or ‘quality results report’ so there is room for words like ‘dragon’ or ‘pride’ or ‘prejudice.’

I’ve already recommended using a two-part title (see the August 8 entry). But, what kinds of words? Too colorful and you’ll never get it past your boss–or, just as bad, your readers will think you aren’t serious.

One way to do this is to start, not with possible titles, but with lively words that may suit. Try a brain storm: come up with a dozen or more words related to your subject. Let’s continue with the topic from my last entry: reducing patient wait times using Lean techniques–or use your own topic. What words come to mind? Make a long list, and don’t reject any word.

Next time I’ll talk some more about how to work with those words.

  • Share/Bookmark

More about titles to attract readers

August 16th, 2011

Titles, as I’ve been saying, should vary in length depending on their purpose. Let’s look at fiction titles, for example. A recent best-seller list reveals that top fiction titles are inevitably less than four words–and if more, the words are only prepositions between colorful words like ‘throne’ and ‘dragon.’ And, of course, novels get to have flashy covers with brilliant colors. You might risk this in publishing your annual report–just be sure finance, and your board, are in agreement!

What, realistically, can marketing communications staff do to create engaging titles? Reports, web page headings, white papers, and newsletters, as I’ve said, don’t do well with very short titles like “Quarterly Report.” To answer this question I took a look at a NON fiction best-seller list. No surprise! Many more titles have five or more words: “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” and “Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me.”

Of course, these are rather colorful for a report or a white paper–still we can learn from them. Suppose, for example, that you’ve just completed a white paper on reducing patient wait times with the use of Lean techniques. The trick is to be colorful enough to make people want to read, without seeming overly clever or silly. Next time I’ll have some ideas for doing this.

  • Share/Bookmark

How to get your writing done on time, with music

August 11th, 2011

Discipline, right? Scheduling? Planning ahead? Let me add the value of music, if you’ve not yet learned how a background of sound will smooth the way. But, not just any music! Vocals, of course, are distracting, especially if you’re a Cole Porter lover like me and want to hear Love for Sale over and over. Avoid the words, since that’s what you’re trying to come up with, right?

Right now I’ve got the Hank Jones trio from 1979, playing over and over on YouTube. I could shift over to my ITunes page, and listen to Mozart trios or quartets for hours and hours. These rapidly become background noise, which may be just what is needed.

I’ve tried opera, especially Callas selections, but it’s hopeless. I’m immediately plunged into the drama.

What about you? Percussion? electric? sheer silence?

  • Share/Bookmark

Two-part titles for engaging readers

August 8th, 2011

If you are writing a cowboy story (I saw “Cowboys and Aliens” last weekend) or a mystery story, your mysterious title may be just the thing to draw your readers in.

But if you are hoping to get people to read your advice on saving money, or to learn more about your security consulting skills, or your quality of care, consider the two-part title. This is the kind of title that you see a lot with history books. For example:

Abraham Lincoln’s Favorite Pastime: Storytelling in Mid-Nineteenth Century America.

The first phrase intrigues because it mentions Lincoln and makes the reader want to know more. The second phrase is not mysterious, but highly specific: readers will learn about storytelling in the mid-1800’s. And note that the topic is not stories themselves, but their telling.

Now let’s suppose you are a large clinic, or a hospital, or even a provider network, ready to issue a report on the quality measures you have introduced in the past 12 months. Perhaps your progress in the past has been limited and you want to highlight your success. Here’s a possible example:

How Quality Comes About: Teamwork for Improvement at Stratton Hospital, 2011.

The first phrase suggests a story in itself: Stratton has succeeded in bringing quality into place–although the phrase doesn’t say how this was done. The second phrase answers the question: it was teamwork that did the job.

It’s a little like solving a puzzle: Construct a first part that romances your reader, and a second part that’s practical and specific.

  • Share/Bookmark

How long should your newsletter title be?

August 5th, 2011

As I said in my last post, the length of your newsletter title depends on what you are selling or offering or working for. One of the biggest differences is between lengthy titles when you are working to reach a very specific market, and short titles meant to address a group already involved, such as a church or a parent-teacher organization. You aren’t selling to these folks–they’ve already joined. And if they are new, your newsletter is only one way you communicate with them.

For membership organizations like these, a short title, with some energy or creativity, helps people feel engaged in what you do. You might call your newsletter simply Jefferson River Conservancy and that would do very well. But you might also need something light-hearted, or directly stating your mission, such as Save the Jefferson River or Keep the Jefferson Alive.

As always, it all depends on what you hope to accomplish!

  • Share/Bookmark

Create a newsletter title to build your audience

August 1st, 2011

I used to think that titles, to work well, need to be very short. In fact, often a long title is by far the best idea. This is especially true when you have a highly specific group you are trying to reach. Consider Home Gardener’s Guide to Healthy Plants: your free weekly source for keeping your plants healthy at home–a title with six words in the main section alone! Long as it is, it tells potential readers exactly what it is about: The newsletter is a guide, as opposed to a catalogue or an events listing. It’s not about gardening in general, but about home gardening, and not about plants in general but how to keep them healthy.

So people who garden at home, are looking for advice as opposed to products, and want advice specifically about the health of their plants, will know immediately that this newsletter is for them. Think through what your business is about, and put together the right words for your reader.

  • Share/Bookmark