H is for Help (and When It’s Not)

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016

Sometimes it’s format that can turn your readers away.

Take a second to look at FDIC Consumer News – don’t read it, just scroll through. I want to know your first impression.

I’ll wait.

Copywriting with lists

Did it remind you of all the fine print you usually see when you’re dealing with a financial institution? Did you react like the little girl in the photo did?

This special edition of the FDIC newsletter contains critically important information that can help consumers avoid fraud. Unfortunately, your first impression is of a deluge of words that prompts the voice in your head to whisper, “Warning, lots of technical info here” and “Wow, this will be boring!” So you put it aside to “read later” and never do.

Since the text contains do’s and don’ts, instructions to follow and steps to take, the best way to soften the first ‘blow’ is to present it in scannable chunks. A chunked example is below.

Take extra precautions for logging into bank and other financial accounts.

  • Strengthen user IDs and passwords with combinations of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Don’t use your birthdate, address or other words or numbers easily connected to you.
  • Don’t use the same password for different accounts.
  • Keep your user IDs and passwords secret, and change them regularly.
  • Log out of financial accounts when you complete your transactions or walk away from the computer.

Checklists like this one will make potentially intimidating or difficult information easier for you to share and your audience to accept.

Please visit my fellow bloggers taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016.





G for Grammar and the passive voice

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016
G: Grammar

You can find plenty of websites (and people) that will tell you when to use “its” or “it’s” and “their” or “they’re” or “there,” and Grammar Girl gives a wonderful explanation of misplaced modifiers here. So for my grammar lesson, I’m going to focus on the question I get asked the most: Can you give an example of passive voice?

passive voice

I just had a wonderful experience buying glasses at LensCrafters in Round Rock, Texas. The customer-service associate was friendly and worked to give me the best possible deal. The visit prompted me to see how the company describes itself online.

I found some passivity in “About Us;” see if you can spot it.

Our reverence for eyes drives us to provide the highest quality vision care in each of our stores across the country. We feature a selection of handmade frames from brands around the world and craft each pair of lenses in our labs.

LensCrafters continually invests in new technologies to improve care for your eyes, customize your prescription, and help select the right frames for you.

Associates at LensCrafters are trained to provide you with personalized eye health service throughout your experience.

Our love of eyes and higher standard of quality have made LensCrafters a leader in vision care for over 30 years.

Hint: Who trains LensCrafters’ associates?

Yes, in an otherwise active, personal description that uses “our” and “we” and “you” and “your” to make the audience feel connected, this one sentence – “Associates at LensCrafters are trained …” – stands out as corporate-speak. It’s exactly the type of passive sentence we see every day from company copywriters.

How do we know it’s passive? Ask yourself who performs the action described (in this case, training associates). The answer is what’s missing in the original sentence.

Easy fix: “We train our associates to provide you with personalized eye health service throughout your experience.”

Not a big deal, you say? I disagree. The copywriter was trying hard to communicate a specific tone and message by using personal pronouns paired with such words as “reverence” and “handmade,” “customize” and “right frames for you.” The writer wanted the reader to feel cared for.

A passive sentence here and there can jar your audience out of their engagement and imperceptibly to drag down the tone and lessen the impact of your message.

Please visit my fellow bloggers taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016.




Five examples of award-winning copywriting

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016
F: Five

We look at quite a few examples of writing that needs improvement. Today, in honor of the letter F, I want to give you five watchable examples of award-worthy copywriting for advertising and media.

These are the top five 2015 Webby Award copywriting nominees in the Corporate Communications category.

Sit back and enjoy – and don’t forget to listen to the words, even when you’re laughing. Oh, and NSFW. great copywriting examples

Please visit my fellow bloggers taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016.





Is empathy or sympathy more powerful?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016
E: Empathy

empathy: the ability to share someone else’s feelings; experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another without having them fully communicated in an explicit manner.

sympathy: the feeling that you care and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.

copywriting: empathy v sympathy

The following is part of a story used to raise funds for a children’s hospital:

Lying on her back for yet another routine ultrasound, Paje Jones and her husband, Brian, reminded the doctor that they didn’t want to know the baby’s gender.

What they learned instead was that their unborn child had a large mass around her tiny heart.

Called a pericardial teratoma, the tumor, though benign, was so large – and growing – that it threatened the child’s life. But Paje was only 27 weeks into her pregnancy, and the fetus was still developing eyes and a central nervous system.

You may think I ought to make people feel sympathetic to this family. If readers feel sympathy, then they’ll want to help. And believe me, you don’t have to spend too much time in a children’s hospital to feel sympathy.

But when people read that story, I want them to feel empathy, not sympathy. I want them to feel a little bit of what these parents felt when they went from excited at the ultrasound to devastated by the news of a tumor. I don’t want them to feel sorry; I want them to feel awestruck that a surgeon could remove a tumor that almost surrounded a newborn’s heart without any complications. I want them to feel the relief and joy of a new baby girl put into their arms, healed.

That’s how I define storytelling.

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5 ways to practice what you preach in writing

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016

D: Draft


I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

How many of you have ever turned in your first draft? I mean your first – you wrote, read, ran a spell-checker and hit “Send” without further consideration?

All of us have been on deadline, so I’m certain we’ve all done it. Or we had a writing assignment we hated and just wanted to get it over with.

But what about those first drafts we were really pleased with? When we felt we’d “been in the zone” and changing anything would destroy our work of art?

I’m almost always surprised when someone else wants to change what I’ve written. Sounds egotistical, but it’s because I work at my writing. Most of the time, I can make the case for leaving my words intact.

Sometimes, though, I know my ego is getting in the way of my judgment.

bulldog about editing

To keep my head in such situations, I ask myself:

  1. Now that I have some distance and objectivity from this draft, would I edit or rewrite if given the chance?
  2. Do I know the rationale behind the suggested edits, or am I just making this personal?
  3. What was the overwhelmingly compelling reason I abandoned my own rules of editing – those I apply to everyone else’s writing?
  4. Do the suggested edits speak better to the audience?
  5. Do the suggested edits better support the organization’s messaging and goals?

As writers, we’re all proud of what we do most of the time. Just be careful not to let that pride stop you from taking a break to look at your initial draft with the freshest eyes possible before you turn it in.

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Even J.K. Rowling believes in short sentences

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016

B: Brevity

I’ll keep this short.

The average number of words in every sentence of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is 12.

One of the best-selling authors of all time telling such a compelling story using brief sentences is the best argument I can think of for doing the same in our own copywriting.

Enjoy the Little Things

Here’s a prior post examining why words should be short, too.

(Tyler Vigen (Spurious Correlations) has calculated the average number of words per sentence for several other bestsellers, including Twilight (9.7) and A Tale of Two Cities (17.7).)


Please visit my fellow bloggers taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016