Both clients and members
If you’ve ever wondered what some of those morons are thinking when they write a book review, you’ll appreciate this. I browse book reviews extensively and I know some of the clueless reviewers make me wonder that they apparently survived a good dose of chlorine in their gene pool. Over at Ploughshares, Rebecca Makkai posted a collection of brief book reviews entitled Was This Review Helpful to You? … five stars (h/t to Erica Dreifus).
We don’t ordinarily do this but I had to post a link to this page that I stumbled across on Facebook (thanks Buzzfeed):
A great author, Sir Terry Pratchett, passed away the other day. I was introduced to his work when our reading group, Read 23*, at the request of member Joel Habush, chose Mr. Pratchett’s wonderful novel Going Postal. It was a wonderful read and I subsequently have read a number of other novels in Mr. Pratchett’s Discworld series. Mr. Pratchett was afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and we lost him at the young age of 66.
“The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds,” said Larry Finlay of his publishers Transworld. The author died at home, surrounded by his family, “with his cat sleeping on his bed”, he added.
There have been many tributes to Mr. Pratchett over the last week, a number of which have been shared on the Read 23 mailing list:
- Publisher’s Weekly
- Neil Gaiman
- Cory Doctorow (via Boing Boing which also pointed to this geeky tribute to Mr. Pratchett designed to assure him immortality of a sort in another article).
Mr. Pratchett left us too soon… he’ll be missed.
* OMG, the discussion is tomorrow and I still have 23 chapters to read!
This morning, the New York Times published an essay by Oliver Sacks wherein he discusses his diagnosis of terminal cancer. His essay addresses his condition and prognosis with uncommon grace and dignity. In addition, science fiction author John Scalzi published an essay entitled Oliver Sacks and Public Individuals at the Close. Dr. Sacks is a renowned clinical neurologist and best-selling author of many fascinating books. He is one of the great contributors to life on this planet whose legacy will endure and he will be greatly missed when he leaves us.
Author Kathryn Schultz just published a great article, subtitled How Twitter Hijacked My Mind, on the New York Magazine website. From being a total skeptic, she became a Twitter addict. Not only is it engrossing but it also points out how Twitter’s a great tool for authors.
As the saying goes, been there, done that. I got deeply engrossed in Twitter but it became such a time suck that I gave it up cold turkey. Don’t get me wrong… I love it. The reason I gave it up is because I’m usually on a contract assignment where I’m dedicated to full-time work during normal business hours. I saw many of my colleagues and friends apparently spending most of their waking hours dedicated to Twitter and, as far as I can tell, giving their employers less than fair value for their wages. I didn’t want to do that… when I’m on an assignment, I don’t feel that it’s right for me to spend time during those hours on Twitter or Facebook or other personal-level social media. I’m not as engrossed with Facebook as I was with Twitter… I didn’t feel that I needed to give it up; I can manage my use of Facebook during my off hours. I will tell you this… when the time comes that I’m ready and able to retire, I’ll be back on Twitter in a heartbeat.
One of the fond memories from my youth was when the Chicago Tribune published the (now politically incorrect) Injun Summer by John T. McCutcheon each year on its front page. First published in 1907, it became an annual event. It brings a good feeling to the inevitability of fall and demonstrates how we can use our imaginations. The Tribune has a brief article about it here.
Joel Habush and Linda Presto reminded me that I had neglected to report on our participation at BizExpo on May 21st at Potawatomie Bingo and Casino. I had a good supply of handouts. I also had a nice banner that I draped across the front of our table. I wanted to hang it on the top edge of the backdrop behind our table but didn’t have what I needed to attach it… I’ll know better if we do this again. I got there early in the morning and got our table set up before the expo opened (wasn’t much to it… hang the banner on the front of the table, put out a generous supply of handouts, and set up my laptop.
Attendance was very good. Our booth was in the very last row but we got a great number of folks stopping by to find out more about what we’re all about. I told our story more times than I can remember and gave out a good number of our handouts. Late in the morning, Lora Hyler joined me to help out and I was actually able to take a break and grab a quick sandwich. Things started to thin out around 4PM and I closed up shop about 4:30. My dogs were barking from being on my feet most of the day.
Science fiction author John Scalzi just posted an inspirational message for fiction writers on his blog Whatever. Wander over to http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/01/20/a-season-in-the-show/ and check it out.
As the owner or manager at a typical nonprofit organization or business, you have a web site to communicate your mission, products or services. You also may have a newsletter — whether printed or posted on your web site — for customers, donors, potential clients, and associates. You also have other ways of communicating to your customers through marketing brochures, direct mail, and solicitation letters.
And while most large corporations have a staff of professional communications specialists to manage these things, you either don’t have the resources or can’t afford to hire staff. The burden then falls on the executive director, a secretary or business owner to manage web content, newsletters, and other communications.
Professional writing and succinct, clear communications are important for all organizations. If you are explaining a product application, writing a feature article about a person, or profiling a success, your writing needs to flow. Unfortunately, how often do we see awkward sentence structure or way too many words and adjectives stop the flow when reading an article? Grammatical errors and typos (far too common on blogs and web sites today) only further frustrate a reader.
Your organization’s image is on the line. You need to draw potential clients and attract donors to your nonprofit. Make sure your communications are professional and consistent each time web content is posted, a newsletter is published or a news release is issued.
What is the main purpose of writing your column, blog or home page? Ask an executive and he might say to tell readers about the company’s financial picture. Ask a marketer and she likely will say to sell the product. Both answers are wrong. The main purpose of anything written is to be read. What good is writing about your great financial success if it isn’t read?
- Don’t stop the reader by not transitioning
- Don’t confuse the reader with run-on sentences
- Don’t strain the reader with lofty but unknown words
- Don’t irritate the reader with puffed up marketing-speak
Back in journalism school, we were taught to write in the “inverted pyramid” where the most important stuff came in the first paragraph and lesser information or background information, followed in succeeding paragraphs. This was done because a newspaper editor often had to cut the article to fit it in the layout. A reporter needs to tell the who, what, when, and why in the first paragraphs. If space allows, she can tell the “how.”
This same rule applies today but for different reasons. People don’t read web sites; they scan web sites for content they’re looking for. Our eyes scan in a similar pattern to reading but much faster on a web site. We are accustomed to looking in certain areas and are less patient reading through unnecessary words. A narrative style of writing just won’t do on your home page.
Here are a few steps you can take to build professional communications in your organization:
- Adopt a style manual for all external communications. A common style manual used by business professionals is The Chicago Manual of Style. (Being a hometown Milwaukee guy, I’m not too crazy about the name!!) There are others and you don’t have to use a published stylebook; you could make up your own. The important thing is consistency in writing style. Using a known stylebook makes it easier.
- Two sets of eyes are better than one and three sets are even better. Adopt a procedure for proofing all content written. The worst case scenario is when one person is doing all the writing, proofing, and publishing. Typos are guaranteed to happen and once it’s printed, it’s too late.
- Designate someone to be the go-to person or Editor-In-Chief for all written communication by the company. This editor can oversee company style and consistency in communication. This duty could be split between two people but both need to use the same stylebook.
- Find someone outside the loop to give a final review of the communication piece. Often, two people who are so close to the situation and ingrained in what they are writing, will overlook something that needs more clarification. They may know what they’re saying, but what about another reader? An impartial review by someone not so close to the situation may be revealing.
Terry Bolda began his communications career as a newspaper editor in 1979. He has worked in corporate communications, public relations, and more recently, marketing and fund development for nonprofit organizations. His business, Bolda Communications, provides nonprofits and businesses with marketing communications, public relations, and fund development services.