“No matter what happens,
somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.”
Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated humor columnist
Three ways to get more humor into your writing
“I learned quickly that when I made others laugh, they liked me. This lesson I will never forget.”
— Art Buchwald, American humorist and Washington Post columnist
Humor gets attention, makes a message go down easier and helps people understand information faster and remember it longer.
It even makes you sexier.
What are you waiting for? Here are three ways to get more humor into your communications.
1. Extend a list.
In Eat the Rich, P.J. O’Rourke finds humor by extending a quote by Winston Churchill:
“Russia is a ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, tied in a hankie, rolled in a blanket and packed in a box full of little Styrofoam peanuts,’ said Winston Churchill, or something like that.”
Starting with a familiar series? Just keep adding items in escalating order of ridiculousness.
2. Substitute soundalikes.
When Men’s Health covered the news that chocolate might be even healthier than we thought, editors wrote this headline:
Avoid Death, Buy Chocolate
We know. Puns can be … punny. But they can also be funny. Use homophones lightly to make readers smile, not gag.
3. Flip a negative word.
Negative words that have no positives offer humor potential. Think debunk, disdain, disgruntled and inane. Now make them positive.
That’s what writer James Wolcott did in this passage of “Caution: Women Seething” for Vanity Fair:
“There’s something about Susan Estrich — some ineffable quality that, should it ever become effable, would peel paint off battleships — that annoys people of all faiths and political creeds.”
Use this list of Negatives Without Positives from Fun With Words to flip some negative words of your own.
Want to make your copy more amusing?
- Rev Up Readership members: Read the whole story.
- Invite Ann’s team in to handle a special writing project.
- Bring Ann to your organization for a “Make Your Copy More Creative” workshop.
- Work with Ann to make your copy more creative in one-on-one writing coaching sessions.
- Get dozens of tipsheets on playing with your words at RevUpReadership.com.
- Find out about Ann’s next creative writing webinar.
- Subscribe to our free writing tips e-zine.
“Keep it short from the initial conception. You can write a haiku faster than a sonnet, a sonnet faster than an epic.”
Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute senior scholar
Why write a thesis when what you need is a tweet?
As a reality TV superfan, I’ve learned a lot about writing from “Project Runway” episodes.
For one thing, time management counts. The most talented designers sometimes trip over deadlines: If your model walks down the runway in a bra and a button, you’re going home no matter how brilliant your sketch looked.
The same thing’s true in writing. It’s what you deliver — on deadline — that counts.
One way to write better, easier and faster, then, is not to overdesign. A big piece of time management boils down to knowing whether you’re creating a wedding gown or a shift, a dissertation or a direct mail letter.
Hitting your number — aka writing to length — can save you an enormous amount of time. So instead of overwriting, then underwriting, map out a plan for the length of your piece before you write a single word.
1. Budget your word count.
To write to length, start with your assigned word count. Then allocate a word count to each section of your piece.
2. Map out your story.
Now determine how you’re going to use those words — which statistics, success stories and other facts and ideas will make up each paragraph.
At this point, you’ll start to see that some things won’t fit. I call this “editing before you write,” because it allows you to make most of your decisions about what goes in and what stays out before you write the first word.
The alternative: Burning time writing everything, then burning more time cutting elements after you’ve already written them.
3. Track your budget.
Once you start writing, check your word count after you finish each section. That lets you know how well you’re spending your words and whether you have more or fewer words than budgeted for the next sections.
Count me in
I don’t claim that this system allows me to hit the word count perfectly on each piece I write. But I come pretty close — plus or minus 10 percent, maybe.
Over the course of my career, that’s saved me hundreds and hundreds of hours of overwriting, then cutting. That’s certainly more time by far than I’ve invested in mapping out my pieces before I write.
Write better, easier and faster
Want more techniques for writing more efficiently and effectively?
- Rev Up Readership members: Read the whole article.
- Bring Ann to your organization for a writing workshop.
- Work with Ann to improve your skills with one-on-one writing coaching.
- Check out Ann’s learning tools.
- Get more than 2,000 tipsheets for improving your writing at RevUpReadership.com.
- Find Ann’s out about Ann’s upcoming webinars and workshops.
- Subscribe to our free writing tips e-zine.
“A vision without a plan is just a hallucination.”
Atkinson PR’s Adage No. 1
Let audience members target themselves
I once worked with an education advocacy group that blanketed all of its audience members with the same communications.
- Teachers got the same information as students.
- Community members got the same messages as administrators.
- The mother of Billy the third-grader got the same level of detail as Washingtonian policy wonks.
The problem is, the broader your audience, the more trouble you’ll have reaching audience members effectively. In communications, as in so much else in life, the problem with trying to reach everybody at once is that you too often reach nobody at all.
So you need to segment your audience, offering relevant information — and only relevant information — to each subsection of your targeted groups.
The Web makes it easier than ever to segment your audiences. Here are three ways to segment your content and let audience members target themselves:
1. Offer streams for different segments.
A person who lives on the north side of town doesn’t want to get tweets about south-side bridge closings. But those affected by the closings can’t get enough.
Discrete Facebook and Twitter streams let followers and fans get what they want — and not what they don’t.
2. Invite visitors to subscribe to e-zines of interest.
At Poynteronline, I’ve signed up to get emailed updates on design, writing and editing and online communications. But I don’t ever want to get anything about photography, broadcast news or — heaven forbid — ethics.
3. Organize your website by audience groups.
You might structure your site into sections for:
- Doctors who prescribe your drug — and patients who take it
- Financial professionals — and individual investors
- Mothers of toddlers — and mothers of teens
- People shopping for insurance after having their first child — and those shopping for insurance after getting their first divorce
Don’t skip segmentation.
However you handle segmentation, it’s essential.
For one thing, it helps you battle information overload. Give readers information that’s relevant to them — and don’t bury them in irrelevant details — and your communications will be a lot more effective.
Reach readers with social media
Would you like to learn more about how to write blog postings, tweets and Facebook status updates that are relevant, valuable and interesting to your readers? If so, please join me at PRSA’s Sept. 9 webinar, “Writing for Social Media.” You’ll learn how to:
- Use the 70-20-10 rule for engaging your followers, plus other tips for making sure your status updates are welcome guests, not intrusive pests.
- Pass the “who cares?” test and four other techniques for becoming a resource, not a bore, on social media.
- Get liked and retweeted. Proven-in-the-lab techniques for expanding your reach and influence on Facebook and Twitter.
- Tweet like the FBI. Write dramatic, compelling status updates that draw followers and get clicks.
- Make your posts personable. There’s a reason they call it “social” media.
- Tweak your tweets. Get your message across in 140 characters or less.
Learn about my other upcoming webinars.
“Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle. That’s the intellectual environment of the Internet.”
author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The Web makes it hard to … um … concentrate online
Most Americans spend at least 8.5 hours a day looking at a screen, whether a TV set, computer monitor or mobile device, according to a study by Ball State University (PDF). Frequently, we use two or three of these devices at once.
That multitasking costs. According to a study by Stanford University, heavy multitaskers:
- Are more easily distracted by “irrelevant environmental stimuli”
- Have much less control over their working memory
- Are much less able to maintain their concentration on a particular task
Now, where was I going with this? Oh, yes.
“The Net is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention,” writes Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.
As we “power browse” a dozen Web pages at once, check our email 30 or 40 times an hour and text while driving, we become “distracted from distraction by distraction.”
So don’t count on your Web visitors being all there when they show up on your Web page.
“Psychological research long ago proved what most of us know from experience: frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious,” Carr writes. “The more complex the train of thought we’re involved in, the greater the impairment the distractions cause.”
Now … are you sure the Web is the best medium for your thought piece on the future of the industry, the CEO’s vision for the future or the company’s five-year plan?
Source: Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010
Get the word out on the Web
Want to reach distracted visitors online?
- Rev Up Readership members: Read the whole article.
- Invite Ann’s team in to handle a Web writing or editing project.
- Bring Ann to your organization for a Web writing workshop.
- Work with Ann to polish your skills with one-on-one writing coaching.
- Get dozens of tipsheets on writing better Web copy on RevUpReadership.com.
- Study Ann’s Reaching Readers Online system.
- Find out about Ann’s next Web writing workshop or webinar.
- Get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
“Since working with Ann, I’ve been recommending that every communication team have an outside professional come in and critique its work. It’s really an asset in developing your publication.”
Shaughn Jarvis, Accenture
Get a report card on your writing
Too often, the job of producing communications leaves little time for considering what you’re doing well and what opportunities you have for improvement. Our writing report card can help.
Send us a sample of your work, and we’ll send you a report card on its strengths and weaknesses, plus more than two dozen metrics for improvement. Your report card will help you:
- Increase readability
- Lift your ideas off the page with scannable copy
- Polish your headlines, links and other display copy
- Otherwise improve your writing
Ask for a report card on Web writing, persuasive writing or other writing.
Wylie Communications president Ann Wylie — whose own communications have earned more than 60 awards, including two Gold Quills — will review your work.
“Absolutely fantastic! I’d highly recommend it to anyone writing for business. My undergraduate degree is in journalism, and I learned tons.”
Kate Dixon, director, Compensation Programs, Nike
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Anchorage: Sept. 22
- Franklin Lakes, N.J.: Oct. 12
- Hershey, Pa.: Oct. 7
- Kansas City, Mo.: March 3
- Memphis: Nov. 18
- New York: Nov. 5
- Pittsburgh: Oct. 28
- Warren, N.J.: Oct. 13
- Washington, D.C.: Oct. 17, Nov. 9-10
Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations. But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- Anchorage on Sept. 22. “Make Your Copy More Creative,” a half-day workshop, and “Play With Your Words,” a luncheon session for AEMAA/PRSA Alaska
- Hershey, Pa., on Oct. 7. “Think Like a Reader,” a half-day workshop for PRSA Central Pennsylvania
- Kansas City, Mo., on March 3. “West Point for Writers: How to Win the War for Readership,” a keynote for Kansas City/IABC’s Business Communicators Summit
- New York on Nov. 5. “Web Writing Boot Camp: How to write Web pages, blog postings, tweets and other status updates that get the word out online,” a one-day workshop for PRSA
- Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17. “Write for Social Media,” a half-day pre-conference seminar for the PRSA 2010 World Conference
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Writing and editing magazine, website and newsletter copy for Saint Luke’s Health System and EADS
- Giving Iron Mountain a report card on its intranet copy
- Presenting writing workshops for Nike, PRSA Portland and PRSA Puget Sound
- Presenting webinars for PRSA
Keep in touch via:
- ComPRehension, PRSA’s blog of public relations strategies and tactics
- Wylie Communications feed, click RSS
- Wylie’s Writing Tips
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.