In your own words | September 2009

“All the fun’s in how you say a thing.”
— Robert Frost, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet

In your own words

Become a recreational word coiner with these four approaches from Barbara Wallraff

One creative way to express your message is by “neologizing,” or coining a new word.

Barbara Wallraff, the author of “Word Fugitives,” an Atlantic Monthly column that coins words at readers’ request, shares these three approaches for recreational word coining:

1. Add or subtract a syllable or a letter.

The Washington Post’s Style Invitational contest might invite readers to “take any word, add, subtract or alter a single letter, and redefine the word.” Recent responses include diddleman, “a person who adds nothing but time to an effort.”

2. Combine two existing words.

A “portmanteau” is British author Lewis Carroll’s term for “two meanings packed up into one word.” Walraff proposes dialexia, or being terrible at transcribing phone numbers.

How can you merge two words to come up with a new word?

3. Make ’em metaphorical.

In An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton, now better known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio on Bravo, publishes “venerable terms of venery,” or collective nouns to define a group of objects, such as a pride of lions.

Among them is this one, from George Plimpton: “an om of Buddhists.”

What’s the term of venery for a group of vice presidents? A meeting of your top clients? A conference of communicators?

Play with your words

How can you make your copy more creative through wordplay?

Source: Barbara Wallraff, “Shouldn’t there be a word …? American Scholar, Spring 2006

“When you write, you make a sound in the reader’s head. It can be a dull mumble — that’s why so much government prose makes you sleepy — or it can be a joyful noise, a sly whisper, a throb of passion.”
— Russell Baker, U.S. columnist and journalist

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Make your copy more creative

Paint pictures in your readers’ minds so they understand your message faster, enjoy it more and remember it longer

It’s not fluff. Creative material communicates more clearly, builds reader loyalty, creates a “buzz” for your topic — even enhances credibility.

That’s why we’ve made creative copywriting one of the topics of our Writing That Sells Master Class, on Sept. 22 and 23 in Overland Park, Kan.

In this program, you’ll learn how to:

  • Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
  • Write moving quotes and memorable quips
  • Put the most powerful form of human communication to work in your very next piece
  • Make new, difficult or complicated information easier to understand through analogy

Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • Where to find online tools that virtually twist phrases for you
  • How to model some of the world’s most creative headlines
  • Tips for crafting colorful, quotable quotes that get picked up by the media and repeated by readers
  • The question to ask to get a story in an interview
  • How to pass the seven-second rule of storytelling
  • A quick, easy-to-use template for building an anecdote
  • How to get a fresh spin on clichés
  • A simple question to ask to get your subject matter expert to come up with an analogy
  • A four-step process for developing a creative metaphor
  • A fill-in-the-blanks model for writing your next analogy

In this two-day Master Class, you’ll also learn how to:

Don’t miss your chance to attend …

Time is running out to learn to write for social media; persuade readers to buy your products, services and ideas; and lift your messages off the screen to reach skimmers and scanners.

I haven’t presented a two-day Master Class in seven years. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to learn all of my very best techniques for writing copy that sells in a single, in-person program.

I’m getting excited to share tips, tricks, tools and techniques that you won’t learn at any other conference or workshop. I look forward to seeing you there!

“A semester’s worth of knowledge in a few hours.”
— Amy Kappler, communications specialist, Burgess and Niple

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How to write a social media release

Three tips to help Google find your website

These days, news releases can do more than just get your story reported in news outlets. Online releases can get posted on news portals and other websites; be seen directly by customers, clients and other stakeholders; and even boost your search engine rankings.

Here are three tips for making the most of online press release distribution:

1. Place anchor text next to important URLs.

Anchor text (it looks like this: one-on-one writing coaching) is important because it tells Google and other search engines what your link is about. That increases your inbound link “credit” for search engine optimization (SEO).

However, according to HubSpot, the inbound marketing experts, many portals don’t publish anchor text. So add a URL next to your anchor text, like this: one-on-one writing coaching (

Even if the portal doesn’t publish live URLs, the portal’s readers will see your link: “one-on-one writing coaching (”

2. Write a descriptive headline.

Your headline gets a header (<h1>) tag on the portal, which means it can deliver huge SEO benefits. To take advantage of this opportunity, use a keyword in your headline.

And limit your headline to eight words or less — longer, and it might not fit into the portal’s space for story listings. Besides, short headlines are easier on for real readers to grasp at a glance.

3. Drop the gobbledygook.

Nobody searches for words like “world-class,” “cutting-edge” and “next-generation.” Gobbledygook and hype not only clutter up your copy for real readers, they also reduce your chances to use traffic-driving keywords for the search engines, as well.

Instead of piling on the jargon and adjectives, describe your product, service or idea and what it will do for your clients and customers. That’s better for search engines — and for human readers.

Write online releases

Would you like to more techniques for writing online releases? If so, please join me at PRSA’s Sept. 10 teleseminar, “How to write a social media release.” You’ll learn how to write releases that get posted on portals, help Google find your site and reach readers online.

Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • Why jargon, buzzwords and other “gobbledygook” hurts communication worse online than in print
  • How to write better headlines, decks and leads for your online release
  • How long your online release should be
  • How to craft links that help Google find your website and that work for most news portals
  • Where to add links, and what to link to, to make the most of your SEO opportunities
  • How to optimize your releases for search engines as well as for readers

Sources: Mihaela Vorvoreanu, “ROI of Online Press Releases” (PDF), Journal of New Communication Research, Society for New Communications Research, 2008

Rebecca Corliss and Mike Volpe, “How to Be Smarter Than Your PR Agency: New Research on News Release Best Practices,” HubSpot, May 20, 2009

“New technology plus poor writing still equals a bad press release.”
— Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks,
a PR and new media agency in Silicon Valley

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When should you post?

At one minute after the hour, according to Jakob Nielsen

Timing isn’t everything, says Jakob Nielsen, “the king of usability.”

But it is important.

Nielsen’s preferred tweeting time is 9:01 a.m. Pacific, because that encompasses working hours from California to the United Kingdom, where most of his audience members live.

He posts a minute after the hour so his tweet will show up above those of people who set their software to post at the top of the hour.

Why is timing so important?

“One of the big downsides of stream-based communication compared to email newsletters is the highly ephemeral nature of the postings: Once they scroll off the first screen, they’re essentially 6 feet under,” Nielsen writes.

“A look at clickthrough statistics for links posted to Twitter vs. those circulated in email newsletters shows a drastically steeper decay function: lots of clicks the first few minutes, and then almost none. In contrast, email continues to generate clicks for days as people work their way through their inboxes.”

Source: Jakob Nielsen, “Twitter Postings: Iterative Design,” Alertbox, Aug. 24, 2009

Rev Up Readership Gold and Silver members, learn to tweet like Jakob Nielsen.

Rev Up Readership Gold members, get more than 40 tipsheets on mastering social media.

“Clickthrough decay: Twitter time passes 10 times faster than email time.'”
Jakob Nielsen, “the king of usability.”

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Streamline syllables

Three ideas for keeping words short

The shorter your words, the easier your copy is to read, according to readability indexes like the Gunning-Mueller Fog index.
Here are three ways to keep your words short:

1. Choose Anglo-Saxon words.

“After the Normans invaded England, Latin words became preferred by the country’s royalty, clergy and scholars. Latin words were, and still are, more formal and indirect than their dirt cheap Anglo-Saxon equivalents,” writes Bill Luening, senior editor, The Kansas City Star.

“Anglo-Saxon, the honest language of peasants, packs a wallop. In Anglo-Saxon, a man who drinks to excess is not bibulous but a drunk, a man who steals is not a perpetrator, but a thief, and a man who is follically-impaired is not glabrous, but bald. Direct language is powerful language.”

So make it a drunk, bald thief.

2. Write in verbs, not nouns.

When you write in verbs, you tend to reduce syllable counts — and make your copy more brisk.

“Instead of ‘We had a meeting,’ try ‘We met,'” writes poet Donald Hall. “We save three syllables, we add vitality.”

So look for verbs like be, is, are, has and have, combined with nouns. See if you can strengthen the verb and drop the noun.

3. Don’t find a euphemism for ‘said.’

“Leave said alone,” writes Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools. “Don’t be tempted by the muse of variation to permit characters to opine, elaborate, cajole, or chortle.”

How short are your words?

You can track your word length using Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics.

Source: Ann Wylie, Cut Through the Clutter, Wylie Communications Inc., 2005

Want more tips on writing copy that moves readers to act? Learn to Cut Through the Clutter.

“Imagine if Shakespeare had written, ‘All’s well that finalizes well’?”
— Steve Chawkins, columnist, Ventura County Star

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Where in the world is Ann?

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, Alaska: Oct. 21
  • Chicago: March 5
  • Cleveland: Nov. 30 – Dec. 3
  • Hartford, Conn.: Oct. 29
  • Eugene, Ore.: Sept. 29-30
  • New York: Dec. 11
  • Overland Park, Kan., Sept. 22-23
  • San Diego: Nov. 8

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

“I’ve waited a long time for a class like this.”
— Jay Mork, director, Advanced Programs, General Dynamics
Advance Information Systems

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Ann’s touring schedule

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 Oct. 21. “Think Like a Reader,” a half-day workshop, and “How to Write for Social Media,” a luncheon speech, for PRSA Alaska and AEMAA
  • Chicago on March 5. “Writing That Sells,” a one-day workshop for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
  • Cleveland on Nov. 30. “Rev Up Readership,” a half-day workshop for the Press Club of Cleveland
  • Hartford, Conn., on Oct. 29. “Writing That Sells,” a one-day workshop for IABC Connecticut
  • New York on Dec. 7. “Writing That Sells,” a one-day workshop for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
  • Overland Park, Kan., on Sept. 22-23. Writing That Sells,” a two-day Master Class. Learn to move readers to act, slash the time it takes to write and recession-proof your writing career in this rare writing intensive. First time in seven years!
  • San Diego on Nov. 8. “Get the word out with social media,” a half-day pre-conference session for the PRSA 2009 International 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.

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Let’s connect

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