November 19, 2017

“It changes your body, using the computer so much. Your jaw drops into your shoulder. It shortens your calf muscles and elongates your thighs. So I’m evolving into a monkey.”
— Olivia Munn, author,
Suck It, Wonder Woman! The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek

Chain reaction

Links distract readers; embed them anyway

Laura Miller has joined the growing movement toward delinkification. Instead of embedding links in the body of her columns, the senior editor at Salon is listing them at the bottom.

Links are a distraction. Always have been. That split second we spend asking ourselves, “click?” draws our attention away from the copy and makes it harder for us to follow the writer’s train of thought.

And that doesn’t count the cognitive juice we spend when we actually do click — even if we don’t take topical sidebars. Somehow, in the course of researching this piece, for instance, I learned about Amazon’s new PayPhrase and visited the blog of a “mild-mannered, 28-year-old, former econ nerd.”

We now know that that distraction follows us from the browser into the boardroom, thanks to Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Pointing and clicking our way through the hyperworld, it seems, makes it harder for us to concentrate in the real one.

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. So, what’s the best way to link?

How to handle links in a world of distraction

Given what we know about how links affect concentration, what’s the best way to link on your own website? Here are three approaches to try:

1. Choose your medium.

The Web is a hunting-and-gathering device. Use it to deliver nuggets of information: your Chicago office address, maybe, or a list of your palliative care services.

But the Web’s not so hot at helping people understand long, complex ideas. Building a linear argument? Put it on paper.

There’s a reason The Shallows is a book, not a website. I’m reading Carr on my Kindle.

2. Place links where they’ll do readers the most good.

Edward Tufte, “the da Vinci of data,” argues against footnotes. Footnotes, he says, make readers look to the bottom of the page, or — worse — to another page to find the citation.

Instead, he suggests, run “sidenotes” in a scholar’s margin along the side of the page. Sidenotes put the citation right next to the information itself — “just as God intended,” Tufte says.

Same thing with links. Use embedded links to connect readers to related material as you introduce it. If you have additional resources, describe and link them at the bottom of your page.

3. Make your page ‘context-independent, self-contained.’

A resource list might make a great Web page, but it ain’t an article.

“Hyperlinks can become a crutch or a mask for someone who hasn’t really thought about what she wants to say,” Miller says. “[Your page] should be able to stand on its own when read by anyone who doesn’t want to wade through the original 40-page report or skim every blog posting and newspaper story on a subject.”

Build an argument, not a link list. Links should reinforce your message, not replace it.

Your brain on Google

By nature, the Web is a distracting medium. But we’re not going to solve that by bunching our links at the bottom of our Web pages.

As for the way our beautiful, plastic brains are adapting to suit online hunting and gathering? Whether that adaptation is a blessing or a curse is for the future to see.

Carr himself, in the Atlantic Magazine article that preceded his book, shares a story about how human minds adapted to new technology some 400 years before the birth of Christ.

Socrates lamented in Plato’s Phaedrus that this development would cause humans to “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.”

Because we’d be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” he fretted, people would be “thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” And we’d be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”

Turns out Socrates was right.

The technology? Writing.

Get the word out on the Web

Want to write microcontent that lifts your ideas off the page?

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Sources: Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?Atlantic Magazine, July/August 2008

Jason Fry, “Maximizing the values of the link: Credibility, readability, connectivity,” Nieman Journalism Lab, June 7, 2010

Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton, “Imprudent Linking Weaves a Tangled Web,” Computer, July 1997

Laura Miller, “The hyperlink war,” Salon.com, June 9, 2010

Laura Miller, “Yes, the Internet is rotting your brain,” Salon.com, May 9, 2010

Matt Ritchel, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price,” The New York Times, June 6, 2010

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“Don’t stop [readers] with any bumps in the road. Any spot in your structure that makes readers go ‘huh?’ is an invitation to quit reading.”
— David D. Fryxell, freelance writer, in Writer’s Digest

Mind the gaps

Build bridges from one idea to the next

Internal, or small, transitions move your copy from paragraph to paragraph, from sentence to sentence, from idea to idea.

These are the nows, the laters, the after thats; the howevers, yets and buts; and the thuses, the stills, the neverthelesses. These copy connectors keep your story from feeling like a series of fits and starts, jumps and jerks or sudden shifts of scene.

To polish these internal transitions:

1. Make good connections.

To make sure your copy flows smoothly from one point to the next:

  • Compare and contrast (“However … Yet … Still”)
  • Move chronologically (“In 1985 … A few years later … In the future”)
  • Travel geographically (“In the White House … Meanwhile, back at the ranch”)
  • Progress sequentially (“First … Second … Third …”)

2. Pivot to a new topic.

Turn the story neatly from one idea into the next using a super-short paragraph.

Try it. It works.

3. Make them invisible.

Some folks use internal transitions to turn literary cartwheels. But the best internal transitions are invisible: Readers should hardly notice them. “Look at me!” transitions can distract readers from the substance of the story or its narrative line.

There’s a time for drama.

That doesn’t mean there’s never a time to write dramatic transitions. There is: when you’re moving from the end of a major section to the beginning of the next.

That natural stopping point demands more than a “but” or an “and.” It demands an external transition.

Move along now

Want to write better transitions an otherwise organize your story so it flows more effectively?

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“You’re not more informed.
You’re just numbed.”
— Tom Rosenstiel, former media critic for the Los Angeles Times

Help readers choose

Too many options paralyze people

Here’s a famous story among persuasion researchers and Malcolm Gladwell fans:

When a researcher offered shoppers 24 types of jam, many customers stopped by for a sample, but only 3 percent made a purchase. But when the researcher offered only six kinds, 30 percent of shoppers ended up buying jam.

“When people had too many choices, they just walked away,” says Sheena Iyengar, the researcher and author of The Art of Choosing.

Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University, studies how people make decisions. When it comes to choice, her research shows again and again, less is almost always more.

Less is more when it comes to:

  • 401(k) plans. In a study for Vanguard, Iyengar found that for every 10 funds a company added to its options, the number of employees enrolling dropped by 2 percent.
  • Medicare plans. When seniors had to choose a Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2006, they were overwhelmed by the options. In the end, some 10 percent of seniors didn’t enroll by the deadline, even though it meant they’d have to pay extra to enroll late.
  • Accountants and emergency room doctors also make better decisions with less information.

What’s wrong with choice?

Making a choice takes three mental tasks, Iyengar says:

  • Figuring out what you want
  • Understanding the options
  • Making tradeoffs

This exercise becomes more complex as the choices multiply.

So how can you make it easier for your readers to make a decision — instead of giving up and going home?

Think in decision layers.

One way is to try the three-by-three rule: Offer a matrix of three categories, each with three options. Instead of deciding between nine options, readers make two decisions between three options each.

TRIPLE WHAMMY: A three-by-three matrix makes it easier for readers to decide.

Move readers to act

Want to master the art of writing copy that sells, not just products and services, but programs, plans and positions, as well?

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Source: Penelope Wang, “How to make better investment choices,” Money, June 2, 2010

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“Facebook has 500 million users today. What are you waiting for, a billion? It’ll get there, so get off the sidelines and find meaningful ways to engage them.”
— David Berkowitz,
senior director of emerging media and innovation, 360i

Will you be my friend?

Create content that goes viral on Facebook

“Make everything a conversation instead of a one-way megaphone, and go out of your way to be interesting and valuable.”

— Kelsey Childress, writer and SEO specialist, Awen Creative

Talk about viral: Every time someone becomes a fan of your Facebook page or comments on, clicks the “like” link on or shares your post, that action shows up in the fan’s news feed for all of their friends to see.

So once you draw people to your page, you need them to become fans and share your content. How do you get visitors to respond to your content? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Give them what they want. Here’s what Facebook fans are looking for, according to a recent Morpace Omnibus Report:

  • 37 percent want to receive coupons and discount offers.
  • 35 percent want to be notified of new product availability.
  • 31 percent want to learn more about the organization.
  • 28 percent want to meet people with similar interests.

2. Let’s make a deal. Deals — discounts, coupons, specials and sales — are the No. 1 reason people follow companies through social media, according to the eMarketer’s 2010 “Popular Media Study.” So offer Facebook-only discount codes, give away merchandise and otherwise give fans a deal.

3. Take them behind the velvet rope. The No. 2 reason people follow companies through social media? To learn about new products, features or services, according to the eMarketer study. And megafans also want to get a behind-the-scenes look at the organization.

So think of your Facebook fan page as your company’s VIP room, suggests Lisa Barone, chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, in “The Facebook Page Marketing Guide.”

Fans who “join the club,” get taken behind the rope and see the inner workings of the organization. That might include, Barone suggests:

  • Never-before-seen footage of a new TV commercial
  • The back story on products that bombed
  • Details that didn’t make it into the story
  • Access to products before anyone else gets them
  • Invitations to comment on or name the secret test product

Get fans to spread the word.

Facebook is by nature viral. That makes it a great place to tap social proof, or the principle that people look to what others do to guide our behavior. Letting fans know “seven of your friends bought this; six of them loved it” is a great way to boost sales.

And don’t forget: Readability, timing and word choice all affect whether fans spread the word.

Will you be our friend? Please be among the first to visit Wylie Communications on Facebook and join in the conversation.

Get the word out on the Web

Want to reach your readers online?

___

Source: “The Facebook Page Marketing Guide — 2010,” Who’s Blogging What

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“Words fascinate me. They always have. For me, browsing in a dictionary is like being turned loose in a bank.”
— Eddie Cantor, American comedian, singer, actor, songwriter

‘Spill, baby, spill’

Vet your slogan with RhymeZone.com

They might have seen it coming.

Nope, not BP of the Gulf Coast oil spill. But Sarah Palin, Michael Steele and other supporters of increased domestic oil drilling of their slogan “Drill, baby, drill.”

Don’t get me wrong. “Drill, baby, drill” is actually a fabulous slogan.

“Slogans are fabulous when they use few words (two! one used twice) to unite and signify a tribe,” writes Seth Godin, author of Linchpin.

Plus, rhymes and other “fluent” words and phrases engage people. And strong verbs, like “drill,” paint pictures in readers’ minds and convey a can-do, action-oriented mindset.

“Support it or not,” Godin writes, “you have to agree that it was a great slogan. (Until it wasn’t.)”

But did nobody consider how the opposition might use this phrase?

Among the rhymes for “drill,” according to Wylie Communications Inc.’s chief verse officer RhymeZone.com, are:

  • Bill
  • Fill
  • Grill
  • Ill
  • Kill
  • Pill
  • Shrill

And, of course, “spill.”

Before you launch your fabulous new slogan, run it by your lawyers — then run it through RhymeZone.

Play with your words

Want to master the art of making your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?

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“Useful, practical advice that I can use to improve our government publications – presented in an engaging, understandable format.”
— Wendy Schneider-Levinson, managing editor, newsletter, National Cancer Institute

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: Sept. 22
  • Franklin Lakes, N.J.: Oct. 12
  • Hershey, Pa.: Oct. 7
  • New York: Nov. 5
  • Pittsburgh: Oct. 28
  • Portland, Ore.: Aug. 5-Sept. 13
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 11
  • 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.

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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 Sept. 22. “Write for the Web,” a half-day workshop and luncheon session for AEMAA/PRSA Alaska
  • Hershey, Pa., on Oct. 7. “Think Like a Reader,” a half-day workshop for PRSA Central Pennsylvania
  • 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
  • Portland, Ore., on Aug. 12. “Get the Word Out With Social Media,” a half-day workshop for PRSA Portland
  • Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 11. “Writing for the Web,” a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
  • 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.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

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Keep up with my calendar

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.

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For more info

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact meor visit my website.

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Please share this issue

… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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