“Punctuate a thought with a one-sentence paragraph, a rim shot of emphasis in your musical arrangement of words. Remember: Writing is both a visual and an aural experience.”
— editors, Publications Management

Haiku masters

Readers offer writing tips in 17 syllables

Last month, in honor of the New York City Department of Transportation’s new haiku street safety signs, we asked readers to send us their writing tips in haiku.

CHAPTER AND VERSE Use haiku to tell your story.

Here are the best of the bunch:

Joanna Foote, communications coordinator and webmaster for the City of Eagan, declares:

“Writing with purpose
A right hook well delivered
Surely a knockout.”
“An Editor is
To good writers a chisel
When finished, art remains.”

Louise Grieco, public information specialist for the Bethlehem Public Library, shares a metaphor and her writing process in this piece:

Writing is not a breeze
“Make a draft or two.
Then repair all gaps, dry rot,
and windy phrases.”

Our most prolific entrant, Mary Marsh, production coordinator for Mitchell Communications Group Inc., loses no points by appealing to the judge in this entry:

“Ann, please consider
These tips as your winners; I
Love to win prizes.”

Kim Burdett, a communication specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, sounds a little ambivalent about the form in her entry:

“What’s next, a sonnet?
Haikus are so limiting
No constriction, please.”

Christel Hall, principal of PRowrite Public Relations, advises:

“Why did you write this?
Keep your audience in mind.
Why should they read it?”
“Have news to release?
Make sure your readers will care.
Otherwise, s’not news.”

I love that apostrophe in the last line.

Mark Hembree, associate editor of FineScale Modeler magazine, takes on overwriting, the approval process and punctuation in 17 syllables per tip:

“If you say in ten
What can be said well in five
I will edit you.”
“Words woven in gold
Often will tarnish and fade
In a client’s hands.”
“When commas are weak
Semicolon saves the day
It’s Supercomma!”

I adore that supercomma!

Mark, you’re the runner-up in our little contest.

My favorite piece, and therefore the winner, comes from Elaine G. Helms, director of marketing for Jenkins•Peer Architects. I appreciate the analogy to another Japanese art form in this piece:

“Writing, like sushi,
should be thoughtfully formed and
easy to consume.”

Congratulations, Elaine. Watch your mailbox for one of my favorite examples of organizational communication.

Thanks to everyone who played — and don’t miss our March writing challenge: the 6-word writing tip essay.

March writing challenge: 6-word essay

Students First recently held a six-word essay contest to best describe what it means to be a great teacher. The winner:

“I remember her 50 years later.”

The runners up:

“They doubted, you believed, I succeeded.”
“Selflessly dedicated to someone else’s success.”
“Teachers hold the ladders students climb.”
“All thirty students raised their hand.”
“Spark interest. Ignite curiosity. Fuel dreams.”

More than 100,000 people voted in this contest — showing that you can have a big impact in a few words.

Now it’s your turn.

“Give people harsh restraints, and sometimes it spurs creativity rather than hampering it,” says 400 Words editor Katherine Sharpe.

How could you use the 6-word essay format to breathe new life into your communications?

Let’s try it. Send Ann a 6-word essay on your favorite writing tip by March 17. She’ll publish the best in Rev Up Readership and Wylie’s Writing Tips. And, if yours is the best of the best, you’ll get a wonderful writing-themed prize chosen by Ann.

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

Back to top

“Know from the beginning whether you’re writing a sonnet or an epic.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

Write to fit

Hit your word count the first time

Remember the old saw: “After you’ve written your first draft, rewrite it as if you have a rule that it can’t be printed until it’s cut by one-third”?

HAVE A FIT One of the easiest ways to write short: Come up with a word count limit and stick to it.

Wait! So first, we’re supposed to write a piece that’s 33 percent longer than required, then unwrite a third of it?

Who has time
for that?!

I cringe every time a writing teacher trots out this advice from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well:

“If you give me an article that runs to eight pages and I tell you to cut it to four, you’ll howl and say it can’t be done. Then you will go home and do it, and it will be infinitely better. After that comes the hard part: cutting it to three.”

Who has time
for that?!

Sorry, but I think a writer who can cut an eight-page article to three pages hasn’t done the hard but efficient work of tightening her focus upfront.

Selection, redirection and compression are the three big ways to cut your copy after you write it. But the most efficient way to keep your piece short is to write to fit your assigned word count in the first place.

Here’s how:

1. Develop a budget.

Once you identify the best length for your piece, create a rough outline, estimating word counts for each section. For a 900-word feature for a health care system’s quarterly marketing magazine, for instance, I might start by estimating the lead and kicker:

  • Lead: Anecdote, nut graph, quote, transition — 150 words
  • Kicker: Wrap up, quote — 50 words

That’s 200 words, which leaves 700. That means the three sections in the body will be about 250 words each.

My final budget:

  • Lead: Anecdote, nut graph, quote, transition — 150 words
  • Section 1: Anecdote 1, quote, anecdote 2, statistic, anecdote 3, analogy — 250 words
  • Section 2: Anecdote, quote, statistic, analogy — 250 words
  • Section 3: Anecdote, quote, statistic, analogy — 250 words
  • Kicker: Wrap up, quote — 50 words

2. Edit before you write.

The 250 words I’ve budgeted for section 1 will probably be plenty for an anecdote, a quote, a statistic and an analogy, plus transitions between them. But I can see from here that 250 words won’t accommodate three anecdotes along with my other material.

So instead of wasting time writing all three anecdotes now, then wasting more time editing them out later, why not edit them out before you write?

My revised budget for section 1:

  • Anecdote 1
  • Quote
  • Anecdote 2
  • Statistic
  • Anecdote 3
  • Analogy

3. Keep counting.

Once you start writing, you’ll want to track whether you’re staying on budget. So run word count frequently.

Write your lead, then run word count. Over budget? You’ll need to make up for that in the body, so change your plan before you write.

As you write section one, run word count often. On track? Great! Keep going. Not so much? Stop and adjust your plan.

Not only does tracking your word count give you a rewarding sense of progress, but you’ll also learn early and often if your words are mounting too fast.

If you’re burning words too quickly — or not quickly enough — adjust your plan, edit before you write, then move on.

Quit while you’re ahead.

I recently heard a new take on an old proverb that actually offers helpful writing guidance:

“All’s well that ends.”

Which brings us to the No. 1 way to tighten your entire piece: Stop writing. Take a tip from my favorite philosopher, Anonymous, who said:

“Write a great beginning,
write a great ending
and keep them close together.”


Cut Through the Clutter

Want more tips for making every piece you read easier to read, understand, remember and act on? If so, please join me for PRSA’s webinar, Write for Readability.

More than 60 years of research shows that making your copy easier to read improves:

  • Readership. More people read the piece.
  • Perseverance. People read more of it.
  • Comprehension. They understand it better.
  • Speed. They read faster.
  • Retention. They remember it longer.

In this session, you will learn:

  • Four components of more readable messages.
  • The top two ways to increase readability.
  • Seven steps for making your copy easier to read.
  • Six tips for increasing comprehension.
  • Nine tools for measuring, managing and reporting reading ease.
  • Three bonus tips for boosting readability.

Back to top

“I’d hang pork chops around my neck if it would get a prospect to meet with me.”
— Mark Elterman, vice president of custom publishing for McMurry Publishing

Push the envelope

Get them to open the offer

Will they open your sales letter?

LOVE LETTER Will they like your offer enough to buy? Direct mail sales start with the envelope. Image by saxarocks

That depends on the:

1. Envelope

A No. 10 or monarch envelope look like personal or business correspondence. A 6-by-9-inch one stands out, but looks like junk mail. Envelopes with windows look more promotional than those without.

2. Teaser copy

Blind envelopes sometimes pull better than those with sales copy because they look personal instead of like junk mail.

But you might be able to pull recipients in with good teaser copy. Dramatic stories, strong benefits and a sense of urgency can grab attention. Nightingale Conant, for instance, starts — then interrupts — this dramatic story:

“The General figured he had nothing to lose.
“When the brash young man
who’d never held a pistol in his life
boasted that he could cut training time IN HALF
for the United States Army’s pistol-shooting program, the General smiled.
“When he vowed that he would raise its success rate at the same time, the General laughed.
“But when the man insisted that he wouldn’t take a penny in payment unless he was 100% successful, the General said, “You’re on!”
“Using the very same techniques that would make him a millionaire before his 29th birthday       [continued inside]

3. Address

Addresses that look typed or hand printed seem more like business or personal correspondence. Personalization looks personal; “Recipient” screams marketing.

4. Postage

Live stamps usually outperform envelopes with metered postage; metered postage pulls better than indicia. First class looks more like business or personal correspondence; third-class bulk rate looks more promotional.

Move your audience to act

Want to deliver copy that gets read?

Back to top

“I have no idea what readership is of written editorials, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the readership of editorial cartoons.”
— Paul Conrad, political cartoonist

Move people to act

Comics change behavior as well as minds

Graphic storytelling not only gets people to pay attention tounderstand and remember your message. It also changes audience behavior.

THE PICTURE MADE ME DO IT Comic strips and graphic novels help your readers pay attention to, understand, remember and act on your messages. Comic strip by Bill Wylie

In three studies, graphic storytelling helped communicators:

Build safety involvement.

Six out of 10 members of a building trade union pledged to get more active in union health and safety activities after reading a photo novel about asbestos hazards. Just four in 10 who read a booklet covering the same material thought they’d get more involved. That’s a 50% difference in involvement.

Make the medicine go down

Women in rural Cameroon took 90% of the pills they were prescribed after seeing illustrated instructions. Those who received only verbal instructions took just 78% of the pills they were supposed to take. That’s an increase of 15%.

Get patients to take better care themselves.

More than three-quarters of those who’d received the cartoon instructions were compliant with daily wound care vs. about half of patients who’d received text-only instructions. That’s a difference of 43%.

How can you use comic strips, cartoons
and other graphic storytelling approaches to move people to act?


Sources: D.L. Roter, R.E. Rudd, J. Keogh, B. Robinson, “Worker produced health education material for the construction trades,” International Quarterly of Community Health Education, 1987, Vol. 7, pp. 109–21

C. Delp and J. Jones, “Communicating information to patients: the use of cartoon illustrations to improve comprehension of instructions,”  Academy of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 3, 1996, pp. 264–70.

Peter S. Houts, Cecilia C. Doak, Leonard G. Doak,  Matthew J. Loscalzo, “The Role of Pictures in Improving Health Communication: A Review of Research on Attention, Comprehension, Recall, and Adherence” (PDF), Patient Education and Counseling,Vol. 61, 2006, pp.173-190.

Communicate With Comics.

Ready to try graphic storytelling for your communications?

I’ve recently teamed up with Bill Wylie, former Marvel Comics illustrator, to help organizations tell their stories and sell their messages through graphic storytelling. Let me know if we can help you get your message across with a:

  • Comic strip
  • Comic story
  • Comic book
  • Graphic novel
  • Cartoon
  • Caricature
  • Storyboard

Bill and I look forward to working with you to bring the power of words + pictures to your next campaign or communication.

Back to top

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

Get the word out

Polish your writing skills with four new workshops

Need to implement your new brand voice guidelines, make your copy easier to read, practice writing more creatively or get the message across with graphic storytelling?


FIND THE RIGHT WORDS Polish your skills and find new inspiration for your work in one of Ann's new writing workshops.

Now you can, with four new workshops by Ann Wylie:

Voice Lessons

How to write in your organization’s brand voice

Your brand guidelines tell you what to write. Let Ann show you how to realize the brand voice in every piece you write. For this highly customized session, Ann will study your brand guidelines and develop writing techniques for implementing that voice.

Let Ann do for you what she’s done for FedEx, The Principal and Progressive Insurance: Bring your brand voice to life. In this workshop, you’ll learn to write copy that helps your organization:

  • Claim its leadership position
  • Reinforce the power of your brand
  • Produce messages that sound like they’re coming from the same organization

Write for Readability

Craft messages that get read, understood & remembered

More than 60 years of research shows that making your copy easier to read improves:

  • Readership: More people read the piece.
  • Perseverance: People read more of it.
  • Comprehension: They understand it better.
  • Speed: They read faster.
  • Retention: They remember it longer.

In this session, you will learn:

  • The top 2 ways to increase readability
  • 4 components of more readable messages
  • 7 steps for making your copy easier to read
  • 6 tips for increasing comprehension
  • 9 tools for measuring, managing and reporting reading ease
  • 3 bonus tips for boosting readability

Creative Writing Workout

Practice writing like NPR, The Wall Street Journal or your favorite author

(To allow for hands-on practice, this session is two modules long.)

Joan Didion does it. So did John Gregory Dunne. And W. Somerset Maugham.

They studied the world’s best writers, learned their techniques and adapted those techniques to their own work.

You can do it, too. In this hands-on session, you’ll learn to turn your favorite writers into personal writing coaches by modeling the masters. We’ll cover a seven-step system for finding mentors among the world’s best writers, then you’ll practice modeling the masters yourself. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Become a better reader: It’s the best way to become a better writer
  • Avoid ‘creative incest’: Get out of your own backyard
  • Read like a writer: Look for technique
  • Clip, dip and rip: Create an library of masterpieces to model
  • Find the DNA: Figure out the code
  • Take ‘modeling lessons’: Learn your favorite author’s tricks
  • Stuff your toolbox with techniques: Adapt — don’t adopt — others’ approaches

Now They See It

Get the message across with graphic storytelling

Words + pictures communicate better than either one alone. Years of research show that graphic storytelling gets people to:

  • Pay attention to your message
  • Understand it
  • Remember it
  • Act on it

In this session, you will:

  • Find out why it makes sense to add words + pictures to your campaigns (Use this research to sell your approvers on the approach)
  • Review award-winning communication campaigns that relied on comic strips, cartoons and other graphic storytelling approaches
  • Learn how to get more graphic stories into your communications
  • Explore no-cost, low-cost and worth-the-investment tools for creating graphic stories

Write better right now.

Ready to polish your skills and find new inspiration for your work?  Contact Ann to schedule in-house workshop for your team. Or check out Ann’s calendar to find Ann’s  public workshops.

Back to top

“The session was very informative and gave me great ideas. I really liked that Ann used examples from our company that we could relate to and get more out of.”
— Erin Robbins, PR assistant account executive, Osborn & Barr

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.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

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.

Back to top

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:

  • Austin, Texas: April 19-20, Nov. 8
  • Baltimore: May 29-30
  • Boston: June 22, Aug. 7
  • Chicago: March 23, April 17, June 27
  • Columbus, Ohio: March 26-27
  • Green Bay, Wis.: Oct. 23
  • Kansas City, Mo.: April 11, July 31, Christmas week
  • Memphis, Tenn.: April 3-6
  • Nashville, Tenn.: May 3
  • New York: Sept. 21
  • Raleigh-Durham, N.C.: March 13
  • San Diego: May 4
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: Nov. 2-5
  • Spokane, Wash.: Sept. 27

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

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

Back to top

What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

Back to top

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.

Back to top

Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

Back to top

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!

Back to top

For more info

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

Back to top