“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
— George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Strength in numbers

STORYtoolz’s facts & figures make copy more readable

Plug in a chunk of copy, and STORYtoolz’s Readability Statistics will run it through seven readability indexes. The free online readability calculator also delivers a wealth of other readability information — 34 pieces of data in all, from your longest sentence length to the number of “to be” verbs.

From words per sentence to characters per word, you’ll find the most important data about your copy in this section of STORYtoolz.

Here, you’ll want to look at:

  • Number of words. Longer stories lose readers faster, so the lower this number, the better.
  • Characters per word. Word length is one of the top 2 predictors of readability. Hit an average of 5.0 or less on this measure.
  • Syllables per word. Words of three or more syllables add to reading difficulty, according to the folks who created the Fog and SMOG indexes. Aim for an average of 2.0 or less.
  • Words per sentence. Sentence length is one of the top 2 predictors of readability. Aim for an average of 14 or less, counsel the folks at the American Press Institute.
  • Number of short sentences; number of long sentences. Vary your sentence length to build drama, create rhythm and make your points powerfully. Check these measures to make sure you’re not lulling your readers to sleep with monotonous sentence length.
  • Sentences per paragraph. Readers skip long paragraphs. Keep this measure to under three for print, under two for Web copy.
  • Number of questions. Questions may suggest reader involvement, right? Just make sure you’re not over-relying on question leads.
  • Number of passive sentences. Passive voice is long, bureaucratic and weak. Aim for zero.
  • Longest sentences. Readers get lost in long sentences. Keep it under 20.
  • Shortest sentence. There’s no such thing as a sentence that’s too short. Agreed?

How can you use STORYtoolz to weigh, measure and improve your copy?

Cut Through the Clutter

Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?

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“Deliver your words not by number but by weight.”
— H.G. Bohn, British publisher

6 words about writing

Readers offer super-short tips

OVERCOME OVERLOAD Can you tell your story in exactly six words?

Last month, in honor of Students First’s six-word essay contest to best describe what it means to be a great teacher, we asked readers to send us their writing tips in six words.

Here are the best of the bunch.

“Dump. Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. Enjoy.”
— Ned Mann, Media Relations professional
at Chubb Executive Risk Inc.

“Long, dangly sentences are usually DOA.”
— Anita Allen, Ascend contributor at Sabre
“DOA copy is Daunting, Overwritten, Agonizing.”
— Anita Allen
“Marshal muscular verbs. Launch soaring sentences.”
— Dana Van Allen, communications specialist at Siemens Milltronics
“Sometimes, grammar police: look away.”
— Alejandro (Alex) Morones, technical writer and editor
at the University of Texas at San Antonio
“To become a better writer, read.”
— Christel K. Hall, APR CBC,
principal at PRowrite Public Relations Services
“Writer’s block cured by writing anything.”
— Andy DiOrio, director of internal communications, AMC Theatres
“Just write; keep typing; edit later.”
— Laura Temple
“Edit. Edit again. Once more. Polished.”
— Jo Lynn Deal, business management consultant
“Tell a story, don’t report it.”
— Jef White, managing editor, National Business Media
“Mesmerize with moonlight thru looking glass.”
— Susan Parson, operations manager, Business Education Compact
One more tip …

One participant pandered to the judge. He knows the judge personally and correctly assumed that she’d appreciate the pandering:

“Favorite writing tip: Read Ann Wylie”
— Barry Schneider, product communications manager at Waddell & Reed

And the winner is …

My favorite tip, both for the topic (feature leads) and imagery, is:

“Make your lead really sing – loud.”
— Mary Lisa Russell, communication specialist
at Community Medical Centers

Mary, look for one of my favorite things from my new hometown — Portland, Ore. — in your mailbox soon. And thanks to everyone who played.

April writing challenge: Make Your Copy More Creative

My husband likes to quote “anonymous”:

“If a man speaks in the forest,
and no woman is there to hear him,
is he still wrong?”

For communicators, the question is a little different. David Murray, editor of ContentWise, says:

“If nobody hears your strategic messaging,
does it make a sound?”

The biggest risk in communications is not that we might offend someone or write something that’s eye-rollingly goofy. The biggest risk communicators face is that we never get heard at all.

One way to increase your chances of getting heard: Make Your Copy More Creative.

Creative copy encourages reading, increases understanding and helps people remember messages longer so they can act on them later.

For this month’s contest, reach into the archives and send me your favorite example of creative copy by April 15. Maybe you transformed a tired topic with wordplay, storytelling or metaphor. Maybe you used concrete details to show instead of tell, found a poster person to stand for your point or made your readers laugh out loud with humor.

Whatever your technique, I’ll publish the best examples in the May issue of Rev Up Readership and Wylie’s Writing Tips. And, if yours is the best of the best — you’ll not only have a piece that gets your message heard — you’ll also win a prize that makes a sound.

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

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“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
— Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist

Make the medicine go down

Graphic storytelling gets patients to follow their RXs

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.

PICTURE THIS Comic strips like these help women in rural Cameroon comply with prescription instructions.

That’s according to a 1997 study by L.N. Ngoh and M.D. Shepherd.

For the study, the researchers gave instructions for taking their prescriptions to 78 nonliterate women in rural Cameroon:

  • Half of the subjects received verbal instructions only.
  • Half received the verbal instructions plus illustrations to take home showing when to take the medicines.

15% more compliant

Four days later, researchers visited the women’s homes and counted the remaining pills to see how well the patients had adhered to the instructions.

The patients who had the illustrated instructions had taken, on average, 90% of the pills they’d been prescribed. Those who’d received only the verbal instructions had taken only 78% of the prescribed pills. That’s an increase of 15%.

Think research on nonliterate women doesn’t pertain to you? You might reconsider: 14% of U.S. adults have ‘below basic’ literacy skills.

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.

Check out our new website, CommunicatingWithComics.com, to learn more ways to move people to act with visual storytelling.


Sources: L.N. Ngoh and M.D. Shepherd, “Design development, and evaluation of visual aids for communicating prescription drug instructions to non-literate patients in rural Cameroon,” Patient Education Counsel, 1997; Vol. 31, pp. 245-61.

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

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“You write and then you erase. What kind of a profession is that?”
— Saul Bellow’s father to the Nobel Prize-winning author

Writing in the wrong direction

PR pros give young professionals a failing grade

Public relations supervisors give entry-level PR pros a failing grade in writing. In response, the supervisors plan to lower their expectations.

OFF TO A BAD START Entry-level PR pros get a failing grade in writing — and their supervisors have decided to live with it.

That’s according to a 2010 study (PDF) by researchers at Michigan State University and Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

In the study, more than 950 members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) gave PR pros with five or fewer years of experience failing grades in:

  • Grammar: 1.96 in the United States/1.82 in Canada, with 1 being “incapable”
  • Spelling and punctuation: 2.01 U.S./1.83 CA
  • Ability to organize ideas: 1.95 U.S./1.94 Canada
  • Using the style guide: 1.71 U.S./1.79 CA

Entry-level practitioners gave themselves a passing grade in all of these areas.

The kids are all right.

Writing tops the list of five essential skills needed in public relations, according to Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron. They’re the authors of Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, a best-selling first-year public relations textbook.

These young pros spend 7 to 9 hours a week writing news releases and backgrounders, 8 hours a week writing emails and 4.5 to 6 hours a week writing Web copy.

And still, their supervisors have decided to let their sad skills slide. More than half of the Canadian communicators surveyed and nearly half of the Americans said they’d lowered their expectations in response to failing writing skills.

Is there a better way?

How proficient are your entry-level writers?
How do you help bring them along?

Polish your writing skills

Want to help team members master the art of writing better, easier and faster?

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“It was useful, even during one of our busiest times of year. It was well worth the time.”
— Kayla Hedrick, senior account executive, Osborn and 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.

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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:

  • Austin, Texas: April 19-20, Nov. 8
  • Baltimore: May 29-30
  • Boston: June 22, Aug. 7
  • Chicago: April 17, June 27
  • Dallas: July 17
  • Green Bay, Wis.: Oct. 23
  • Kansas City, Mo.: April 11, July 31, Christmas week
  • Memphis, Tenn.: April 3-6
  • Miami: Dec. 7
  • Nashville, Tenn.: May 3
  • New York: Sept. 21
  • Phoenix: July 24
  • San Diego: May 4
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: Nov. 2-5
  • Spokane, Wash.: Sept. 27
  • Washington, D.C.: May 16

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

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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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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Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

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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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For more info

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

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