“Readers pay more attention to quotes, because they want to hear from people directly, and when the result is babble and innocuous platitudes, they leave disappointed.”
— Jim Ylisela, Jr., president of Duff Media Partners Inc.

‘I’m so excited’

Executives are in a tizzy over their announcements

Have you noticed how excited corporate spokespeople are these days? And if not excited, how pleased, proud and delighted they are? Some are even thrilled.

OVER THE MOON Why are executive quotes so giddy?

Or at least that’s what they say in their executive quotes.

In one 30-day period this spring, Business Wire was thrilled to post:

1,284 releases using “pleased,” including:

“Discovery Education is pleased to partner with the Adobe Foundation to share this unique and innovative program with our network of educators nationwide,” said Mary Rollins, vice president, Discovery Education.

1,007 releases using “excited,” including:

“We’re excited to officially welcome Wyse to Dell and help extend its industry-leading efforts to a broader range of customers and partners,” said Jeff Clarke, Dell vice chairman and president, Global Operations and End User Computing Solutions.

782 releases using “proud,” including:

“CFS Clinical is proud to offer breakthrough solutions featuring technology specifically designed by industry experts for our space,” states Greg Seminack, President and Managing Partner of CFS Clinical.

401 releases using “thrilled,” including:

“We are thrilled to welcome Det Norske Teatret as our first partner in Norway,” said Jeff Koets, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at AudienceView.

378 releases using “delighted,” including:

“We are delighted that Grand Hyatt will be part of Ciudad Empresarial Sarmiento Angulo, which will be one of Bogota’s premier commercial projects,” said Pat McCudden, senior vice president, real estate and development for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Contain yourself.

So what’s wrong with expressing your executive’s enthusiasm about your organization’s partnerships, executives, solutions or hotels?

  • These quotes are clichés. Fill-in-the-blanks PR quotes make your readers’ eyes glaze over.
  • They say nothing. These quotes just repeat the announcement. They don’t move your argument forward or cover new ground.
  • Nobody cares how you feel about your organization and its stuff.

So instead of telling me how excited you are, why don’t you tell me something that makes me excited?

Overcome the emotion.

To repair these quotes, take these two steps:

1. Try a different word. When you find yourself writing “I’m delighted that …,” substitute titillated, intoxicated, overly emotional, worked up, delirious, verklempt, aflutter or agog.

OK, that’s not really a tip. But I want you to do it anyway.

2. Rewrite the quote to excite the reader. Focus on how your whozit or whatzit is going to change the reader’s life.

That’s something to get worked up about.

Make Your Copy More Creative

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“Transitions are critically important. I want the reader to turn the page without thinking she’s turning the page. It must flow seamlessly.”
— Janet Evanovich, author of the Stephanie Plum series including Sizzling Sixteen

Sure signs

‘Signal words’ help readers follow along

“Signal words” — aka transitions — are the narrative glue that helps readers see what’s coming next, understand your whole message and see how the parts fit together (Herber, 1978).

SIGN UP Transitions — aka ‘signal words’ — help average readers remember more and organize their thoughts better.

“If we encounter thus, therefore, consequently and the like, we know that the next statement should follow logically from whatever has already been presented,” writes Bonnie J. F. Meyer, Ph.D., professor of Educational Psychology at Penn State. “If we see nevertheless, still, all the same or the like, we must be prepared for a statement that reverses direction.”

Easier to remember.

In one study, for instance, a group of junior college students read a piece about supertankers that included transitions. Another group read the same piece with the signaling deleted.

The deletions had no effect on the ability of the best or worst students to remember and write down what they’d read. But those transitions did make a difference for average readers. With the signal words, the average students remembered more and organized the information better (Marshall 1976, Meyer 1975).

Form follows function.

Which transitions should you use? Let your story’s structure determine what kind of glue to choose.

Reading experts Joanne and Richard Vacca (1973) classify these types of internal transitions:

  • Cause/effect: because, since, therefore, consequently, as a result, this led to, so that, nevertheless, accordingly, if … then.
  • Compare/contrast: however, but, as well as, on the other hand, not only … but also, either … or, while although, unless, similarly, yet
  • Time order: on (date), not long after, now, as, before, after, when
  • Listing: to begin with … first … second …, next, then, finally

Use conjunctions and connectives.

Words like and, but, and or serve as “linguistic mortar” to explain the relationships among and between facts in your copy.

People prefer to read, are able to read faster and have better memory for sentences connected by explicit conjunctions, according to a host of research (Katz and Brent 1968, Marshall and Glock 1978-79, Pearson 1974-75).

For instance, in one study (Pearson 1974-75), this passage …

“Because John was lazy, he slept all day”

… performed better than this one:

“John was lazy. He slept all day.”

So don’t drop the transitions.

Build a solid structure

Want to master a story structure that increases readership instead of cutting it short?


Sources: Robert C. Calfee, and R. Curley, “Structures of prose in content areas,” In Understanding reading comprehension, ed. J. Flood. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 1984, pp. 161-180

Bonnie J. F. Meyer, “Reading Research and the Composition Teacher: The Importance of Plans, College Composition and Communication, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 1982), pp. 37-49

Bonnie B. Armbruster, “The problem of inconsiderate text,” in Comprehension instruction, ed. G. Duffey. New York: Longmann, 1984, pp. 202-217

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“What’s another word for Thesaurus?”
— Steven Wright, American actor, writer and stand-up comedian


You’re not goofing off, you’re just developing wordplay skills

If Dave Thompson weren’t so easy to love, he’d be impossible to take.

BRAIN TEASER: Work out your brain for wordplay at Dave Thompson’s puzzle site.

Both brilliant communicator and mathematical mastermind (I know! I had no idea these folks existed either!), Thompson directs PR efforts for the Oregon Department of Transportation by day and produces a puzzle blog by night. In his spare time, he’s a fabulous dad and devoted PRSA leader. (Plus he’s a hilarious raconteur and my favorite happy hour partner in Portland.)

I myself would never even attempt to solve one of Thompson’s Sodukos. But if you enjoy puzzles, rest assured: Magic Word Square isn’t a fascinating waste of time, it’s a fabulous way to train your brain for wordplay.

At Magic Word Square, you’ll find a new word puzzle each day and its solution the next morning. The puzzles start out simpler on Monday and grow more sophisticated by Friday.

On Saturdays, you’ll find “Tom Swifties,” where you solve a series of small Sodukos to spell out an adverbial pun that simultaneously describes a speaker and refers to the speaker’s statement.

“Once you’re done, you’ll groan out loud, if I’ve done my job,” Thompson says. “The adverbial puns are BAAAAD.”

Intrigued? Check out my favorite Dave Thompson puzzle and its solution.

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“You’ll go ‘We, We, We’ all the way home — without the contract.”
— Wylie Communications’ marketing client

One more phrase to avoid

Enough already with the ‘At XX, we …’ construction

At Wylie Communications, we believe that writers should write and that approvers should check the facts and leave the headlines alone.

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU Can we agree to drop the ‘At XX, we …” construction?

At Wylie Communications, we understand that it makes you sick when nonwriters garble your beautifully constructed headlines.

At Wylie Communications, we know that you sit up at night, dreaming of ways you can go all Joffrey Baratheon on those damned approvers’ asses.

At Wylie Communications, we realize that that’s why you drink too much Chardonnay and come to work late and with a headache.

Stop we-we-ing on the reader.

It’s time to can the “At XX, we …” construction.

Why? Because it’s:

  • Patronizing. At Wylie Communications, we don’t believe our insurance company really understands us.
  • Formulaic. At Wylie Communications, we feel that this cliché might make us vomit.
  • Off target. At Wylie Communications, we prefer that you write about us instead of about your organization and its beliefs, feelings and realizations.

What shall we write instead?

What if, instead of writing about us and our thoughts, we focused on the reader and the reader’s needs? Try this little editing trick:

At Wylie Communications, we … You …

At Wylie Communications, we think that’s a much better approach.

What do you think?

Move your audience to act

Want to deliver copy that gets read?

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“We can use the information gained today
to improve how we communicate
– starting today.”
— Michael Blash, divisional communications leader, Merck

Bring Ann to your team via teleseminar

Save on training fees with Ann’s virtual workshops

When you bring one of Ann’s workshops to your team via teleseminar, you can:

  • Save money. Save on travel costs — not just for Ann, but also for far–flung members of your team.
  • Involve more people. Anyone with a phone can participate, even team members located in other offices, cities, states or countries. HSBC, Novartis and Saint Gobain are among the companies that have brought their worldwide staffs together for a series of training sessions via a teleseminar with Ann.
  • Develop a series of training programs. Bringing Ann in for on–site sessions once a month or every Tuesday for six weeks just isn’t practical for most organizations. But it is affordable to host an ongoing series of teleseminars. That makes it easier for people to fit training into their schedules — and to process and apply what they’ve learned between sessions.
  • Schedule programs at your convenience. Ann can often fit in a teleseminar even when she’s not available for on–site programs. As Ann’s training schedule sells out earlier and earlier each year, teleseminars can give you much more flexibility in selecting training dates.

Most of Ann’s programs are available via teleseminar.

To talk about bringing one of Ann’s programs to your team, contact Ann.

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“Extremely helpful and thought provoking. It was very helpful to review actual Aviva pieces to se how it could be improved.”
— Lindsay Meleshko, channel marketing specialist, Aviva USA

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: Nov. 8
  • Boston: Aug.7
  • Dallas: July 17
  • Green Bay, Wis.: Oct. 23
  • Kansas City, Mo.: Oct. 24-28, Christmas week
  • Miami: Dec. 7
  • New York: Sept. 21
  • Phoenix: July 24
  • San Francisco: Oct. 14-15
  • Seattle: July 12
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: Nov. 2-5
  • Spokane, Wash.: Sept. 27
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 15
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 4-5

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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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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