“God is in the structure.”
— Richard Preston, author, The Demon in the Freezer

Features first

WCB-Alberta writer transforms article through story structure

I love it when my clients send me before-and-after pieces after I present a writing workshop.

BUILD A SOLID STRUCTURE Rethink your story with the feature-style story format.

BUILD A SOLID STRUCTURE Rethink your story with the feature-style story format.

For one thing, it’s gratifying to see that people’s writing actually improves after I visit! For another, these pieces make great case studies in good writing.

Workers Compensation Board-Alberta writer Caren Baroudy recently did a wonderful job rewriting an article for the WCB’s client magazine. Notice how her rewrite:

  • Focuses the angle on reader benefits. Baroudy moves from event to impact, changing the story angle from WCB’s new opioid claim rollout to how employers can help save employees from addiction and overdose by using the board’s new resources.
  • Uses the feature-style story structure. This approach has been proven in the lab to be more effective at reaching readers. It also allows writers to plug and play their information into an existing format, saving time and effort. In fact, Baroudy did much of this revamp during a morning workshop — a workshop in which your dear writing coach spent most of the time talking.
  • Keeps the piece short. The revised piece weighs in at less than 200 words — a one-minute read. The original is actually a little longer, at 213 words. Which goes to show that you can use the feature-style story structure even when you don’t have a lot of space.

Here’s Baroudy’s original piece:


HeadlineYou’re in the driver’s seat!The headline is interesting enough, but doesn’t relate to the topic: opioid abuse. It might work better for an article on, say, drunk driving or texting and driving.
DeckOpioid Claims Management rollout now completeThis deck gives us a sense that the story is going to cover the event instead of the impact.
LeadThroughout 2012, Medical Services and Customer Service worked together to improve the resources available to help claim owners effectively manage opioid claims. The result included new eCO enhancements and some minor changes to the management process, all designed to help claim owners manage these often challenging claims.Any time you see the phrase “Throughout [year]” at the beginning of a story, you know it’s going to be a background lead, aka blah-blah-blah background. There’s a reason the feature-style story structure places the background in the third paragraph, not the first.
BodyBusiness training facilitated information sessions to all Customer Service teams in November, referring to the analogy that the claim owner as the decision maker is in the driver’s seat. Claim owners have the task of ensuring injured workers receive the services they need to return to work. In cases of severe injuries where a return to work is not possible, claim owners provide services to improve an injured worker’s quality of life.The rollout focused on:

  • Moving opioid claim management to a point where it is an integrated part of claim management;
  • Establishing key measures that report on the status of opioid claim management;
  • Increased director, manager, supervisor, and claim owner accountability;
  • Improved consistency on how the policy is applied; and
  • Updated opioid procedures, forms, letters, and the introduction of opioid-specific eCO enhancements.


What’s in it for me? This angle — what we did, how the sausage was made — isn’t very interesting to clients whose employees are abusing opioids.
ConclusionFind out more about the tools and resources available for opioid claim management including new tutorial videos by visiting EW > Business Tools >Opioid Claim Management > ResourcesThere’s nothing wrong with this call to action, but it isn’t very rousing.


And here’s Baroudy’s rewrite:


HeadlineSolid Opioid Claim Management prevents addiction and overdoseThis headline reflects the real subject of the story. To tighten the headline, lead with the benefit and avoid repeating “Opioids,” I’d go with “Prevent addiction and overdose” for the headline.
DeckOpioid resources can keep you on courseThe deck signals a WIIFM angle.
LeadIn Canada, overdose deaths involving prescription medications now vastly outnumber deaths from HIV. By some estimates, prescription drug overdoses have killed 100,000 North Americans over the past 20 years.A startling statistic is one good approach for a lead that shows instead of tells, that’s concrete, creative and provocative.
Nut graphGood opioid claim management can literally save an injured worker’s life, but it isn’t easy. Here’s what you can do for your injured worker to help keep them, and you, on course.This paragraph deftly puts the story “into a nutshell” and shows the reader how she’s going to benefit from the piece.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Opioid Claim Management process by referring to Business Procedure 40.11. Refresher training courses are also available through Business Training – talk to your supervisor about registering.
  • Engage and empower your claimants – Know the clues of at-risk behaviour by using the Opioid Use Checklist (Form FM035AFC).
  • Let Opioid Claim Management tools guide you throughout the process. Everything from business procedures, policy, letter templates, tip sheets and tutorial videos are available by visiting EW > Business Tools >Opioid Claim Management > Resources.
These three tips transform the story into a service, or how-to, story. I love lists that start with imperatives, such as “familiarize,” “engage” and “let.” We call the imperative voice the command voice, but in a tipsheet like this, it’s really the invitation voice.
Wrap upSolid Opioid Claim Management prevents addiction and overdoses and in essence, can save a claimant’s life.After telling readers what you’re going to tell them in the nut graph, then telling them in the body, here’s where you tell them what you’ve told them. This wrap-up is nice, neat and sweet.
KickerBy following these steps, you can help your claimant avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic.Here Baroudy ends with a bang and comes full circle by referring back to statistics in the lead.


Thanks to WCB-Alberta’s communication leaders, Marcela Matthew and Dayna Therien, for sharing this piece with me and for letting me share it with you.

And to my other clients: I’d love to see your befores and afters. Please send them to me. It will help me illustrate my tips and techniques — not to mention feed my ego.

Build a solid structure

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

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“Whether long or short, the careful analogy is a gift to the reader because it brings depth and clarity to our writing.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

‘Keeping to the shadows’

Caravaggio in extended metaphor

In Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, Andrew Graham-Dixon compares the artist to the light lights and dark darks of his paintings.

CARAVAGGIO LIGHT AND DARK: Andrew Graham-Dixon extends a metaphor to show Caravaggio's sacred and profane sides.

CARAVAGGIO LIGHT AND DARK Andrew Graham-Dixon extends a metaphor to show Caravaggio’s sacred and profane sides.

Notice how he extends the metaphor:

“He was one of the most electrifyingly original artists ever to have lived …”

“He lived much of his life as a fugitive, and that is how he is preserved in history — a man on the run, heading for the hills, keeping to the shadows.”

“But he is caught, now and again, by the sweeping beam of a searchlight.”

“His youth is the least documented period of his existence — the darkest time, in every sense, of this life of light and darkness.”

“But in its shadows may be found some of the most important clues to the formation of his turbulent personality.”

“Suddenly here is Caravaggio, caught in the flashbulb glare of a barber’s memory: ‘This painter is a stocky young man, about twenty or twenty-five years old, with a thin black beard, thick eyebrows and black eyes, who goes dressed all in black, in a rather disorderly fashion, wearing black hose that is a little bit threadbare, and who has a thick head of hair, long over his forehead.’”

“Bellori, echoing Vasari’s idea that artists resemble their own work, wrote that ‘Caravaggio’s style corresponded to his physiognomy and appearance; he had a dark complexion and dark eyes, and his eyebrows and hair were black; this colouring was naturally reflected in his paintings … driven by his own nature, he retreated to the dark style that is connected to his disturbed and contentious temperament.’”

Extend your metaphors.

To extend a metaphor:

  1. Find your base. In this case, light and dark.
  2. Explore your base. Go a level or two deeper into your base and list the key elements you find there. Graham-Dixon comes up with words like electrifying, shadows, flashbulb, searchlight, disturbed and contentious.
  3. Make a metaphor. Compare your target to your base, as Graham-Dixon does here.

How can you extend a metaphor like Graham-Dixon?

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

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“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.”
— Colin Powell, an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army

Bring on the bad news

Overly optimistic communication makes employees nervous

ROSE COLORED GLASSES? If you don't report bad news, employees get nervous.

ROSE COLORED GLASSES? If you don’t report bad news, employees get nervous.

Some 84% of executives say their communication is intentionally “optimistic.” That’s a mistake.

Withholding bad news makes employees feel uncertain. That uncertainty can be worse than the bad news itself.

Indeed, research by David M. Schweiger and Yaakov Weber shows that communicating bad news as well as good decreases employees’ uncertainty and stress.

Bad news increases employees’:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Commitment
  • Trust in the company
  • Intention to stay at the company

How can you improve employee relations by communicating the bad along with the good?

Plan powerful communications

Want to master the art of effective communication planning?


Sources: TJ Larkin & Sandar Larkin, “Communicate the Good and the Bad,” Larkin Page No. 46, October 2006

David M. Schweiger and Angelo S. Denisi, “Communication with Employees Following a Merger: A Longitudinal Field Experiment,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, March 1991, pp. 110-135

David M. Schweiger and Yaakov Weber: “Strategies for Managing Human Resources during Mergers and Acquisitions: An Empirical Investigation,” HR – Human Resource Planning, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1989, pp. 69-86

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“The shorter [your message] is, the more important it is to design … for usability.”
— Jakob Nielsen, “the king of usability”

120 characters is the new black

How short on Twitter?

Give Twitter followers some space. Space to include a comment when they retweet your message, that is.

Yes, you have 140 characters to work with on Twitter. And that’s not much. But leave 20 characters for your followers’ notes, and you’ll encourage retweeting.

That’s right: 120 characters is the new 140.

Reach readers online.

Want to get the word out on the Web?

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“98% of the people who get the magazine say they read the cartoons first — and the other 2% are lying.”
— David Remnick, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writer and magazine editor

Communicate With Comics

Graphic storytelling sells products, services & ideas

Comics grab attention, clarify your ideas, make messages memorable and move readers to act.


Ready to try graphic storytelling for your communications? Here are three resources that can help:

  1. Now They SEE It. In this PRSA webinar, you’ll learn how to sell comics your management; how organizations have used comics in award-winning campaigns; how to get more graphic stories into your communications; and no-cost, low-cost and worth-the-investment tools for creating graphic stories. March 12. Free to PRSA members; $200 for others.
  2. Comic book artist. Ready to commission a comic strip, comic story, comic book, graphic novel, cartoon, caricature or storyboard? I’ve recently teamed up with a former Marvel Comics illustrator to help organizations tell their stories and sell their messages through graphic storytelling.
  3. Communicate With Comics. Looking for more ideas for bringing the power of words + pictures to your next campaign or communication? This is the site for you.

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“I know what I have to say but [Ann’s] tools and techniques have given me the power to write the story in a way my readers want to read. “
— Alison Edinger, manager, Marketing and Communications, Scripps Health

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:

  • Bloomington, Ill., on March 26. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for NAMA Heartland
  • Minneapolis on April 30. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC/Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA
  • New York on June 26. Now They SEE It, a one-hour breakout session for the 2013 IABC World Conference
  • New York on December 2. Write for the Web, a full-day workshop for PRSA
  • Phoenix on May 15: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC Phoenix
  • Portland, Ore., on May 9. Make Your Copy More Creative, a workshop for the TOCA annual conference
  • San Francisco on June 6Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
  • Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 14. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound

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:

  • Ann Arbor, Mich.: April 18
  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 7
  • Bloomington, Ill.: March 26
  • Chicago: March 5
  • Cleveland: May 7
  • Des Moines: March 21
  • Detroit: April 17
  • Houston: April 23-24
  • Kansas City, Mo.: March 6-9
  • Memphis: April 3
  • Minneapolis: April 30
  • New York: June 26, Nov. 2
  • Phoenix: May 15
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9
  • Salt Lake City: May 23-27
  • San Francisco: June 6
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 14

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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… 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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