Writing and Editing

14 Must-Have Books for the Marketing Content Creator

14 Must-Have Books for the Marketing Content Creator

I think of myself as a marketing content creator. Why? You can’t  be a just copywriter or copyeditor anymore. You need to expand to a new role that goes beyond the basics. Writing original content All writers need flexibility to be able to create content for new mediums. Here are a few examples of how things have changed: Traditional: Collateral, advertising, direct mail Modern: Email, websites, microsites Now: Blogs, Tweets, comments, questions, answers, and more—sharing relevant information Editing content Editing involves much more than fixing typos and grammar errors. You must be able to adapt information from traditional, to modern, to now. This could mean: Rewriting in a different tone Re-organizing for readability Considering how to add visual interest Curating content from multiple sources to create something new Recommendations Here is a list of the books I recommend, along with some links to corresponding websites (if I found them). I’ve also summarized my reasons for selecting each book for my reference library. 1. The Elements of Style, Strunk & White A classic. Small, short, everything you need to be a good writer. Some content is out-of-date, but still a necessity. I have my original copy from high school. 2. Writing with Style, John R. Trimble Combines some grammar with information that will help you develop your personal writing style. Good source no matter how much experience you have. Another original from high school. 3. Grammar for Smart People, Barry Tarshis Illustrated, easy-to-follow, funny guide that covers most (but not all) of the basic grammar rules. 4. On Writing Well, William Zinsser A classic for writing style. Helps you understand why to write and how to write for different mediums. 5. Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale Witty. A fast read. Learn some things you didn’t know. 6.Woe is I, Patricia T. O’Conner This book has a sense of humor. Can you tell from the title? Formatting makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. 7. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Every writer needs a good, hard-copy dictionary. Online dictionaries can give you too much information. I like this because it’s not too big or heavy. 8. Merriam-Webster Thesaurus First thesaurus I ever owned. Got the original at a book fair in elementary school. I use the latest edition now. Small paperback, simple. 9. Chicago Manual of Style Or AP, MLA, etc. For those times when you need a final authority on grammar and style questions. I use the online subscription for easy searches. 10. Tested Advertising Methods, John Caples Fundamentals from an industry legend. Will always be relevant. My copy is filled with notes and yours will be too. 11. On the Art of Copywriting, Herschell Gordon Lewis I attended his session at the DMA Conference in San Francisco a few years back. The basic idea is “write this, not that.” How your words will affect the reader. Tons of visuals. 12. Words that Sell, Richard Bayan Great brainstorming source. Lists are divided into categories. Not just words, but also phrases and slogans too. 13. More Words that Sell, Richard Bayan Expansion of the last book. Great for power words as well as descriptive words and phrases. 14. Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More), Ann Handley and CC Chapman Newest addition. I have the Kindle edition, but I’m going to need to get a hard copy for my library. This is now. Real advice for online. Even though we’re no longer just writers and editors, but content creators, we still need a good reference...

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Writing for Readability: A Few Simple Tricks

Writing for Readability: A Few Simple Tricks

Readers have become scanners. Information that was once scarce now deluges our computers, our mobile phones, our lives. Processing this information takes time, something most of us have little to spare. To adapt, we’ve perfected our scanning abilities to filter out unneeded information. No matter what we are writing—blog posts, marketing promotions, emails, etc.—we must accept that the majority of our readers will quickly scan the content. Some will decide to read it, and others will move on. As writers, it’s our turn to adapt. And it doesn’t require a lot of effort. We can tailor our writing to the scanning audience with a few simple tricks. Set up some road signs In elementary school, I discovered the monotony of reading textbooks—page after page of dense paragraphs with tiny type. Luckily, I had a clever friend who showed me how to look for the “road signs” in the content. What is a road sign? Title Header Sub-header List Graph Chart Table Image First Sentence in each paragraph My friend explained that I could save time by reading only the road signs, and still gain a reasonable understanding of the information. Our readers are looking for road signs too. We can help them by making our text easy to follow–and read. Play the numbers Readers are visually attracted to numbers–especially odd numbers. That’s why most magazine covers feature phrases like “7 Ways to Save a Million Dollars” and “5 Days to Perfect Health.” Many bloggers and marketers are already applying this principle when crafting headlines. But we can also use numbers in other ways to make our content easier to read. Here are a few techniques you can try: Use numerals (1, 2, 3…) when you want the number to stand out. Spell out the number (one, two, three…) when you want the number to be less conspicuous. Create groups of 3, 5, or 7 bullets or numbered points when building lists. Break up paragraphs longer than 3 sentences (4 if the sentences are really short). Limit the number of paragraphs in each sub-section to 3 (4 if the paragraphs are really short). Let the words flow Readers like smooth sentences and paragraphs. Being consistent is the best way to keep your words flowing without hitting any jarring obstacles. When writing a paragraph, the subject of each sentence should be the same. This doesn’t mean you have to start each sentence with the same exact words. It just means that the focus of each sentence should be on the same subject. For example, if you are writing a paragraph about Google, you shouldn’t suddenly start discussing bananas in the same paragraph. Similarly, when you write a list of bullets or numbered points, the structure should be consistent. If you start the first point with a verb, you should start every point with a verb. If you start with a noun, you should start every point with a noun. It’s also important to keep the length of each point about the same (no 10-word phrases combined with 50-word phrases). Another key to smooth writing is using transitional words and phrases when changing subjects. Here are a few examples: In addition Specifically Therefore Finally Although However Then You can find more here. When combined with road signs and a strategic use of numbers, transitional words guide your readers through your content, making it inherently more...

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Smart Editing: The Key to Good Writing

Smart Editing: The Key to Good Writing

My high school English teacher shunned the standard textbooks, selecting instead a small paperback with a big reputation, Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I still have my original copy–it’s my favorite reference when I’m unsure about grammar or word choice, or when I need a little style inspiration. Rule #17 For me, one rule stands out because it’s so critical to the business writer, #17: Omit needless words. If you’re a writer, you also need to be an editor, with one overriding goal–clarity. Every word must have a purpose. As marketers, we’re speaking to an audience that is inundated with information and pressed for time. In this world of tweets and likes and comments, we need to cut back on formality and adopt a conversational tone that’s straightforward and concise. This doesn’t mean that it’s OK to abandon the rules of grammar and proper spelling. Everything we write and publish is a reflection of our values. Our customers want to purchase products and services from organizations that care about accuracy–because accuracy creates trust. Real-world editing In my most recent role on an internal creative services agency, I did my best to move away from the traditional writing style that I find excessively long and boring. When writing, I was direct–I simply left out those extra words that muddle our ideas and confuse the reader. When editing, I never hesitated to eliminate words, or even entire paragraphs if they served no purpose. My clients were at times surprised by my boldness, but they grew to appreciate the simplicity of this approach. The next time you’re reviewing any type of communication, take a few extra minutes to assess the clarity of your words, and you’ll become a “smart...

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The Truth About Typos and Why You Keep Missing Them

The Truth About Typos and Why You Keep Missing Them

Imagine this: You’ve written a brilliant post. You read through it twice to check for errors. Finding none, you hit the “publish” button. All is great with the world. A few hours later, you return to the post to respond to comments. You are shocked to see a glaring error in your opening sentence. You think, “How could I have missed that?” Maybe an evil-doer hacked into your blog and planted the misspelled word to embarrass you. What really happened when you did those error checks? You looked at the words, but you didn’t see the mistake. But why does this happen? A fascinating book explains this puzzling phenomenon:  The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The authors are psychology researchers using a “wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do.” After reading it I realized how their findings can help us understand how and why we miss things that are right in front of our eyes. If you’re curious about the research, watch the videos on their website to learn about some of the experiments. When you are proofreading your post, you are falling victim to what Chabris and Simons call the “illusion of expectation.” Your brain is wired to find what is expected: an error-free post. Basically, your brain is on auto-correct, so you actually do not see the typos. They are invisible. How do you make the typos visible? Well, you can’t, at least not 100% of the time. But you can improve with practice. You need to re-train your brain to expect that your writing contains errors. That’s why it’s easier to find typos when you proofread someone else’s work. You expect to find mistakes even before you start your review. If you adopt this  new perspective, you’ll be more successful in your battle against typos. Bonus tip: It’s easier to spot errors if you start your review at the end of the text and read the words in reverse order. This technique disables your brain’s auto-correct setting so you can be confident that your text is error-free. It can be time-consuming, but when perfection is critical, it’s worth it....

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How One Spelling Bee Gave Me An Eye For Editing

How One Spelling Bee Gave Me An Eye For Editing

I’ve never won a spelling bee. I participated in a few during elementary school and junior high, when the words didn’t sound like they came from a 10-pound medical textbook. The most memorable (for me, at least) happened when I was in fourth grade. That year, I made it to the school finals with maybe 20 other kids. What was so unforgettable about this particular spelling bee? It lasted only 15 minutes. They had arranged us in alphabetical order. Since my last name starts with “W-o,” I was the second to the last speller. The first word of the competition was “odd.” Pretty easy, right? Imagine my surprise when the first kid said, “Odd, o-d-d, odd” and the judge said, “I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.” This pattern continued as confused spellers repeated the same exact thing, and met with the same fate. By the time it was my turn, I was in a state of mild panic. Somehow, I worked up the courage to ask, “Can you please use the word in a sentence?” I had an “ah-ha” moment. Then I said, “Awed, a-w-e-d, awed” and the 18 kids before me were eliminated. I don’t remember the word that knocked me out. I think it was one of those “i before e except after c” words. But the end did come quickly. And even though I didn’t win, I felt pretty pleased with my “awed” triumph. From that point on, I developed an eagle eye for typos and grammatical errors. When I look at a document, the errors seem to glow. Imagine the kid in Sixth Sense who says, “I see dead people.” I see typos. When you work in marketing, this skill is critical. When I come across these mistakes, I cringe as I remember those 18 kids who said, “odd, o-d-d, odd.” The biggest, most successful organizations full of talented people miss typos every day. I once received a confirmation email from Facebook. The first line reads: “John Doe confirmed your request to list his as family on Facebook.” I was shocked, wondering how someone could miss such a glaring error. Although we live in a world of casual communications, we still need to spell words correctly and use proper grammar. Someone with an eagle eye might notice our mistakes. And we definitely don’t want to experience an “odd, o-d-d, odd”...

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How to Write an Opening Sentence that will Captivate Your Audience

How to Write an Opening Sentence that will Captivate Your Audience

It’s a simple technique. And it works, whether you’re writing an email to a friend, a professional blog post, or a technical white paper. Craft a powerful opening sentence with 5 words or less. I discovered this idea in high school. My English teacher gave us a long list of writing tips from a variety of sources. Lucky for me, one little gem of a tip seemed to stand out from the others, and I’ve been using it ever since. I call this technique a “Trimble” because it comes from an excellent book by John R. Trimble, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. (Read a book review here.) In the book, the technique is almost buried in a chapter called “Openers.” Here are Trimble’s words: “Consider opening with a dramatically brief sentence–say, four or five words long.” My paraphrased version that appears above is more direct. So, when you’re stuck on that very first sentence, try a “Trimble.” It sets a a compelling tone that will entice your audience to read...

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How to Write a Marketing Email That Gets Read

How to Write a Marketing Email That Gets Read

Even as social media becomes a more prominent  medium, email continues to bring a strong return on your marketing investment. According to the 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, “MarketingSherpa research showed that more than 89 percent of email marketers find email to be an effective tactic for increasing sales revenue, improving customer retention and driving website traffic.” A direct response email  presents an interesting challenge to marketers. To stand out among hundreds of emails, it is critical keep your content compelling and concise. Here are 6 guidelines that have helped me write great direct response emails: 1. To determine how much text you should write, follow the 50-50-300-500 rule. These numbers represent strict maximum character counts (not word counts), including spaces. Subject line: 50; Headline: 50; Body: 300; Bullet points: 500 (3-5 bullets). When you use strict character limits, you’ll find that it’s very easy to cut out extra words that don’t drive your call to action. 2. Don’t focus on your company and how fabulous it is. Instead, talk about the recipient’s challenges, what you are offering, and how it will help the recipient. 3. Use short, action-oriented bullet points to describe the benefits of your offer. Example: Watch this 2-minute video to learn how to: Purchase the correct oil and filter for your car or truck Drain your oil without making a mess Install your new filter using a $3 tool Add the right amount of oil to keep your vehicle in top shape 4. Tell your recipients exactly what you want them to do using action verbs. Examples: Download White Paper, Watch Video, Join the Community, Read Article, Follow Us, Register Now 5. Repeat your call to action at least 4 times, including once in the email header text. (Some people will take action based solely on seeing that text in a preview pane.) Try different versions of the same CTA. 6. Test, test, test. Don’t settle for good email content. Test and find out what will make your content great. I  think email can be one of the best methods for generating a direct response. That is, if it gets read. If you combine these techniques with a powerful subject line, you’ll be on your way to email...

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