One last thing before you post: Editing best practices

There is a new level of immediacy in so many of the written marketing communications vehicles we use today – including blogs, micro-blogs, and Web sites you can update with the click of a button. Your thoughts can be “out there” in an instant. And sometimes that’s not such a good thing.

Here are five levels of editing you can apply to any piece of writing that will maintain your credibility online:

1.    The content. Save your message and walk away from it for at least five or ten minutes, or longer if you can. Then re-read your message from an objective perspective. Is this what you meant to say? Could it be easily misunderstood or inflame controversy? Controversy is not necessarily a bad thing, nor can you always predict it, but it’s helpful to be as prepared as you can.
2.    The spelling and typing. Use your computer’s spell checker to catch any typos or other errors. Reading your message aloud (see the next point) can also help with words that are commonly mixed up (e.g., here and hear). If you’re not sure, look it up.
3.    The grammar and readability. Read your message out loud and ensure your words flow and make sense. Don’t try to combine too many ideas in the same sentence. Run-on sentences make it too hard for your reader to stay with you.
4.    The density. Break up long paragraphs so they are just one or two sentences each. Use lists to highlight key information and to allow the reader to scan through your message.
5.    The framework. Introduce your message, make your point, and then conclude your message.

Remember that just because you CAN share your thoughts with people around the world in an instant doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. So click the pause button before you click the send button, and practice these basic editing tips.

How much news should actually go into a newsletter?

Regular newsletters are a fantastic way to keep in front of your market. With every issue, you have the opportunity to solidify your credibility, likability, and trustworthiness, and reinforce your brand identity. And if you’re doing it right, that’s exactly what will happen.

Of course it needs to look great – a clean, attractive design with your corporate look, white space that makes it easy to read, and pleasant, colourful pictures that capture attention.

But what, exactly, should you put in there? How much news should actually go into a newsletter?

News they can use – This should make up the majority of your newsletter, at least 80%, and includes articles, tips, and industry announcements that teach your readers something they didn’t know or reinforces something they already knew. It has clear applications they can take action on immediately, and plenty of resources (including your products and service) to help them do it.

News about you – If your newsletter was targeted well, your reader is genuinely interested in what you do, and will eagerly want to hear your latest news. Reward their interest with sneak previews of new services, special offers, advanced notice of upcoming events, or other “insider” or “subscribers only” information. Even if your reader simply found your newsletter left behind in a boardroom or on a city bus, if you’ve provided some news they can use, they will usually keep reading.

Writing for the Web versus writing for print

Online marketing communications are cost-effective, quick to implement, and give you immediate, measurable feedback at the click of a mouse. It’s no wonder more and more corporations – large and small – are turning to Web sites, blogs, micro-blogs, and other social media.

A common mistake, though, is to just take your print materials and drop them onto the Internet. They simply don’t translate, and here’s why:

•    People have no time – they are trying to do three times as much in the same time, just like you are
•    People have no attention span – they want access to answers immediately, and the Internet has trained them to expect that
•    People have no tolerance – they  know they can click somewhere else in an instant if they’re dissatisfied or disinterested

So before you go online with your 8-page white paper or even your 3-page brochure, consider these three tenets of writing for the Web:

1.    Make it quick – Make one clear point, support it and get out of there
2.    Make it relevant – Know the answers your customers are looking for and don’t clutter your message
3.    Make it good – Do whatever it takes to deliver high-quality online content

Talking about the what

In our last entry, we touched on the need to figure out what to say, to whom it will be said and why it needs to be said in the first place. This time out, let’s look a bit more closely at the what component.

Whatever we read – newspapers, magazines, web sites and, yes, blogs – we do so because the topic interests us. The same thing applies to the folks who write all this stuff: they take the time to write it because it interests them.

Writing about something that interests you is probably the most important thing when you decide to launch a web log. If you’re jazzed by the topic or subject area, you’ll be motivated to share everything you know about it. The fact that you’re jazzed about it will come through in your writing. Passion sells, after all. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to write something that’s of only passing interest to you, as you’ll quickly lose interest…and so will your readers.

If you’re the go-to person among your friends for a particular issue, that might be a good place to start. If you’re still wondering, go sit under a tree for a while and think about what it is that you want to say. Don’t come back until you’ve answered the question honestly, and are confident that you’ll have lots to write in the months and years to come.

I’m not kidding about the tree, by the way. It works. You’ll have to trust me on that one.

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, you’ve got a bit more homework to do before it’s showtime. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it unique? Read other blogs, looking specifically for sites that may have similar themes to the one you’re working on. Are you repeating what’s already being said or can you add to the discussion? Don’t scuttle an idea just because other, similar blogs may already exist. You can still succeed if you say it better, or slightly differently, than everyone else. Just make sure you take the time to know what’s out there
  • Can I write dozens or even hundreds of entries on it? Try listing some potential blog entry titles to give yourself a sense of how easy it will be to keep the content coming. If after a week you’re still struggling with this, find a new topic
  • Is the topic hot? Advances in manual typewriter technology may no longer captivate the public’s interest, and may not be compelling fodder for blogs in the 21st century. Steer clear of dusty topics that don’t show up on search engines. Look for those that stand a reasonable chance of being discussed at the water cooler
  • Does research material exist? If the topic is relatively current, you’ll be able to find content out there that you’ll be able to fashion into future blog entries. Great blogs pull interesting bits out of the regular flow of online discussion and turn them into items of conversation: if you can’t Google your chosen topic and find good fodder for possible future entries, you may want to switch topics
  • Do my friends care? Talk through the proposed topic with people you trust. If your loving spouse doesn’t want to hear about it, will complete strangers take the time to read you? Don’t look for cheerleaders: seek out people who will give you honest opinions, even if they risk hurting your feelings a bit in the process

We’ll dig deeper into the who and the why in subsequent entries. For now, your challenge is to start thinking about that one topic that fascinates you above all else. Happy choosing!

Welcome to Words@Work!

Welcome to Words@Work, the new blog by AR Communications. We’ll keep it brief because we know your time is precious. Actually, that’s what this blog is all about: our goal is to help improve our collective ability to communicate in business.

Precise, timely communication delivered via the right media and to the right people can make the difference between business success and business failure. And we’ve all lived the nightmare of ineffective communication, the long and winding e-mails, the endless voicemail messages, the meetings that put everyone to sleep. We’re here to help.

Of course, we can’t do it alone. This blog will involve you as well. We want to know what you think, what has worked for you, and what hasn’t. The Comments link below each entry isn’t just for show: we really want you to use it each and every time you visit. The fun starts now…

Your turn: Please share a brief comment on the worst e-mail message you ever received. Why was it so lousy?