Tag Archives: business writing

Happy Word Nerd Day

© andtam1 - Fotolia.comA friend and former PR colleague informed me yesterday that January 9 is designated as Word Nerd Day. How this glorious day dedicated to my brethren escaped my notice before now is a mystery, but I had to write today in its honor.

As a self-described Word Nerd, I do have a bit of a reputation. Friends post grammar-related humor to my Facebook page, and I have been known to carry a red pen in my purse (ok, I almost always carry one). I can’t read signs and restaurant menus without mentally correcting them, and I would love to banish the oft-misused apostrophe from any word resembling a plural. Don’t even get me started on its vs. it’s.

That said, I also don’t consider myself a hard-core grammar nazi, and I generally prefer simple, clear words to the five-dollar variety.

For me, the written word is the most perfect form of expression and communication. I can’t paint or draw – or do more than plunk out an easy tune on the piano – so writing for me is the most straightforward way to organize my thoughts, which tend to tumble over each other in my brain faster than I can speak. It’s a way to put a bit of me out into the world.

Most of the writing I do is for business clients. Plenty of professionals dread writing for business and find it dry, but I love the challenge of choosing just the right words to convey a business’ brand and tone. It’s a never-ending game to me as a lover of words and communication.

This year, however, I also intend to make good on a promise to myself to finish writing my first novel. I started it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this past November, but work and other commitments distracted me and pulled me away. Word Nerd Day is the perfect time to put that promise in writing and to hold myself accountable.

I look forward to the tens of thousands of words I will write this year, both for clients and for my novel, and I wish all you fellow Word Nerds happy writing.


Writing quick tip 8/9/13

“Writing is writing.”

That tidbit of wisdom came from a meeting yesterday with a fellow freelance writer. She has been in the freelance business for nearly a decade and, like me, was trained as a journalist and later worked in corporate communications.

For writers, background expertise in a particular field is not necessarily required. What is required is curiosity and the ability to connect with the experts. The real skill comes in being able to identify the right sources and to ask the right questions. Then, of course, you must distill the information into something the audience wants to read.

Powerful storytelling for business

by Amy J.V. Atwell

StorytellingI attended the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference (LOHAS 2013) in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago. As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than a focus on conservation, wellness and sustainability. I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse topics covered and, as a purveyor of words, the sessions titled “The Power of Story Telling” and “The Wisdom and Power of Words” caught my eye.

Rob Holmes, founder and chief storyteller (why didn’t I think of that title?) of GLP Films, presented the former session. A great story, he said, must be “powerful, engaging, educational and perpetual” and it must “take a risk.” To illustrate his point, he shared short clips of a few of his films.

I admit to being easily moved to tears, and the snippet of GLP’s “Okapi Conservation Project” certainly did the trick. The clip opened at about minute 4:31 and, after an intro of context-setting images accompanied by intense music, these words appeared on the screen: “In the early morning of June 24, 2012, a group of Mai Mai Simba rebels attacked Epulu Station, headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.” Pause. Next image: “They killed six people.”

Powerful and engaging? Check and check. Perpetual? You can bet that short film clip will stay with me for some time. My limited experience of okapis include brief sightings at the local zoo and crossword puzzle clues, but this film instantly pulled me into their story – and it left me wanting to know more about the people working so hard to protect them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a writer, I don’t often have the benefit of music or powerful images to help tell my stories. I most often rely on words and the occasional still photo. As a business writer in particular, most stories don’t carry the impact and weight of a tragedy like the one at this African wildlife center. Still, I think Holmes’ lessons on how to tell a great story apply.

Below are a few of my key takeaways from his presentation and how I apply them to business writing:

Feature strong characters
Businesses are made up of interesting people. Your business is not your building or your logo. It is not even your product or service – it is you, your colleagues and your customers. A fact sheet on the features and benefits of your product is fine, but an account of the human experience goes so much further. A human face – a human story – allows your readers to connect with your business on a more personal level.

A recent food tour in San Francisco led my husband and me to Hog & Rocks, a ham and oyster bar. I think its staff page is a great example of how to highlight the faces – not just the food ­– of the business. After reading the page, you want to sit down to share a cocktail and watch a game with all of these guys.

Engage the audience
Again, fact sheets are fine, but your story needs to go deeper than that. Think about your story from the readers’ point of view: Why did they seek out your website/Twitter feed/newsletter in the first place? How can you meet that need and reel them in enough with your content to ensure that they stick around for awhile? Facts and figures might help them make a final buying decision, but your story is what will help make them a truly engaged fan.

One brand with some of the most passionately engaged fans is Apple (well, duh), and I love its web page targeted at creative types. It is a clear example of engaging a specific audience through the use of storytelling.

Take a risk
You don’t have to present your business or your product exactly the way the other guys do. In fact, I would argue that you can be a lot more successful by doing the unexpected. Be quirky, or shocking, or silly. As long as it fits your overall brand and strategy, taking a risk can make your business more memorable.

I met a local franchisee of this moving and junk removal company at a chamber of commerce event a few years ago. Just the name of the business is risky, but it’s memorable. I purposely didn’t cite the name because I want you to click the link to this company’s blog, which features a unique approach to public relations that helps it stand apart from other moving businesses.

I’d love to hear some other examples of great storytelling that you have encountered.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Writing quick tip 6/26/13

by Amy J.V. Atwell

I attended a Local Food Think Tank yesterday, hosted by the Mile High Business Alliance. A half-day session about food might seem to have little to do with writing, but when the first presenter asked the group to help him define the word “food,” this writer’s heart did a little leap.

Food, a simple four-letter word whose definition could be brushed off as obvious, generated a 20-minute brainstorm and some debate among participants. Should food be defined as only edible items that provide some nutritional value? What about beer, milk or juice? Do processing additives render an item as non-food? The group, of course, did not settle on any one answer, and the discussion easily could have gone on for hours.

This anecdote highlights that, as a business writer or communicator, you should never assume that your definition or interpretation of a word or phrase matches your audience’s. You must think about the nuances of language and how they can be interpreted by various individuals or groups.

Of course, you must settle on something eventually and choose your words, but good writing should begin well before pen hits paper or fingers hit keyboard. Good writing always begins with a clear objective: What message are you trying to convey and to whom? Taking the time to assess your communication goals can help lead you to the right format, the right word choices and the right channels. Lack of planning could mean you end up trying to sell a Moon Pie to someone who wants a carrot.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Fearless business writing

by Amy J.V. Atwell

Fearless writingIn my work, I have encountered many professionals who not only don’t like to write, but who actively fear it. In my role as a corporate editor, those people were lucky – they had me and a few other colleagues who were happy to write on their behalf. My clients now have that luxury as well, but most people in business will have to write as part of their job at some point, even if they have a professional writer or editor at their disposal.

For the people who hate and fear writing, here are a few tips:

1. Be confident. You are the expert.
You might not win a Pulitzer anytime soon, but people want and need to hear what you have to say. Own your role as an expert in your field and let that come out in your writing. When writing a first draft, just let your knowledge flow and get something on paper. It doesn’t have to be pretty – just get it out there. You can go back and refine later.

2. Simpler is usually better.
Because you are the expert, you know all the jargon in your industry and might be tempted to share every technical detail you know about your product or service. Unless you are writing a technical manual, most audiences won’t want to weed through acronyms and buzzwords to get to your true meaning. It can be helpful to have someone outside your field review the content and point out anything that is confusing or too technical.

3. Find the hook.
Especially in this digital age, readers have little patience for long-winded diatribes. You need to reel them in with the choicest nugget of information right from the beginning. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes: What piece of information would be most important or interesting to them? Start with that and build on it. This practice applies to everything from internal staff e-mails to external marketing pieces. Lead with the good stuff and capture your audience’s attention.

4. Proofread.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to read and re-read your work. If possible, read it aloud to yourself. Does it flow? Does it make sense?

Don’t rely on spell check, either. One “there” where a “their” should be could impact your credibility.

5. Ask a colleague for a second set of eyes.
If you have an editor on call, call him or her. If not, find a trusted colleague who can give your document a once-over. If your content is near final, make it clear that you just need someone to look for typos or glaring errors. When you have been working on a document for hours, you’re often too close to it to easily spot errors.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Writing quick tip 6/10/13

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”― Mark Twain

One of my favorite journalism professors drummed this rule into my head. Anyone who has worked with me as an editor knows that I instantly delete these things, among others:
– Exclamation marks (unless someone is actually screaming)
– & (not a word, folks)
– Double spaces between sentences (I don’t care what your 5th grade Language Arts teacher taught you; it’s one space)
– Very

In regard to avoiding “very”: You should choose a word that is strong enough to convey the full impact of your meaning. If your subject is “very tired,” swap exhausted for tired and drop the very.

Writing quick tip

Business writing and creative writing seem to belong on different planets, but business writing benefits from a good dose of creativity.

I am a writer who was trained in journalism and cut my teeth on PR, but my first love was poetry. I started writing poetry at about age seven and, sadly, let that particular creative streak go shortly after college.

I never did let go of my love of words, though, nor the images they create. A creative approach to words, hidden meanings and sometimes unrelated ideas has always informed my writing, even when grappling with the driest of business topics.

So, my writing tip this week is to tap into your creativity by remembering your writing roots. What drew you to writing as a kid or as a young adult? Go back and read some of your first stories or essays. Rewrite something you wrote then or pick up where you left off. If you’re stuck, use one of these writing prompts for kids to help you get in touch with your younger self. (Tip of the hat to Scholastic, another blast from my elementary-school past.)

The point is not to write award-winning work or even share it with anyone. The point is to rediscover the fun in writing and apply it to your professional life. The topic at hand may still be dry, but the writer need not be.