How to Write for a TV Series

Imagine one day you are driving and you come up with an idea for a TV series on how to improve people’s health. You just had a neighbor die from cancer and it affected you deeply. You couldn’t stop thinking about it for months. Then this thought came to you: If people would just eat green leafy vegetables, their chances of getting cancer could be decreased.  You have read the research. You know people who believe that.

You just might have an idea for a TV series. Where do you go from here?

Formulating a game plan

Think of a good title for your show. Pick one that is compelling, short and to the point. If you do your show on eating well to fight cancer, a good title may be “Searching for health.”

Spend time watching TV series, documentaries and reality shows to select a genre for your TV series idea.  “Searching for health” can be a reality show, a docudrama or a talk show. Find out how you want to present it.  Ask industry professionals and watch these types of TV series to get “a feel” of how it would look.

Study your topic. Get all the information you can. Get expert opinions.

Note: This process is to give ideas on how to formulate your own TV series. Using others’ ideas for your own will only weaken your idea. TV producers will quickly realize your idea isn’t original.

Here are a few links to help with picking a title, genre and gathering your ideas:

How to write a TV series script.

Read some TV series scripts to get a feel of how they write. It’s best to watch a TV series after you have read the script to see how it plays out on the screen.

Here are a few websites with examples that you can obtain movie scripts from:

•Daily Script

•Simply Scripts

Once you get a feel for how to write a script go ahead and write yours.

Here are sites that will format your script into industry standard:

•Celtx free software

•Final Draft

•ehow.com/how_2098456_write-script-documentary.html

•http://www.ehow.com/video_4993154_write-documentary-scripts.html

For information on how to write a reality TV script:

•http://www.ehow.com/how_7715332_write-television-script-reality-show.html

Note: Write one episode to give the producers a sample of what you will be proposing. Create a compelling plot and interesting characters. Avoid holiday scenarios, make the story progressive, and key the story on the main character if it is for a sitcom.

Licensing your script.

If you are going to put your idea out to the public you need to protect it by registering your script. Here are a few places you can register your script:

Set up a proposal/treatment package for a network TV/Producer (www.tvmole.com, http://www.ehow.com, http://www.tvwritersvault.com/index.asp)

For the title, make it is short and catchy. Spend a fair amount of time with this. Ask your friends and neighbors and get a good concise idea before you proceed.

Provide contact information on every page of the document. When the producers look over your script they may misplace the pages in the process of sharing with others in their group.

State the duration of the episodes, state either 60 or 90 minutes.  Give the proposed number of episodes it would take to complete your idea of the show.

Give a genre for your proposed series and make sure it is appropriate for your idea.

Provide a logline: This is a one-sentence summary of your series. This needs to be short and memorable. It needs to contain the very essence of your TV series idea.

Provide a synopsis of the series: This includes a few paragraphs that describe the theme and main characters. Keep focused on brevity.

List details for five or six subsequent episodes each a paragraph long with a beginning, middle and end.

Include any name actors or award-winning director or producers associated with your show in the synopsis if applicable. This is always very important to do “name dropping”, which is what this procedure is called.

Include possible locations. They will need to know where you plan on filming. They will also need to know if you have already secured a filming site.

Include any photographs or illustrations. Including this gives tangibility to your proposal and makes it easier to understand the concepts you are proposing.

Before turning this in, write a cover letter with a date. This summarizes the highlights of your proposal.

Here is an example of a treatment/proposal which was retrieved from:

Sample “Treatment/Synopsis” For a Reality TV Show Proposal: The following original concept is protected by the Creators Vault and Writers Guild of America. If you wish to contact the author for proposal of purchase, please do so HERE. I.P. addresses and report-back features are recorded upon browsing this page for security, and to prevent intellectual property theft.

Author Name Available Upon Request

Genre: Reality Series

Title: “Broadway Bound!”

Logline (short pitch):”Waiting For Guffman” meets “American Idol.” A flamboyant Broadway director and choreographer descend on a small town, infiltrating the local play. One performer will be taken back to Broadway for a featured part in a real Broadway show.

Synopsis: [content should be 3 to 7 paragraphs outlining the content of the show as it unfolds. Be specific and original in your execution]

(Themes: reality-based, fantasy fulfillment, talent performance, comedy)

A docu-series for television:  In every small town, there are big dreams…

In Washbuckle, Missouri, the regional theatre holds open casting calls for their annual musical review. Some members of the troupe have dreams of making it to Broadway or Hollywood. Others are content in being the star of Washbuckle, Missouri, hogging what little limelight there is year after year.

But what happens when, just one week before opening night, a ruthless Broadway director and choreographer drops into town with the agenda of taking control of the small town production while scouting for talent to find his “star”? It’s a fascinating look at big dreams in small town America.

The personal stories and archetypical characters that collide as opening night approaches. The ego-maniacal local theatre director getting systematically pushed aside by the big-city Broadway director. The humorous moments as the city-slickers struggle to tolerate the small town ways and mentality. The infighting among potential cast members. The panic that ensues as the cast, choreography, and production are turned on it’s tail at the eleventh hour. The inspiring moments that rise to the surface amidst the chaos of opening night…. And “the decision”. One person from the cast will be chosen for a spot in a hit Broadway production, a trip to Hollywood for a spot on a soap-opera and every chance they could ever hope for being famous?

Seven episodes:

1. Meet the town folk. Get to know the key characters and the theatre group. We’ll also watch in parallel the merciless Broadway Director in action in New York, seeing the contrasts in both characters. We’ll take a humorous look at the awful auditions for the small town play. We’ll see the announcement (or rumor) of the impending arrival of the Broadway Director scouting for talent, and witness the anxiety that is infused in each of our small town characters fighting to get into the play.

2. In-fighting, tensions escalating, accusations, the director starts feeling the pressure. People are cast. Hearts are broken, hopes are sparked. They have a first run-through with the cast. The mysterious Broadway director in black sits in the back. (Imagine a Simon Cowell) snapping from the back row, “Stop! Every one of you STOP!!” He then marches down the isle. An imposing figure. He introduces himself and delivers the news that he has come to find talent. And someone from this town, in this play, will be chosen. He goes on about how he sees nothing but problems. The play will be re-cast, the production will stop now! (One week before opening night)

3. The new director and small-town director fight. Cast members protest. New auditions are held, and performances scrutinized. A new cast is announced, and from that cast will come his “star”.

4. The pressure is on to bring it together for opening night, we’ll cover four days of rehearsals, as well as the personal struggles surrounding the production. Anticipation, anxiety, resentment, hope, adrenaline. Opening night! We see the performance and the reactions of our Broadway director. Cliff-hanger for his decision on who will be Broadway bound!

5. Re-cap of the series, the performances, the arguments, and finally… the decision. One of the people that landed a role, large or small in this little play is chosen. We share in the afterglow, the elation, and the disappointment of others. And sharing a dream come true for that one person selected.

6. Broadway New York!! Our winner is whisked around like a star. Taken backstage of a REAL Broadway production, immersed in the whole lifestyle. Meetings with Hollywood talent scouts, directors of other productions, agents, etc.

7. We see our small town hero take his leap of faith, jumping headfirst into a Broadway show. A dream is realized.

END

Once you have completed writing a treatment, you will want to prepare to pitch your treatment and idea to a producer/network executive.

Pitch your proposal to a producer/network executive (www.ehow.com)

By using your new idea, write up a treatment as described above.

Research TV networks to see which one fits in your TV series genre.

Net-work with the industry to find someone who may be interested in your idea. This may be the most difficult steps. You can network yourself or you can have help by an agent. In order to set up a pitch meeting with a network executive you need to have this done by an agent anyway. So obtaining one to help you in your search for interested parties it might be a good idea to bring in an agent at this time. Finding an agent is a matter of foot work, door knocking and in general pitching yourself to win their approval of your seriousness in the business. No one wants to put up time and energy with someone who will give up at the first rejection

Once you have either obtained an agent or found someone who is interested in listening to your idea then you need to set up a pitch meeting. This is usually done by an agent. So if you have not obtained an agent at this point, now is the time. Most executives will not see anyone unless the meeting is set up by an agent. Set up a pitch meeting with a studio executive.

Prepare your pitch. A pitch consists of bringing in your proposal/treatment to the meeting. It is usually done in a face to face meeting with TV executives. This involves selling your idea in the most professional and prepared you can set up. These executives hear a lot of ideas. They will usually make their decision within a few minutes if not shorter on whether or not they will accept your proposal. The length of time for a pitch meeting is usually 5-10 minutes, so make every moment count. Getting a second chance on the same idea is rare.

Expert Interview

I interviewed Pietro D’Alessio, a talent agent with 90210 Talent in Los Angeles. He is also a producer and casting director. He recently started the soap opera Web series “Proper Manors,” which is being looked at for a TV series. He is the executive producer and creator of this series.

I asked D’Alessio how he began promoting and establishing a Web series and how he got the TV networks to look at “Proper Manors.”

D’Alessio found a writer who would write the concepts in the way he envisioned the series. This took a while. He went through four head writers before he found one that worked.

He licensed his idea by making “Proper Manors” its own company LLC title with the state of Utah. He established a federal tax ID number. D’Alessio is the sole owner of Proper Manors LLC. He also created a bank account for the business.

He networked by creating a social media buzz in L.A. by connecting with the soap opera industry. He also gathered tremendous local support. He created search engine optimization and branding in Twitter, Wikipedia, social networking and IMDB database.

D’Alessio wrote up a business plan and by networking he obtained a sponsor. Obtaining a sponsor is where the concept “who you know” comes into play so many times in the entertainment industry. With a crew of personal and professional contacts, his team shot five episodes of the web soap opera “Proper Manors.” He then posted the episodes on Flipside, Vimeo and YouTube.

D’Alessio pitched “Proper Manors” to TV networks with 90210 Talent set up to represent the project.  His pitch included an advertisement kit, scope of the show and name actors.

You can view “Proper Manors” at: http://www.propermanors.tv/

You can contact Pietro D’Alessio at:

90210 Talent

Producer/Casting Director/SAG Actor

801-644-0980

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0194953/

@pietrodalessio (Twitter)

 

Conclusion

Coming up with a great idea for a TV series is fun and entertaining.  However, following through on an idea is a lot of work and can be a lifelong commitment. Learning the process of putting your thoughts on a page, finding an agent who will represent your idea and a TV executive who will accept it can be daunting.   Most people are unable to complete this process. Those that have share their stories on TV and find great fulfillment in the process.

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Employee Newsletter Writing

Communication in the Workplace: Why it Matters

“No one tells me anything.”

How many times have you heard that, or some variation, in your workplace? I’m willing to bet the answer is multiple times, especially if organization doesn’t have an employee newsletter.

When employees are out of the loop, their morale and ability to accomplish work diminishes. A quick Google search of “unhappy apple employees” yields multiple articles about employees dislike of the unprecedented amount of secrecy. One employee said on Glassdoor.com, a company that asks employees to review their employers anonymously, that “excessive secrecy makes it impossible to know exactly why you’ve been asked to do a certain assignment. Your only option is just to do it blindly.”

We, as employees, want to know what is going on. We have a basic human desire to know what is happening around us.  On the highway we rubberneck when there’s an accident. On the Internet we “Facebook stalk” or blog-stalk people we know and even people we don’t know. In our families we gossip about other family members. We spend hours on the phone catching up with friends. We want to know what is happening around us.

Not knowing what is going on is incredibly frustrating. An employee newsletter will help keep employees informed. I can think of few other ways to keep all employees up to date on office information. It is vital to the success of the organization to have well-informed employees who feel important and in the loop. To do this effectively, here are five techniques for creating a good employee newsletter:

Technique No. 1: Define your Audience

“Your audience gives you everything you need. They tell you. There is no director who can direct you like an audience.” – Fanny Brice, American actress and model

 

Before you can write a good newsletter, you need to know who your audience is, more than just “employees.” By defining who your audience is, you will be able to write a newsletter that speaks directly to its readers.

Who is going to see your newsletter? Will all staff members see it? If so, your writing needs to be understood by everyone.

If you have multiple contributors to your newsletter, make sure their content is easy for everyone to understand. For example if you work for a computer company and someone from information technology writes an article about a new software update, make sure people in human resources will be able to comprehend the article. Avoid jargon and technical language.

Some organizations also send their employee newsletters to retired employees or investors. It is important to keep this in mind as you develop content as well.

For more information on how to define your audience before you write, visit:

Technique No. 2: Quality Content

“It is the quality of our work that will please God and not the quantity.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Once you know who your audience is you have to write relevant content.

Effective content keeps employees in the know. Newsletters with the greatest impact inform and motivate employees by featuring a combination of fun, morale-boosting features and useful corporate information.

Don’t allow your newsletter to become a boring series of monologues from upper management/executives. It will turn employees off and will not provide them with information they consider valuable.

Do use quotes. Quotes give you quality content. They increase credibility and employee trust.  Try to get at least one to two quotes per article. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to get these quotes. Usually it takes twice as long as you’d expect.

Tip: 10 Ideas for Content

  1. Recognition for awards, achievements and anniversaries

The scope of all of these features can be scaled to the size of your organization. In a small organization it might be appropriate to recognize the employee of the month in the newsletter and even list anniversaries of employment.

  1. Critical Changes

Making sure everyone is aware of critical changes is important, especially organizational changes or changes that will impact their day-to-day work life. Even if you talk about changes in a staff meeting, it doesn’t hurt to include a reminder in your newsletter. Employees will be more likely to retain the information if they read it again.

  1. Introduce New Staff

This is a great way to introduce a new staff member to all employees. My experience with employee newsletters began while working at Your Community Connection (YCC), a non-profit organization in Ogden, Utah. We included a “getting to know you” sheet that new employees filled out while doing their hiring paperwork. It included simple questions. I typed up the questions and answers for the newsletter.

Interviews always provide interesting content. It doesn’t need to be much. Here’s an example of the “getting to know you” interview questions new employees fill out at YCC.

-What is your favorite color?

-What is your favorite quote?

-What is your favorite food?

-What are your hobbies or interests?

  1. Announce New Clients

If your company “catches a big fish” let everyone know (if appropriate). Be a fisherman and show and tell. If it’s an accomplishment, it should be celebrated in the newsletter. It has potential to increase morale and incite excitement about the potential for new projects and creativity.

  1. Benchmarks

Establishing benchmarks and tracking them in an employee newsletter helps employees remember the goal and be accountable for it.

In the employee newsletter I wrote I kept our recycling figures in the bottom corner as a reminder and as a shout-out for employees’ efforts. I included the previous month’s number and the current month’s number so employees could see exactly how they were contributing to our green initiative.

  1. Social News

Highlight any opportunities for employees to socialize. Including the dates and times of upcoming potluck lunches, baby showers and book clubs is perfect for an employee newsletter. This is an easy way to boost morale and make everyone feel included. One of the last things you want is for some people not to get information about social events. They could take it personally when that was never the intention. An employee newsletter that reaches all employees will ensure everyone had the opportunity to know about social events at work.

  1. Company Job Openings

Include internal and external job openings. This is an inexpensive way to generate employee interest and promote the positions via referrals. It’s also informative to people within the organizations to know about staff changes in other departments.

  1. Health Tips

People enjoy reading about the latest ideas about health and fitness. Simple facts about water consumption, stress reduction or desk yoga are interesting additions to a newsletter and may improve the health and wellbeing of employees. Healthy employees are happier employees who use fewer sick days, which is good for you.

I frequently included health tips in YCC’s employee newsletter and received a good deal of positive feedback. Employees emailed or stopped me in the hall to thank me for reminding them to drink more water or for teaching them a cool stretch they could do at their desk.

  1. Competitor Updates

While information about your company is important, sometimes information about other companies is even more important. Inform your employees about what is going on in your industry. This will keep employees aware and perhaps inspire them to improve their efforts in keeping the company competitive in the industry.

  1. “Housekeeping” Updates

This would include reminders about parking lot closures and room schedules. This is also an opportunity to discuss cleaning schedules for the break room kitchen or other shared responsibilities. Everyone will know what is expected. It can be presented in a lighthearted manner.

The newsletter I produced was weekly and the room schedule changed weekly. It was important for employees to have access to this information so they could know which rooms were free for use.

Learn a process for coming up with newsletter content here:

Even more content ideas can be found here:

Technique No. 3: Be Consistent

“The only completely consistent people are the dead.” – Aldous Huxley, writer

The next step, after defining your audience and including quality content, is deciding how frequently you are going to distribute your newsletter. Then stick to the schedule.

At YCC, every Friday afternoon, I would email everyone the newsletter as an attachment as well as print one for the front desk volunteers.

People counted on this and if it wasn’t waiting for them in their inbox when they got to work Monday morning they wondered what was going on. Remember – employees want to be in-the-know.

One feature that was always in my weekly newsletter was “What’s for Lunch?” This feature was  important for the front desk volunteers to know each day because all staff and volunteers asked them what was for lunch as they filled out the lunch sign-up sheet.

Not only should you be consistent in your distribution, but also in your design and layout. This will make it more attractive and relied upon as a source of information. Typically, newsletters should include one type style and type size for the main text of their articles and only one or two styles of fonts for headlines and subheads. Never reduce type size to make an article fit, instead cut words from the story so you can keep the body text consistent throughout all articles.

For more information on common design mistakes, see this post:

Technique No. 4: Involve Employees

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Kenneth Blanchard, American author and management expert

Employee involvement is imperative to the success of your newsletter despite how great your content is.

Some organizations have a newsletter committee so the responsibility of providing all of the ideas and content does not fall solely on you. If your organization does not have a committee, there are many ways to involve employees.

Invite employee opinion pieces or assign article topics to different departments. Encourage employee feedback. Ask them what they want to see in the newsletters.

I found that asking for anonymous feedback is the best way to get people to respond. Occasionally I’d send an e-mail with a link to a survey I created on surveymonkey.com with questions they could anonymously answer in a text box.

Learn some of the advantages of including employees in decision making here:

Technique No. 5: Use Pictures

“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” – Walt Disney

 

If your newsletter is perfectly targeted for your audience, has great content and involves employees, it really isn’t a great newsletter until it has pictures.

Photos are the best way to make your newsletter interesting. They break up the text and help keep readers engaged in the content as well as retain the content.

Photos of employees themselves are a great way to get interest. The story becomes so much more personal and impactful when accompanied by a picture.

Getting pictures can present a challenge though. Consider the following when it comes to including photos in a newsletter:

  • Don’t allow your pictures to be an afterthought.
  • Plan ahead!
  • When planning your articles, list out possible photos for each major article.
  • Allow plenty of time to get the picture and properly attribute the photos. The extra effort will pay off because the enhanced look of your newsletter will increase readership and interest.
  • Avoid static photos such as people lined up against a wall.  Instead use action photos with visual interest.  For example, if you are featuring a piece on your company’s involvement in a charity golf tournament, instead of having those involved lined up in front of a golf cart, get action shots of those individuals at the tee box or pulling out their golf clubs.

Some organizations have the benefit of having a newsletter design artist who can create their own images or have access to paid stock photos. If you do not (I didn’t) you can use free stock images in addition to submitted photos and photos you take yourself.

3 Design Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Too much text, not enough white space
  2. Using too many type styles and fonts
  3. Laying out articles on the page so they’re all on-column wide

Free stock photo websites:

For more information on using pictures, visit:

5 Tips for Employee Newsletter Writing

  1. Plan Ahead

Follow a production outline. Look at the calendar and plan ahead. Let employees know what is coming up. Make sure any contributors know what needs to be covered in the following months. Be prepared (with camera in-hand) for upcoming events.

  1. Create a “Best Practices” Document

Create a “Best Practices” document if your organization has multiple contributors who aren’t necessarily trained in writing. Provide them with basic information on what they need to include in their story outline.

This document could explain basic style information like avoiding the use of acronyms and including the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of the story.

  1. Write Descriptive or Catchy Headlines

Which article would you be more compelled to read based on the following headlines?

Overview of New Computer System

New Computer System Allows User Customization

Most likely you picked the second headline because it’s more descriptive, piqued your interest and lets you know how the new system will benefit you.

Headline writing is extremely important. It determines whether or not the article will be read. Readers are likely to skip over boring, non-descriptive headlines.

So how do you learn to write a good headline? Make sure your headline has a verb and is a complete sentence.

Companynewsletters.com shared the following good and bad examples:

Bad headline: A message from our CEO
Better headline: CEO expects company to double its size within five years

Bad headline: Customer spotlight
Better headline: Client says outstanding service keeps her coming back

Bad headline: News from our regional offices
Better headline: Regional offices surpass sales goal

  1. Make Time

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? –John Wooden, American basketball player and coach

Every part of creating a newsletter is time-consuming. In fact, it can be a full-time job.

The website companynewsletters.com states, “As a guideline, it usually takes a non-professional writer about seven hours to write, proofread and revise the editorial content for each page of an 8.5-by-11-inch newsletter. That means a four-page newsletter requires about 28 hours of editorial time. If the editor is also handling the newsletter’s design and layout, you can add even more hours to the estimate.”

The publication will surely suffer if the organization does not allow sufficient time for the publication. The organization should ensure the editor has enough time to produce a quality newsletter on a consistent basis.

  1. Edit, Edit, Edit

Lots of mistakes will decrease the quality of your newsletter. Employees will lose confidence in your ability and may lose interest with the newsletter altogether.

Be detailed and fact-check everything. Employee names and titles are important to get right every time.  Have multiple people look at your work.

Here are fifteen tips on writing and editing to help improve your newsletter:

Some Expert Advice

I interviewed two experts. Leah Shapiro is the public affairs specialist at Western Area Power Administration, an entity within the U.S. Department of Energy. She received her master’s degree in Communication from the University of Denver. Shapiro’s job includes being the editor of the employee newsletter.

Her thoughts on how important graphics are:

It’s a top five priority – super important! People don’t want to read it if they get 16 pages of just text. It’s so important and we are always soliciting for photos. If we hear that someone in another region hosted some sort of training and suggest a story is written for it, the first thing we say it make sure you take a picture. It adds value to every issue that has real pictures of people. People want to see each other and they know everyone, but they may have never seen them. We want to put faces with names as much as we can.

How she gets employee feedback on the newsletter:

Every couple months we throw something in the edition itself saying “Reminder- if there’s something going on in your region, let corporate communications know.” We also send an email out letting employees know the newsletter is out and asking them for feedback.

Sometimes employees ask questions we will turn that into a story. For example, “I heard Western does XYZ…” We figure if one person is asking it then multiple people probably want to know as well.

My manager also meets with other regional managers to hear about exciting things happening in their region.

We get people proactively bringing things to our attention, which is great for us. Thankfully we never are grasping for stories of recognition

A time when something slipped through the editing cracks:

I got a phone call from a gentleman asking who provided the content for page nine. He was listed as a former Western Employee and he asked if they knew something about his employment status that he didn’t know. 

Names are bolded and making a mistake in that regard, spelling a name wrong, getting a title wrong-they really hate that! People really look forward to seeing their name and if getting something like that is important. Double and triple check!

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Avoid making promises from one issue to the next. Avoid saying “look in next month’s issue for an update on blah blah blah.” Inevitably, if you make a promise something will come up and you won’t get it in the issue and you will have people beating down the door saying, “Why didn’t you get that in the issue?”
  • Protecting personal information is important to us. Never put birthdates or private information. We have an issue where we invite children to color a picture and we feature the winners. One year it had the children’s name and their birthday and that mistake required all employees to go to a training.
  • When contributors write stories who don’t have writing experience and when you edit it you need to have tact in your editing and making them look good. Be delicate with your contributing authors. You want them to contribute again.

General tips for writing an employee newsletter:

  • Understand what the purpose of your newsletter is and who your audience is. Without knowing who you are writing to or why you are writing – your content will just be all over the place. 
  • Everyone’s life is easier if you can come up with a publication calendar. Outline your themes, topics, think about seasons, time of year, holidays. Plan ahead! Example:  company’s gift giving/charity campaign, you need to let employees know about it ahead of time.
  • If it’s not already determined, know who is going to do the writing and if there are a lot of people doing the writing then create a “best practices” or tips for them. Giving people a word count, set the expectation based on what space you have available.
  • Have lots of people look at your work with fresh eyes. This can’t be overstated. Even with five people looking at it there can still be something that sneaks through.
  • Be really familiar with whatever style guide your publication is dictated by.
  • Allow yourself a lot more time than you think you need to write a story. We try to get quotes from at least two people per story so it can take a while to get in touch with those people.
  • Titles for stories – if someone outside the department writes something they won’t title it or will say something like “overview of new computer system” so I usually consult the more creative people in my department to help me come up something better.

Overview of Western – bad, every headline must have a verb!

 

Suzanne Tamasy is the global employee communicator at Thermo-Fisher Scientific, a public company with divisions in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Duquesne University.

Her thoughts on how important graphics are:

Extremely important, to the point where we always ask for photos or supporting graphic elements. If the quality of the photo isn’t good enough, I just can’t include it. It’s very important that we get high- quality photos. 

If the story doesn’t have a photo, I will search Shutterstock.com for some related image.

We really want to invite readers in with photos.

Quotes too! I must get quotes to share employee perspectives. It makes the story much more meaningful and adds depth.

How she gets employee feedback on the newsletter:

We have a link on our newsletter where they can submit their own story.

Employees are thrilled to see their own stories published. Being an international company we struggle with language barriers and it’s important that information doesn’t get lost in translation. Some languages are much more flowery in their news reporting so I spend a lot of time editing stories that go through translation.

It means a lot for me to be able to help people share their information and with over 40,000 employees there are lots of submissions.

A time when something slipped through the editing cracks:

We’re a little lucky because it’s not print. Because it’s a weekly electronic update we can take things down and a lot of people don’t even notice.

Someone submitted a story about a customer trade show with a picture.  It got posted on the weekly newsletter. The day after it was posted I got a call from the man who submitted it and he said it had to come down because one of the women in the picture didn’t want to be in the newsletter because she was extremely shy. It’s so important to get permission from everyone.

General tips for writing an employee newsletter:

  • You have to think like the reader, think about what you would want to read about. Write in a way that is not just dry or uninspiring. You have to find something you’re proud of and will leave someone a little bit better for reading it.
  • Fact check EVERYTHING and get approvals. Be as detailed as possible. Don’t be afraid to push back for more information. You need to understand the content yourself before you explain it to someone else.
  • Read good headlines. Walk into a grocery store and look at magazines. On the front cover read all the headlines and find the ones that make you want to flip to the story. Figure out what piques your interest and try to write headlines like those.
  • Be sure you’re passionate about connecting with your audience. If your heart isn’t in it, if it’s just a job. If you don’t really care, it will show. Make sure this is the right job for you. This will reflect on you and your company. You’re speaking on behalf of all employees and the company so you need to have that passion and dedication.

Conclusion: Do employees really want an employee newsletter?

Yes, they do.

Let me tell you about Marietta and how desperately she wanted an employee newsletter.

Marietta works for YCC in the child care department. The employees in this department do not have any opportunity to interact with any other YCC employees. Only the manager of the child care can attend all-staff meetings because the child care staff has to stay with the children.

This really isolates the child care staff because the only chance they get to interact with other staff members is while they pass in the hallway and occasionally when they can come to lunch socials. Even to do this they have to do it on a rotation so the child care is fully staffed and the children are kept safe and are attended to.

In addition to not being able to attend all staff meetings, they don’t have email access so they don’t get memos or reminders about social activities for staff members.

Marietta has worked at YCC for over 20 years. For 20 years she has struggled to feel connected to YCC as a whole because of the seclusion of the child care from other departments.

I had the opportunity to work closely with Marietta on the Morale Committee where she explained to me how much she loved reading the employee newsletter. She told me how she would stop by the front desk each week to read their printed copy. She said she had asked her manager numerous times to remember to print a copy for the child care staff. Unfortunately, her manager is a very busy woman and this task would almost always fall off her to-do list, leaving the child care employees out of the loop.

I decided to start printing a copy for Marietta to share with the child care department. She started to write quotes to include in the newsletter and cut out articles from the newspaper with topics she thought I could include. One time she even brought me a book that had information in it she thought would be helpful to other employees.

I don’t think the desire to be informed and included is unique to Marietta.

Employees want to be involved. They want to be in the know. They have ideas and suggestions on how to improve various issues at work. Having a newsletter is a very effective way to address these employee needs.

I highly recommend your organization produce a newsletter. If your organization doesn’t currently print a newsletter, suggest it at your next staff meeting. Your organization will recognize the benefit of producing an employee newsletter if you point out the advantages.

If you follow the tips and techniques in this paper, your organization will be well on its way to producing a quality employee newsletter.

For more resources on newsletter writing, visit the following websites:

 

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Tutorial Writing: How to Connect with Your Readers

Tutorials are created every day.  Anyone who has spent any time in the vast universe that is the Internet knows that online tutorials are not scarce.  They can be found on virtually any topic.  There are tutorials on everything from cooking, to gardening, to raising children, to using the latest software, to fixing the latest problem afflicting your family car.  It seems that nearly every Internet user has searched for a tutorial to help them solve a problem.

With a seemingly unending supply of tutorials on a seemingly unending array of subjects, how do certain tutorials stand out?  What sets the tutorial that drives traffic to a website apart from one that simply lies dormant in the hustle and bustle of modern cyberspace?

It is a well-known fact in online communities that having effective tutorials is a great tool for driving traffic to a website.  Some online resources estimate that having one successful and well-written tutorial can do more to drive traffic to a site than more than 20 other articles combined.  Tutorials provide value because they teach something valuable.  Their shelf life is longer than other content because they are used over and over, sometimes for years.

When reading this you may be thinking about a tutorial you have attempted to write or one you are writing.  You may be evaluating what you have done right and what you may have done wrong.  How much traffic has that tutorial produced?  Have you gotten feedback from your readers?  Was the way you wrote your tutorial clear and did it make sense to the reader?  Do you have a plan in place for keeping your tutorial up to date? Do you continue to interact with your readers?

The purpose of this chapter will be to answer some of these questions.  By using the 10 tips for writing successful tutorials addressed below, you will be able to write tutorials that stand out online.  By providing readers with the most powerful and value-packed tutorials possible, you will ensure that readers will understand and gain value from your writing.  By making your tutorials as value-packed as possible, you will establish yourself as a respected resource online.

So let’s get to it. We will start with the first and perhaps most important decision you will make when preparing a tutorial…

Choosing a Topic

When starting a new venture, a formal business plan is crucial.   A business plan evaluates the market for a product or service.  Is there a demand for the product or service?  Is the market saturated with other similar products and services?

Just as in the scenario of a new business entering an unknown or new market, new tutorials are entering a busy virtual market.    It is unbelievably important to know how you fit into this space.  You have to determine if there is a real need for the information you will provide.

A good way to determine if there is a need for your topic is to look for the topic yourself.  Go online and perform Google searches on terms you think people looking for your topic would search for.  It is a good idea to search a variety of terms that could be used to search for your topic.  If needed pick up a thesaurus and find similar words to the ones you have come up with.   You may find a lot of information already out there on your topic, but don’t give up.  Read the actual tutorials and determine if the tutorials are valuable.  There may be a lot of information about the topic, if this information isn’t good or clear then you could provide a superior tutorial to those currently available.

Another important thing to consider when choosing a topic is if you know enough about the topic to make your tutorial useful.  Readers will be able to determine very quickly how much you know about your subject.  If you can’t portray yourself as an expert on the topic, readers will quickly lose interest or realize they are not gaining valuable information.

Defining Your Audience

I attended a business meeting the other day.  As usual the appointment was set up in my Microsoft Outlook calendar with a topic of training on a new system that my company was implementing.  Not being familiar with the system and also having a few new employees that needed training on the system, I gladly accepted the appointment.

The morning of the appointment arrived.  No sooner had the meeting begun than I started to realize the oddity of what was being presented.  On the other side of the room there were a few gentlemen that I did not recognize.  The presenter only addressed them and seemed to be pitching the system to them.  Little training was going on.  For two hours we sat as the presenter told about our systems and pitched the systems to another group within our company.  The purpose of the meeting was not training at all!  Needless to say, we felt this was a huge waste of our time.

This example demonstrates the importance of knowing your audience.  It is important to know the demographics of your audience and their competency level in your topic.  It is also crucial to know information about the online locations your tutorials will be posted.  If you aren’t careful you can include a lot of things in your tutorial that your audience simply doesn’t care about.

If you are creating a tutorial about how to use a software program making the tutorial too complicated and using advanced terms will confuse beginner-level users.  On the other hand, if you make the tutorial too simple for advanced users you will bore them and they will get the information elsewhere.

Something else to consider is where your tutorial will be posted.  If the tutorial will be placed on a blog with a large community of experts, you will want to write a tutorial geared toward advanced users.  To ensure you are writing to all user capabilities, provide a couple of different versions of your tutorial.  Give the users an option of which version they would like to use – simple or advanced.

Organizing Your Tutorial

Now that we have a great topic and we know whom we are writing to, we are ready to get started, right?  Not so fast.  There is one more thing you should think about.  How is your tutorial going to be organized?  A well thought out organization will make more sense, the content will shine through, and will be more valuable.

If your tutorial is lengthy, you will want to break it up into sensible sections.  A good way to do this is to separate each section onto a separate Web page.  By using next and back buttons to navigate between sections, you can provide bite-sized pieces to your readers.

There are four things to remember when breaking tutorials up into sections.  First, make your section breaks in logical places.  Try not to break to a new section mid-thought.  Second, consider that some readers may want a beginning to end tutorial on one page, regardless of length.  Including a one-page version of your tutorial will be useful to some readers.

Another thing to consider is a table of contents.  Letting your readers know where they are at in the tutorial, where they are going, and places they can go is useful.  This will also enable readers to better locate specific subjects they are looking for within your tutorial.

Finally, come up with a standard on how you are going to incorporate things like lists and other components, such as quick tips or definitions, to break things down into simple steps.

Writing an Introduction

OK now we are ready to start writing.  One of the most important things you will do to draw people to your tutorial is to write a good, compelling and interesting introduction.  This is one of the first things that readers will see on your tutorial.  This is where they will answer questions they have: Will this tutorial provide me the information I am looking for?  Will it be professionally written?  Will the tutorial make sense?

Your introduction should fulfill several requirements.  Your introduction should clearly state the purpose and objective of your tutorial.  What are you going to teach the reader?  What are some of the techniques that will be used to teach the objectives?  Your introduction should also include any prerequisite skills that the reader should have before beginning the tutorial.  When creating tutorials where readers will be following steps in software programs, a list of software or plugins required to follow along is helpful. If certain versions of software are required, these should also be listed in the introduction or somewhere else toward the top of the page.

Making Your Tutorial Clear and Concise

The best tip for making your tutorial clear and concise is to remember the objective of your tutorial.  The objective of all tutorials should be to teach your reader.  A lot of tutorial writers will tell you that no matter the subject or the audience, you should always write at a third-grade reading level.  This isn’t to say that the contents of your tutorial will not be valuable to an advanced reader.  The suggestion is to use language that would be understandable to most everyone who reads it.  Avoid using big words and complicated sentences that some readers may have a hard time understanding.  You want to make it easy to read so that the content shows through.

Something else you will want to do when outlining steps in your tutorial and having the reader perform certain actions is to explain why they are doing it.  By answering the “why,” the reader will learn even more and will have a deeper understanding of the steps in your tutorial.  One thing you do not want to do is confuse and frustrate your reader.  What the tutorial is aiming to accomplish should be clear to anyone who uses it.

Having clear, concise, simple information does not necessarily mean you have a lack of information.  In fact, having too much information is better than having too little.  If there is a question of whether to include a piece of information, it is always better to err on the side of too much information.  Making that information simple to follow, clear, and concise is the thing that really matters.

Consider the following two sentences:Sentence 1:   Select the button in the upper left of the screen.Sentence 2:    Click the green Processbutton in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.Note: When clicked, the Process button will process what you have entered into your table at the current time

Sentence one, while short, does not provide a lot of useful information.  The description, “the button” does not adequately describe where the user is meant to click.  By providing a color and naming the button, as in sentence two, the reader should know exactly where to click.  Also by providing a small note the reader knows what the button does and why they are performing the action.

Using Images

The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” surely holds true in tutorial writing.  Images provide clarity and explanation to your tutorial.  They will help to simplify things for the reader and, if used correctly, act as a valuable tool in teaching.

You should always place some kind of image toward the top of your tutorial, preferably before or after your introduction.  The image that you use will depend largely on what your tutorial is about.  In the majority of instances, your tutorial will produce an end product.  An image of the end product of your tutorial is a great thing to include as this first image.  If the user is doing something in PhotoShop, place the finished image at the top.  If the user is cooking something, place an appetizing photo of the masterpiece near the top.  You get the idea.

Consider placing watermarks over some of your images.  This will help to protect images  you may own.  Reviews are mixed on this practice.  Some tutorial writers will tell you to watermark all of your images and some will tell you to watermark only a few.  When watermarking only a few images, it is usually suggested to watermark those near the beginning and end of your tutorial.

Probably the most common and valuable use of images is using them to explain steps in a software program.  Many modern programs are hard to understand with multiple menus, toolbars, buttons, and hundreds of functions.  When creating screen shots to include in your tutorials, remember these few items:

  • Show only the part of the screen you are referring to
  • Consider using small images of icons in your text when referencing icons in your instructions
  • Arrows and circles can aid in showing your reader exactly what you are referring to

Consider the following three examples:

Example 1

To change the font size, click the font size dropdown menu under the Character tab.


Example 2

To change the font size, click the font size dropdown menu under the Character tab.

Example 3

To change the font size, click the font size dropdown menu under the Character tab.

As you probably noticed these images get progressively more useful.  Example 1 shows the entire screen.  With this image, the reader would surely have a tough time finding the correct location on the screen.  This is especially true with software programs containing many tools and buttons.  A better approach is to zoom in to the location you want the reader to click as in Example 2.  The best approach is to also highlight in some way, with an arrow or circle, exactly where you want the reader to click.

Lifehacker.com has a great article featuring a list of five great screen capture tools for creating images for tutorials:

http://lifehacker.com/5218155/five-best-screen-capture-tools

Using Examples

Many forms of putting examples in your tutorials have already been discussed.  You should provide images and screenshots to further clarify steps to be taken.  You should include an example of what the final product will look like at the beginning of your tutorial.

Stories and real-life experiences can be handy to use in your tutorials.  Coming up with a personal experience or other example that has actually happened to yourself or someone else can help to illustrate a point and make the information you are presenting more meaningful.  When people read about real life and can relate to experiences, their retention of information will increase significantly.

Another way to use examples is to have the reader apply the information being taught.  In software tutorials many times this will inherently happen as you guide the user stepbystep through where to click and what to do.  This can also be accomplished by using some form of a quiz or activity that the user can take part in to demonstrate a principle just learned in the tutorial.

Writing Great Step-by-Step Instructions

            The bread and butter of your tutorial will most likely be in your step-by-step instructions.  This is where the rubber meets the road and the reader actually learns what they need to know.  It is important to make this part of your tutorials particularly clear, simple and consistent.

Throughout your tutorial, but especially in your step-by-step instructions, you should include clean, consistent and easy-to-read formatting.  Highlighting important aspects of the step you are walking the reader through is important.  If you are having them click a button, you could use a bold font for the name of the button.  Whatever you choose to do, make sure and use the same format throughout your tutorial.  This will help your reader know what to look for when following the steps.

Another important thing to remember is to be consistent with the way you phrase things.  For example: “Click OK” vs. “Push OK” vs. “Press OK.”

Consider the following two examples:

Example 1

Step 1 – To maximize the window click maximize at the bottom of the window

Step 2

Now press the button at the top that says open

Example 2

Step 1: To maximize the window click the Maximize button at the bottom of the main window

Step 2: Now that your window is maximized click the Openbutton at the top of the screen

As you can see from Example 1, the steps are not consistent:

  • Step 1 and Step 2 are formatted differently. Step 1 is bold with a dash and Step 2 includes the number sign and instructions on the next line.
  • Button labels are not designated consistently.
  • Different terminology is used to indicate button clicks: “click” vs. “press.”

The opposite is true for Example 2:

  • The step designations are both highlighted in green.
  • The second lines of the steps are indented as to further separate the instructions from the step designations.
  • Button labels are both highlighted in blue.
  • The same terminology is used to indicate clicking on a button.
For another great resource on step-by-step instructions visit http://eduscapes.com/tap/technical.pdf

Creating a Good “Frequently Asked Questions” Section

Have you ever called a government office or even a business or other organization and heard an automated message telling you common information like business hours, procedures, or directing you to other places?  If you’re not looking for this information, it seems a bit annoying to have to listen to it before you talk to an actual person.  But if you are wondering about business hours and are provided with that information quickly and effectively, then it is very efficient.

The Frequently Asked Questions section of your tutorial should serve the same purpose, only without the headache of having to listen to all the information on the phone before finally hearing the piece of information you were looking for.  Frequently Asked Question sections are to answer questions that would be common to your readers.

This supplement to your tutorial can serve to eliminate confusion and continually answer questions you are asked or that may be asked about your content.  It is important to continually update your Frequently Asked Questions[r1]  section with new questions that you may be asked all of the time.  If you are getting a question over and over again perhaps it would be better to change the content of your actual tutorial, in some instances, to eliminate the question altogether.  A common format for a FAQs sections is to print the question in bold and provide an answer below the question.

For more detailed information on how to write good frequently asked questions visit

http://www.freelancecopywritersblog.com/2130/who-to-write-a-great-faq-page/

Updating and Providing Support

Your tutorial should be treated as a living, breathing document.  After all, your tutorial most likely is on the Internet, and we all know things are constantly changing there.  Depending on the subject of your tutorial, your content may change quite a bit or it may not.  But regardless you should stay involved with your readers and make updates when necessary.

One way to do this is with message board functionality.  Equip your tutorial with a short message board or even a way for your readers to email you directly.  Whichever communication method you rely on make sure and stay engaged with your readers.  Respond to as many of their comments as time allows, especially those questions and comments geared directly toward you.  By doing this you will gain respect from your readers and set yourself up as an expert on the subject.  Readers will be more likely to return to your tutorial and other tutorials you write in the future.

An Interview with Kyle Charlesworth, Technical Writer at Grouplink

I have been privileged to know Kyle Charlesworth for many years.  He is an experienced writer and one whom I respect as someone who knows his craft.  The timing of the interview I had with Charlesworth was interesting.  I had largely already compiled the 10 tips that were covered in this chapter.  The chapter was essentially complete with all the needed information.  I was surprised how much the information in this article matched the same advice this seasoned technical writer gave me.

Throughout the interview with Charlesworth, familiar phrases and principles were heard.  Things like, “Defining your audience is crucial when deciding how to write a tutorial.” and “It is important to be clear, consistent, and concise when writing tutorials…you want your reader to learn something.”  But in all the similarities there was something different that I learned, something that transcends knowing all the rules and techniques.  It was the experience of someone who had actually put the tips and techniques to work – someone who knew all of the ins and outs and what really happens once you are out of the training and in the real world applying what you have learned.

The most important and valuable piece of information Charlesworth had to offer came on an unexpected subject.  That subject was the role that the writer has to actually communicate and connect with the reader.  In Charlesworth’s opinion the greatest tip was not how to properly format a sentence, how to properly display an image, or how to use an example in a tutorial.  It was a simple lesson of indirectly, through making it seem that you were at the reader’s side, connecting with them.

In speaking specifically about writing tutorials for software Charlesworth stated, “It isn’t just about being able to write well…you need to be able to know the software yourself, work with developers who generally are not easy to understand and translate that jargon into something very easy to understand for the reader.”  This is a skill that most people don’t really think about when they think about writing, especially technical writing.  Many times the subject is difficult to understand.  It is the tutorial writer’s responsibility to simplify that information and make it easy to understand.  Truly, something easier said than done.

This is not unlike what was talked about before.  The Internet is a complicated place, overflowing with a plethora of information.  However, if through this chaos of information overload you can master the art of providing clear, concise information you can be successful.  Through using these tools in obtaining the ultimate goal, that of connecting with your reader, your tutorials can be successful and you can make a difference to those you connect with and teach.

Other Great Resources

Other resources for finding even more tips like the ones above are:

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Tips & Techniques for Social Media Writing

In the past 20 years, virtual communication has rapidly changed and grown as fast as society is able to keep up with it. Since the introduction of the Internet, we seem obsessed with creating new, more efficient ways to use it to communicate and network with others. We’ve gone from basic email to chat rooms, instant messenger, video chat, podcasts and various versions of social networks. People became just as concerned with their virtual connections as their “real-life” connections when MySpace allowed instant connections to anyone globally. Humans have a need and a desire to connect with each other.

Today, social media sites have a strangle hold on society’s Internet usage. Facebook dominates computer, tablet, and smartphone screens like no other site, attracting more than three times the amount of users than its closest competitor, Yahoo. We’re heading towards an age when people will need social network recovery programs just to kick the habit. YouTube and Google are also in the Top 10, with Twitter and Blogger sites shooting up the list. Moms spend time on Facebook in between chasing around kids and caring for families. Dads sneak a peek whenever they can at work, often discreetly on their smartphones. Even when we know the latest with all of our virtual friends, we still feel the need to hit “refresh” more often than would have been considered healthy 15 years ago.

Consumers are spending more and more time in front of their various screens. Ninety seven percent of social media users access social media sites from their computers, but a growing number are accessing these sites from their cell phones. At the end of 2011, 37 percent of social media users were accessing the sites through their phones, a figure that could begin growing at a rate of at least 15 percent per year.

With social media dominating screens of consumers, reaching out to your audience through social media and driving consumer traffic to your website is an essential part of increasing business. Creating an effective social media front is another way to help your business stay in front of millions of eyes every day.

But what if your business isn’t a multimillion dollar global brand? What if you aren’t Coca-Cola (43 million fans)? What if you aren’t LeBron James (11 million fans)? How does a small business with a local footprint go from a following that features mostly close friends and family, and really start reaching out to consumers and building a fan base or following that makes social media worth it?

The key to developing a social media strategy and beginning to reach out to your audience is to know who the audience is and have realistic expectations of how you will be able to reach out and interact with them. Your lemonade stand may not generate thousands, or even hundreds, of followers, but if you can provide a service to a certain audience, they will become advocates for your business and help spread the word. To do that, you need to provide your audience with something that they can’t get anywhere else. For any service you provide, there is an audience somewhere with a need for that service. If social media is where your audience is, it is an inexpensive way of reaching them.

Writing to and interacting with a social media audience is different from writing email campaigns, Web copy or fliers. Each of these reaches a unique audience, and has something different that it is trying to accomplish. What makes a social media network a powerful marketing tool is the ability of people to share things with others. Your credibility increases exponentially when people see something shared by a sibling, parent, cousin, best friend, or even a classmate they haven’t seen in 27 years. Your writing and your content should be something that not only catches the attention of your audience, but if possible should be something that consumers would share. Need help knowing how to do that? Look at these tips:

Top 10 Things to Remember About Promoting Your Business through Social Media

1. Embrace the social media movement. Don’t be afraid. It’s here to stay. –Many small business owners have been around for a lot longer than social media. They are successful because they are good at what they do. They just don’t see how social media is going to improve what they already doing. Don’t think of it as an improvement, but as something additional that can brings attention to businesses.

2. Think about things from the point of view of your audience. –We’ve all been there. Our friends and family endlessly begging us to “Like” their business’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter, and when we finally give in, our timelines are bombarded with a seemingly endless stream of begging followers to visit your website or purchase or “Like” different things on your page. Consider your audience when deciding what to share. Is the content something that will entertain or irritate? Will it draw your audience in or push them away?

3. Whenever possible, include something besides text in your social media posts. –This is the fun part. It’s always better to provide a little bit more meat for your followers to chew on. Whether it’s a photo, a video or a link to a funny story, it helps. Your audience will pay more attention to what you’re posting, and also be much more likely to share the content with friends. Think about it. A video of something is much more fun and interactive than a line or two of text.For example, advocates against texting while driving could spend hours ranting about drivers who text from behind the wheel, but they might get a little bit more attention if they shared something like this:

The photo above shows a billboard with lots of irony, as it informs drivers of the dangers of texting while driving, and then promptly asks them to send a text for more information. Over 29,000 people have liked the image on Facebook and over 17,000 have shared it with their friends

4. “Social media is not a commercial.” –This quote comes from Alex Lawrence, a well-known entrepreneur and social media enthusiast with over 100,000 followers on Twitter. When I was working on a project involving social media for a local business, this was the best advice he gave me. With so much interesting content online you should be able to drum up something interesting without boring your audience with a commercial. Make them think. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Even if you’re sharing something from a competitor, it could be more effective than asking your followers to schedule a photo-shoot or purchase a necklace from your online store. If you are going to ask people to follow you, and “Like” or share your content, make it a contest like this comic book company from New York.

5. Give your audience a glimpse inside of your organization. –This may not be for everyone, but a great way to become interactive with your audience is to let them see what things are like on the inside. Give them a teaser of a new product being developed. Share pictures of exciting things happening at the office. Help them see why your business is awesome instead of just trying to tell them.

6. Be absolutely sure to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes in your posts. –Nothing will turn your audience off like a big fat spelling error in the middle of a sentence. Any company worth taking seriously on social media should take itself seriously enough to write well. If you can’t do it yourself, make sure to have someone who can. One mistake can erase hundreds of hours of work building up credibility to your fans.

This article on Mashable slams Repulican nominee Mitt Romney and his campaign for their third spelling and grammar error in one week. They were honest mistakes, ones most people probably wouldn’t notice. But some did, and they shared them with others and wrote articles blasting the Romney campaign.

7. Be clear and concise. –The attention span you’re working with while you write social media content is…what was I saying? That’s right. Attention spans are short! It’s likely the people you are writing for are not going to stop scrolling to read your content. Twitter limits your tweets to 140 characters, and you will curse having to put spaces between the words because they count as characters. Get to the point quickly. Include only the essential information. If it’s not fit to be posted on a social network, post it on your website and include a link in your Facebook post or tweet so that your followers can click for more information.

News sites are experts at this:

8. Just be yourself and interact with others like a person. –Sure, you have goals you want to accomplish with social media. Everyone understands why a business is on Facebook or Twitter. Consumers know your goal is to reach them to help line your pockets with more cash, and it’s an automatic turnoff. So why not show them that you are like them. One of the only businesses that has successfully won me over as a customer is one that interacted with me on a level completely outside of its business. Check it out:

The nonchalant response (even though it included a spelling error) to my desire to stuff my face with a giant hamburger really stood out. I let this company know that I thought their interaction with people through social media was awesome, and the next time I’m scheduling a dentist visit, it’s on the top of my list.

9. Interact and interrupt. -The great thing about social media is that you’re supposed to interrupt. It is an ever moving conversation, and the only way to become a part of it is to jump in. Nobody will think that you are rude, and they’ll be more likely to listen to you than if you are just pumping out endless self-promotion. Strive to become a part of the conversation that people look forward to interacting with.

10.Make adjustments along the way-Social media is such a new concept in communication that nobody out there is an expert who has been doing it for decades. We are all learning along the way, and you will rarely hit a home run the first time that you are at the plate. Works towards a goal, and when you have achieved it then make plans to shoot for another one. If your goals turn out to be unrealistic, make some adjustments and find where you can have success.

Interviewing a Social Media Professional:

Cory Edwards is the director of Social Media and Corporate Reputation for Dell. As the director of social media, he is a part of the corporate communications group and part of the team that focuses on the integration of social media into the more traditional forms of communication and marketing activities. His focus is developing a corporate reputation and building the brand through social media outlets by working with influencers and advocates of Dell. He developed a lot of his experience in social media by being an early adopter and gaining hands on experience by starting with a family blog. After gaining some experience, he began looking for ways to use these tools to “wow” his clients. Since then, as social media has grown, Edwards has seen it develop and taken the opportunity to learn that advantages that it can bring to a business.

Q: What response would you give a company or organization that doesn’t think that social media is worth the time and effort?

A: That really is a tough spot to be in, and I have been there. There were clients that I’ve had and even management at an agency that I worked for had a lot of skepticism. One of the benefits is that there is really relatively low barrier to entry when it comes to getting involved.  The costs are relatively low.  A big part of it is trying to get management to give you a chance and to trust you, and then look for a few early wins.  If you can get a few key wins, where something successful comes from your effort, then next time around management is going to be more willing to let you do things and give you more resources to make an even bigger splash.

Q: What is a good way to make usually mundane topics more exciting and shareable?

A: The truth is, there are boring topics in the world. As boring as they would seem to you or me, the reality is that for any industry that you are in there is an audience that the topic is going to appeal to, and you need to find a way to rise above the noise that exists. I think that there have been a lot of creative multimedia-type channels and assets have allowed you to take something “un-sexy” and make it more “sexy.” I think videos are something that helps. It’s easier to digest a video or a podcast sometimes than it is a written article. I think even more so, I love the trend that we’re seeing now of more and more people doing infographics. They take a topic and make it interesting in the visual of it. That you can have a visual that just tells the story by itself is a great thing. We’re seeing a lot of dynamic and interactive infographics as well. All of these multimedia components really help to make it more shareable when the content isn’t really the most enjoyable to digest.

Q: As far as connecting with followers, how do you try to make a personal connection? How do you make your social media writing sound more like a person and less like it’s coming from a machine?

A: For the first question, there’s a lot to be said for going to where your customers are. The typical approach that you see a company take is, “Let’s go out and create a Facebook page,” or, “Let’s go out and make a Twitter account.” It’s Facebook and Twitter, shouldn’t we be on there?” As opposed to thinking of where your audience is, people think that just because those are the social media giants of today that that is where they should be. If you feel like that where you’re going to have the best chance of interacting with your constituents then that’s great, but I just don’t think that people think that through very much and the first step in your strategy has to be determining where you can connect with them. Facebook may not be the right place. Some places have not embraced social media like we have here. It just hasn’t taken off there, and because of that the focus is on some other online communities, like posting boards.  Know where your customers are. Let that be your driving force for creating conversation. Go to where they are first. If they’re on Facebook, then that’s great. Customers are looking for the brands they like, and they would love to have interaction with them. Interactions from companies I don’t like would appear as spam, and I wouldn’t want to engage with them. If they’re brands that I like, I like to have an interactive experience. I love it when I post on Smashburger and they reply back to me by name. I kind of get a kick out of that – that a brand has a personal side to it. Brands spent so long building up these corporate walls that you have these nameless, faceless corporations that are just entities that you could never access or have any personal feel to it. You have to change that. You have a brand page, and as you’re interacting with people, you need to reach out to them directly and make it a personal experience. As much as we would like to think that our customers would just like to have a relationship with us, the reality is they’re in it for themselves too, and we need to recognize that they want something out of it too. They want a discount, they want to participate in competitions, whatever it might be, and they’re looking for opportunities to get a deal.

Q: What’s a good way to handle bad news or press about the company?

A: You know, it depends on the situation. If it’s somebody’s negative opinion about the company in the direction of the company, and they’re just spouting off for the sake of spouting off, sometimes engagement with them does no good. They’re haters and all they want to do it hate. We don’t want to give the trolls the time of day. Nothing productive comes from that. Whereas there are certainly customers who have not-so-great feedback for us, and sometimes it’s not terribly nice, but it does lead to a productive conversation. We’ve got a group within our core organization that is monitoring 24/7 and looking for situations where a customer is perhaps having a difficult time with their products. In those situations where they are griping about their product and doing it on Facebook publicly or on Twitter, the support organization, they have a mandate where within four hours of the post being put up, we need to be reaching out to them. They’re not even posting to us, they’re just putting it up on Twitter and publicly saying how unhappy they are with their product, and this team reaches out to them and tries to resolve any issues they have. We see it as an opportunity to help out our customers and in the process turn them from “ranters” into “ravers” for the brand. That team currently has 40 percent of the customers who vocally complain turn around and post something positive in response to the efforts and the time that we spend working with them to solve their issues. That’s a good statistic to take to executives who are wondering about using social media.

Q: What is the best way to minimize obnoxious self-promotion and annoying posts that turn off consumers, but still be effective in building up your brand?

A: It’s tough. There is a balance that you need to find there. You’re going to have a hard time arguing for it internally if there isn’t going to be promotional stuff on your feed. There are a couple of different ways that you can offset that. One is finding articles about industry news or a particular topic and sharing that stuff that would be interesting to your listeners. We use that as an opportunity to gain mindshare with our customers and help them to eventually look at Dell as a leader in the industry because we know our stuff and share it with them. We’re commenting about industry trends, new technologies, and the direction and future of a particular field, and those things help. If you start producing blog posts and infographics about that, it’s stuff that your customers are going to like. They like that they can come to you for that information.

Another thing is looking for more creative ways to promote your products, so even when you do talk about it, instead of looking at putting out marketing materials like white papers and product spec sheets, instead look for reviews from a third party that you can share. Make folks aware of what others are saying and try to amplify that. We want our customers to be aware of it. You can still help to promote the company’s cause without being the guy out there that is saying “come buy this today!”

Q: Creating a social environment can be tough. How does creating a social environment for employees make social media efforts an overall more positive influence on the organization?

A: When I first started, we saw social media as being very centralized in most corporations, and I think it still is. You’ve got the marketing or communications organization and maybe have a person or a couple of people who do it across the whole company. It almost becomes a bottleneck because it all has to go through them. No one is posting anything to Facebook unless it goes through them. And while I get the point, because there are so many people who don’t know how to do it, that’s a spot where a company will struggle. You’ve got to be more open, and weave social media into the fabric of what the company is. That means across each of the key functional department, which is communications and marketing, but also sales, and product development and customer service. Any of these different groups can now weave these principles into those respective parts of the organization. You have to be willing to do that. But if you do that, you have to be willing to train people, and willing to have thick skin because people are posting all over about your brand at that point. We have a training program for employees, and they have to go through that before they start posting on behalf of the company. It’s about eight hours’ worth of coursework that they have to go through before they can post on behalf of Dell. We’ve had 4,000 employees who have done that and become certified social media professionals.

Information Retrieved From:

Nielsen Internet Ratings and Social Media Report:

http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2012-Reports/Nielsen-Multi-Screen-Media-Report-May-2012.pdf

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/

Mashable article on Mitt Romney’s campaign’s spelling mistakes:

http://mashable.com/2012/06/04/romney-spelling-mistakes/

Social Media Tips Blog Posts or Articles:

http://contentequalsmoney.com/social-media-writing-tips/

http://commtech.ag.ohio-state.edu/sites/drupal-ct.web/files/resources/files/Social%20Media%20Writing%20Tips.pdf

Various Twitter and Facebook Posts, Thanks to:

KSL.com

Hillside Dental

Primary Children’s Medical Center

Forbidden Planet

Big Thanks to Cory Edwards from Dell for donating his expertise! For more information on the social media strategies, policies and procedures from Dell, visit www.dell.com/socialmedia.

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Getting Past the Fear of Project Plans

Several years ago, before I had any training as a project manager, a manager asked me to write a project plan for an initiative I was leading.  I still remember how overwhelmed I felt.  Years and hundreds of project plans later, I still have a little fear writing new project plans, but training and experience have helped alleviate most of my anxiety.

I can’t guarantee the tips and techniques discussed in this paper will eliminate your fears of writing a project plan.  I hope, however, that it does offer a few things to remember next time you’re asked to write a project plan.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll primarily focus on the term project plan.  However, the concepts discussed should help with any form of project or business writing.

In order to first understand what information goes into a project plan, we must first define project plan and outline its uses.  The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) and other business sources basically define project plans as all of the documentation used during project approvals and as the primary reference document throughout a project.  Typically, project plans clarify project scope, schedule and budget.

I’ll first outline the top 10 tips for writing a project plan.  I’ll then explain why these tips are important and elaborate on various techniques based on each tip.  The end of the paper contains an interview with an experienced project manager and former college professor.

Top 10 Tips for Writing Project Plans

  1. Begin with an Outline
  2. Know Your Audience
  3. Write a Concise Scope
  4. Be Honest About Risks
  5. Explain the Implementation Plan
  6. Write Your Project Goals
  7. Use Industry Specific Terms Wisely
  8. Communicate the Communication Plan
  9. Use Graphics with Text

10. Complete a Final Review

Begin with an Outline 

Why it’s important

I will admit I’m not one of those people who always have a plan when I start writing.  I’ll also admit there are many times when I’ve regretted not having plan.  Let’s face it. There are times when you need to consider how you want the document to flow.  Take time to reflect on how people will read and make sense of the information you’re presenting.

As the writer of the project plan, it’s your job to make sure people can find the information they need to approve or reference.  Creating an outline before writing and preparing documents can help ensure your layout is coherent and logical.

Techniques for Creating an Outline

I keep a simple spreadsheet of all the potential documents that could be included in my project plan.  Each project is different so I may not use all documents listed in my spreadsheet.  However, this simple trick is a good reference to remind me what could be included in my plan.

Some companies require certain documents in your project plan in order to gain approval and funding.  Make sure you know what those documents are and include them in your outline.

If the outline is only for your use in developing your project plan, it doesn’t need to be formal, but I think it’s a good idea to have another person review the outline to make sure the structure is sound and you’ve covered your bases.

Below the reference section, you’ll see an example of a simple outline I’ve used for my project plans.

References

gantthead.com – Project Plan Project Definition – http://www.gantthead.com/deliverables/Project-Plan-Definition.html

inc.com – How to Write a Business Plan Outline – http://www.inc.com/guides/201104/how-to-write-a-business-plan-outline.html

Example of a Project Plan Outline

1)   Project Scope (required)

a)    Executive Summary

b)   Needs Analysis

c)    Audience Identification

d)   Success Metrics

2)   Product Summary

3)   Budget Reports

a)    Cash Flow Report (required)

b)   Contracts

i)     Bids

ii)    Signed Contracts

4)   Intellectual Property Assessment (required)

5)   Risk Management Plan

a)    Mitigation Plan

6)   Communication Plan

7)   Implementation Plan

a)    Work Breakdown Structure

b)   Detailed Schedule

Know Your Audience

Why it’s important

Pretend for a moment you’re a sports writer for a newspaper in a major city.  Your assignment is to write multiple opinion articles each week.  Now imagine that during your first week you choose to write all of your articles about sports teams from different cities.  While your opinions might be newsworthy, there is little chance that the majority of your readers will like your articles because they don’t focus on their local interests.

Writing a project plan is not so different from writing public interest articles.  Your audience wants to know information that applies to them.

Most new projects need approvals from decision makers within an organization.  It’s the job of the project plan writer to make sure information contained in the project plan will gain the approval of stakeholders and executives.  The plan also needs to include details that will be useful for the project team.

Techniques for Knowing Your Audience

Identify who is going to read the project plan and why they’re going to read it.  A stakeholder or manager may want to know the details, while executive leaders only want a brief summary.  Either way, identify the audience for each section of the project plan and write to that audience.

If your company doesn’t use a template or project management tool, divide the document into sections.  Start with the executive summary or a brief overview of the project so management doesn’t have to sift through details to get needed information.   Clearly label each section so those seeking specific information can find exactly what they’re looking for quickly.

References

University of Maryland Online Guide to Writing and Research – Targeting Your Audiencehttp://www.umuc.edu/writingcenter/onlineguide/chapter2-04.cfm

plainlanguage.gov – Identify and Write for Your Audience – http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/audId.cfm

Write a Concise Scope

Why it’s important

The managers and directors in your organization are busy people whose calendars resemble a multicolored haystack.  They don’t have time to read all of the adjectives you could use to describe the project.  Therefore it’s critical to ensure managers can understand the project’s scope without scanning multiple pages.

The PMBOK describes the scope as the products or services along with associated outcomes of the project.  Generally management and stakeholders want to know how your project is going to benefit the organization.  This information is critical to verify your project aligns with the direction of the business.  Executives want the scope in a concise format in order to make sound decisions quickly.  The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) website suggests that concise writing doesn’t always have fewer words but uses strong words.

Techniques for Concise Writing

Contemplate writing your scope by listing your products or services in a bulleted list.  Then identify how each product or service will impact the organization.  This is a great starting point to writing a concise scoping document.

Once you develop a list, put key points in a logical format and begin filling in the blanks.  Don’t worry as much about size as content.  If you’re confident you’ve included all deliverables, then your scope is probably long enough.      

After you’ve written your project scope, consider these steps:

  1. Identify filler words and determine if they can be removed.
  2. Look for weak words that can be replaced by stronger words.
  3. Verify you’re using words applicable to your industry.
  4. Combine sentences where possible.
  5. Start from step one again and repeat as needed.

References

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) – Conciseness – https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/572/01/

The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin – Clear, Concise, Sentences – http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/ClearConciseSentences.html

PROJECT Magazine – Writing a Scope Statement – http://www.projectmagazine.com/planning/48-scope/50-writing-a-scope-statement

Be Honest About Risks

Why it’s important

Your employer deserves to know what could go wrong during your project.  By identifying and reporting risks early, you’re giving your organization more time to find a solution to mitigate potential problems.  Every project plan should have a section dedicated to risks and their potential impacts.  Each risk should be an honest assessment and contain facts to determine liability.  By attempting to cover up risks, you’re putting yourself, your project team and your company in jeopardy

Techniques for Being Honest About Risks

Obviously the fundamental task here is to identify risks and their potential impact.  Then determine if and how each risk can be avoided.  This is best accomplished in a project team setting where everyone has input.

Once you’ve completed a risk analysis, begin writing the risk assessment.  Like your scope document, determine the key points that need to be addressed and write a concise description including costs and schedule impact.  You’re not expected to know everything that could go wrong on a project, but you should attempt to identify as much as possible.

Sometimes risk assessment can be helpful in getting approval and support for your project.  For example, I manage a project each year to deliver Christmas gifts to all employees.  By identifying the impacts of certain risks, I can show how the negative impact will delay delivery.  Knowing the gifts need to be delivered before Christmas helps the project team stay motivated.

The key to writing about risks is to be direct and upfront.  Don’t conceal information in your writing.  If you think you don’t have risks in your project, you’re probably wrong. You need to complete a risk analysis.  If something does occur during the project, make sure to effectively and honestly communicate the implication to all stakeholders.  Also include how the problem will be resolved.

References

PMI White Paper – Real-world Risk Management – http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/Business-Solutions/Risk%20Management_FINAL.ashx

Oregon State University – Fundamentals for Establishing a Risk Communication Program – http://web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~hambydm/papers/ng.pdf

Explain the Implementation Plan

Why it’s important

Stakeholders and executives need to understand how the project is going to be executed from start to finish.  An implementation plan is not a detailed schedule or a work breakdown structure.  Instead, an implementation plan is list of key milestones with associated resources.  This high-level document reassures management that you know how to complete your project on schedule.

This document is also extremely useful as you manage the project.  The more complex a project is, the harder it is to track each project task.  As a project manager or leader, it’s much easier to manage projects based on milestone dates rather than tasks.

Techniques for Explaining the Implement Plan

To write a good project plan, it’s critical to understand a final delivery date for your products or services.  Once you identify a final delivery date, it becomes a lot easier to know when certain tasks need to be complete.  Remember to consider weekends, holidays, and time-off when determining delivery or handoff dates.

Once you have a list of milestones you want to include in your implementation plan, you’re ready to write.  Consider having a header on the plan that includes the project name, the project objective, and final delivery date.  Then write the details for each milestone by creating a milestone name or brief description—associate other information like delivery date, total hours and key resource.  Make sure your milestones are brief but explain the assignment.

References

eHow.com – How to Create a Project an Implementation Planhttp://www.ehow.com/how_5150738_create-implementation-plan.html

lean.org – Example of a Project Implementation Plan

http://www.lean.org/dm_corner_implementation_plan.pdf

Write Your Project Goals

Why it’s important

I worked as a logistics operations manager at one point in my career.  One of the teams I managed wanted to make some changes to day-to-day operations in an effort to be more efficient.  We wrote the goal on a whiteboard that was in plain sight.  After their shift each day we would meet to review their stats to see if they were meeting their goals.

Every day the team was excited to see if their process change was working.  After about week, the team met its goal.  We celebrated our success and wrote a new goal and continued to improve.

Through this process I learned a valuable lesson: by identifying project goals your team will know where to focus its attention.

Coming in under budget and on schedule is an obvious objective and too general for your goal.  Think deeper.  The goals are in your head. Make sure you put them on paper.  Team goals should be specific, measurable, realistic and sharable.

Techniques for Writing Your Project Goals

Have a meeting or send an email request for stakeholders, team members and leadership to identify their ideas of a successful project.  Once you have a comprehensive list, identify common trends in their ideas.  Look for key power words to include in your success statement.

Usually focusing on a few key success factors is plenty.  Don’t overwhelm the team by setting too many goals.

Write down a short concise list of goals then compare the list against your company’s mission statement, vision or objectives.  Try to set goals that closely align with what your organization is trying to accomplish.

It’s generally a good rule to put your goals toward the front of your documents so management recognizes what the project will ultimately accomplish and how it will benefit the organization.

References

Toolbox.com – Identifying Project Goals & Objectivehttp://it.toolbox.com/blogs/enterprise-solutions/identifying-project-goals-objectives-25023

Woldbank.org – Clarifying Project Goals, Objectives, and Information Needshttp://siteresources.worldbank.org/NUTRITION/Resources/Tool8-chap2.pdf

MyManagementGuide.com – How to Set and Achieve Goals of a Project – http://www.mymanagementguide.com/five-essential-tips-for-managing-project-goals-how-to-set-and-achieve-goals-of-project/

Use Industry Terms and Keywords

Why it’s important

I worked in the health care industry for several years and had the chance to work in an operating room on numerous occasions.  Operating rooms have a completely different language than the rest of the world.  I remember the first time I heard the word “stat.”  This term is very specific to medicine and is an informal way of saying immediately.  If I were to use this term in my role as a publication and media project manager, I would probably get more than one unusual look.  So, I don’t use it.  However, I do try to use terms that are specific to my current role, if they’re going to be understood by everyone.

Using terms and keywords for your industry tells others that you know your niche.  It also helps you connect with co-workers.  However, you don’t want to use terms managers or stakeholders don’t understand.  Analyze your audience and make sure the industry terms you use will be understood.

Since working in the operating room, I’ve noticed that every industry has its own language and unwritten dictionary.  Knowing the language of your industry will help in all aspects of your communication.

Techniques for Using Industry Terms and Keywords

First, you need to learn the terms and keywords if they’re not already part of your vocabulary.  Consider doing a Web search on terms within your industry.  For example, just try searching for project management terms.  You’ll get plenty search results that could help increase your overall lexis.

Another way to learn keywords is to listen to others.  If you’re leading a construction project and a contractor keeps using a certain unfamiliar word during a planning meeting, write down the word and search to find its meaning when you’re back at your desk.  Thanks to Internet search engines, finding the meaning to a word is easy.

Before using any word for any type of writing, make sure you clearly understand the definition and tense.  Most importantly make sure these terms don’t create unreadable and confusing jargon. Review your project plans and look for industry specific terms and decide if they’re going to be understood without a dictionary.

References

Search Engine Guide – How to Find Keywords in a Specialized Industry – http://www.searchengineguide.com/mike-moran/how-do-you-find-keywords-in-a-specialize.php

Trellian – Industry Keywords – http://www.keyworddiscovery.com/keyword-directory.html

PR Newswire – 5 Ways to Fight Client Jargon – http://blog.prnewswire.com/2012/03/23/5-ways-to-fight-client-jargon/ 

Communicate the Communication Plan

Why it’s important

Your executives need to know the communication channels you’ll use to complete a successful project.  Communication failures are currently identified as one of the biggest problems in all organizations.  Teams who don’t identify the rules and strategy of communication could end up costing the company money and falling behind schedule.

A communication plan identifies all written, verbal and electronic communication methods.  Some organizations spend millions of dollars to purchase project management tools that offer electronic communication technology and collaboration space.  These tools are great when used correctly.  However, communication often happens outside of these tools via phone and email.  Communication outside your standard project management tools can create problems when information for the entire team isn’t disseminated properly.

Writing the communication methods in your project plan can help team members understand the media vehicles your team will use throughout the project.  Make sure you write the communication plan clearly and identify the strategy for verbal, written and electronic communication.

Techniques for Writing a Communication Plan

Identify all areas of communication that are expected to happen during your project.  Find the tools or methods for each form of communication.  Make sure you have consensus among your project team and stress the importance of proper communication.

When applicable use your communication department as a consultant to review your ideas and give advice on techniques specific to your company.

When writing the actual communication plan, consider summarizing the plan into different sections.  For example, you could have a separate section for verbal, written and electronic.  Or you could explain how communication threads will happen between team members, stakeholders, vendors, the public, and so forth.

If you’re using a communication or project management tool that doesn’t meet all of your needs, remember to address what tools will be used in its place.

Specify any branding, marketing, letterhead or logos you’re going to use.  Consider adding images to your communication plan so management is aware of their use and meaning.

References

How to Develop Communication Planshttp://www.hieran.com/comet/howto.html

Dave Fleet – How to Write a Good Communication Plan – http://davefleet.com/2008/05/how-to-write-a-good-communications-plan-part-1-an-overview/

Nancy Rathburn Scott – How to Write a Corporate Communication Plan – http://www.nancyscott.com/page50/page32/page32.html

Use Graphics with Text

Why it’s important

Simply spoken, people like visuals.  They can provide a quick reference to how something is going to work or look in the end.

In my current job we create a lot of product prototypes before starting any official project work.  These prototypes are useful for the sponsor to make decisions.  Seeing an example of the finished product can help executives make decisions about your project.

Another example of using graphics might be based more around your project processes.  Properly designed PERT diagrams, Gantt charts, and flowcharts will provide readers a visual representation of how project work is going to be completed on schedule.

Techniques for Using Graphics with Text

If you’re presenting a prototype or visual of the finished product, take the time to make it look exceptional and accurate.  Don’t allow your management to be skeptical about the money and support they’re giving your project.  If you can’t design the graphic well, request help from someone with a design background.

By adding graphics to a document, you’re losing valuable white space for text.  This makes it extremely important to use your document real estate carefully.  Be  clear, concise and selective about word choice.  If the text is too long, it may mean that the process step is actually more than one step.  Also remember to always use action words to describe process procedures.

References

Graphics.com – Visualizing Project Plans – http://www.graphics.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=507

eDocs.com – Developing and Designing Flowchartshttp://documentationprocess.com/DevelopandDesignFlows

Complete a Final Review

Why it’s important

I once had a chance to work with a talented supply chain director named Richard.  When it came time to hire a new vice president over logistics, I thought he would get the job because of his knowledge and work ethic.  He applied but was rejected.  A few months later, I heard one person on the hiring committee say, “Richard probably would have gotten the job if he would learn to use spell-check.”  Poor spelling and editing cost this man a major promotion.

While you may not receive a final grade from anyone regarding the writing in your project plan, your co-workers and managers will notice your mistakes.  Your document needs to accurately convey project information.

Good writing skills are important to your organizations leaders.  Exceptional writing in your project documents will help managers and team members feel confident in your communication skills and abilities managing the project.

Techniques for Reviewing

Technical writing is different than writing emails, research papers or fictional stories.  While it’s important to look for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, technical writing also requires you to review your paper for consistency.

When editing project documents look for uniformity in terminology, costs, dates and product information.

After editing the document, consider walking away from it for a while and then re-reading from the reader’s perspective.  When editing, validate your work by ensuring you’re conveying intended objectives and providing adequate information.  Putting on another set of eyes is a useful exercise.

I would also recommend having another individual review and edit your documents before final submission.  No one is perfect.  Trust your editing to someone who will provide feedback and tell you about mistakes.

Like I said earlier about the scope document, review it until you stop making changes.  If you seem to be making major changes each time you edit, perhaps something is wrong with the overall message and you need to consider a rewrite.  This may take more time, but it will help you rest easy after you submit or present the project plan.

References

raylcommunications.com – Why is Good Writing so Important in the Business World? – http://www.raylcommunications.com/BusWriteESL-SECTION_1.pdf

Wordnerds.com – Document Editing – Tips for More Effective Business Documents – http://www.wordnerds.com.au/2012/06/document-editing-–-tips-for-more-effective-business-documents/

Yahoo Business – Business Writing Tips for Editing Business Communications – http://voices.yahoo.com/business-writing-tips-editing-business-communications-2364660.html

Notes from an Interview with an Expert

I interviewed Rich Carlson.  Carlson is a lead project manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He has been working in project management for over 15years.  He has held numerous project management positions and taught business courses at Davenport University.

Q&A

Question: Why is the project plan an important component of project management?

Answer: To me, the project plan is the foundation and the most important part of a project. Without a solid project plan, you’re starting off the project in a hole and it’s exponentially harder to manage a project without one.

Question: As a person who reviews and approves projects, what content or components do you look for in a project plan or scoping document?

Answer: I’ve always followed the mantra that if a project plan is complete and accurate, anybody could read the project plan and understand the following points of the project:

  • What is going to be produced/delivered by the project?
  • Who is our customer/audience/consumer of the deliverables?
  • What are the estimated costs of the project?
  • What are the key milestones of the project?
  • Who are the key project team members and what are their high-level responsibilities?
  • What are the known risks associated with the project? What are the contingency plans to deal with these risks?

Question: How do you balance providing enough detail and still remain concise with the information in the plan?

Answer: This is always a tough one. As a project manager, I strived to look at a project from every project team member’s points of view. I wanted to make sure all of the key groups had a seat at the project table and their needs were being met.  By doing this, I was privy to a lot of additional project-related information that would fall outside the scope of a project plan.

By sticking to the key points I identified above, I was able to stay out of the weeds and focus on the key project elements. Provide just enough information to answer the questions without getting into too much detail.

It also depends on who will be reviewing the project plans. Some upper management I’ve worked for wanted one- to two-page project plans with only the high-level detail included. They wanted to make sure all groups were on board with the project, and they let us hammer out the details.  Other executives wanted extremely detailed project plans because they were micromanagers. They didn’t trust the project teams, or they were detail freaks.

Understanding the needs of your audience is critical before starting any project plan.

Question: How should a project manager address potential risks in the project plan documents?

Answer: Any time I identified a risk in a project plan, I discussed it by identifying the following:

  • What is the probability of the risk occurring?
  • What is the level impact on the project if the risk occurs?
  • What are the specific impacts to the project if a risk occurs?
  • Are there steps that can be taken to mitigate a particular risk?  What are the costs associated with these steps?  If you have a high probability/high impact risk, spending a few extra dollars to mitigate the risk is a no-brainer. Spending a ton of effort/budget on a low probability/low impact risk is wasteful and inefficient.
  • What are the contingency plans available if the risk occurs? Who are the decision makers as to which contingency plan will be executed if needed?

Understanding these items is critical to managing any project. If you have a high probability/high impact risk, you’d better have your contingency plans in place and ready to go as soon as the project starts. Conversely, if you have a low probability/low impact risk, you should keep an eye on it but not lose any sleep over it.

Question: What tips would you give a person creating a project plan for the first time?

Answer: Writing a project plan oftentimes takes a lot of legwork by the project manager. He/she needs to look at their project from a high level – understanding how all of the different individuals, groups, systems, budgets and schedules fit together to form the project.  They need to understand what each member of the project team needs to do his/her job.  They also need to understand the relationships between the different groups contributing to the project.

A good project manager will be able to envision the project from start to finish, identify risks that could derail the project, understand problem areas that need to be closely monitored, and recognize the role of each project team member.

Once all that is understood, you then condense that information into the key points that must be communicated for a project to be understood by the intended audience.

To me, writing the project plan is easy – the hard part is making sure I cover all my bases in gathering the information and making sure I’ve accounted for all the project team members and their groups.  Once I feel comfortable with my project and all its facets, writing the plan is a snap.

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Insider’s Guide to Freelance Writing

Introduction

You’re a “buffet of life” kind of person, curious to learn about this-that-and-everything. You love listening to people, recognizing everyone has a unique story to tell. You see extraordinary in the ordinary. You think like an entrepreneur, and seek to live life to the beat of your own writing drum.

In other words, you’re me.

I knew as a child I wanted to be a writer. My handmade library cards for my family to “check out” my collection of crayon-illustrated books should have been a clue. In college, I wrote as a student reporter for the university paper and loved the rush of seeing my name in print. There’s nothing like knowing others are reading my words, and (hopefully) my research is useful to them.

After graduating, I found myself relentlessly drawn to the writer’s section of the library, where I’d glean wisdom from established freelance writers. The idea     I could get paid to learn fascinating things and meet interesting people intrigued me. I wanted to add my name to freelance writing circles. Eventually I rounded up enough courage to submit freelance articles to Utah’s Deseret News and KSL.com. That was four months ago, and I’ve now had 15 articles published in both print and online – with more than 89,000 online views.

While I’ll continue to contribute to the local news sources, my next quest is currently in progress: Build a portfolio of freelance magazine articles. My lofty goal is to see my byline in magazines across the country. I realize this will take time and organized effort. In my research, I’ve learned freelance writing is much more than haphazardly submitting story ideas. It takes a business-savvy, journalistically-sound person to make it in the competitive world of publishing. 

The freelance journey is more than getting clips. “Freelancing teaches you valuable lessons about your business strengths and weaknesses while helping you establish published credits,” writes author Christina Katz in her book, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids. “By practicing some basic journalism skills, you can work your way up the writing ranks and increase your chances of literary success in the short and long run” (p. 26).

With this Insider’s Guide to Freelance Writing, you’ll also be ready to board the rollercoaster called freelance writing. Despite the likeliness of experiencing rejection (even well-established freelancers do), remember it’ll be worth the effort with the thrill of seeing your byline in print. The following 10 tips will help you open the door of opportunity that awaits the brave souls who embark on the freelance writer’s journey.

 10 Tips for Freelance Writing Success

1. Take Inventory of Your Interests

Make a list of topics that pique your interest. “Write down what sets you apart from, or connects you to, the norm,” suggests Katz. “Write whatever pops into your head and don’t be too picky” (p. 23). Remember, this isn’t a right/wrong test and it won’t be graded – anything goes.

Start with your hobbies – are you a closet knitter, expert networker, pro on a road bike, or marketing guru? What are your favorite things to do? Narrow down your list to the top four or five. These interests will be your starting place in discovering the best publishing markets for you to pursue.

Amy Wilde, freelance writer based in Utah, suggests, “Anything you can do that falls into your natural strengths is a great place to start. Focus on a couple areas where you already have strengths. Let your personality show through your articles.”

If, for example, you’re a better-than-average gardener, check out the gardening magazines in your local grocery store or bookstore. Buy copies of them to study their preferred tone, types of stories, and get ideas for what you can contribute.

2. Identify Your Audiences

When you’ve narrowed down your top interests, you’re on your way to understanding your audiences. Just like a face-to-face conversation, wise communicators know to vary their message according to who they’re addressing. “The most successful writers are intimately acquainted with their audiences and know the best way to speak to them,” suggests Katz (2007). “Spend time understanding your most natural audiences, because this step may well make the difference between writing for a specific readership and writing for no one at all” (p. 20). Indeed, if you’re speaking or writing to nobody in particular – why would they want to listen to or read what you have to say?

Katz recommends learning how to address audiences that may be out of your comfort zone. “If you want to learn how to write well enough for national publication someday, you might actually be better off studying articles written not for your chosen audience, but for one you wouldn’t typically read,” suggest Katz (2007). “What can you learn about magazine publishing, in general, and how to write for a targeted audience, specifically, by studying a totally different type of magazine that you usually read? A whole lot” (p. 24). Reading like a writer helps you hone in on what works for audiences – and what doesn’t.

3. Embrace Your Inner Idea Machine

One of the hardest parts of freelance writing is having a Big Idea and getting credit for it – before somebody else does. “Your Big Idea is all about finding a need and filling it. You don’t have to be the world’s best writer to make a living selling your words,” writes Jenna Galtzer, author of Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Assignments. “You need to be resourceful, creative, prolific, and crafty. You must find something worth telling to a mass audience and convince the ‘powers that be’ that you’re the right person to tell it” (p. 11). When you come across a valuable idea, claim it quick so you can be on the one to tell the tale.

Without recording your ideas, they might pass by without you. “Ideas are ephemeral…Before you can capture them on paper, Whoosh! They’re gone as quickly as they came,” writes Katz, who suggests writing ideas down. “Trust me, if you don’t, you will be sorry when you see someone else has written on and published your ideas” (p. 16). Carry around a small notebook so that when you are struck with brilliance, you can capture it fast.

4. Digest Writer’s Guidelines

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best idea in the world if it doesn’t fit the goals of the publication to which you’re submitting. How do you make sure your story aligns with what editors are looking for? “Almost every publication that works with freelance writers makes (writer’s guidelines) available to clarify their specific needs and wants,” writes Katz. “Think of writer’s guidelines as a recipe for success” (p. 40). Indeed, without reading the guidelines, you’re blinding yourself to potential roadblocks and opportunities.

Sometimes the guidelines don’t explicitly state the preferred style for the publication. How can you know you’re hitting the sweet spot for their readership? “Notice the style and tone of articles in magazines for which you’d like to write” suggests Glatzer. “Look at the way Family Circle handles heartwarming material in contrast to the way Woman’s World handles it” (p. 39). Paying close attention to the differences will clue you in on how you can be part of future issues.

5. Pitch Like a Pro

For all you baseball fans, we’re not talking Tom Seaver or Walter Johnson here. This kind of pitching means giving editors article ideas they can’t resist. “There are two kinds of letters you will use to submit work as a freelance writer: cover letters and query letters,” writes Katz. “When you send your writing with a cover letter, it’s a sign of your professionalism, so it’s a crucial skill if you want to see your writing in print” (p. 59). Making these pitches takes practice, and remember there are factors out of your control: availability in the next issue, someone else already submitted a similar idea, and if the editor is having a particularly bad day.

When you only have a certain amount of control over what happens to your cover or query letter, what’s a winning technique? Keep your letter succinct. Glatzer (2004) gives the inside scoop on what editors look for in query letters: “When I asked Melissa Walker, editor at ELLEgirl, what mistakes writers make in query letters, she said, ‘Queries have to be concise. If they’re long-winded, editors will think you’re a long-winded writer. Brevity is the beauty in a query” (p. 62). Practice communicating what you have to offer in one page, and making the most important points pop.

Since you only really get 10-30 seconds before an editor decides to keep or circle-file your letter, use your allotted space creatively. Glatzer suggests introducing queries with the proposed title centered and in bold. “Since you can’t express yourself with colorful stationery or cute graphics without making an editor cringe, if you can think of a legitimate way to make your words more visually appealing, all the better” (p. 75). Other ideas include using bold fonts for key items, and arranging the story ideas in an easy-to-read way.

6. Start Small, Grow Larger

Just as a child learns the alphabet before writing sentences, it’s expected that freelancers start in smaller circles and gradually widen their influence to larger opportunities. “The basic strategy behind acquiring clips is simple: You start writing for small, local publications and work your way up to large, national, or international publications,” suggest Katz (2007). “You can improve your chances of getting published at new publications by including clips with your submissions that who how well you have written for other publications” (p. 48). Using clips is key to winning future assignments, so leverage the best you’ve got. As you make your way up the freelance totem pole, you’ll have a wider range of clips to showcase.

7. Mind Your Own Business

Being a freelance writer means seeing yourself as a professional. “Writers who think of themselves as ‘artists’ should probably stick to poetry and diary entries,” warns Glatzer (2004). “If you intend to sell what you write, and make a living from it…(you) need to become a businessperson” (p.7). For those who take their writing seriously, freelancing can be a lucrative venture.

Take Carol Tice, for example. She’s a six-figure freelance writer and author of the award-winning “Make a Living Writing” blog. Tice knows her stuff and shares tips and tricks on her other site, Freelance Writers’ Den. She writes, “it’s the supportive place where freelance writers learn how to grow their income – fast.” She’s attracted so many freelance writers that the Den is currently not accepting new members. (I got on her waiting list.) Tice shows us that being a freelance writer can mean big money; but only if you take yourself seriously.

Glatzer also gives candid suggestions for those who want to make the leap into freelancing: “If you decide to freelance full-time, you may wish to incorporate or register your business as an LLC (limited liability company) at some point,” Glatzer recommends, “It’s a simple rule: Businesses prefer dealing with other businesses” (p. 9). Put these tips to practice, and you’ll find others will perceive your business value.

8. Submit Simultaneously

Submitting the same topic to more than one market at a time is part of the writer/editor game of cat and mouse. “If you waited for an answer every time you submitted a query letter, you’d wind up sending out about a dozen letters a year, and landing about two assignments,” points out Glatzer (2004). “To make any kind of reasonable living doing this, you must send out queries to several markets at once” (p. 86). There’s nothing wrong with asking many different publications to consider the same idea.

Be cautious, however, not to exasperate editors by bugging them for a reply. “Overeager writers sometimes forget how many queries an editor gets, or how much planning goes into each issue to determine which articles fit in which sections of which issues” writes Glatzer (p. 125). Know that it’s normal to have to wait to hear back – but if it’s been more than a month, generally the answer is no.

9. Recycle Your Work

When you keep the rights to your work, you’re allowed to sell it over and over in a reprint. If you use the same research and remold it to fit a new market, you’ve done a spin-off, rewrite, or reslant. “Reprints and spin-offs are often the lifeblood of freelance writers” writes Glatzer (2004). “It’s enormously difficult to make a living (and keep sane) trying to find brand new ideas every day, research them, package them, and market them.

Beware that some publications do not accept reprints. “Facts are reuable. However, it is not a good idea to write a very similar piece that will appear in direct competition with the magazine you initially wrote for,” recommends Katz. “The solution is to resell to noncompeting markets, which means two totally different types of markets or two publications with non-overlapping territories” (p. 193).  Be mindful of the different rights available to writers and publishers (see sidebar “Rights to Write”) and seek to maintain rights to resell your words.

 10. Stay Confident

It’s easy to get discouraged in the freelancing scene. Remember you have your own unique voice and with persistence, you’ll find publications that appreciate it. “Sometimes, when you know your writing belongs at a certain publication,” writes Glatzer, “you have to keep hammering away at the keys until the gatekeepers let you in” (p. 122). This process can be draining, but know that everyone – even the most prominent of writers – had to start somewhere.

Glatzer shares another encouraging thought: “Believe it or not, editors want to hire you,” writes Glatzer (2004). “They do not relish boomeranging your work back to you with a form rejection letter; most editors are searching for reliable and talented freelance writers, and will gladly hand you an assignment if you can prove yourself” (p. 5) Think of editors as business partners for you to win over.

If you have a down day, remember many resources are available to help you. For example, freelancewriting.com gives dozens of free sources for freelance gigs. Another useful site, worldwidefreelance.com, offers writing community forums for writers to help each other. A simple Google search of freelance writing delivers more than 34 million links – a freelance writer’s paradise.

 

Interview with freelance writer Amy Wilde

Amy Wilde, an award-winning freelance writer based in Utah, started off with nothing more                                than a dream of being a columnist.

“You don’t have to be the most polished writer to start writing,” said Wilde. “You have to have the will to learn.” 

In her research, she learned it’s best to start at your local or regional paper. The Box Elder News Journal came to mind, and she pitched her story ideas by email three different times. After months, she was called in for an interview, and asked to contribute once a month.

“They said they couldn’t pay me, but I just wanted exposure and to write about topics that meant a lot to me,” remembers Wilde. “Immediately after landing the little gig with Box Elder News Journal, I thought other editors would like my writing too. I called the Deseret News and learned they were doing a new beta program for writers and contributors.”

Wilde remembers what an editor told her in that initial phone call.

“He said, ‘one thing every writer needs is determination. If you have determination and you are consistent and keep writing, you will one day end up on the front page,’” recalls Wilde. “I told myself I would be that person.”

Since that time two years ago, Wilde has had more than 50 articles published in the Deseret News or on KSL.com. She’s covered events like Sundance and Ogden city events. Her movie reviews have ended up being published in national publications, and she’s now finished the manuscript for her first book.

“Writing a book alongside being a freelancer and having a full-time job was quite the undertaking,” said Wilde. “But I have had that determination of staying with it. I write every night from nine to midnight.”

Learn more about Wilde’s writing and her upcoming book on her blog, amywildeatmosphere.blogspot.com.

Reference List

Freelance Writing Site. http://www.freelancewriting.com/freelance-writing-jobs.php

Glatzer, Jenna. (2004). Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments.  White River Junction, Vermont: Nomad Press.

Katz, Christina. (2007). Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

Tice, Carol. Freelance Writers’ Den. www.freelancewritersden.com

Wilde, Amy. Personal Interview, 29 June 2012.

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Broadcast News Writing

Clear, direct, strong writing is the key to effective communication in all professional writing careers.  Each genre, like newspaper, magazine, novel, broadcast, public relations, web content, blogging, etc., comes with its own set of particular rules, standards and writing styles. Mastering the art of writing in your particular area of interest is paramount to the success of your message and thus your career.  The focus of this article is on how to write for broadcast news.  We begin with some background on the industry and current and future trends.

Broadcast news faced dark days in the 1990s when experts predicted its almost-certain demise. Analysts prognosticated then that the up-and-coming, powerful Internet would quickly put a choke-hold on broadcast TV news, seriously wounding or even killing it. While great changes have occurred in the broadcast news industry in the last two decades, those predictions or reports were as Mark Twain once said, “greatly exaggerated.” That’s how the famous, American author responded to erroneous reports that he got sick and died in 1897.

Statistics indicate Americans continue to have a hearty, if not growing, appetite for news with the majority of them still receiving it from television. According to Papper in his publication, Broadcast News and Writing Stylebook, the younger generation prefers the Internet for news, and all age demographics use multiple sources. The older generation still leans toward television and newspaper as their favorite sources. Nonetheless, the average local TV station in America runs 5 hours and 18 minutes of news per weekday with that number rising each year. That means TV news continues to generate income, and stations continue to support news programming.

In order to survive, most local TV stations work to adapt to new technologies and trends with 80 percent of local stations supplying news content for their own websites.   Others also run news on the radio, cable channels, digital channels, mobile devices, and on additional TV stations within or outside their own market.  Although these new delivery methods have fragmented news consumption, so far, traditional news sources are still supplying most of the content.

Papper believes another reason for the staying-power of TV news is American’s continued infatuation with television sets:  the more the merrier and the bigger the better. (Sharp announced in a press release June 19, 2012, the production of what it calls, “the largest LED TV on the planet.” It boasts a massive 90-inch diameter screen.)  Furthermore, the ongoing trend to merge technologies, such as TVs, computers and mobile devices, has helped keep television alive. While the future remains unclear, it will be interesting and even exciting to see where technology and social trends take television and news. Regardless of the platform, Papper states, “For the foreseeable future, people will want to see and hear and read news and information, and those who want to provide it must learn how to tell stores in pictures and words.  The rest is detail.”

First-hand Experience

Good, solid writing is vital.  In fact, it’s how, as a college intern, I landed my first broadcast news job at KUTV-2 in Salt Lake City. Day one of my internship, the news director handed me a video-taped interview with the request to view it and write a story, complete with voice-over-video and a sound bite from the interviewee. I nervously tackled the task, and then tentatively presented the final product or script to the news director for review. He read it, and then much to my relief pronounced to the newsroom, “This girl can write.” Phew! I was so thankful I had learned and practiced broadcast writing and scripting in college.  This event serves two purposes: one it highlights the importance of good writing, and two it stresses the value of first impressions. That positive pronouncement from the news director followed me through my entire internship and helped secure a full-time job there as a producer.

So, for those who want to pursue a career in the evolving and challenging world of broadcast news, honing your writing skills is paramount—regardless of future format or delivery method. While mastering grammar rules, spelling, punctuation, word usage and the Associated Press Stylebook are a must, there are also a few tips and techniques unique to broadcast writing. News stories are crafted for the ear, with a definite time limit and in most cases written with video in mind. 

News Basics:

Before we go further, why news?  According to the Society of Newspaper editors, “The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinions is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time.” This holds true for print as well as all other forms of news, regardless of the delivery system. Talk shows, Hollywood reports and sportscasts serve a slightly different purpose—offering audiences options for entertainment programming. Americans love to be entertained.

Next, what is news? Several characteristics have evolved that determine what information is newsworthy. In his text book, Mencher states those characteristics can be divided into seven categories:  Impact, Unusual, Prominence, Conflict, Proximity, Timeliness and Currency. Obviously, it is considered news if an important or highly unusual event greatly impacts a viewing audience. Also, stories that involve people of prominence, such as world leaders, Hollywood stars, popular athletes or even an ordinary person who does something extraordinary–like jump in a raging river to save a child–could qualify for inclusion in a newscast. Great conflicts—war or political battles—are on the top of the news list. Also, stories

that occur near viewers may be of more interest than those on the other side of the world. Breaking news or timely events that will happen or have recently happened may also be of interest to an audience. And finally, issues that are current or in the public’s eye at the time—say the struggling economy or the shocking Sandusky child abuse trial—are newsworthy.

It is up to station news managers to determine what is and isn’t news for their audiences each day. It is not an exact science, but good judgment and knowledge of the audience and experience are essential. Once a story is deemed newsworthy and the information is gathered, putting that story into words, possibly with video or some visual, is the next step.

Relying on personal experience as a former TV news producer and gleaning information from several books, articles and websites, the following are tips and examples to help would-be journalists learn to write broadcast copy. The list is fairly thorough, but certainly not exhaustive.  The examples provided start with a bad one, followed by an improved version.

Top 10 tips:

1. First and foremost—keep it short.  A sentence should contain no more than one main thought or idea.

  • Fire gutted an apartment complex this evening on Fifth and Elm in Chicago killing two children and           injuring one adult.
  • Two children are dead tonight after fire gutted their downtown, Chicago apartment.

2. Make it clear and concise—when in doubt, leave it out. 

  • A local, winter storm, bringing a foot of snow, has caused the school board to cancel classes today and the children are happy to have a snow day.
  • School is cancelled today as a winter storm hits the area.  The school board made that call after a foot of snow fell overnight.  Many students say they’re happy to have a snow day.

3. Write like you speak—conversationally.

  • I am so exasperated from viewing such insensitive behavior and will no longer tolerate the racial discrimination that I encounter each day while meandering through the halls of the campus, complained the Dean of the University of Florida.
  • The University of Florida condemns racial discrimination.  The Dean says he’s tired of seeing such insensitive behavior on campus.

4. Use Active voice—Subject-Verb-Object (SVO).

  • The baseball was hit over the fence by the player.
  •  The baseball player hit the ball over the fence.

5. Use present tense—but don’t overdo it.

  • A gunman shot and killed a man in Amarillo today.  Police detectives have been looking for the suspect all day.
  • Amarillo Police look for a killer tonight.  Detectives say the suspect allegedly shot and killed a man earlier today.

6. Use conversational contractions—when meaning is clear.

  • Senator James Taylor says he isn’t running for office this election.
  •  Senator James Taylor says he is NOT running for office this election.

7. Avoid highly technical words, clichés and professional jargon.

  •  An MRI scanner is a medical apparatus where a patient lies inside a large, powerful magnet where magnetic fields are utilized to align the magnetization of atomic nuclei in the body, and then radio frequency fields are used to systematically alter the alignment of this specific magnetization.
  •  An MRI scans a patient using a powerful magnet and radio frequencies to see inside the body.

8. Attributions are better at the first of a sentence.

  • The sinkhole grows bigger everyday…says the road crew manager in Centerville.
  •  The road crew manager in Centerville says, “The sinkhole grows bigger every day.”

9. Don’t bury a strong verb in a noun—use vigorous verbs.

  •  A bomb explosion went off in downtown Beirut.
  • A bomb exploded in downtown Beirut.

10. Use the traditional inverted pyramid style—strong lead.   Should answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how within this framework.

Graphic – http://journalism20.nuvvo.com/lesson/7594-inverted-pyramid-style-of-writing-news

More tips & techniques:                                                                                                                                    http://journalism.about.com/od/writing/a/broadcast.htm?p=1

http://www.jprof.com/broadcasting/bcstyletips.html

http://www.mashell.com/~parr5/news_writing.htm

http://www.mervinblock.com/?q=node/29

Expert Advice:

In an interview, Dean Paynter, director of Production and Program Development at KJZZ 14 Television in Salt Lake City, echoed these tips. He said broadcast writing must be “short, sharp and strong.” He added that subject-verb-subject sentences are most effective. Paynter mastered these skills while working at various positions in the industry that included in part; executive producer at KUTV-2 News in Salt Lake City, news director and adjunct instructor at Brigham Young University and public affairs program producer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All of his jobs involved and still involve writing and producing programs for television.  Paynter was my mentor, supporter and friend at KUTV-2. I know he has served the same role for many others who were privileged to work under his great tutelage.

Here’s more sound writing advice from Paynter:

Conversational writing doesn’t mean any conversation. It should mimic a

conversation that one has when one thinks through what one is saying

and must make a point. Take the time to think through the story, or whatever

it is that you are writing about. Create that image in your mind, and then have

the courage to write it with simple, familiar and powerful words. Most

importantly, make the effort to go back and refine your writing.  Make sure

every word is needed. Always wonder if there is a better way to write that

sentence or thought (Paynter, personal communication, June 23, 2012).

While instructing college students in the art of writing, Paynter used the following exercise to help students compose for the ear. He had one student write a story and then read it to another student. The one listening was then tested on what he retained from the reading.  The writer’s grade was based on what the listener remembered. Paynter credits this exercise with getting the students to communicate more truthfully and effectively, rather than to impress others or themselves—a great tool.

Some of Paynter’s pet peeves are when writers try to scare, trick or manipulate their audience.  This is fairly common in writing teases that attempt to get viewers to watch or continue watching a newscast.  Paynter stated, “You can write a lot of stupid stuff that it outrageous by implication, but not untruthful.  For example, ‘The president is flying to Europe tonight.  Will he be shot down by outer space aliens loyal to Vladimir Putin?’   Well, of course, he won’t.  But the question can still be asked truthfully. It speaks down to the audience as if the news is some kind of game show.”

Paynter added that news writers should answer questions—not ask them. He believes question teases are just a crutch for lazy writers who don’t bother to take the time to craft “a thoughtful, declarative tease.”   He also dislikes “stupid segues” and feels they are evidence of when a writer rushes through his job and doesn’t consider himself as a viewer/ listener, but rather “considers news writing a cute puzzle of sorts.” Paynter acknowledged that most local broadcast news programs are staffed by the young and inexperienced.  It will take time to season these youngsters to handle complex issues and events due to their lack of life experience.

Online News writing:

Many people believe the future of broadcast and print news is online.  As mentioned earlier, while changes have and will happen, the future of news remains unclear. Historically, as newer technologies arise, older media are forced to evolve or die.  Most choose to evolve as evidenced by online TV, radio and newspaper websites. Thus, online news writing is a growing sector of the business.  Since online news writing is still relatively new, the rules, formats and styles for this genre are still evolving themselves.

Online news writing is a hi-bred of writing styles.  Broadcast, print and even public relations writing skills are used in this medium.  Journalism/Communication students now entering this field need to be skilled at writing for broadcast, print and digital media.  They will likely craft stories for delivery to television sets, radios, desktop computers, laptops, handhelds, iPods and mobile phones. While learning multiple skill sets is challenging, having these varied abilities make students more versatile and marketable.

Since online news users are considered skimming readers, catchy, informative headlines are a must.  Also, using other communicative and organizational elements, such as videos, photo galleries, graphs and charts, bullet points, and hyperlinks help the internet user more easily navigate the Web page. The trend in online news leans toward a multimedia approach or presentation.  Again, a varied skill-set is necessary for the modern media writer.

Internet news users or skimmers are definitely in the driver’s seat. They are frequently busy so making their journey on your web page smooth, clear and fast is a must.  Again, the same writing principles for other news media hold true—accuracy, clarity, and brevity are key. Papper offers the following seven basic rules on page 168 of his book:

Online Writing Rules:         

          1. It’s still journalism.  Do it right. Speed is helpful; mistakes are not.

          2. Think about the medium. What different techniques can you use to tell different parts of the  story—or, perhaps, the same parts in different ways.

          3. Think about readers or users. They’re sitting 18 inches from a monitor with lots of choices, and even as they read, they’re holding a device (the mouse) to make new choices. What will capture their attention? What do they want to know? What might some of them want to know? Use quotes. Build in surprises. Appeal personally (like broadcast). Think about how you’ll grab the attention of the scanning user.

           4. The headline needs to provide concrete information. In many cases, users may be faced with a choice simply based on headline. Think about whether they’ll know enough to make a choice. The lead/opening paragraph needs to tell the overall story tightly and succinctly. Remember that every sentence determines whether the next sentence will be read. Every choice provides alternative ways to go. Make sure there’s a clear geographic identifier in the headline, subhead or lead.

           5. The experience may be nonlinear, but each element of the information is linear. And each of those elements needs to be self-supporting. Stories are a collection of short linear pieces that could very well be consumed in a random, nonlinear manner. Use links to split long blocks into multiple pages.

           6. Think interactivity. Think about what you can present or include that can get the user involved. That could include the ability to personalize the data for each user or a variety of multimedia tools.

           7. Try new things. There’s a lot more we don’t know about using the web than what we do know. Experiment and learn.

More online news writing:

http://www.stepno.com/oldblog/stories/2006/10/27/onlineNewsWriting.html

Conclusion:

Broadcast news appears to be here to stay, at least in some fashion, for a long time.  With that, broadcast journalists need to hone their skills to supply quality content that is direct, sharp, concise and clear.  Learning the tricks of the trade takes time and practice, but there is plenty of help available.  Good, solid writing is at the core of every fine newscast or production.  Writers need to keep their viewing/listening audience always in mind to better communicate. Modern broadcast journalists must also be well-rounded.  They must adapt their knowledge and skills to write and produce for the Web.  This new and upcoming medium is still evolving and flexibility is a plus.

Whatever the medium, genre or format, skillful writing is a universal necessity.  John Pulitzer, one of the great journalists of the 19th century, expressed it perfectly:  “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”

References

Block, Mervin. (n.d.). Mervin block television newswriting workshop: Top tips of the trade.Retrieved from http://www.mervinblock.com/?q=node/29

Joseph Pulitzer. (2002-2012). Brainy Quote. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/josephpuli126204.html

Lattimore, L. (n.d.).  Broadcast writing style tips. JPROF: the web site for teaching journalism. Retrieved from http://jprof.come/broadcasting/bestyletips.html

Mark Twain. (n.d.). ThePhrasefinder.com. Retrieved from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/368850.html

Mencher, Melvin. (1983). Basic media writing (5th Ed.).  Dubuque, Iowa: WCG Brown &  Benchmark Publishers.

Papper, R. A. (2013). Broadcast news and writing stylebook (Fifth Ed.).  New York, NY.

Rogers, T. (2012). Tips for basic broadcast newswriting: Keep it short and conversational. Retrieved from http://journalism.about.com/od/writing/a/broadcast.htm?p=1

Stepno, Robert. (2006). Online News Writing. Retrieved from http://www.stepno.com/oldblog/stories/2006/10/27/onlineNewsWriting.html

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