torstai 24. toukokuuta 2018

Ragan.com: Inspiring quotations on writing for content marketers

Attention, all content creators: Ernest Hemingway has useful advice for you.

So do Jack London, Elmore Leonard, Mark Twain and other literary luminaries.

Of course, Ernest, Jack, Elmore, and Mark didn’t think what they were up to was creating something called “content”—but, as you do every day, they were repeatedly challenged to come up with something insightful, useful and compelling to share with the world.

[FREE GUIDE: How to transform dull stories into compelling content]

They learned some things in their careers that can help you with yours. Here are their thoughts:

On getting started

A blank screen is terrifying. You might have a topic in mind, and even an angle that might work for illuminating it, but your fingers seem paralyzed, hovering over the keyboard. That first word simply won’t come.

  • You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. —Jack London, novelist
  • I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say, oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk, and get the job done. —Barbara Kingsolver, novelist
  • If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. —Margaret Atwood, novelist
  • Don’t get it right; just get it written. —James Thurber, humorist/playwright
  • If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. —William Zinsser, editor

On editing

Your first draft is rarely good enough to be your final product. It does happen, although the odds are very much stacked against it. As much as you hate to revisit your work, refining it is an essential part of the process. As a content creator, you also must be a ruthless editor.

  • There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting. —Robert Graves, poet
  • So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads. —Dr. Seuss, children’s author
  • Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings. —Stephen King, novelist
  • If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. —Elmore Leonard, novelist

On wording and phrasing

Writing well begins by finding the right words. That’s important, but it’s not easy.

  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. —Mark Twain, novelist
  • Short words are the best, and old words when short are best of all. —Winston Churchill, British prime minister
  • When the words are both true and kind, they can change the world. —Buddha
  • The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech. —Clifton Fadiman, editor

On punctuation

Periods, commas, semicolons and other marks ensure that the words you come up with, in the order you’ve chosen, make sense, and those marks deserve to be deployed as carefully as the words they accompany.

  • All our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable. —Lynne Truss, author
  • Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist
  • My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. —Ernest Hemingway, novelist
  • I’m tired of wasting letters when punctuation will do, period. —Steve Martin, comedian/musician

On dealing with criticism

No one likes to have their work criticized. Still, when you put content of any kind into the world, you run the risk that someone is not going to like it or, worse, find a mistake, and you just might hear about it. Criticism comes with the territory, and it’s never easy to deal with.

  • Appreciate the constructive; ignore the destructive. —John Douglas, author
  • Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. —Neil Gaiman, novelist
  • Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing. —Aristotle, philosopher
  • There is no defense against criticism except obscurity. Joseph Addison, essayist

A version of this post first appeared on the Movable Ink blog.



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Ragan.com: NFL announces rules requiring players to stand for anthem

The NFL wants to put its national anthem controversy to bed.

What started in 2016 with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest during the national anthem, eventually spreading to other teams and players, has created a rift among NFL fans—a rift not likely to be healed by the league’s decision.

The protests—an outgrowth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—were intended to highlight the mistreatment and deaths of African-Americans in the U.S. at the hands of police.

Team owners voted this week to require players to stand during the anthem or stay in the locker room.

USA Today reported:

Amid repeated protests during the playing of the national anthem over the past two seasons, the NFL on Wednesday passed a revised policy that mandates players and team personnel present on the sideline “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”

The revision allows players who would not wish to stand to remain in the locker room. Also under the revision, each franchise will have the power to issue their own policies, which could include fines for players protesting the anthem, under the conduct detrimental provision of the league’s personal conduct policy

[RELATED: Join us in Washington, D.C. for the Leadership and Executive Communicators Conference.]

Now the league is set for a showdown with players who might continue to speak out.

USA Today continued:

The NFL Players Association has already taken issue with the policy, which was reached without the union present.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,’” the NFLPA said in a statement. “NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.

“The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.”

The move also threatens to antagonize players who were not actively protesting but silently supported those who chose to kneel.

Pro Football Weekly wrote:

One player, a seventh-year veteran who was currently an unsigned free agent, said he had never knelt during a game before but was a quiet supporter of Kaepernick’s message and freedom of speech. The other two, fourth- and sixth-year veterans, also had not been active kneeling participants but said they were irritated or confused by the league's recent policy change.

“They didn’t first talk to [the NFLPA], which makes me think they just want to push us around,” Player A, the fourth-year vet, said.

Added Player B, the sixth-year vet who has been an active participant in NFLPA matters in the past: “I am not sure if they have to do that, but what’s the harm in talking to the union before making this a rule?”

Goodell defended the vote.

ESPN wrote:

"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We want people to stand -- that's all personnel -- and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That's something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices."

Goodell said the vote was "unanimous" among owners, although San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said he abstained.

The New York Jets’ front office was vocal in standing behind players’ right to protest.

Newsday reported:

Jets chairman Christopher Johnson told Newsday on Wednesday that his players are free to take a knee or perform some other protest without fear of repercussion from the team. …

“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said. … “Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines.”

In September 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump criticized Kaepernick and other players kneeling in protest. He has called for pushback against those players ever since.

USA Today wrote:

"You have to stand proudly for the national anthem," Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends. "The NFL owners did the right thing."

Players who don't stand, the president said, "maybe" shouldn't be allowed to play and "maybe you shouldn't be in the country."

Some see the league’s move as detrimental to the idea of a national anthem performance:

Some players are already speaking out:

Others hope the move will depoliticize their weekend pastime:

What do you think of the NFL’s announcement and the various responses?


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keskiviikko 23. toukokuuta 2018

Ragan.com: 6 lessons from the writing of Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch

Stipulated: We are more likely to praise the elegant prose of writers we agree with politically than the screeds of those misinformed dopes on the other side of the aisle.

If that’s true, we at Ragan Communications cannot hope to resolve this year’s brawls and fistfights over the question that divides the republic: How good (or bad) is the writing of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch?

Those on the right, we suspect, will be more inclined to agree with what The New York Times calls the conservative justice’s “reputation for lively, finely tuned prose.”

Those on the left are more likely to be irked by a style that a Slate writer cited by the Times calls “a crime against the English language.”

Either way, a brawl has broken out. The Gorsuch prose question seems to be the most contentious schism dividing the legal community—and the most serious cause of police reports from seedier watering holes, where angry lawyers and appalled writers have been crashing tufted-leather chairs and bottles of 12-year-old single malt whisky over one another’s heads.

A law writer has started a fad on Twitter of rewriting famous opinions in Gorsuch’s style, and a law blog sneers, “Neil Gorsuch Don’t Write Good.” Naturally, a derisive hashtag emerged: #GorsuchStyle.

On the other side, CBS News cited an observer who counters that Gorsuch “has a knack for narrative, he’s clever, he has an appealing style.”

[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to improve your writing today]

Given the unresolvable divides over matters of politics and personal taste, can these dubiously “United” States ever find common lessons from Gorsuch’s prose? We at Ragan, famed for our bipartisanship, say yes.

Active or ridiculous?

The Times story was pegged to a study by Yale law student and Stanford doctoral candidate Nina Varsava. She used computer algorithms to analyze Gorsuch’s majority opinions from his decade on the federal appeals court, The Times reports. Varsava gave Gorsuch a thumbs-up for informality, varied vocabulary and use of the active voice, among other aspects of prose.

Yet one critic complains that “Gorsuch is a pedantic writer who overexplains things in a way that uses too many words and also ridiculous metaphors.”

Looking for ways to make peace when melees break out over Gorsuch’s opinions? Here are a few takeaways that can be gleaned from Gorsuch fans and critics alike:

1. Write conversationally.

Compared with the majority opinions of Gorsuch’s colleagues on the appeals court, Gorsuch used 3.9 contractions per 1,000 words, while other judges averaged 0.8, the Times reported. He used foreign words and legal Latin half as often. He started sentences with conjunctions such as “and,” “but” and “so” 4.9 times out of every 1,000 words, compared with an average of 1.5.

“Gorsuch’s style is considerably less formal and conventional than average,” Varsava stated, “which likely makes his opinions seem more down-to-earth and less legalistic than other opinions—qualities that might increase his appeal and enable him to reach a wider audience.”

2. Make metaphors meaningful.

A Slate writer scoffs that “since his elevation to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch’s prose has curdled into a glop of cutesy idioms, pointless metaphors, and garbled diction that’s exhausting to read and impossible to take seriously.”

He cites this from Gorsuch: “Chesterton reminds us not to clear away a fence just because we cannot see its point. Even if a fence doesn’t seem to have a reason, sometimes all that means is we need to look more carefully for the reason it was built in the first place.”

Slate responds that the Chesterton allusion is pretentious. Furthermore, the “first sentence is catchy, but the second stomps all over it, bludgeoning the reader with a gratuitous and clunky explanation.”

3. Use lively, straightforward diction.

“Part of Gorsuch’s appeal is that he explains himself using words you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand,” CBS News stated.

The article notes that Gorsuch has likened a legal notice to a basketball bank shot. He referred to ghosts and goblins in a lawsuit over injuries suffered at a haunted house (some sort of amusement attraction, one assumes). One opinion about a decadeslong legal dispute invoked Sisyphus’ eternal quest to push a boulder uphill.

4. Don’t show off.

Even Varsava allows that Gorsuch’s Supreme Court opinions may be more heavy-handed than his appeals court writings. “He’s a little contrived, a little too much,” she says.

She cited the distracting alliteration of the opening line from Justice Gorsuch’s first majority opinion: “Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit and more besides drew Congress’s eye to the debt collection industry.”

For the record, The Times story that reports this is headlined, “#GorsuchStyle Garners a Gusher of Groans, But Is His Writing Really That Bad?”

5. Make it look effortless.

Ross Guberman, an authority on judicial writing, praised Gorsuch’s prose but suggested there are shortcomings in his style.

“Despite all his talents and brilliance,” Guberman told the Times, “he makes writing look hard, not easy, as if he’s fiddling with a sentence and then looking up to see if anyone is applauding the latest line.”

Nobody’s going to applaud. Strive to write with an easy grace just the same.

6. Stay focused.

Interestingly, the same Slate writer praised Gorsuch’s prose just after his nomination, calling him witty and astute, and contrasting his words favorably with the maunderings of President Donald Trump. (The later piece said the quality of the justice’s prose declined after he joined the Supreme Court.)

Where Trump is volatile and distractible, Gorsuch is principled and dexterous. And, perhaps most glaringly, where Trump is rambling and incoherent, Gorsuch is eloquent and compelling—a strikingly good writer who can make the dustiest doctrine seem lively, and the most unpalatable position seem persuasive.

In conclusion, nobody agrees--even with themselves—but there are lessons for us all.

It is therefore the opinion of the court that bars and drunk tanks everywhere must hereafter post this Ragan article in the interests of reducing fisticuffs among unruly lawyers, belligerent wordsmiths and pugnacious political partisans.

It is so ordered.

@byworking

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tiistai 22. toukokuuta 2018

Ragan.com: 10 ways to crush a communicator’s spirit

You can have the most talented staff in the world and still fail miserably at business.

The trick lies in getting each person to realize his or her potential—and creating an environment that uplifts, encourages and edifies workers in ways that generate genuine employee engagement.

Unfortunately, communicators are often the most unloved, underappreciated members of the corporate family. These stoics frequently get the dregs in terms of resources, support, investment and executive attention. That lack of backing results in irksome workplace obstacles and irritations that stifle creativity and prevent communicators from doing their best work.

Here are 10 easy ways to crush a communicator’s spirit and morale, thus bringing ruin upon your corporate messaging:

1. Too much input and/or oversight. Like a great mountain of sedimentary rock, approval processes accumulate and harden over time. Excessive layers of bureaucracy and executive meddling are perhaps the fastest way to crush your best communicators into submission.

Who wants to go to the trouble of crafting an erudite, sleek piece, only to see it ripped to shreds by a gaggle of egoistic execs with red pens and agendas? Editorial integrity aside, glacial turnaround times can also be a deal breaker for deadline-driven professionals.

[RELATED: Take a two-minute comms audit -- and get personalized results!] 

2. Not enough input and/or oversight. Of course, no executive input, direction or feedback can be a bummer. Many leaders (often with good intentions) leave messaging entirely in the hands of communicators and take no role in the crafting of campaigns. This lack of involvement can feel an awful lot like disrespect—or at least disinterest—which can drain excitement out of any communications pro.

This hands-off approach leaves communicators on an island, with very little outside support for initiatives or appreciation for how much work is getting done. Being left alone can be just as bad for engagement as micro-managing.

3. Lack of investment. Who wants to wear a bunch of ancillary hats and work on a skeleton crew forever? Persistent resistance to investment communicates, “What you do is expendable.”

Constantly fighting for a bigger budget, more staff, upgraded technology or a new site can be an exhausting battle, one that can corrode any communicator’s verve for the job.

4. Never-ending last-minute requests. Communicators are often treated like short-order chefs. Instead of Denver omelets, we’re tasked with whipping up slideshows for CEOs and writing speeches for leaders who have a major presentation on Friday.

These sorts of last-minute requests, which of course are all massively “urgent” and needed “yesterday,” will burn out your best workers.

5. Criticism without praise. Communicators crave feedback and direction. No one craves humiliation or verbal abuse, though.

Leaders with a habit of criticizing without providing an undergirding of praise and support will probably see a communicator conga line shuffling toward the exits.

6. Wantonly tacking on tasks. “Why don’t you just do the social media stuff?” “Can’t you just run the blog?” “We’re gonna pass the newsletter design over to you.” “Your team will now handle the logistics for this event.”

Hey, why don’t you just start managing the finances and the IT “stuff,” pal?

7. Adding arbitrary goals or targets. To enforce accountability, some misled leaders become obsessed with meaningless vanity metrics.

Communicators should be ROI-driven and held accountable for each initiative and expenditure, but being measured by page views, traffic, “likes,” impressions and other hollow metrics applies artificial pressure that only stresses people out. Set targets and goals, but make sure they’re directly tied to meaningful business outcomes.

8. Disrespecting the craft. Is your culture supportive of the notion that compelling, correct communication is integral for business success, or is it viewed as a necessary evil?

Many company cultures suffer from lack of appreciation for attention to detail. This can manifest in naked aggression toward quality control, or it can be more of a companywide ennui in messaging efforts.

Organizational antipathy (or apathy) toward communication excellence is a surefire way to force staffers to seek the embrace of more caring corporate arms.

9. Skimping on complementary assets. Writers can do only so much.

Great communication is also about sleek design, stunning graphics, functional technology and the means to disseminate messages strategically. All that takes investment—and recognition that communicators need plenty of complementary help to succeed.

10. Constantly blocking new projects and ideas. People who regularly have their ideas or suggestions shot down tend to tune out and stop trying.

If your goal is to have unhappy, disengaged, apathetic staffers, be sure to swiftly reject ideas that fall outside the status quo. Remember this key phrase: “But we’ve always done it this way.”



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Ragan.com: Google sparks outcry after dropping ‘Don’t be evil’ guidance

Google has dropped an unofficial slogan from its internal paperwork—and the reason has some consumers concerned.

The phrase “Don’t be evil” was a short, powerful slogan for the internet company that regulates the way many users interact with online content. However, the company is abandoning the phrase, albeit quietly.

Gizmodo reported:

“Don’t be evil” has been part of the company’s corporate code of conduct since 2000. When Google was reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet, in 2015, Alphabet assumed a slightly adjusted version of the motto, “do the right thing.” However, Google retained its original “don’t be evil” language until the past several weeks. The phrase has been deeply incorporated into Google’s company culture—so much so that a version of the phrase has served as the wifi password on the shuttles that Google uses to ferry its employees to its Mountain View headquarters, sources told Gizmodo.

Using archived versions of Google’s website, Gizmodo was able to discover just how much of its published code of conduct had been changed.

Here are excerpts from that reporting:

Here’s the relevant section of the old code of conduct, as archived by the Wayback Machine on April 21, 2018:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect. …

And here’s the updated version, first archived by the Wayback Machine on May 4, 2018:

The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day. …

The phrase still appears in the final line of the code of conduct, but the changes are enough to generate major media coverage.

The phrase “Don’t be evil” has significance for the company, going back to its IPO.

CNBC wrote:

In 2004, to mark Google's initial public offering, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote an "owner's manual" for shareholders.

In it, they explained "Don't be evil," and stated in an online posting: "We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains."

Google has declined to comment on the changes, leaving the public to speculate on what the move means. The rewrite comes as Google has faced internal criticism from employees for developing artificial intelligence for the Pentagon and concerns over new AI that deceives phone callers into believing they are speaking with a human being.Top of Form

[FREE DOWNLOAD: Keep your cool in a crisis with these 13 tips.]

On Twitter, users see the change as a sign of Google’s changed motivations and willingness to compromise core values.

Others see the timing of Google’s move as stranger than fiction.

What do you think of Google’s choice of words? What can it do to reassure rattled consumers?

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maanantai 21. toukokuuta 2018

Ragan.com: 9 tips to shoot more compelling videos

Don’t let this happen to you.

When communicators prepare to create videos, the first impulse is often to gather all the top executives, sit them down in a conference room, and capture them talking about the organization’s work.

Is that the best way to entice, sway and convince potential clients or customers? Is that something you’d want to watch? Probably not.

[EVENT: Learn video production secrets that captivate audiences -- without breaking the bank.]

Here are nine ways to make more memorable, compelling videos:

  1. Consider the audience.

Is your video geared toward employees who are familiar with industry lingo, or is it an explanatory piece for new customers? The interviewee must know who the audience is, so the intended viewers understand the language.

If you’re trying to use video to explain how your product or service works, prioritize clarity over creativity. You want something visually appealing and interesting, or course, but make sure to translate material into everyday language and clear calls to action.

  1. Introduce the characters.

Execs are typically the first choice to appear in videos, but it’s important to find front-line workers to tell your company’s story. Identify one or two strong personalities who can passionately reflect the key corporate messages you want to convey.

The person at the top isn’t always the person who should be in front of the camera. Put people on camera who ooze authenticity, passion and integrity.

The best way to get a message across is to find a compelling character who knows how to tell a story.

  1. Keep it simple.

The more people, places and points you cram into a video, the less your audience will retain.

What good does a sleek production do if your calls to action get ignored? Keep your videos simple, short, punchy and easy to digest. Drive home your key points, and wrap it up swiftly.

  1. Get your subjects where the action is.

Conference rooms and offices are typically uninteresting settings for on-camera interviews. Ideally, you should interview somebody in an active environment that shows where people are working, such as a shop, factory or construction site.

  1. Entice the viewer.

Company leaders should view video the way writers consider headlines: It’s a means to entice potential customers or clients into the meat of your story.

Videos should highlight a primary message, then direct viewers to places that provide additional information or conversion points, such as a website or blog.

  1. Plan ahead.

Scripts tend to drain on-camera authenticity, but it is wise to craft a strategic plan for your project. This can include whom to interview and which type of setting they will be in.

You don’t have to map it out like a Hollywood film, but you should have a plan in place to help you work efficiently (and harmoniously) toward a final product. Without a plan, you’ll get sidetracked, go over budget and cause conflict among colleagues involved in the project.

Don’t wait until late in the process to choose your interviewees, either. Give them ample time to prepare, and they’ll likely be less nervous when the time comes.

  1. Include testimonials.

Impartial endorsements are pure marketing gold.

Companies are often unprepared to find happy customers willing to appear in a video, however, so before you commit resources toward a testimonial piece, start compiling names of possible participants. Identify your interviewees first to avoid scrambling at the last minute.

  1. Coach your subjects.

Instead of a rambling 30-minute Q&A, try to conduct a concise interview packed with questions that the person is familiar with. Prep them beforehand so they know, generally, what’s coming.

It’s a waste of time, money and resources to conduct marathon on-camera interviews that meander off the messaging path or fall outside a subject’s wheelhouse.

A video interview should be a well-planned scenario, where the person on camera knows the questions and the interviewer knows what this person can address.

  1. Remember the main goal.

Communicators might feel obligated to squeeze as many people as possible into a video, whether for political reasons or sensitivity to someone who might feel left out. Remember, the main goal is to convey a message. Direct your energy toward that chief objective.

The more people you stuff into a video, the less your audience will remember. If there are too many different voices, none will stand out, and you’ll end up leaving the viewer with no memorable takeaways.

A version of this post first appeared on The Flip Side Communications blog.



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sunnuntai 20. toukokuuta 2018