word diagnostics

I’m always looking for useful analogies to convey how good editing can improve advertising copy, web features, white papers, and other written communications. This morning I was reading an article about medicine and it hit me that what editors do when revising a piece of written work is analogous to what doctors do when diagnosing a patient’s symptoms.

Like a living organism, written copy is a complex system of interactive elements that can be rendered “unhealthy” by the presence of errors in spelling, grammar, or logic. A good editor, like a good doctor, knows how to read the symptoms — for example, “this doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know why” — and can suggest corrections that will restore the piece to optimum health. 

Let’s take a look at how you can apply the four cornerstones of diagnostic medicine to make your writing all better.

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slogans that sell the sizzle

Recently, in preparation for an interview for a magazine article, I visited the website of the interviewee’s organization to get some background information. In particular, I wanted to make sure I understood the organization’s mission; it’s a useful reference point for framing interview questions.

Unfortunately, the mission statement that I found on the “About Us” page didn’t tell me a thing about their mission. It was one of those focus-grouped slogans full of vague buzzwords that promised to deliver intangible things in response to undefined needs. The site design was very clean and professional, but what, exactly, did they do?

I found myself mentally cringing at the thought of getting more of the same during the interview. I was in need of choice quotes and piercing insights, not abstractions wrapped in vapor.

However, to my relief and even pleasure, the interview turned out to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time. The interviewee used sharp, lucid, and concise language to convey information and offer insights. Not only did I get my choice quotes, by the end of the interview I knew what the article would look like — hook, lede, and sinker. Writers live for interviews like that.

Afterward, once I had finished cleaning up my notes, I found myself pondering the power of clarity. Had their website been my only point of contact with the organization, I would have walked away with a very different opinion about their capabilities. What makes for a good slogan?

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don’t be a writer

stacked blocksI read an interesting post on Write to Done this morning offering tips on how to break through writer’s block. The first tip: remind yourself that you’re a writer.

While I generally find the advice on WTD to be both useful and on target, I have to disagree with that particular tip (the rest were pretty handy). Regular readers know that I don’t call myself a wordsmith; but it might surprise you to know that I prefer not to call myself a writer either.

No, I don’t eschew the term in favor of buzzwords like “communicator” or “content provider,” either. When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t tell them that I’m a writer.

I tell them that I write.

A pedantic distinction? Maybe — but it’s a distinction that can clear up the crippling paralysis of writer’s block once and for all.

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