Is my content readable? – 12 more essential pointers

Here are some more ideas to create the right impression and to test your content – not just emails but everything you write:

  1. Avoid too many Latin shortcuts – fewer people are comfortable with them these days. – n.b. (note). Write ‘for example’, rather than e.g. Avoid i.e.  But P.S. still works.
  2. Never use expletives, no matter how angry you are. Even if you’re quoting someone directly, take out their expletives or use asterisks if you must! Better still, work around them. We seem to think we live in age when bad language and ‘OMG’ might be acceptable, but it may offend or turn off some people. So why risk it?
  3. To test any piece you have written and take out all the formatting, drop it into an email and chose Plain Text. Drop the re-formatted version into your Word doc again. Any gnarly little formatting errors are then removed and you will have a clean style.
  4. Free tool: Readability Score – Why is it important to score your text? Well, you never really know if your content is good until you test it. You may well think it looks all right, but does it work? Try this neat tool on your browser: Readability-score.com to score your text. Click on the Text button – next to the Home button. Cut and paste a block of your text up to 500 words at a time into the ‘paste your text here’ Then click ‘Measure Readability’. Your text will then be scored. The scoring system:
  • On the right-hand boxes, the ‘Flesch-Kincaid’ grade level is the school year age. It is an American product, but the school year system is much the same as ours. You’re aiming to score at around year 5-6 – meaning that a child in year 5-6 can understand it.
  • The Reading Ease box gives you a score. Your target is a minimum of 65. There’s a ‘passive voice’ count, too, but we’ll look at that later.
  • If you’re puzzled as to why there’s a low score, then check and balance: does it flow? Is it in Plain English? Are the sentences around 10-14 words long? Is it punctuated with commas, single or double inverted commas, semi-colons?
  • Add the Readability Score tool to your toolbar for easy access and get into the habit of testing everything, including important emails to clients and prospects.
  • The tool is free if you only use it a couple of times a day, then for unlimited daily checks, it’s only three dollars a month as an individual. So, if you’re writing material regularly, it’s well worth it.
  • It’s not just a matter of your personal style, it’s how others read it!
  1. Blocks of CAPITAL LETTERS – AVOID THEM BECAUSE IT LOOKS AS IF YOU’RE SHOUTING!
  2. Bold and italics – The thinking is that you shouldn’t overdo it, but it is effective to draw attention to key points for those who only skip-read.
  3. Read it out loud – does it flow? Does it sound like plain English? (Plain English articles later)
  4. You may need to make a key point more than once. Otherwise, take out all repetitions, words that don’t add any value, and exaggerations. Trim as much as you can.
  5. Set the stage for creative writing time. You do need to devote time and attention so find a quiet room, switch off your phone and get some peace! Distractions cause mistakes. Too many mistakes in your content and people will switch off.
  6. Decide on the time of the day that is your best time – when your head is clear and you feel at your most creative and fluent.
  7. Never write under pressure – if you’ve had an argument with a supplier, a neighbour, or if BT hasn’t showed up (again). Or if it’s ‘just not happening’, then leave it! Don’t do it!
  8. Never start and finish a piece in one day. You will want to change things tomorrow when your mind is in a different place.

Tell us if you think this is useful.

p.s.  This article scores 86.3

Is my content readable? – Essential Pointers – part one

We all think we can write well, of course, but here are a few things to consider. There are several ways to find out if what you’ve written is readable, and if it stacks up. Why set yourself up to fail?

Your Content: emails, blogs, brochures, business cards, flyers. Every way you go to market:

  1. Look and feel. – does it look balanced? Avoid symmetrical form – in fact, the less symmetrical the better. Break it up and use indents and patterns. Plain old prose does not look compelling. Your readers will make up their minds early if they have the time to read it.
  2. We have said in a previous blog that it’s important to be yourself.
  3. Decide on your writing style – Times, Express, Guardian, Mirror will give a lead. (Determined by what your clients generally read. Ask them).
  4. Plain English is a good idea. (more later)
  5. Dual Readership. People generally read articles in two ways and you need to recognize their reading techniques. (It’s not only how and what you write, it’s how they read and how you can influence that.) They might flit from para to para or read the whole thing end to end. Either way, if they are flitting, try and slow them down. Once they’ve picked up one point that resonates, they will slow down then maybe go back and read the whole piece.
  6. Pacing and spacing: don’t clutter or expect too much of people in one bite: 3 – 5 line paragraphs at most. Cramming puts people off. Make it manageable, put one theory at a time.
  7. Choose a plain, modern typeface. It’s not a matter of being artistic, more that is read easily. Use a sans seraph text like Calibri, Verdana, Trebuchet, Arial. Avoid things like Times New Roman. It’s a seraph typeface – old fashioned and slower to read.
  8. Never use a font less than 11 point. 74% of adults wear glasses/ or have had corrective treatment. (College of Optometrists).
  9. Sentences no longer than 10-14 words. If longer, break it up with commas, colons or semi-colons. Two or three words sentences can be punchy and effective. We do it in conversation after all. Agree?
  10. For blog posts & emails people may tire or skip-read after 5-600 words. So stop there.
  11. Punctuate with apostrophes – coming up in a blog soon
  12. Don’t flood with exclamation marks. They are often overused and lose their effect!!!!! For question marks, avoid using two or more. At worst, it looks as if you’ve lost the plot, at best, it’s sounds aggressive, doesn’t it????
  13. Americanisms – please avoid: touch base, gotten, I’m good, a take-out, to big-up, a half hour, a deliverable, an invite, hike a price, reach out to, an expiration date, where’s it at? 24/7, period, (rather than full stop), an issue. I got it for free, do the math, big time, expiration date.

If you consider that this is just being picky, if your reader pulls a face as she’s reading your text, you’ve lost her!

  1. If you’re using an American spell-checker, be careful. (Center, neighbor).
  2. Bold headlines – a few words to introduce each paragraph, as I’ve done here. Use them if you’re introducing a poignant point or a string of points, or drawing special attention to a key point.
  3. Avoid words that some may not understand. If they stumble, they’ll stop reading.
  4. For colour work, ask a local designer to do the important work. Don’t flood with garish, multiple colours that may mask the text. It’s a message, not a work of Art. Don’t print too small and make sure the text does not melt into the background. You know what the text says, but can everyone else read it?

 

More little gems next week. Call us to discuss or, if you have a piece of work in progress, we’ll appraise it for you.

Technique – The Drama, the Ahaaa and ‘it’s not about me’

As we continue to help you to create stories for your audience, stories they will absorb and re-tell, let’s look at creating the Drama in your content.

Dan Siegel, the neuroscientist, points out that emotions don’t occur spontaneously. Nor, as any actor knows, can they be summoned at will. Emotions have to be aroused. This matters just as much whether you’re a plumber, builder, trainer or selling goods or services.

Emotions must be aroused and arousal gets heightened when, in prose, the lion’s stalking the hunter, the spaceship’s in peril or ‘will she win the race?’

You have to create the tension between expectation and uncertainty. Help readers to wonder whether it will go one way or the other. The more you wonder what will happen next, the more you pay attention. Whether it’s about a leaking roof or someone who has fallen asleep at a training session, the principle is the same.

Emotional tension engages your audience because it involves them and creates the WIIFM effect again.

Tales of perfection fail dramatically because they never ring true. But when you use authentic drama to reveal the hidden truth behind a problem his business is facing, you guide your reader to feel that they are uncovering the truth themselves. Compelling drama convinces your readers that you have heart. So, lead from the heart.

Your story’s moment of truth is the climax when you reach an ‘Ah’ point and liken it to the ‘Ha, yes I’ve got it’.  ‘AHAA’ is the eureka moment when your reader senses the same thrilling charge of emotion, purpose and meaning that you felt from your own ‘I got it’ moment.

The Inclusive factor

The best business stories shine the light on an interest, goal, or problem that both the teller and the audience share. The power of these stories stems from the strong inclusive connection. This forms as soon as it registers that the storyteller is talking about a feeling or situation that the listener personally has experienced or can affiliate to. This connection ignites the empathy of the audience, secures their trust in the storyteller and guarantees the interest in the call to action.

Telling a story is a two-way experience. The beauty of the inclusive factor is that it tells the story to win hearts and minds as a shared experience.

Therefore:

  1. A purposeful story is a call to action, so your reader must be asking – ‘what do you want me to do next?’ Then you fulfill that question. Make it easy for them and make only ONE clear call to action.
  2. You must have structure in your story so craft the beginning to shine the light on your challenge or problem
  3. Get your audience to step into your hero’s shoes
  4. Lead from the heart not the head
  5. Shape the middle around the struggle to meet that challenge
  6. Turn ‘me’ to ‘we’ – align your interests
  7. Be sure your story tells what’s in it for them
  8. Employ the element of surprise
  9. When they say “Ahaaa” you’ve cracked it!
  10. End with a resolution that ignites your call to action

A couple more hints before we leave technique for now:

  1. Stay humble, stay original, stay real.
  2. Be yourself in your stories, then when you meet clients, you’ll be a self-endorsement.
  3. Always tell similar situation stories and it’s best if they are true stories. (You can then always offer a reference point). Using them verbally creates ideas for content, too:

Examples:

  • “I was talking to a client who asked me X ……. It was a fair point. Had he done Y, he could have saved Z. The remedy we suggested was A, B and C. Would that kind of solution work for you?”
  • “One of the great myths about my training programme: I was talking to a lady in Burgess Hill who said she just didn’t have time to lose a day’s work to come to my course. She eventually did come and just yesterday she told me that she now believes that, because of the course, she saves a whole day every week!”

So, how’s your story shaping up? 

Content – It’s all in your Technique

Everyone has a story to tell but you will never be an author overnight!  There needs to be technique in your storytelling or it will flop. So, as you would need a toolbox for DIY or building work, you need tools to build a story; I hope you’d agree.

I love hearing stories about people, preferably not in malice, but it often transpires that those with the best ideas are the people who tell me they cannot write stories themselves.

A blank piece of paper can often stay blank! So, what’s the problem? Why does writer’s block kick in?

We’ve talked about how to record rough voice notes by Evernote or a voice recorder to capture your thoughts. That’s a start. We’ve also talked about how to find your data from trusted sources so that you can be seen as a subject authority. It matters, or why should anyone bother to read what you’ve written?

Let’s cross that divide. The best stories are led from the heart, not the mind. Twitter is a great way to test your reactions as to how strongly you feel about what’s happening in the world. Set up an account free and just start to follow a few people. (We’re looking at Twitter later.)

There is a complex system of action and reaction that works within stories to move listeners.

Consider this: stories that ‘work’ transport their audience emotionally. They move us to laugh, cry, gasp, sigh, or shout in rage and every reader demands this system of propulsion. In a business sense, those drivers and rules still apply. You want to take your customers on a journey. The journey is definable… they need to see the finish line, not ten pages of text where they stop and ask themselves if they have time to read it right now.

We were all intrigued with stories as children. I’ll bet you can name five stories that really impressed you as a child and you may have relayed those to other children. You had favourite books (you may even have kept those until now). You may recall stories that your parents or grandparents told you about themselves about their past, growing up, and what their parents told them, how they coped in a crisis, etc. You followed and still follow authors.

The same notion applies when it comes to stories about business, about your subject. You must create a ‘run’. You want people to follow you and look out for the upcoming articles, too.

People in business grew up hearing stories just like everyone else. So in any business, just like the stage, if you don’t to transport your reader/listener emotionally, you will lose your audience.

The three-part plan for technique of challenge, struggle and resolution, therefore, is critical for reader engagement. It’s more important than a structured start, middle and end. The intrigue factor needs to unravel so they can clearly see the purpose of your piece and the WIIFM (what’s in for me?)

Imagine a story without a central character. Who would act out the story? Who makes things change? We need to identify with that character, to empathise with him or her, an animal, a company or tribe. The central character is our hero. If you’re taking your reader from A to B, the hero is the emotional transportation. You certainly need to take your readers from the place currently to a better endpoint.

The more sympathetic this character, the more we feel bound to the story. ‘I feel your pain’, empathy and affiliation is the kind of response we’re looking for. As a check and balance, consider how you respond to true stories played out by real characters around you every day. Listen to people more, almost like a journalist hunting for a new thread and set out to manipulate this so that their stories, or variants, can become your own.

Next week, we’re going to look at Drama in Content

Content – Your attention, please!

Structure – emails

In last week’s blog, we looked at how vital are headlines. Here are more useful things to hugely improve your chances of success.

Once you’ve attracted the reader by the headline, sustain the interest and, of course, make sure they don’t drift. People are hugely distracted and (at least feel) they are always under time pressure.

Then the WIIFM content kicks in. What’s in it for me? You cannot win them all but it’s a good idea to try! Remember that your objective is to make sure that if they are clients or prospects, they see you as a constant source of information on your subject.

They need to agree that you are the first port of call to keep them informed and amused. Your objective is also to invite them to pass on the information to others they know. Once they have passed it on, it’s another endorsement for you. They won’t forward anything that isn’t worth reading, so you must stimulate that notion. Ask them, “if you have found this useful, please forward it to others who can benefit from it.”

Your readers need to be consistently reassured that this is an email, in this case, to them and to no one else. (Until they relay it, of course). Write it like a note to one person.  Examples later.

So, your opening paragraph needs to be designed to build and grow. I call this the ‘tumbler’.
The 1st sentence motivates the reader to read the 2nd sentence. The 2nd sentence motivates the reader to read 1st paragraph. 1st paragraph motivates her to read 2nd paragraph, etc.

  • Consider the press release format – stunning headline, engage fully with the mainline story, fill in the detail, then sign out with a strong line at the end.
  • Be expressive. Involve them.
  • Make it well-sourced, from referenced, authoritative sources.
  • Be careful if and when you quote others. Don’t do it for smug reasons or to sound clever. Preferably only quote living beings. “Aristotle once said…” doesn’t have much clout and most people don’t relate to 2,000 year-old philosophers! Be your own self.
  • Offer a balanced, well-considered view:
    – state your position
    – your sources of reference
    – a balanced view is important to demonstrate a sense of fairness. Detail the realistic extremes of thinking on the subject, then bring it back to the centre again and let them make the judgment.

The call to action:

  • If you’re selling, tell your reader how to order. Make the Why stronger than the What – how it will help them – but list and describe all the benefits of the product or service.
  • A Guarantee gets your responses up by 20% in 1-3 e-mailshots. ‘…or your money back under our cast-iron money-back guarantee’.
  • Give them a really good reason to order straightaway. Put a deadline on EVERY offer you make. “Only available for the first 20 customers” is not realistic, they may suspect you’re cheating and that you’re inventing customers.
  • A date works: “This is very limited stock and this offer will end on 30th November 2016 and will never be repeated.” Unless you drive the end date of the offer, people will put it to one side to ‘think about it.’ Then what happens?

We’ll look more at technique next week. Call us if you want to discuss any of these points or if you have a campaign in the pipeline.

Subject headers: Your star performers

Journalists know well that there are several ways to grab the headlines. However, for your own content you do need to look at this.

Why? Because the subject header is the most vital line you’ll write.  If it doesn’t grab, it won’t sell. That is, it won’t get opened – simple. Here’s part one of this ridiculously important subject.  Later, we will critique others – together – until you’re an expert.

Here are four headlines from my junk mail today:

Your best medical coding options

Burial insurance option  

Direct Auto Warranty

Itac gear

Do they inspire you? No, nor me. Ok, so we all get junk mail and if the headline appeals, no matter how limited, it is maybe what you’re looking for. Otherwise, how do you shine out and grab attention?

A journalist pains over headlines, especially on page one. The Sun still bangs out groaning puns but still sometimes funny headlines. The Times/ Telegraph etc are more reserved, but of course they’re competing for readers so they, too, need to stand out to draw your eye. The Express, Mirror and Mail often sacrifice their most prominent political stories for a weaker story but with a snappy celeb headline.

There are several ways to headline grab. This is not a one-size fits all. But ask yourself: ‘Am I getting the traction I need? What’s my opening rate? Are people calling me or responding by email?’

Make them succinct.  Shorter subjects catch the viewers’ eye, leading to a greater read rate. If a long subject line is unavoidable, at least lead with the key words so that it doesn’t get truncated upon delivery. Some inboxes can only detect the first six words.

So, here are some of the tricks:

Secrets Headlines

The secret to …

Discover the secret Xfactor

Eternal Life

A Stress-Free life

Engaging your customers

Saving a fortune at home

Loving your customers dearly

 The ‘how to’ headline

How to create perfect headlines, every time

How to get 736 facebook likes in 18 minutes

How to get to Google page one in two weeks

How to connect with your customers

The ‘Steps’ headline

7 steps to guaranteed success with…

8 ways to way your household budget stretch further each month

9 reasons why you need an E-Z robotic vacuum

The ‘Guarantee’ Headline

Our cast iron guarantee …

We guarantee to change you ..

Price freeze guarantee..

Guaranteed, or your money back

The ‘Question’ Headline

Have you ever thought about …?

When was the last time you….. ?

How can you lose 3 stone in 3 weeks …?

Ever wondered why…?

So, what about…?

‘Unusual numbers’ headline

93.54% of people under 50 ….

97.44% of over 50’s need specs.

Only 3.4 % of people …..

Celebrity headline

Tom Cruise once said….

Sally Field, at the Bafta awards, said: ‘Without a great text, you don’t have a great performance’

The purpose of the Subject Line is to attract attention, get your reader to open the email: e.g.

Prospect – Audi drivers

Problem – Fed Up with high servicing costs?

Emotion – Save 50% on dealership prices

Solution … With our maintenance plan

 

  • Avoid ‘clever’ or obscure subject lines – don’t make them think too much!
  • The Subject line should match the Content

 

Attention Grabbing words

New, Now, Look, At Last, Introducing, Announcing,

For the First Time, Breakthrough, Latest, Free, Cash, Save, Money, Reveal, Sales,

Amazing, Extraordinary, Surprising, Astonishing, Discover, Imagine, Why?

This, Insider, Success, Secret, Confessions, help, easy,  discover  proven ,  save, results, increase, fast,  Quick, Easy, Tested,   Guarantee, Offer, Love,    Hate,     Killer,   Fears,  Magic,  Crazy,  £1657 ( a very exact amount of money)

There are lots of other techniques to make you email work. We’ll be looking at those soon. Call us and let us know if you’ve tried some of the ideas above.

What EVER should I write about?  –  Start a swipe file

Writing is a mindset; you need momentum to hunt for ideas so get hungry for articles and material that will get a reaction. Remember, boring doesn’t stick. There’s plenty of tiring drivel around already; you only have to look at local newspaper headlines:

“Fallen tree causes traffic chaos”  “Rebuilding of Fire Station on course”  and that is why local and national paper circulations are dropping fast.

R.S.Thomas, in “Poetry for Supper” said that two old poets argued. One said that content just arrived like the ‘sunlight through a window’. The other said, “Man, you must sweat and rhyme your guts taut if you’d build your verse a ladder.”  So, yes, it needs to be worked on!

Do you ever wake up in the night with an idea in your head, then, next morning you’ve forgotten it? Consigned to the whatever-was-that-idea bin? Try and keep a notepad next to your bed. You’ll sleep easier after you’ve noted it.

After your subject headers, (next week’s subject) you need a purpose to the piece whether it’s website, direct mail, email, blog or other. Decide what it must DO and your audience. We’ll look at language and tone later.

Start with your subject headers then prioritise your headlines in order of their punch and topicality. Roll out your thoughts about that headline.  You don’t have to finish a piece in one bite; park half-finished articles for later.

Voice Recorders – Why is a voice recorder a great idea? Because if you write as you speak, it’s you talking, naturally! It sounds like a real person. It is also spontaneous. Evernote used to be just a note-taker for desktop or smartphone. In its basic form, it includes a voice recorder and it gives you the chance to store and search all your jottings, photos; to share them by email, Twitter, Facebook, link clips and quotes and half-finished pieces in one place. The labelling system is down to you – for creating your own separate notebooks, tags for recognition and, of course, it’s all storable in the cloud. The free version is upgradeable @ £4 month or £30 a year for more storage, to sync with all devices, etc.

When you’re taking the dog for a walk, (if not, borrow a dog!) get into the mood of the piece and relay your thoughts into the voice recorder. Don’t worry if people think you’re barking mad. Stay on subject then add all the random ideas you can think of. Your rules, so nothing is offside. Record all theories and deductions from as many dimensions as possible, no matter how ridiculous.

Then add the facts from authoritative sources. Arrangement into a logical sequence comes later.

Start a “swipe file”. Cut and paste clips from sources all around your subject and drop them into Windows Notepad. That will render the copy flat text and take out all strange formatting. Label the subjects so you can retrace your steps. Ask Google anything, in plain English.

Swipe from media sources and look at StumbleUpon and Netvibes. These are free online tools known as Aggregators. Choose the subjects you want prompted.

List the subjects around your product or service and edit them as you wish: by preferred region – UK, European countries, USA, etc then by appropriate categories in your subject. Click the Stumble box every time you update, drop a category or open a new one. Remind yourself to log in each day.  http://www.stumbleupon.com

Netvibes – same idea but different perspectives. You start a Netvibes Dashboard of all the things that interest you from your world of business or interests. Refresh means the latest news is loaded and from a range of sources. It’s a ‘What’s the latest?’ tool.  http://www.netvibes.com/en

Twitter, too, is a great information tool, but we’ll cover it later. So, start building the stories you need to enlighten, entertain or amuse your clients and prospects. Call us if you’re having difficulty in getting going.