Do you edit a printed copy of your draft?

“At least one set of edits should be made on the printed page, pen in hand,” say Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. They favor working on a hard copy because “some failings–for example, a missing connection in argument or undue length–are more easily spotted in hard copy.”

My approach to editing

While I tend to edit short pieces on my PC, I agree with printing out longer pieces. My white papers usually get printed out at least twice. I think that editing on paper is better for longer pieces because it slows me down and forces me to consider the piece as a whole before I actually enter my changes into the document.

Please answer my one-question poll

What about you? Please answer my one-question poll. Do you do all of your editing on your computer, or do you sometimes edit a hard copy?

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Break it up!

William Zinsser, a noted writer on writing, said, as quoted in Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers:

Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas one long chunk of type can discourage the reader from even starting to read.

I’m a big fan of short paragraphs, as you know if you’ve read about the rule of 42-14-2 in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Breaking up long blocks of text is almost always a good idea. It’s especially important when you write something for people to read online. People’s attention spans are shorter online than when they are reading printed materials. Also, people who are reading online tend to be scanning for specific information. Shorter paragraphs make it easier for readers to find the information they seek.

When in doubt, break up your long paragraphs into shorter blocks.

I.e. versus e.g.–which is correct?

I.e. versus e.g.—do you know the difference between the two? I confess that I often do a Google search to remind myself of which is which. That’s one of the reasons I’d like to abolish these terms from the English language. But they’re not going away, so let’s examine them.

Meaning of i.e. versus e.g.

The bottom line: i.e. means “that is” and e.g. means “for example.”

I.e. is short for the Latin term “id est,” while e.g. is short for “exempli gratia,” according to my old edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, which was my close companion when I was finishing my Ph.D. in Japanese history.

Usage of i.e. versus e.g.

Use i.e. when you’re about to give a complete list of what the term in question means. For example, “non-U.S. stocks, i.e., international developed-market stocks, emerging-market stocks, and frontier-market stocks.”

Use e.g. when you’re only giving a sample of what the term in question means. For example, “non-U.S. stocks, e.g., emerging-market stocks.”

Common punctuation mistake

The key thing to remember about punctuating these two abbreviations is that each of them is typically followed by a comma, just as you’d use a comma in, “for example, mid-cap and small-cap stocks.” Far too often I see i.e. or e.g. without any punctuation next to it.

Workarounds

I agree with Bryan Garner, who says in Garner’s Modern American Usage, “Although the abbreviation is appropriate in some scholarly contexts, the phrase that is or the word namely is more comprehensible to the average reader.” The same goes for using “for example” instead of e.g.

You want your readers to understand you, don’t you?

Garner has many publishers agreeing with him, according to Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook:

Many publishers allow the common Latin abbreviations (etc., e.g., i.e.) only in parenthetical references and in footnotes. Copyeditors working under this policy are expected to substitute for the abbreviation or delete it, depending on the context.

Try to avoid using these Latin abbreviations. But if you do use them, please punctuate them correctly.

George Orwell’s writing rules and financial writing

George Orwell proposes five rules for writing that will benefit any financial writer. Here they are, excerpted from his essay, “Politics and the English Language”:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I confess that I break rule #1, but I wish I could observe it. After all, the idea of volatility as a roller coaster ride gets boring after a while.

I am a huge fan of rules #2 and #3. I’d also add “Never use a long sentence when a short one will do.” A big part of my professional editing work consists of shortening sentences or breaking them into two or three shorter sentences, in addition to simplifying the writers’ vocabulary.

Active verbs generally best passive verbs. Not sure you could recognize or fix a passive verb? Check out the tips in this post about passive verbs.

Investment and wealth management are rich in the jargon referred to in #5. Orwell says that “If you simplify your English…., when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.” This relates to my post on “Why experts love bad writing.”

Still, there are always times when it makes sense to break the rules, as Orwell says in #6.

Thank you, Doug Tengdin of Charter Trust for suggesting Orwell’s rules as a topic for this blog!

Top posts from 2018’s second quarter

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on marketing (#1 & #8), writing (#2, #5, & #7), punctuation (#3), grammar (#4 & #6), proofreading (#9), and newsletter (#10).

I’m only listing one Mistake Monday post, although more were among the most viewed, because one Mistake Monday post is much like the others. Check out my Mistake Monday posts if you’d like to improve your proofreading skills!

My posts that attracted the most views during 2018’s second quarter

  1. Is there a place for influencer marketing in asset management? This is a guest post by Joe Polidoro of Jove.

  2. No more conclusions, please I feel strongly about this topic, which affects white papers, blog posts, and anything you write that includes a conclusion.

  3. MISTAKE MONDAY for April 9: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

  4. Only my latest grammar mistake

  5. Glossaries for investment and economic jargon

  6. Getting things as right as you can with a BuzzFeed copyeditor

  7. Does your article pass these writing tests?

  8. Use LinkedIn for a mass email without angering your connections

  9. Avoid this embarrassing mistake in your publications

  10. My newsletter experiment with confirmation requests

Writing and preventable mistakes

“Does your advice stick?” is the title of an article by Moira Somers in the Journal of Financial Planning (May 2018). Based on her book, Advice That Sticks: How to Give Financial Advice That People Will Follow, it describes why clients fail to follow financial advice, and what advisors can do about it. Somers lists preventable mistakes that advisors make in their personal relationships with clients and prospects.

Some of the mistakes could seep into your writing, making it harder for clients and prospects to feel a connection with you. I highlight two of them below, with comments on how to address them.

Mistake 1. “Using incomprehensible jargon”

If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they can’t follow your advice.

If you’re not sure about the jargon level of your writing, you can run tests using Hemingway, the app I describe in “Free help for wordy writers!” You’ll find more tools in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Even better, get a member of your target audience to read what you’ve written. Then, don’t just ask them, “Do you understand what I’ve written?” Ask them to summarize it in their own words. That’s the gold-standard test.

Somers suggests that you ask even more from members of your target audience. She says:

Start by taking every piece of written information you might give to a typical client and hand it over to four or five people—either existing clients or people who would be similar to them in major ways. Equip them with a marker and ask them to highlight every sentence whose content they do not fully understand. Compare the results. Redo those documents in client-friendly language.

That seems as if you’re asking a lot of those people. However, it would be a valuable exercise.

When you rewrite your documents, you may find it helpful to use the techniques in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” and “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.” You can also consult “Glossaries for investment and economic jargon.

Mistake 2. “Allowing disapproval, disappointment, or disdain to taint the relationship”

Somers’ suggestion for this point focuses on in-person meetings. “Do a warmth audit of your team,” looking at “eye contact, nodding, and smiling.” Look at your writing through a similar lens.

Tone matters. Your blog posts and articles can suggest that your readers are making mistakes, but you shouldn’t imply “Oh, you idiot, stop making such stupid moves!”

I struggle with hitting the right tone as I write blog posts. It’s not easy. By saying that many people grapple with similar issues, I hope to avoid shaming people. After, most of my readers aren’t professional writers. It’s not reasonable to expect them to know the ins and outs of grammar, white papers, and the like.

Show empathy. You can do this focusing on the reader, suggests The Search Guru in “Discover how to show empathy in writing and why it’s important.” That means showing that you understand and empathize with the wants and/or needs of a relevant group of people.”

I offer more tips on this in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—”How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part One” and “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part Two.”

 

Purge these preventable mistakes from the writing you put in front of your clients and prospects! You’ll like the results.

 

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

 

Your childhood writing and your future as a writer

What can your childhood writing experiences tell you about your future as a writer? The haircut I gave the life-sized doll from my childhood accurately predicted that I have no aptitude as a hair stylist (see the scary photo below). Can childhood experiences also predict our writing skills as adults?

my doll after her haircut

Childhood writing indicators

Mulling it over, I see the following potential indicators of your future as a writer:

  • Your grades in English classes
  • The encouragement you received for your writing
  • The quality of your writing
  • Your skill with words and writing
  • Your love (or dislike) of writing

Were these good predictors for me?

My childhood didn’t instill in me a belief that I would become a reasonably good writer.

I believe I was a B-average student in my high school English class. Back then, social studies classes were my strong point (as you may know, I eventually earned a Ph.D. in Japanese history). As a high school senior, my heroes were Edwin Reischauer, Japanese historian and ambassador to Japan, and modern dancer Martha Graham. Nobody encouraged me to write—probably because I was an average writer. Looking back at later examples of my writing, as I did in “Confessions of a lousy writer—and 6 tips for you,” I feel confident that I didn’t show promise as a writer.

However, I wrote a lot as a kid. I filled many spiral-bound notebooks with my journaling. I also wrote a long fairy tale with a hero named Zoogoo. I slipped into another world when I wrote. Even today, I feel a similar sense of complete absorption when I write these blog posts. I feel satisfaction from sorting out my thoughts, even though I’m not tackling topics of lasting importance.

Childhood writing vs. adult writing

I think the good feelings I got from writing were the best predictor of my future as a writer. Through study and practice, I was eventually able to overcome my weaknesses as a writer.

What about YOU? What does your childhood writing experience tell you about your writing as an adult?

 

Does your article pass these writing tests?

Are you thinking of writing an article or blog post, but feel insecure about your skill as a writer? I’ve developed some tests that can help you attract readers in a way that’s easy to read. Give your article the tests that I describe below. These writing tests can also help your other communications aimed at clients, prospects, and referral sources.

WIIFM test

How can you cut through the clutter of the gazillion articles competing for your readers’ attention?

When your article appeals to your readers’ WIIFM, you command their attention. WIIFM is short for “What’s In It For Me?” You need to describe how readers will benefit from the content in your article. Ideally, you’ll help them to solve a problem.

It’s best if you introduce your readers’ problem – and your solution – in words that they would use. Drop the jargon unless it’s part of your readers’ daily vocabulary. To help you achieve this, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “I’m worried about … and you can help me by …”

You pass the WIIFM test when your readers see that you can fill in the blanks in my sentence.

First-sentence check

When your articles are easy to skim, your message will reach more readers than if your articles require careful attention.

To perform the first-sentence check, read your headings and the first sentence of every paragraph in your article. In combination, do they give the reader a good idea of your main points? If so, you’ve written something that’s easy to skim. It’s also more likely to draw in readers interested in your topic.

This first-sentence check works because strong business writing typically starts each paragraph with a topic sentence that summarizes the paragraph’s main point or topic. When I’ve done writing workshops, participants tell me this is one of the biggest ideas they’ve picked up.

When an article fails the first-sentence check, it’s time to rearrange your paragraphs, rewrite your topic sentences, or rethink how you approach your topic. For more on this approach, read “Quick check for writers, with an economic commentary example.”

Rule of 42-14-2

Wordy writing is difficult to read. Direct marketers’ research suggest that your readership starts to drop once your articles average more than 42 words per paragraph, 14 words per sentence, or two syllables per word. This is according to research cited in workshops by Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications.

Microsoft Word’s readability statistics will give you an idea of how your writing fares in terms of these statistics. The analytical tool at HemingwayApp.com (discussed in “Free help for wordy writers!“) can also help you identify text that’s too long-winded and give you ideas about how to simplify.

You don’t necessarily have to pare your averages down to 42, 14, and two. But becoming more aware of wordiness, and shortening your sentences and paragraphs, will make your writing more effective.

Too busy to test your writing?

If you’re too busy to test your writing, ask for outside editorial help. Perhaps you have a colleague or a client who can give you feedback. You can also hire an editor.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Glossaries for investment and economic jargon

What can you do if you want to purge jargon from your vocabulary, but you don’t know how to explain investment and economic jargon in plain language? Glossaries can help.

Online glossaries of investment and economic terms

Here are some online options:

Another option is to search in Google, as I explain in “Resources to help you cut through investment jargon.”

A printed glossary

If you prefer to use a printed book, the Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms from Barron’s is a classic.

How to use glossary explanations

I suggest that you read the glossaries’ explanations, and then explain the relevant concepts in your own words.

If you copy a glossary’s explanation, please credit the glossary.

If you’re publishing something online, consider linking to an online definition. This is especially useful if only a small number of your target readers won’t understand the term. I wrote about this in “Help your readers by linking to definitions.”

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Top posts from 2018’s first quarter

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on proofreading (#1), punctuation (#2), white papers (#3), writing (#4, #5, #7, #8, #9), marketing (#6), and blogging (#10).

I’m only listing one Mistake Monday post, although more were among the most viewed. Thank you, readers! However, one Mistake Monday post is much like the others, so I’ll only list one per quarter. Check out my Mistake Monday posts if you’d like to improve your proofreading skills!

White papers (#3) were the focus of my meatiest popular post. Many challenges prevent financial professionals from creating compelling white papers. In this post I describe some of the challenges and how to overcome them.

The popular post in the #2 slot proves that popularity isn’t the only thing that matters for your blog. I imagine that the traffic came from people doing online searches for “U.S. or US for United States?” I imagine that few of those people are likely to become my clients—or even to be interested in many of the other posts on my blog.

My posts that attracted the most views during 2018’s first quarter

  1. MISTAKE MONDAY for Feb. 19: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?
  2. Abbreviation: U.S. or US for United States?
  3. The compelling investment white paper that wasn’t 
  4. What if your article has 5 points, but 1 is a digression?
  5. Avoid long introductory clauses, or lose readers
  6. Marketing wealth management to women with Charlotte Beyer
  7. 7 tips to help you write more and be a better person
  8. Write your book on multiple devices
  9. 7 factors that affect reading ease
  10. Financial blog topic: write a letter