Writing lessons from a famous painter’s journey

I don’t usually read books like Franny Moyle’s Turner: The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. But I shook up my routine during an out-of-town vacation. As I read about the artistic education of Turner, a barber’s son who became one of Britain’s greatest painters, my mind flashed to lessons for writers, especially bloggers.

Turner took lessons from other painters. Writers should do this, too. But that isn’t the lesson that struck me. Instead, I was intrigued by the role of copying. “In addition to views he worked up from his own sketches, Turner copied published work by other living artists to sell in his father’s shop,” writes Moyle.

I’m not suggesting that you copy other people’s writing. I certainly don’t want you to plagiarize. However, before long, Turner started using copies as the foundation for experiments. For example, while working within outlines set by an artist named Cozens, Turner “reverses Cozen’s scheme, placing in light what the artist had placed in shade and vice versa, altering the drama of the view,” writes Moyle.

Can you do a Turner on a blog post that you admire?

Here are some ideas for how to achieve that.

1. Copy the structure, not the content

Study the structure of a blog you admire. See if you can apply that structure to a different topic.

For example, if you read a great post about “5 ways to save more for retirement,” analyze it to see why it works. Then, you can apply what you learn to a different topics, such as “5 ways to get the most out of your homeowner’s insurance.”

2. Turn dark into light

Turner literally turned dark into light in Moyle’s example.

You can metaphorically change dark to light by writing, for example, about the upside of indexed annuities after you’ve read an article about their drawbacks.

3. Change perspective

Turner sometimes changed the perspective from which he viewed iconic sights. Or, he inserted people or cows where he’d seen none in real life.

You can mix up your perspective too. Instead of viewing an investment product through the eyes of your typical client, discuss it from the perspective of a broker who puts commissions above all else. Or, take the perspective of an investor in a very specific situation who might benefit from that product.

Looking at how others write—and putting your own twist on their writing can help you generate new topics and new approaches to tired topics. Try it!

Quotation websites for your writing

“What quotation websites do you recommend?” A friend’s question in response to my discussion of “Famous quotes make your commentary memorable” prompted me to ask my virtual assistant to research quotation websites. I’m sharing the results of her research, along with my ideas for other ways to find quotes to spice up your writing.

Quotation websites

My VA thinks BrainyQuote is the best of the bunch. It does have the most attractive appearance, and it’s relatively light on distracting advertisements.

Here are the websites she identified.

  • BrainyQuote—This website lets you search by author or topic. You can also sign up for a quote of the day, which may help you discover an unexpected gem. If you post quotes on social media, you may enjoy BrainyQuote’s QuotePictures, quotations against the backdrop of an attractive photograph. You can share the QuotePictures to social media—including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest—with a couple of clicks.
  • Quoteland—This website has online forums with topics such as “I need a quote.” I haven’t tried the forums, but they might help you when you’re stuck.
  • The Quotations Page
  • Lib Quotes
  • Wisdom Quotes—This website is overwhelmed by ads.

Online searches

You can find quotations by doing an online search. Here’s what I found when I did a Google search on “quotations about money.”

This kind of search may help you to identify other websites that are good sources of quotations.

Some of the sites may be general. For example, Goodreads, a membership site, has a quotations page. The Goodreads quotes page is driven by members adding and tagging quotes they like. You can browse the quotes by their tags. When I checked, one of the top post for “money” was one that I doubt many financial professionals will use in their writing, except as an example of what not to do.

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
― Oscar Wilde

Cool Funny Quotes is a niche site with a humorous twist. Here are the site’s money-related quotes. Like BrainyQuotes, it offers social-media-ready images of quotations.

If you’re thinking in terms of visuals, Pinterest is another site to search. Here are Pinterest’s quotes related to money.

Books

Some books are rich in useable quotes.

Buffet’s Bites: The Essential Investor’s Guide to Warren Buffett’s Shareholder Letters by L.J. Rittenhouse must have plenty of great quotes. Unfortunately, it lacks an index.

When you’re looking for quotes, a Kindle or other e-book will make your research easier. At a minimum, a great index will help.

Compile your own collection of quotations

If you enjoy using quotes in your writing, them save great quotations as you see them.

In the old days, I recommended scribbling them in a paper notebook. These days, it’s probably more efficient to save quotes online in a Word document or something like Evernote.

Did they really say it?

Plenty of quotes are mistakenly attributed to famous people. I enjoyed reading a Wall Street Journal review of Garson O’Toole’s Hemingway Didn’t Say That.

The review introduced me to the Quote Investigator website, which explores the origins of famous quotes.

Writers, prepare for National Stress Awareness Month!

Do you enjoy stress? I don’t think so. That’s why National Stress Awareness Month exists. During April, health professionals strive “to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions about stress that are prevalent in our society,” according to the promoters’ official website.

Thinking about sources of stress for writers, I came up with the three topics that I discuss below, along with their solutions.

1. Generating ideas

A blank piece of paper or computer screen is intimidating. You can avoid this stress if you are always collecting ideas. If you’re more of a talker than a writer, dictate your ideas like this portfolio manager. Alternatively, you can jot them down on paper or in an electronic format. One nice thing about saving ideas electronically—whether you use Evernote, Microsoft Word or Excel, or some other format—is that later you can search for a specific word.

Your idea list should always include questions that members of your target audience ask. You can also ask questions of your readers.

If no ideas come to mind, consider using mind mapping, which is a key technique in my financial blogging book and my blogging class for financial advisors. You can enlist your colleagues in a group mind-mapping exercise. Still short on ideas to mind map? Barbie may help, as I discovered. A blogging buddy may also ride to your rescue.

2. Finding and avoiding errors

It’s hard to proofread your own work for grammar, punctuation, and other usage errors. Plus, it’s embarrassing when errors slip through.

The easiest solution is to hire a professional to check your work. On a tight budget? Get a colleague to check it.

But sometimes you’re the only person who can check your text. Using software’s text-to-speech function is the basis of one of my most powerful proofreading tips.

Text can be perfect in terms of usage, but contain errors, as I’ve experienced firsthand. I have tips to help you get your numbers right.

3. Getting along with people who are important to your writing

I have written about how to get along with others whether you’re a marketer overseeing writers, a compliance officer, or a writer or editor.

Here are some posts:

An overall help for writing-related stress

You can reduce your overall stress by putting processes in place to systematize how you approach common challenges. Starting to create processes is a great way to kick off National Stress Awareness Month.

Basically, the less you have to think about your next step, the less stress you will feel. My post on 8 reasons you need a financial blogging process goes into more detail on this.

Even something as simple as creating style guidelines is a practical step toward creating a process. It can reduce the number of stressful decisions you need to make.

Thanks, Selena Soo!

This post about National Stress Awareness Month was inspired by an events calendar, a technique that I recommended in Use a wacky days list when you run out of blog ideas.

However, it wasn’t my post that sparked this post. Instead, it was Selena Soo’s 2017 “Publicity Insider” Calendar, a freebie on her website. Skimming my download, my eyes fixed on National Stress Awareness Month, and this blog post was born.

This reminds me that you should always keep reading, even if you think you already know everything another expert may know. The results may surprise you.

Can you “impact” results? A case against using “impact” as a verb

Want to send a longtime, classically trained writer into a screaming fit? Write about how your financial strategies “impact” results. Using “impact” as a verb is as irritating to many writers as my husband’s early-morning cellphone alarms that go off before my alarm clock are to me. When you use the word this way, you will irritate readers who are familiar with proper usage.

Experts against “impact” as a verb

Bryan Garner of Garner’s Modern American Usage says, ” Reserve impact for noun uses and impacted for wisdom teeth.” On a related note, he says that “impactful” is “barbarous jargon dating from the mid-1970s.”

Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty agrees, saying “Don’t annoy people with jargony usage.”

I was a bit concerned when I saw that The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing says, “Do not confuse the words affect, effect, and impact, each of which can be used both as a verb and as a noun.” However, it goes to specify using the verb only in the sense in which it’s used with impacted wisdom teeth. It says, “Avoid incorrectly using impact as a verb in place of affect or as a noun in place of effect.”

Alternatives to “impact” as a verb

The experts agree. “Affect” is almost always better than “impact” as a verb.

Looking for an alternative? Try “influence.”

Here’s an example of how dropping “impact” can streamline your communications. Change “negatively impact” to “hurt.” That’s beautiful.

The case for using “impact” as a verb

“Impact” is widely—too widely—accepted as a verb. That’s why the experts spend time railing against it.

I cringe when I see “impact” used as a verb. However, I understand what the author means. In my mind, this makes it a less serious mistake than dense, impenetrable writing.

As a writer, you may have limited influence over decision makers, as I discuss in “When do you push proper usage on your writing clients?” You may decide to let “impact” go in favor of fixing a much bigger problem. I understand.

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Financial Blogging class registration ends Feb. 24, 2017.

When do you push proper usage on your writing clients?

Some battles over proper usage in writing are worth fighting. Others are not. When should you push your clients on proper usage? If you write or edit for investment, wealth management, or other financial services firms, you’re likely to grapple with this question.

By the way, when I say “usage,” I refer to a host of issues that sometimes get lumped under “grammar.” In addition to grammar, it includes punctuation, spelling, and other issues of writing style.

When I say “clients,” I include internal clients—such as subject-matter experts or bosses—for staff writers and marketers, in addition to the clients of external writers and editors.

I usually point out improper usage. However, I divide usage issues into three categories. The seriousness of the category dictates how strongly I fight my client on an issue.

Category 1. Embarrassing or unethical mistakes

If your client writes “they’re” instead of “their,” it’s a no-brainer to insist on a correction. “They’re” instead of “their” is flat out wrong. These battles are usually easy to win. It’s best to treat them lightly, with the comment along the lines of “Oops, a typo sneaked in. It’s hard for all of us to proofread our own work.” I may also insert a link to an article explaining usage practices the client may not know.

Susan Rooks, Grammar Goddess, agrees with me about correcting outright mistakes. In response to my LinkedIn question about when to correct mistakes, she said, “When they will confuse others, or embarrass themselves or their company. While I do worry somewhat about punctuation, I am more concerned with the words that writers use. Mixing up homophones, using the wrong terms, or not seeing the impact of negative language on readers are all worth going to bat for.”

On rare occasions, I run into issues of copyright infringement. It has always been an innocent mistake. The person didn’t realize that simply naming the source doesn’t give you the right to use any text, exhibit, or image. It’s important to push clients on these issues. Why? Because their mistakes could inspire the copyright holders to sue them, bringing financial penalties and embarrassment. You’ll find resources to educate your clients about “fair use” of copyrighted material in my article on “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.” You’ll also find tips in “Credit sources fairly in your financial blog posts.

If you’re in financial services, your client will presumably run content through a compliance review. If you know that certain content typically requires a certain disclosure, you can mention that. But the client’s compliance professional is the ultimate authority.

Category 2. Mistakes that hurt reading comprehension

Sometimes your clients produce writing that’s unclear because of its vocabulary, length, or organization. That’s not good for them or their company’s pursuit of marketing or educational goals.

Many clients express gratitude and relief when you streamline their writing. Some do not. Instead, they cling to their original wording, perhaps because of issues I discussed in “Why experts love bad writing.”

What can you do with stubborn clients? Here are four options:

  1. Present evidence for making changes. My articles, “Seven Ways to Talk Your Financial Execs Out of Jargon and Bad Writing” (free registration with MarketingProfs required) and “Financial jargon killer: The Wall Street Journal,” make a case for better writing. You could also share well-written articles by experts whom your client respects. As with category 1, it’s wise to take a respectful approach. Suggest changes by presenting information that you say your client might not have known. As Bob Hughes, director at U.K.-based Grammar Ally, says, “Persistence usually works better then insistence: the persuasive, collaborative approach versus the adversarial. Most people – there are exceptions – welcome information they simply didn’t have before. This makes ‘support’ and ‘sharing knowledge’ preferable to ‘correction’, which is often taken to be drawing attention to something someone ‘got wrong’ rather than simply didn’t know.”
  2. Meet your client partway. Figure out what your client cares most about. See if you can satisfy their needs, while also improving the writing. For example, if the client insists on using the term “Goldilocks market,” define the term parenthetically. You’ll find examples of this in “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.” If it’s just one sentence that’s a problem, consider presenting several alternatives to your client.
  3. Appeal to higher authorities. Does your boss, or the person at the client company who pays your invoices, believe in good writing? They may let you overrule your subject-matter expert’s wording. But tread carefully if you take this approach. It may not make a difference if the expert never sees the text again. On the other hand, if the expert sees it, it could create ill will.
  4. Cave in. In other words, pick your battles carefully. Some things aren’t worth fighting over, especially if they’re small problems in an obscure part of a well-written document.

Category 3. Mistakes that don’t inflict major damage

Some mistakes bother me much less than others. These are typically mistakes that hurt reading comprehension less than others. For example, excessive capitalization of titles is common in financial services.

I often see “Jane Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer” instead of “Jane Smith, president and chief investment officer.” That’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Words that are capitalized to stress their importance drive professional writers crazy. The use of initial capitals in “President and Chief Investment Officer” does slow reading comprehension slightly. But its effect is small compared with the effect of a sentence that improperly uses “they’re” instead of “their.”

When I have clients who use excessive capitalization, I inform them about the proper practice. Then, I let them decide about what to do. I save my energy for more important battles, which typically fall into Category 2.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net

Financial Blogging class registration ends Feb. 24, 2017.

Note: On Jan. 31 I edited this post to correct a typo.

Top posts from 2016’s fourth quarter

Top posts on InvestmentWriting.comCheck out my top posts from the last quarter!

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

  1. Get more mileage out of your financial webinar or podcast—Recycle your content! It’s one of the best ways to boost your marketing productivity.
  2. Controversial topic spurs LinkedIn discussion
  3. 3 ways writers drive investment professionals crazy—This is the flip side of #5.
  4. Market commentary for index investors
  5. Why experts love bad writing
  6. Mind maps: can they win buy-in for your writing?
  7. Print newsletter vs. e-newsletter for financial marketers—Print communications may seem old-fashioned, but they can reach your audience when electronic communications can’t.
  8. 4 tips for mutual fund fact sheet templates
  9. Infographic: Manage writing by committee—Many financial writers struggle with this challenge.
  10. 6 design tips for your first infographic

Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks

Big words make your readers work harder to grasp your message. This is particularly true of jargon, such as “duration,” unless your piece is strictly for investment professionals.

Below are some words to avoid when communicating with regular folks. Most of them are financial jargon. Others—like “mitigate“—are unnecessarily long or confusing. Replace jargon and long words with shorter, less technical words that pack more punch. They also make it easier for readers to absorb your message.

  • Accommodative monetary policy
  • Active share
  • Alpha
  • Barbell
  • Basis points
  • Beat, used as a noun to refer to beating analyst forecasts
  • Bet
  • Constructive, as in “we are constructive on small-cap stocks”
  • Contango
  • Convexity
  • CorrectionCorrection means something different to individuals than to investment professionals
  • Degross
  • Disseminate
  • Drawdown
  • Duration
  • Ecosystem
  • Efficient frontier
  • Ex-, as in ex-Japan
  • Expected return
  • Exposure
  • Flight to quality
  • Headwinds/tailwinds
  • Inverted yield curve
  • Kurtosis and other statistical terms
  • Leverage
  • Levered names
  • Liquidity
  • Long/short
  • Mitigate
  • Pricing power
  • Rerate
  • Reversion to the mean
  • Risk assets
  • Risk on/risk off
  • Risks to the upside
  • Secular
  • Sharpe ratio
  • Spread product—a Google Alert on “spread product” yielded results related to margarine and Vegemite
  • Tranche

On a related note, don’t use acronyms without first defining them. This means words such as AUM, CAGR, CAPM, CLO, DOL, EBITDA, EPS, LIBOR, MBS, MLP, TTM, YOY, and YTD. It’s often best to avoid acronyms completely. I’ve discussed this in “How to capitalize financial acronyms.”

If you’re writing an educational piece for regular folks

It’s okay, even admirable, to educate your regular Jane or Joe investors about complex financial concepts.

When you write to explain technical vocabulary, make sure you:

  • Define your terms using plain language. You can introduce the technical terms and then define them using the techniques in “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.”
  • Mention the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) so readers know why they should slog through the explanation.
  • Explain the benefits of the complex financial concept for regular folks. For example, don’t use a multi-billion dollar pension fund as your key example unless your readers are participants in a similar plan.
  • Use analogies, where possible, because they’ll stick in your readers’ minds better than dry explanations.

Must you bore sophisticates?

You may worry that your content will bore sophisticated readers if you go easy on technical vocabulary. No, you won’t. Not if you do it right.

Read “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” for my take on how to keep everybody happy.

If you’re communicating with other investment professionals

Some jargon is okay if your communications go exclusively to other investment professionals. In that context, jargon can act as a kind of shorthand. For example, “basis points” can be used in a way that’s more precise than “percent.” “Spread product” is more concise than the definition of “spread product.”

However, if you’re targeting institutional investors, don’t assume that they’re all sophisticated consumers of investment content. An investment committee, for example, can include less sophisticated members.

Still, there’s no need to make your professional communications overly complex or wordy.

Your suggestions for words to avoid?

If you can suggest words to avoid in your investment communications, please share them in the comments.

 

Updates: I updated this on April 6, 2017, to add words suggested by my readers.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20 ways to organize a story

Looking for fresh approaches to your articles or blog posts? Check out this guest post by writer Kate Harold.

20 Ways to Organize a Story

By Kate Harold

When you write story after story like I do, you run the risk of getting stuck in a rut – where your stories can start to feel a bit stale. The standard article format of intro-details-conclusion is functional. However, use it too much and your readers may begin to think Ho-hum.

Stop Your Stories From Falling Flat

How can you keep your writing feeling fresh? Mix things up by altering how you organize what you write. A simple change in structure can help breathe new life into a long list of blog posts or newsletter articles. See if you can liven up your next story using one of these techniques to organize it:

  1. Listicle: A story like this one, based primarily on a list. Often includes a number in the headline.
  2. Q&A
  3. Chart/Charticle: An article with a chart as the leading feature.
  4. Age-based: For topics that cover varying ages, i.e. investing through the years.
  5. Chronological/Timeline
  6. “By the numbers”: Popular with sports statistics, but can be easily be adapted for other industries.
  7. Recipe: Can be engaging when used for non-food-related topics.
  8. Do’s and Don’ts
  9. Whys and Why Nots
  10. How to
  11. Problem/Solution
  12. Step-by-Step Guide: Use numbered steps as subheads.
  13. Quiz
  14. Pros/Cons
  15. Myths/Facts (myth buster)
  16. Slideshow: Group of related photos for online viewing, with short text to accompany each.
  17. Round-up: Several ideas that fall under one theme, with a brief description of each.
  18. Expert Roundtable: Group of experts offering varying insights on a subject.
  19. Then and Now
  20. Did You Know?

A quick glance through this list often helps me think of a subject in a new way. And when you can present a topic in a way that feels new, you can bet your readers will notice.

About Kate Harold

Kate Harold is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and proofreader based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She writes primarily for the healthcare industry, but has covered a hodgepodge of other topics including steel cranes, circus clowns, and caps for spray paint cans. Learn more about her at www.kateharold.com

 

Image courtesy of basketman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

 

Rules for writing clearly

Clarity matters. Yet it’s often lacking in documents about investments, wealth management, and financial planning. Joseph M. Williams’ chapter on clarity in Style: Toward Clarity and Grace intrigued me because it takes a different approach to writing clearly. It focuses on the characters in  your writing. The concept of a “characters” is a bit murky, but it appears to refer to the main actors or topics in a sentence.

Key recommendations for writing clearly

style towards clarity and graceHere are his Williams’ recommendations for clear writing:

Readers are likely to feel that they are reading prose that is clear and direct when

(1) the subjects of the sentences name the cast of characters, and

(2) the verbs that go with those subjects name the crucial actions those characters are part of.

Here is my attempt to write a bad sentence to illustrate his points:

It should be understood that one’s lack of understanding of what is needed to improve asset allocation may be a contributing factor in the development of asset allocations that experience failure in helping people in the achievement of their goals.

To Williams’ points, who are the “characters” in my sample sentence? “One” is vague. So is “people.” It looks to me as if they refer to “investment managers” and “clients.” Using these words will satisfy the author’s suggestion that you use specific instead of abstract nouns.

Also, there don’t appear to be any verbs that go with “one” or “people.”

Here’s my rewrite:

When investment managers don’t understand asset allocation, they create portfolios that fail to achieve client goals.

Do you see how my rewrite follows Williams’ suggestions and is easier to read than my original sentence?

Related rules

I found more rules for writing clearly in Williams’ chapter on clarity.

  • Avoid abstract nouns when possible.
  • When rewriting, name the missing characters to improve clarity.
  • Don’t turn verbs into nouns.
  • “If you find that (1) you have to go more than six or seven words into a sentence to get past the subject to the verb and (2) the subject of the sentence is not one of your characters, take a hard look at that sentence; its characters and actions probably do not align with the subjects and verbs…. Revise the sentence so that characters appear as subjects and their actions as verbs.”
  • “…there is nothing wrong with a long sentence if its subjects and verbs match its characters and actions.”
  • “In some cases, nominalizations are useful, even necessary. Don’t revise these.” As the saying goes, “There are exceptions to every rule.”
  • “…whenever you find in  your writing a string of nouns that you have never read before and that you probably will not use again, try disassembling them.”

Williams explains many examples in his book. Check it out if you enjoy learning by analyzing sentences.

Style: Toward Clarity and Grace isn’t an easy read.In fact, I wrote this post partly to help myself figure out the main lessons of his “Clarity” chapter. However, it’s a thoughtful book that may help you improve your writing.

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

Mind maps: can they win buy-in for your writing?

“Do you ever circulate mind maps for buy in from executives at firm that you are writing for? For example, chief investment officer or marketing executives?” This question arose during my latest investment commentary webinar. I am a big fan of using mind maps in the writing process.

Most people know mind mapping as a visual, nonlinear way of brainstorming ideas. You put your ideas on paper so you can look at them from a bird’s eye perspective. This lets you identify patterns, prioritize ideas, and organize, without getting bogged down in details.

I rarely share mind maps with my clients, but I’ve found them powerful in the right situations. My experience sparked some thoughts about how you might use them to win over your bosses or subject-matter experts as you develop investment commentary, white papers, or other content for your investment or wealth management firm.

The right time to introduce mind maps will depend on the person whose buy-in you seek. Are they open to visual aids or do they need to see ideas fully written out? Will they brainstorm with you? Can they commit to content at the idea stage?

Here are some ways that you might introduce mind maps into your approval process. By the way, unless you’re a very neat writer, you should use mind mapping software to produce readable maps. I currently pay for a subscription to MindMeister, but there are many other options.

1. Brainstorm with your subject-matter expert or marketer

At the brainstorming stage, your mind map identifies what you think will be your main themes. However, you haven’t yet finalized your themes or organization. Your map will be messy. It may overwhelm a viewer who craves order or who’s not used to looking at mind maps.

However, if you’re working with a person who likes to brainstorm, then a mind map that displays relevant ideas can help you discuss which of the many possible paths you should take. For example, you might point to a cluster of ideas around a specific asset class. Do you focus a section on that asset class or do you integrate it into a discussion of a broader trend that also appears on your diagram?

This might be especially helpful if you work with subject-matter experts who typically go through several drafts because they need multiple drafts to spark new ideas. Your mind map could accelerate their ability to see new ideas and connections with different parts of your mind map.

Mind mapping software can help you and the other person collaborate. You can allow more than one person to edit the mind map. Participants can also add relevant links and documents, such as an Excel spreadsheet or a provocative article.

In the example below, the participants realized that they’d forgotten to consider frontier markets.

Mind map: what about frontier markets?

2. Review your overall approach to the topic

If you want someone to sign off on your “big picture” approach to a topic,  consider showing them a second-round mind map.

When I write complex stories, I use the first mind map to identify my themes and organization. Then, I draw a second mind map that’s organized to show only relevant information in the order in which I think it will work best. When you show someone a second-round mind map, they won’t be distracted by other potential directions. Plus, they can more easily grasp your plan than in a first-round mind map, where you may need to explain how you’ll reshape the raw data.

Why not just show them an outline? An outline takes more time to write. Plus, it makes the organization seemed more final. That’s not good if you want to encourage them to tweak your approach to improve it.

Viewing the next mind map helped the participants decide that their piece should be organized in terms of the three broad reasons to invest outside the U.S. The dotted lines show the topic areas from which they’ll draw their evidence.

review of mind map invest outside the U.S

3. Dig into the details

If your colleague wants to see all of the supporting details before you write, mind maps can help.

If you’re writing a short piece, you might drop all of your data into a mind map before reviewing it with your expert or other co-worker. For a longer piece, that’s too time-consuming. However, if you use software to attach a file or a link with detailed data, then you easily answer your co-worker’s questions about the nitty-gritty details.

4. Diagnose what’s wrong

In direct interactions with clients, I’ve most frequently used mind maps to diagnose what’s wrong with written pieces.

I’ve sometimes done this interactively with clients looking at my mind map in MindMeister from their desks somewhere else in the U.S., while I work in my office. I start with a map in which I’ve diagrammed the piece’s current organization. If the piece is short enough, I go paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence.

One of the big questions I ask is essentially, “Does the piece place like with like?” Placing like with like is a “Key lesson for investment commentary writers from my professional organizer.” The visual aspect of mind mapping makes it easier for my coaching clients to see that content is misplaced.

5. Harvest ideas for the next piece

Financial writers always need more ideas for future articles, investment commentary, and white papers. Look at your original mind map with your subject-matter expert or other colleague. You may identify gems that didn’t fit in your current project.

Don’t force mind maps on people

Some folks love mind maps. Others can’t stand them. Even if you love them, you can’t force someone whose mind works differently to join in your enthusiasm. Don’t push it.