Writers, eat your greens!

Eat your greens! For many people, that means eating foods that they don’t enjoy, but which are good for them. In the writing world, I think a comparable challenge is proofreading your text and checking on fine points of grammar. Here are some steps I suggest to help you eat your metaphorical greens.

1. Finish your drafts early

When you finish writing something before its deadline, you can approach it with fresh eyes for a final review. With fresh eyes, you’re more likely to catch errors of reasoning, grammar, or other areas.

2. Use tools and people to help you proofread and copyedit

It’s not easy to proofread or copyedit your own work, as my husband reminds me when he proofreads my monthly newsletter.

Online tools that check your spelling, grammar, and wordiness can complement your work. My recent post on “The compelling white paper that wasn’t” includes links to tools.

However, online tools won’t catch every mistake. For example, it won’t catch the investment professional with the title “portfolio manger” instead of “portfolio manager” with the additional “a.” That’s why it’s good to get a colleague or professional proofreader to review your work. Also, consider using the tip I describe in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading” to catch errors that eyes tend to gloss over.

If organization—not grammar—is your stumbling block, use my first-sentence check.

3. Have reliable references handy

You can’t buy or find online one of the most powerful tools for catching your errors. That’s a customized checklist that lists your most common errors. For example, if you often make “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes,” add them to your checklist.

My favorite online resources include:

If you have a budget, you can subscribe to online resources from AP Style or the Chicago Manual of Style. I have mixed feelings about AP Styleguard software.

You can’t find all of the answers online. That’s why my library includes “My five favorite reference books for writers.”

The result?

If you follow these three tips, you’ll produce cleaner, better organized writing. That’ll make your writing more compelling and effective.

Tip for bloggers

Bloggers sometimes ask me where I get my ideas for posts on this blog. Today’s post was inspired by the image that accompanies it. When the image appeared as a free download from Depositphotos, a website I use to source some of my photos, it made me think about how many people don’t like greens. My mind quickly bounced to the tasks that writers don’t like.

Images can be a great source of blog post ideas. For more ideas on how to find inspiration in images, read “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration.”

2018 financial bogging class

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7 tips to help you write more and be a better person

Are you looking for tips to help you write or blog more frequently? Some of the tips from the “Work Well” chapter of Kate Hanley’s How to Be a Better Person may help.

1. Mono-task one thing a day

This is one of my favorite tips. Hanley says:

Multitasking is a fact of life and can sometimes be useful, but it’s not always the best choice. When you work on the most important thing on your daily to-do list, invite your best thinking by closing your email program, putting your phone on airplane mode, blocking yourself from social media, and doing one thing. You’ll get it done more effectively and efficiently when you do.

This works well for me. I’ve cranked out many of my blog posts writing on a steno pad on vacation, as I’ve discussed in “No batteries required: My favorite blogging technique.”

2. Make a learning plan

“If you want your career to continue to grow, you need your skills and interests to keep evolving too. Ensure your growth by making a plan to keep learning,” says Hanley.

I offer some learning tips for writers in “Confessions of a lousy writer—and 6 tips for you.” Also, I offer a financial blogging class.

3. Delegate better

You don’t need to prepare every part of your blog post, article, or white paper yourself. Outsource the parts that aren’t the best use of your time.  That’w what I do with the images and tricky formatting of my blog posts.

When you do outsource, don’t micromanage the person who’s doing the work for you. Hanley says to tell the person to “ask for help if the person gets stuck, but otherwise, let them at it. People who are doing something for the first time may make mistakes—focus on appreciating the effort more than the results at first and give positive feedback they can hear.”

4. Take on uncomfortable tasks

Are you scared to write a kind of article or other publication for the first time? Give it it a go.

Hanley says, “Accept your missteps and view them as ways to refine your skills. Growth can be uncomfortable, but so is staying in the same place for too long.”

5. Get better at prioritizing

You can’t do everything. You’ll just drive yourself crazy if you try to do it all.

Hanley says,

Here are some guidelines for setting priorities in a way that helps you focus on the important instead of merely the urgent: Think about the things on your list that make the biggest impact and that mean the most to you—those are your highest priorities. Next come the things that have a big impact, even though you may not love them. For things that don’t move the needle and that you don’t enjoy, either delegate them or bang them out in one concentrated burst.

6. Work smarter, not harder

Identifying your priorities, as suggested in Tip #5, will help you to work smarter instead of harder.

Hanley says,

The eighty/twenty rule—otherwise known as the Pareto principle for the late nineteenth-century economist Vilfredo Pareto who noticed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people—says that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts. Spend some time thinking about the simple actions that, when done consistently, result in big strides toward your goals—strengthening relationships with the 20 percent of your clients who generate 80 percent of revenue, for example, or making sure you get ninety minutes (approximately 20 percent of an eight-hour day) of focused time to produce your best work (no meetings or Facebooking allowed). Now make sure you prioritize those needle movers when planning what you’ll get done in a day or a week. Small, meaningful steps taken with consistency can take you everywhere you want to go.

7. Make time for your soul work

Hanley says,

Every job comes with a long list of responsibilities, but you have an obligation to do the work that speaks to your soul too, even if it doesn’t show up anywhere on that list. When you plan your week, make sure to block out a chunk or two of time that you can devote to the work that’s speculative—the proposal for the new project, or even the art you create on the side that keeps you a passionate and engaged person—because that energy will spill over into the narrower confines of your “job,” too.

Blogging is soul work for me. I do it because I enjoy it more than I do it for an ROI measured in dollars and cents.

 

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

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Avoid long introductory clauses, or lose readers

You want to give your readers all the information they need to understand your message. This sometimes prompts you to write long introductory clauses. Please stop. Or, at least rein in your impulse.

Those long introductory clauses often make it hard for readers to grasp your main point. I like how Harold Evans, author of Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, explains the challenge posed by these long introductory clauses:

It is akin to someone rushing into a building saying he’s sorry to interrupt the meeting, but it’s important that, for a number of reasons too complicated to explain at this moment, everyone there should be good enough to pack up their stuff and leave in haste because the building is on fire.

Wow! Clearly the speaker should have said, “Fire! Get out now!” You should do something similar with long-winded sentences that delay getting to the point.

To read examples of too-long introductory clauses, see Evans’ Chapter 3, “The Sentence Clinic.” Evans analyzes the sentences. He also rewrites them to be understandable. Some of his solutions include:

  • Using active voice
  • Being more specific, especially with unclear pronouns
  • Changing negatives to positives
  • Cutting the number of dashes, parentheses, and similar marks
  • Cutting misplaced modifiers

In some cases, Evans turns one long sentence into multiples sentences.  In most cases, he shortens the sentences. More importantly, his rewrites direct the reader better than the originals. As he says, “We are more likely to understand the argument if we know where we are heading.”

Let’s head your sentences in the right direction. Kill those overly long introductory clauses!

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.

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What if your article has 5 points, but 1 is a digression?

Imagine that you have five important points to make in an article, quarterly commentary, or white paper. Four of the points hang together. The fifth point is a digression. It doesn’t have much to do with the other four points. How can you best manage your oddball point?

Solution 1. Delete your digression

In the best of all possible worlds, your piece has a clear focus. Don’t dilute it by adding irrelevant information.

Solution 2. Move it to the end

Deleting the unrelated content isn’t always possible. I often encounter this in quarterly client letters.

For example, a letter may discuss the developments that drove portfolio performance during the past quarter. However, it’s also relevant to discuss the firm’s new hire.

In this case, discuss the new hire at the end of the letter. If possible, set off the announcement with a new heading.

Solution 3. Put it in a sidebar box

If you’re writing a longer piece that will be printed or published as a PDF, you have more options. You can put your digression into a sidebar box. That box gives a visual cue that its content is not essential to the main thrust of what you’ve written.

Other ideas?

If you have other ideas for handling a digression, please share them with me.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy “5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary.”

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Top posts from 2017’s fourth quarter

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

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

Post #1 sparked a lot of reader feedback when it headlined one of my monthly newsletters. My readers tend to care about topics like this.

I’m surprised that #4 made it on the top posts lists. Published late in December, it got a strong response from readers.

If you’re a blogger, check out #7 and #8, along with my financial blogging class.

My posts that attracted the most views during 2017’s fourth quarter

  1. Shall vs. will—which is best?
  2. My 2017 reading with book recommendations for you
  3. Bond market commentary rewrite
  4. Writing about the new tax legislation in your client letters
  5. Communicate with your clients about their legacy—This post features advice from Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
  6. Canned newsletters can hurt your marketing
  7. Blog post headings vs. no headings for your financial blog
  8. 4 financial blog post ideas from a writing teacher
  9. Don’t wait for perfection
  10. Red tulip writing exercise

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When I was a lousy writer

This is what I remember about my writing before I became a reasonably skilled writer.

  • As a high school student, I had a hard time understanding the use of footnotes. Luckily, earning a Ph.D. in Japanese history forced me to learn. In one seminar, my professor recalled students’ books to check the quality of our citations and our translations from English to Japanese.
  • I overused initial capitals in job titles. My Ph.D. thesis advisor drummed that out of me as I discuss in “Do you use ‘pride capitals’?
  • I believed that I had to write out all of the evidence before I expressed an opinion. I didn’t know that I could engage readers by stating my opinion before building my case.
  • My laborious attempts at speaking and writing Japanese instilled empathy in me for those who struggle to express themselves. I lacked subtlety in Japanese. Sometimes I felt as if I were trying to slice a loaf of bread with an axe.
  • I used too many words. I hate to think about how the Hemingway tool, which I described in “Free help for wordy writers!”  would grade my Ph.D dissertation.
  • I used lots of passive verbs. In other words, many passive verbs were used by me because I wasn’t taught to know any better.

How did I overcome these weaknesses?

  • Working with a writing coach while I was a staff reporter at Dalbar’s Mutual Fund Market News (now Money Management Executive)
  • Taking many writing classes that involved lots of feedback on my writing
  • Participating in a monthly writing group
  • Writing a lot—both for clients and on my blog
  • Reading about good writing and absorbing some of the lessons by blogging about them

By the way, except for my work with a writing coach at Dalbar, little of my process was specific to financial services.

Inspiration for this post

This post was inspired by “Remembrances of Being a Little Fat,” a chapter in Tina Fey’s Bossypants. The chapter consists of two sentences, plus a long list of bullet points.

This is more proof that non-financial sources can help your financial writing.

Shivering Turn approach to organizing your thoughts for writing

Sometimes you get locked into writing about a topic in a certain way. It’s not easy to develop a fresh perspective. If this describes you, try what I call the Shivering Turn Method.

In The Shivering: A Jennie Redhead Mystery, a private investigator tries to unscramble the anagram, “shivering turn.” She says,

…because you cannot always see patterns if all the components are presented in a linear manner, I make a rough circle of the letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the book, this helps her to crack the anagram in less than two minutes.

This made me think about a technique that you can use to reconsider your topic:

  1. Put each of your main ideas on an index card.
  2. Shuffle the cards, or spread them out on a surface in a random order.
  3. Look for patterns and associations among your subtopics.

If you like this idea, you may also enjoy “Index-card approach to writing.” Or, learn about mind mapping in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Did you figure out the anagram? I confess that I did not. I’m not going to share the answer so I don’t spoil the book for other readers of this well-written mystery.

Disclosure: If you click on an 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.

My 2017 reading, with book recommendations for you

Here are some of the books I read (or referred to) in 2017, divided by categories. The starred books are books that I refer to in 2017 blog posts, some of which haven’t been published yet.

Biography/autobiography

* Bossypants by Tina Fey

* Turner: the extraordinary life and momentous times of J.M.W. Turner by Franny Moyle

Elder care

I learned about the first two books in this section from New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s article, “Hard-Won Advice in Books on Aging and Elder Care.” I imagine the other books he reviewed are equally good.

The 36-hour day: a family guide to caring for people who have Alzheimer disease, other dementias, and memory loss by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins — This book has many practical tips.

A bittersweet season: caring for our aging parents—and ourselves by Jane Gross

Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What to Do About It by Andrew E. Budson and Maureen K. O’Connor — One of the authors spoke at my local library. I missed his talk, but the book seems solid.

Marketing

* Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

* One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business–or Yourself (Business Books) by Marie Perruchet

Personal finance

* Breaking Money Silence: How to Shatter Money Taboos, Talk Openly about Finances, and Live a Richer Life by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury

Garner's Modern American Usage

Reference books for writers

* Associated Press Stylebook by Associated Press

* Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner — This has become a “go to” reference for me.

Words

Hemingway didn’t say that: the truth behind familiar quotations by Garson O’Toole

The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language by David Crystal — Before I read this book I hadn’t thought about the many meanings of the word “be.”

Writing

Do I Make Myself Clear: Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans

* Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword — This book was my favorite discovery in 2017.Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing

* Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt

 

 

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.

Don’t wait for perfection

The show must go on. That applies to your blog, too.

In Bossypants, comedian Tina Fey quotes Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michels as saying, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”

As Fey says about writing comedy, “…it’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve any joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go”.

Do the best that you can with your blog posts. But don’t hold them back because they’re one smidgen short of perfection. Release them so your readers can benefit from your insights.

Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at freedigitalphotos.net.

Red tulip writing exercise

Want to think creatively about your next article or blog post? Try the red tulip exercise that I discovered in Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing.

Here’s an exercise that Sword suggests for “generating new ideas and perspectives” for academic writing, but you can apply it to other types of writing:

Ask a friend, relative, or small child to write down the name of a randomly chosen object—something specific enough that you can actually picture it: a fat dachshund, a red tulip. Freewrite for ten minutes about all the ways that object resembles your research project.

Freewriting means writing nonstop, without editing, for a predetermined period of time. After you finish, you look at what you’ve written to see what’s valuable in it.

red tulip writing exercise

My freewriting about a red tulip

I did a freewriting exercise about blog posts and a red tulip. You can read the results in “5 ways a blog post is like a tulip.” In case you don’t believe that I really did the freewriting exercise, here’s a picture of what I wrote.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy, “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration,” my wacky way to generate ideas for blog posts. That post was inspired by a photo of a Barbie on a beach.

 

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.