Can “find and replace” prevent quarterly commentary errors?

Most people who write quarterly commentary struggle a bit with errors and typos. I wrote about some of my struggles (and solutions) in “Investment commentary numbers: How to get them right.” As I mentioned in that post, I once made a bad mistake, naming the wrong quarter in my employer’s quarterly commentary. That post prompted a reader to email me with his solution for commentary errors.

Find-and-replace solution

My reader starts his quarterly report by copying and pasting the previous quarter’s report. After updating the numbers, he uses his word processor’s find-and-replace function to update the name of the quarter. For example, he searches for “third quarter,” and then has the software replace it with “fourth quarter.”

This is a great solution for a short, structured quarterly report. In this case, the name of the recently ended quarter will always fall in the same place. This means the find-and-replace solution should function perfectly.

Use caution

If you write a more open-ended quarterly report, you should use the find-and-replace solution cautiously. Why? Because your text for the current quarter may also refer to significant events of the previous quarter.

Using auto-replace to substitute, for example, “fourth quarter” for “third quarter” could result in a sentence like the following: “Unlike in the fourth quarter, small-cap stocks performed well in the fourth quarter.” Oops! You don’t want that to happen.

To catch that kind of error, reading the text out loud is probably the most effective technique.

Your suggestions for catching commentary errors?

I always learn from your comments and suggestions. Please keep sending them to me.

My best tip for improving your investment commentary

Improving your investment commentary is typically the goal when you hire me to edit or rewrite your quarterly client letters or other commentary. Some of what I do is hard for me to teach you. But one of my most powerful tips is easy for you to implement. My best tip for improving your investment commentary is to add headings to it.

Headings 101: Add visual cues

I’ve worked with several clients whose commentary consisted simply of one paragraph after another. That’s manageable if we’re talking about a two-page client letter that follows the same format quarter after quarter. However, if it’s a seven-page document, that leaves your readers clueless about where to look for which content.

Today’s busy readers often skim documents looking for specific content. Headings as simple as “The Economy,” “Stocks,” “Bonds,” and “Portfolio Positioning” can ease their search. That makes them more likely to engage with what you’ve written.

Headings 201: Convey a message

You can get more mileage out of your headings by making them convey a message. For example, instead of simply writing “Bonds,” write “Bonds: Fed rate hike likely to depress Treasuries.”

With the addition of just seven words, you’ve boosted your readers’ understanding of your views. That’s true even if they never read another word of your commentary. That’s the kind of ROI an investment professional should love.

More tips for improving your investment commentary

To learn more about improving your investment commentary, check out my on-demand webinar, “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

Investment commentary–5 ways to outsource

Market and portfolio performance commentary is an important part of communications strategy for most investment and wealth managers. But sometimes writing that commentary becomes a drag on the firm’s employees. Or perhaps the firm realizes that its employees are better at strategy and portfolio management then writing. If this describes your firm, it may be time for you to outsource your investment commentary.

I see five main models for commentary outsourcing, depending on the kind of commentary you need. These vary in terms of how much control you give up over the content and the process.

Option 1: Completely surrender control of your investment commentary

If investing isn’t a core part of your firm’s expertise, you may not feel the need to express insights specific to your firm or your portfolios. In this case, you can simply buy ready-to-use commentary or commission a trusted financial writer to create the market recap and outlook that goes to your clients.

Buying commentary from a provider who sells the same text to multiple clients is likely to be easy on your budget. You can find the names of providers on my list at “Ready-to-use content for financial advisors.”

Alternatively, there are writers—not me—who specialize in writing marketing commentary based on their own research. Both the content providers and the writers may allow you to customize their content. Before you edit or slap your name on their content, check the terms of your agreement with the provider.

Option 2: Hire someone to write interview-based market commentary

When you have distinctive, well developed views and the evidence to back them up, then this is a good option for you. Firms that struggle to find time to generate commentary also find this helpful, in my experience.

To ease your quarterly crunch, schedule your interview prior to the quarter’s end. I usually suggest seven to 10 days prior, so you have a good sense of how the quarter is shaping up.

Involve your key decision-makers in the interview. Sometimes that means only your investment strategist. Other times that may mean your investment policy committee, or one person who’s an expert on stocks and another who’s an expert on bonds. A good interviewer will give you questions to mull over prior to your call. This will help to find your commentary’s focus.

Here are some sample questions for your interviewer:

  • What is the most important message you want readers to take away from your commentary?
  • How did your clients’ portfolios perform relative to the market—and why?
  • What factors most influenced the market during the period? Do you expect their influence to continue?
  • Are there a few statistics that you’d like to highlight?
  • How have you adjusted your portfolios during the period under discussion and do you anticipate more changes?

Above all, it’s helpful to focus on how the information in your commentary affects your clients’ portfolios. After all, that’s their biggest concern.

After the interview, your writer will digest the information to create an outline or draft for your review. She will highlight questions or data gaps that she’d like you to fill. Then it’s your turn to provide the missing information and give feedback.

If multiple people give feedback, I suggest that you consolidate it in one document, with Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” turned on. “Track Changes” will help your writer identify text to be proofed for grammar and related issues. If two of the evaluators disagree on a substantive issue, please reconcile your views before you forward your document to the writer.

What if significant new data comes in between the time of your interview and when you’re giving feedback to your writer? I ran into that with congressional negotiations over the sequester in 2012. One option is to discuss potential scenarios at the time of your interview, so your writer is prepared. Another option is to jot down your take on the news as part of your feedback to the writer, who can smooth out the words to make them more compelling, clear, and concise. Another possibility is to request a brief update call with your writer. Prior to that call, it’s helpful if you can send her some bullet points with your take on the news, so she can focus her questions to make the most efficient use of your time.

This interview-driven approach isn’t right for everyone. If your commentary typically changes significantly between the first and final drafts—or if it relies heavily on data that comes in late—you’re more likely to find option 3 more helpful.

Option 3: Hire an editor for your commentary

For investment professionals at some firms, putting their ideas into writing is a useful exercise. It helps them to discover their opinions and collect the supporting evidence. This is a form of writing to learn, as writing expert William Zinsser discusses in his book, Writing to Learn: How to Write – and Think – Clearly About Any Subject at All.

However, the folks who generate this commentary become so engrossed in the details that they may find it difficult to edit themselves. It’s hard to get distance from material when you’re immersed in it. Plus, a financial education usually doesn’t include intensive training in copyediting or in understanding the reader’s perspective.

One of the most valuable things that an editor can do is to reframe and reorganize the flow of your information. For example, she can expand on the WIIFM—“What’s in it for me”—of the content. She can also improve logical flow of the piece, and apply my first-sentence-check test.

Other valuable functions that your editor can perform include adding informative headings, streamlining text, and checking grammar and punctuation issues. Headings make it easier for skimmers to absorb your opinions and perhaps even be drawn into the details of your commentary. Sentences that average 14 to 22 words and lack distracting errors also help with reader comprehension and retention.

Option 4: Hire a writer for attribution-driven performance commentary

In contrast with market commentary, attribution-driven performance commentary is specific to your firm’s funds or portfolios. Mutual funds’ annual and semiannual reports also fall into this category.

The components of this commentary may include:

  • Your portfolio’s returns versus the benchmarks for the relevant periods
  • Attribution analysis—for stock funds, this would include the impact of sector allocations, stock selection, and possibly the cash position
  • Discussion of specific holdings that contributed to or detracted from performance relative to the benchmark
  • Optional: market commentary, transactions during the relevant period, and investment strategy

Some companies provide all of the necessary data directly to their writer, while others incorporate research or portfolio manager interviews conducted by the writer.

Option 5: Commissioning a critique for the DIY commentary writer

Some firms can boost the quality of their commentary simply by implementing suggestions they receive from a one-time critique of their writing. A writer-editor who’s familiar with commentaries can identify your commentary’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide guidelines for improvements.

For an assessment of your current commentary or newsletter, you can hire me to critique one example of your work or to coach you.

 

What’s next for you?

If you’re rethinking your firm’s approach to your commentaries, contact me to learn how I can help.

 

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.
Note: I am re-publishing this post in 2018 because it remains relevant. I edited this piece on Dec. 21, 2014 to correct some typos.

 

Bond market commentary rewrite

The best bond market commentary is written so its writing style doesn’t interfere with readers’ understanding of the content.

Here’s a screen shot of some bond market commentary that I received via email in November. It could use some help. (By the way, I’m not out to embarrass anybody. Before I started critiquing this piece, I googled the text to make sure the author couldn’t be identified easily.) Let’s analyze and rewrite this piece.

bond market commentary

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What’s good and bad?

One good thing about this commentary is that it was published promptly after the end of the quarter. Most commentary takes days if not weeks to get published. The speedy production cycle probably meant the author didn’t have lots of time to process his or her ideas. Nor was there much time for editing or proofreading. It’s not easy to pump out clean commentary under these circumstances.

Let’s look at the commentary’s weaknesses.

  1. It lumps together a bunch of sentences that don’t stick to a single theme. It jumps around chronologically, going from September to August to October to second quarter to June to September to October. The subject-matter progression is a little better organized, going from credit to risk assets to the Fed to the VIX. However, these subjects shouldn’t all be in one paragraph because the author doesn’t write about them in relation to each other.
  2. The paragraph lacks a topic sentence that says why all of these items are grouped together.
  3. The paragraph is dense and intimidating.
  4. It’s confusing that the paragraph writes about October as if it’s in the future, saying “The Fed will also start gradually unwinding its balance sheet in October.” Did the person mean to write “November”?
  5. It’s strange to start the Fed section with old news from June. it’s better to start the section in the present, as you’ll see in the rewrite below.
  6. The paragraph has grammatical errors. Credit doesn’t trade to “their tightest levels.” It should be “its tightest levels.” “The proposed Trump’s tax reform” should be “Trump’s proposed tax reform.” It’s a little light on commas for my taste.
  7. The paragraph has a spelling error. “Geopolitical” is one word.

Note: I give a pass to this commentary for using technical language, such as “credit,” “risk assets,” and “FOMC” because this commentary is aimed at practitioners. It’s fine to write in the language of your audience. In fact, it’s appropriate, as long as you don’t expect regular folks to understand you.

My thoughts about how to rewrite this piece

The main change I’d make to this piece is to reformat it. I think this piece was intended to provide some quick information without building a bigger argument, so I’m not writing an introduction or strong topic sentences. I am, however, adding bullet points and headings.

I don’t follow the bond market closely so I may make some factual errors in my rewrite.

I raise some questions about the content in red text.

My bond market commentary rewrite

Third quarter 2018 review

  • Corporate credit spreads: Corporate credit spreads tightened into September, after widening a little in August due to geopolitical tensions. Since the September sell-off, largely triggered by North Korea/US tensions, credit traded back to its tightest levels [tightest since when?] into the end of the third quarter.
  • Bond market fundamentals: Fundamentals have remained solid from a free-cash-flow perspective, as second-quarter earnings mostly exceeded analyst expectations with technology sector showing the strongest earnings growth. Rising oil prices improved profitability and credit metrics in the energy sector. However, non-financial leverage continued to rise, which is a negative.
  • Risk assets: The market’s expectations for Trump’s tax reform proposal contributed to positive returns for the S&P 500 index and other risk assets.
  • Fed policy: The fed funds rate is currently between 1% to 1.25%, following the Fed’s raising rates in June for the second time this year. The market-implied probability of a December rate hike increased from 25% in the first week of September to 70% as of the quarter’s end. The Fed is expected to start gradually unwinding its balance sheet in [what month or time period?].
  • VIX: The VIX has mostly remained subdued, with market volatility remaining low for most of the quarter.

 

If you’d like to read some well-written fixed-income commentary, check out the links in my post on “Who are the fixed-income commentary winners–and why?

 

One investment manager’s approach to writing commentary

Writers tailor their processes to their needs. Leslie J. Lammers, CFA, of Riverstone Advisors, shared her process with me after reading my post, “A case against writing outlines.” Lammers has used this process to write almost 100 quarterly letters.

 

My approach to writing investment commentary

By Leslie J. Lammers, CFA

Here is my process:  do the research, hone in on your central points, put butt in chair, attach fingers to key board, go to the zone.

To write a letter that communicates, you have to have a view and have conviction in that view. If your view is not clear to you, do more research.  Read as widely as you can across the financial world.

If you are writing quarterly, start collecting articles at the beginning of the last month of the quarter. Sign up to receive pieces from various sources. Read Bob Johnson on Morningstar, read Cramer, sign up for Cam Hui on his own site, find some people you like on Seeking Alpha, sign up for Economy.com to read Mark Zandi and others on that site. The Bank Credit Analyst is also excellent.

Find some comments you believe in and build your view from there if you don’t already know what it is.

When you sit down to write, picture your average client and write to them as though they are sitting across the desk from you.

Art helps clients grasp the concept and retain it. You can easily find a graphic artist on ifreelance.com or other websites. Here is an example of one we had done.

If proper English usage is not your strong suit, pay an editor.  If you have a college near you, you can find someone who edits student papers.  Or use a freelancer website to find an editor.

You must write with conviction.  Adopt an attitude of “sometimes wrong—never in doubt.”

 

If you’re looking for great investment or wealth management commentary, you may find some in “Who are the fixed-income commentary winners–and why?”,Wealth manager blogs that my readers like,” or “Market commentary with wit and wisdom.” These lists were compiled with suggestions from my readers.

Given Lammers’ emphasis on writing with conviction, you may also enjoy “Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?

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, when 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

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.

Market commentary for index investors

Market commentary is an important client communication and marketing tool for investment and wealth managers. Making predictions can be particularly powerful, as I said in “Are financial predictions too risky?

But what if you’re in the camp of index investors—or similar strategies, such as evidence-based investing—or if you simply don’t believe in market timing? You may skip market predictions on principle, as my friend, writer Wendy Cook, suggested in conversation with me. You won’t say which asset class will outperform next. Nor will you predict the meeting-by-meeting decisions of the Federal Open Market Committee and how they’ll affect stocks, bonds, and interest rates.

Index investors can’t totally avoid predictions

You can’t totally avoid predictions, in my opinion, when you communicate with the clients for whom you manage money. You just make a different kind of prediction than your peers who rejigger their portfolio holdings and asset allocations as their predictions change.

For example, index investors may predict that the current trendy asset class—or investing in high-fee, actively managed portfolios—will not pay off over the long term. You may also encourage investors to “stay the course” based on historical evidence. This helps you convince investors to stick with their current asset allocations until their personal circumstances change. This kind of prediction focuses more on long-term truths backed by the historical record. It’s part of active managers’ predictions, too, but to a lesser extent.

You’re trying to solve your investors’ challenge of “Consuming financial news without being consumed by it,” as Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig points out in a blog post recommended to me by Wendy Cook.

Index investors still need commentary

If you manage an index fund, you need to put fund performance in perspective. Your investors want to know why returns were positive or negative. They may also care about why your fund performed the way it did relative to your index and the broader market. Relative performance is particularly important when your fund performance differs greatly from your index.

This means discussing what drove the fund’s performance, which could include:

  • Individual stocks that outperformed or underperformed—while you’re not a stock picker, telling the story of your fund’s best- and worst-performing stocks gives insight into what drove performance during the period.
  • Factors influencing the index’s performance during the period—for example, if you run a value-oriented index fund, your fund’s performance will suffer relative to broader or growth indexes when growth stocks outperform.
  • The way that your fund attempts to capture index performance—your fund probably doesn’t invest in every single stock in your index in the exact same proportions as the index. Portfolio holding differences can make performance diverge from the index.
  • Your fund’s cash position and inflows or outflows—if your fund’s positioning differs from the index, it won’t perform like the index.
  • Fees and expenses—one can’t invest directly in an index. Funds have expenses, such as management fees and transaction costs, that cut into their ability to achieve index returns.

If you’re an advisor using index funds

If you’re an advisor using index funds, you may share commentary from your fund providers with your clients.

To get the most mileage out of sharing that third-party commentary, add your personal observations. For example, “The strong performance of ASSET CLASS, which underperformed dramatically last year, reminds us of the value of staying fully invested.”

I believe index investors need commentary, even if they’re invested for the long term, with little change in their allocations. What do YOU think?

Image courtesy of hywards/freedigitalphotos.net

 

Amp up your writing with investment commentary top posts

Investment commentary is a focus of my writing, editing, and teaching. To help people get a quick idea of what’s most important about writing investment commentary, I’m sharing my investment3Cs of investment commentary InvestmentWriting commentary top posts. Click on the headings to read the posts that I’ve selected. If you’d like to read more of my classic investment commentary posts, buy my mini e-book, Investment Commentary: Best Tips From InvestmentWriting.com. You can also get advice directly from me on my upcoming webinar, “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read” on June 23, 2016.

1. Ideal quarterly investment letters: Meaningful, specific, and short

There’s an industry consensus about what makes for the best quarterly investment letters. My survey research says that they are “meaningful, specific, and short.” You can’t simply spout what everyone else is saying. Put some spin on the content so it supports a point of view that’s relevant to your target audience. Don’t drone on and on.

2. Investment commentary numbers: How to get them right

It’s so frustrating when you slave over a piece of investment commentary only to find after publication that a wrong number has sneaked into your piece. I was mortified when this happened to me. As a result, I’ve developed a system for minimizing the number of errors that sneak through. I share my system with you in this post.

Unfortunately, it takes time to get things right. There’s no substitute for careful proofreading. Even with careful proofreading, you’ll sometimes have problems. For example, sometimes index providers revise their numbers for index returns. You can’t help that.

3. Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?

Should you make predictions in your investment commentary? In this post, I argue that economic and market predictions can help by giving readers insight into the way that you and your firm think about investments. Of course, proponents of index investing—and similar styles, such as evidence-based investing—may skip predictions on principle, as my friend, writer Wendy Cook once suggested in conversation with me. However, even for those investors, I believe there’s some value to interpreting what’s happening in the stock and bond markets.

Learn an investment commentary process in my webinar!

I’ll teach you how to achieve the 3 Cs of great investment commentary in my webinar.

Investment Commentary Webinar

5 rules for using quotes in investment commentary

Smart investment commentary writers are willing to learn from others. That’s why I was delighted when Rob Martorana shared the thoughts below in response to my post, “Should you use quotes like Bill Gross?” His rules about using quotes deserve wider circulation.

By the way, this blog post is a testament to the power of LinkedIn for connecting people. I met Rob thanks to the serendipity of his commenting on one of my earlier status updates on LinkedIn. This is a great reason to be on LinkedIn.

5 rules for using quotes in investment commentary

By Rob Martorana

I agree that quotes should not be “teaser” content. If Bill Gross opened his article by quoting “When I’m 64,” the article should be about aging. Authors should use quotes carefully, and always with their audience in mind. Here are five rules I try to live by:

Martorana_headshotRule #1: Do not quote ancient philosophers when the market is crashing.

That annoys clients to no end. Investors do not want to hear from Sun Tzu and the Art of War after they just lost $100,000.

Rule #2: Do not quote people out of context.

Show that you understand who said it, when they said it, and what they meant by it. Don’t put words in the mouth of the person you are quoting.

Rule #3: Do not quote out of cowardice.

If you want to say something controversial to the audience, just come out and say it. Don’t hide behind the authority of a historical figure.

Rule #4: Keep your wit on a short leash.

Quotes are often used to entertain and amuse, rather than to illustrate and illuminate. This is related to rule 5…

Rule #5: Get to the point quickly.

Remember that “brevity is the soul of wit.”

Investment writing should be clear, concise, and concrete. Don’t take me down a rabbit hole to show off your knowledge of Milton Friedman or Michel Foucault.

Rob Martorana owns an RIA in New Jersey, where he manages money, publishes articles, and provides competitive intelligence on the wealth management industry. His research interests include portfolio design, expected returns, liquid alternatives, and the digital delivery of investment advice.