Tag Archive for: blog writing tips

Ask questions

This line in O magazine struck me as relevant to financial bloggers:

The wisest people have more questions than answers.

That’s according to wisdom researcher Monika Ardelt in “What Wise People Do Differently.”

Ask questions, even if you lack answers

Reading that line inspires me to suggest that bloggers ask more questions when they write. You don’t need to have all the answers.

If you’re a blogger who’s good at sparking online discussion, you might start an interesting discussion by asking, for example, whether it’s worth spending to attend an Ivy League college.

You could go beyond a one-line question to suggest some factors to consider. In the Ivy League example, those factors might include the income and savings of the college student’s family, the availability of financial aid, the strengths and weaknesses of the specific school the student is considering, and the student’s personality.

Questions to ask

Another article in the same issue of O, “Inquire within” (Jan. 2018, not available online), suggested some questions that I think might work for financial bloggers. For example,

  • Is there a day in your life you really regret? Is there a day you would like to revisit?
  • What is one lesson you would teach your children? How did you learn it?
  • Who is an important teacher in your life?
  • Is the life you’re living today aligned with the most important things you’ve learned?

These questions could easily be tilted toward financial topics.

You can’t answer these questions for your blog’s audience. In fact, it’s presumptuous of you to say that you can.

However, you can answer these questions for yourself in a blog post. That may help your readers find their answers. Their answers could help them to lead better lives.

Bloggers, start with what interests you the most

In the first of her The Writing Coach podcasts, Rebecca Weber mentioned that she often starts an article by writing the part that interests her the most. Then, she says, it’s easy for her to fill in the other parts, especially if she already has an outline. That’s a great way to overcome writer’s block, in my opinion. It may also be a great way to find a new focus for your blog post.

Benefit from your passion

Blog posts benefit from passion. For starters, you’re more likely to enjoy writing them. That cuts your tendency to procrastinate.

Also, when you write about what interests you, you’re likely to convey your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm will give your readers a better sense of who you are. If they care about the same things—or if they like your positive energy—you will captivate your readers.

Perhaps there’s more that you can say about that topic to develop it into a complete blog post. Not sure how to expand your topic? Try mind mapping or freewriting, both of which are discussed in my financial blogging book. See where those techniques take you.

Avoid turning off readers

If parts of your outline touch upon topics that don’t excite you, that may deaden the tone of your writing. Your readers may pick up on your lack of enthusiasm. That’s a turn-off.

Of course, there are times when you can’t avoid writing about dull stuff. After all, some of it is essential.

Do your best to write in a reader-friendly manner. Focus on the benefits to the reader, and you may still achieve good results.

Another take on refining your focus

I’ve written about the usefulness of pursuing your interests from a different angle in “Writing tip: Pop the balloon or make it your focus.”

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.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

4 tips for turning books into blog posts

The books you read can provide fodder for your blog posts. You don’t have to write a boring book report like an elementary school student. Use the four techniques I describe below to punch up your book‑related blog posts so they attract, inform, and entertain your readers.

books to blog posts1. Highlight one quote from the book

Pick a quote that resonates with you and is relevant to your target audience. For example, I thought “YES!” when I read the following advice for writers in The McGraw Hill 36-Hour Course: Business Writing and Communication: “…give me the information in the order I can use it.”

I wrote a blog post explaining how that advice applies to members of my audience who want email recipients to act on their information.

First I told the readers why they should care about the quote. Then, I shared the quote. Finally, I gave an example of how they could use the quote’s advice.

You can see how I did this in “Email writers, think about this quote.”

2. Share book author tips

You can’t explain an entire book in one blog post, but you can go into detail on one narrow topic, as I did in “Reader challenge: How can investment and wealth managers apply this tip?

In this case, the first section of my blog post focused on the author’s tips without commentary by me because her tips were straightforward.

The second section was my call to action. I asked readers to comment on how they apply the author’s advice.

3. Get extra comments from the author

In “3 ways to speak plainly while giving financial advice,” I complemented technique #2 by asking author Kathleen Burns Kingsbury to elaborate on one of her book’s tips. This gave readers some knowledge they couldn’t find in her book.

Asking an author for a quote is also a great way to start or deepen a relationship with an author whom you respect.

4. Run a guest post from the author

Publishers are trying to generate publicity for new books, which can benefit your blog. For example, McGraw-Hill, publisher of Meir Statman’s What Investors Really Want, offered me a guest post from Professor Statman. I came up with the topic after reading the book.

If you read a book you like (or see a press release about an upcoming book of interest), consider requesting a guest post from the author. Some authors make a virtual book tour—a series of guest posts, often spread over days, or even a month—on blogs. For example, Statman’s blog tour ran from Nov. 29 to Dec. 15, 2010.

I’d like to hear your best ideas for using books to fuel your blog. Please comment.

Do you want to succeed as a financial blogger?

This post originally appeared on the RegEd Arkovi blog, which no longer exists in its original form.


Book image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What Napoleon’s first battle can teach writers

Imagination is a powerful source of story ideas. This is what a picture of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first battle made me think when I visited the Bonaparte home on the French island of Corsica. And it can help you when you write.

Do you know what is portrayed in “Napoleon’s First Battle”? A snowball fight. It’s unlikely that the artist saw it firsthand, but the image offers a refreshing perspective on Napoleon.

What’s the lesson for you? If you’re targeting a specific audience—for example, pre-retirees in their 50s who work as cardiothoracic surgeons—write about earlier stages of their lives. You don’t have to go back to their childhood. However, showing some understanding of how your ideal prospects reached their current state will help them to trust you.

For example, you could refer to their long training, including residencies and internship, which has shaped some of the pressures in their lives.

Another idea is to write or blog about the challenges your 50-something prospects face in their 30s or 40s. This could help you to build a pipeline of ideal clients.

Have you ever tried imaging your audience at a younger age? How did it help you?


Writing sensitively about tragedy in your investment commentary or blog

Tragedy strikes more often than you’d like. It could be an event like the initial Malaysian Airlines plane disappearance, the Boston Marathon bombings, or something that happened in your community. Discussing tragedies can bring us closer together. It can make stale topics timely. However, it can also offend and disturb your readers, as discussed in “‘Epicurious’ Enrages Followers With Boston Bombings Tweets” on the Mashable blog or “This Guy’s Replies to 9/11 Brand Tweets Sum Up Everything That’s Wrong With 9/11 Brand Tweets.” You need to tread carefully. I have some thoughts about how to manage this challenge.

writing sensitively about tragedy infographic

1. Acknowledge the tragedy

Before you dive into the bottom-line implications of the events, acknowledge that it’s a tragedy that affects human lives. You might write something like “We are all hoping for a happy ending in the disturbing case of…” or “We are deeply distressed by the…”

2. Consider your context

Context matters. Let’s consider three scenarios for writing about airline stocks the day after the March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Scenario one: Airlines analyst for a buy-side investment management firm

When you’re a securities analyst, writing about events that move stock prices is an essential part of your job. You can’t avoid it. Plus, if you’re a buy-side analyst, what you write will stay within your firm (unless you speak with the press). This gives you more freedom than writers who communicate with the general public. Your audience needs to know what effect an airlines disaster will have on the stocks you follow. In fact, it would be irresponsible to ignore the potential impact.

Still, you don’t want to be seen as gloating over an investment opportunity created by a tragedy. That’s ghoulish.

Scenario two: Wealth manager writing a client newsletter

When you write a newsletter for clients, you’ll have a feel for their sensibilities. Also, you’ll know what they expect from you—whether it’s coldly objective analysis or a warmly personal take on news that affects their finances.

If your clients value objectivity and data above all, I believe you can discuss the bottom-line implications of the tragedy after a quick acknowledgment of the sad event’s effect on people’s lives. Still, there may be more sensitive folks among your readers. Think about whether you need to discuss the tragedy now. If your newsletter discussion would be just as relevant later, then consider waiting.

Scenario three: Writer of a blog for general consumption

You’re at the greatest risk when you publish your thoughts in a medium that anyone can find online, such as a blog or op-ed piece. Tread carefully. Consider how you would feel if you or your family experienced the tragedy in question. Acknowledge that this is a serious event that hurts people. Be especially careful if you’re publishing where you’re likely to be read by people directly affected by the tragedy.

3. Consider the timing

Writing about a tragedy as it unfolds is different from writing about it six months or even one week later. Feelings are most raw in the early days. You must balance these emotions against the fact that whatever you write—especially if you’re an analyst covering securities that are directly affected by the tragedy—may be most valuable in those early days.

4. Get a second opinion

Not sure how your piece will be perceived? Ask someone you trust and respect for feedback. You’ll get the most helpful feedback from someone in your target audience, especially if they’re candid.

Depending on their audience, you may decide that an event is too painful for them to read about at this point.

YOUR opinion?

How would YOU like financial authors to deal with tragic events in their writing? I’m eager to hear your thoughts and insights.

(By the way, I’d like to thank the participant in my presentation to the Baltimore CFA Society who asked the question that sparked this blog post.)


Photo Credit: mharrsch via Compfight cc

Old vs. young for your blog

Looking for a new angle on a classic investment or financial topic? Try the following suggestion from Ray Peter Clark’s Help! for Writers:

Interview the oldest person you know, and the youngest.

I can imagine a nonagenarian and a child would have very different perspectives about topics such as “Why save money?” or “What should you spend money on?”

You might use your interview results in different ways.

  1. Select quotes to enliven your article.
  2. Use a quote or opinion as your article’s starting point.
  3. Tell your interviewee’s story to make a point.
  4. Generalize about the wisdom of youth or old age.
  5. Compare and contrast the positions of young and old.
  6. Point out the weaknesses in an opinion

Have you tried this?

If you’ve used this technique, I’d like to learn about your success with it. Please comment.


Image courtesy of Timeless Photography/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t be a squirrel when you blog

I’m a big fan of squirrels in my back yard. But when you blog, please don’t act like a squirrel. You’ll lose readers.

I read about the squirrel syndrome in iPhone MillionaireIt’s the “natural human instinct to save the good stuff for later,” says author Michael Rosenblum. The squirrel syndrome expresses itself in blog posts that start slow and dull. Their opening paragraphs don’t offer any incentive for readers to continue, even if there’s life-changing advice down below.

“If you don’t reach out and grab someone from the very beginning, there will be no later,” as Rosenblum says.

Here’s my recommendation. Give your good stuff away in the your first paragraph. Identify the problem you’ll solve or the happiness you’ll deliver for your readers or catch their eye with a strong image or story. At a minimum, you’ll benefit from readers going beyond your headline and perhaps even grasping the gist of your message.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of iPhone Millionaire from McGraw Hill in return for agreeing to mention it in my blog.

Alternate short and long blog posts?

Some bloggers have made their reputations by writing long, thoughtful posts. Their only problem? They’d like to post more frequently, but long posts take too much time.

“Is it okay to alternate short and long posts?” That’s the question one of them asked.

There’s no law against it. Blog posts can run any length. However, if you’re known for in-depth posts, I like the idea of managing readers’ expectations by telling them that you’re alternating short and long posts. The folks who enjoy the long ones will know when to visit your blog. You may pick up new readers with short attention spans with your alternate posts.

If the contrast between your short and long posts isn’t great, you don’t need to say anything. The length of my posts varies greatly, but I haven’t remarked on that until today.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t write like a spiny cedar!

The triangular spikes that studded the tree’s bark caught my eye along the Costa Rican trail. They’re the spiny cedar’s protection against sloths who would scale it. When you write, please don’t put spikes on your text. They’ll turn away the time-pressed readers who are your sloths.

What are the spikes in your writing?

In many cases, the spikes in advisors’ writing are ten-dollar words: fancy-schmancy jargon or Latinate words that could easily be replaced by plain English.

For example, I’ve long disliked the word “mitigate,” as I wrote in “Can you make a case for mitigate?” “Financial writers clinic: Getting rid of ‘mitigate,'” and “BNY Mellon: I liked your ‘truth ad’ until you used that word.”

By the way, if you’d like to see a genuine spiny cedar, my husband and I took this photo on the Teak and Canal trail of Hacienda Baru on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.