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5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary

Investment commentary authors often know the markets well, but lack writing and editing expertise. After all, they’re earning big bucks to manage money, not to write. You don’t want me to run your portfolio, but I’ve learned some lessons about how to edit investment commentary. I’ve edited and written commentary for a diverse group of clients.

My experience has inspired this list of steps for anyone who’d like to edit investment commentary or other articles.

Step 1. Analyze overall structure

Before you dig into the details of your commentary, look at its overall structure. Your analysis may lead you to delete or move entire sections to make the structure more reader-friendly.

First, identify the main themes of your commentary. You may decide after a quick reading that your themes are something like the following:

  1. This was a volatile quarter, due mainly to disappointing corporate earnings and instability in the Middle East.
  2. Corporate earnings are likely to recover for three reasons.
  3. Instability in the Middle East will continue and here’s how it affects our investing.
  4. Here’s why these six stocks are the portfolio’s biggest winners or losers for the quarter.

If a simple read-through doesn’t identify your main themes, you can try mind mapping your commentary’s content. I sometimes use mapping when editing complex client documents. Mapping gives me a bird’s eye perspective that helps me spot clustering of ideas that form themes. For more on mapping, please see my book Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Once you’ve identified the themes, delete any paragraphs that aren’t relevant. Also, move your paragraphs so your argument builds in a logical order.

Step 2. Provide guideposts for your readers

Once you’ve identified your commentary’s themes, you can make it easy for your readers to absorb them. Three key tools are your title, introduction, and headings. Each of these components should manage your readers’ expectations.

Titles should communicate your main topic. Simply writing “Third Quarter Review” isn’t enough. It doesn’t distinguish this quarter’s review from all that preceded it. Nor does it distinguish your review from your competitors’. At a minimum, name your main topic in your subject line. For example, “Third Quarter Rocked by Earnings and Middle East Conflict.”

As for your introduction, I believe it should say exactly what you’ll cover. This lets your readers quickly assess whether your commentary interests them.

Next, use your headings as milestones for your commentary. Express your opinion or conclusion, if possible. For example, instead of using “corporate earnings” as your heading, consider something like “corporate earnings disappoint, but rebound likely.”

Step 3. Work within paragraphs

Once you’ve completed your “big picture” edits, dig into your individual paragraphs. Strong topic sentences will ensure that today’s busy readers can skim what you read, using their quick scan to zero in on the content that most interests them.

A strong topic sentence covers the paragraph’s main point. Everything that follows in a specific paragraph should relate to the topic sentence. If not, then cut it. This isn’t the only correct way to write, but it’s the best way to write for online readers and readers suffering from information overload.

For more on this topic, read my blog post about the first-sentence check.

Step 4. Examine your individual sentences

The next step is to make what professionals call “line edits.” This means correcting and improving your sentences for grammar, punctuation, vocabulary choices, and other issues in your writing style.

Working down to small items from “big picture” items is efficient. It means that you don’t waste time improving your word choices in a sentence or paragraph that you ultimately cut from your draft.

Step 5. Proofread and check statistics

Once you’ve completed your editing, it’s time to proofread. I’ve blogged in “5 proofreading tips for quarterly investment reports” about my best proofreading tips. Also, check the accuracy of your statistics, such as index returns. If possible, get someone else to proofread your work. After you’ve lived with a document for awhile, it becomes hard to spot errors that would smack you in the face on a first reading.

If you follow these five steps, you’ll attract more readers. That’s your goal, right?

Tweet your quarterly investment commentary for more impact

“Second Quarter Market Update”—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this boring status update in my Twitter streams or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+. You can attract more views, and get more people to click your links when you strengthen the status updates you share via social media. I have some tips for you.

1. Highlight your opinions, not the date

Everybody knows what quarter has just ended, but they don’t know your opinions about what drove the period’s returns or how you view the stock and bond markets’ future. This is why you should highlight your opinions with subject lines such as “3 reasons why stocks will continue to rise [LINK TO YOUR COMMENTARY].”

By the way, use a link shortener, such as bitly or the link shorteners in HootSuite, to make the best use of the limited character count available to you in status updates, especially Twitter.

2. Pose questions

People are curious. Take advantage of that by asking questions in your status updates. For example, “Which sectors are positioned to outperform for 2014? Read our views: [LINK TO YOUR COMMENTARY].”

3. Use images

Images increasingly drive social media engagement, even on Twitter. A powerful image will boost views and clicks. This may mean including two links in your tweets—one to the image and another to your commentary.

By the way, your logo or headshot photo doesn’t count as a compelling image. A graph or photo could work.

4. Link directly to your commentary

Many investment management firms force their social media readers to click twice to reach their commentary which lives on their websites as prettily formatted PDF documents. However, every time you ask readers to click, you risk losing them.

To avoid this risk, put your commentary—or at least a big chunk of the opening text on an ordinary web page.

5. Tweet more than once

Don’t expect one tweet to reach all of your target readers. Share your quarterly commentary more than once. Mix up your status updates, perhaps highlighting a key finding in one, but asking a question in another.

Your tips?

I’m curious to learn what works for you in getting readers from your social media status updates. Please join the conversation.

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 proofreading tips for quarterly investment reports

Proofreading quarterly investment communications stresses people. Tight deadlines and client demands add to the pressures on a small department. However, creating checklists and processes will ease the strain. I have some suggestions to help you be accurate and avoid stylistic inconsistencies and typos.

This post started as a response to the tweet you see here.Tweet asking about proofing

1. Create checklists for data

There’s nothing worse than sending out a third-quarter report that’s labeled as a second-quarter report. This almost happened to me early in my days as a director of investment communications. That near miss inspired my love of checklists.

When writing quarterly communications, create a list of data that must be updated. This is especially important if you start writing in a quarterly template document that holds the last quarter’s data.

Another way that I manage this when updating documents with previous-quarter data is to turn on Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature. I know that most of the document should turn red with changes before I “accept all changes” and start proofreading.

A variation of this data checklist is a list of common errors that you review just before you hit “send” on your document.

2. Create a style guide

Typos, poor punctuation, and stylistic inconsistencies are more likely when you lack a style guide. You can adopt a standard style guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. However, you still benefit from a style guide specific to your company. Your guide will cover issues those guides avoid, such as how to spell the plural of “Treasury” or whether a portfolio is overweight “in” or “to” a sector.

3. Use technology that identifies weaknesses

Your word processing software’s grammar and spell checker isn’t perfect, but it’s still worthwhile. I supplement mine with PerfectIt software, which checks for consistency in your usage. A free version is available as the Consistency Checker.

There’s also software that will help you to identify larger issues of style and grammar. Hemingway is a free app that assesses the difficulty level of your sentences and suggests some ways to improve them. I thank Bill Winterberg of FPPad for pointing me to “hOw wE eDiT wRiTTeN cOnTenT,” Alyce Currier’s article on Wistia  that introduced me to Hemingway. Grammarly is another option, but I haven’t tried it.

4. Read your work out loud—or get software to read it

When you do heavy editing, it’s hard for you to see the typos and other weaknesses in your work. That’s why I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to read out loud, as I described in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading.” I can hear problems that I can’t see.

5. Use a fresh pair of eyes

In an ideal world, a professional proofreader will review your work. That happens at some of my larger clients. When my client agreement permits, I often hire an outside proofreader to review the first complete draft. A pro who knows the industry will do the best job but any set of competent fresh eyes is likely to help.

If you lack the luxury of outside help, see if a colleague can review your work. Or, leave your work overnight—or at least for an hour—before you review it with fresh eyes.

More resources

For more proofreading tips, check out “Six ways to stop sending emails with errors.” You can test your proofreading skills weekly with Mistake Monday.  Check the Investment Writing Facebook page on Monday mornings.

Six ways to stop sending emails with errors
Six ways to stop sending emails with errors

 

Do you have tips for proofreading? Please join the conversation.

Image courtesy of num_skyman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.