Tag Archive for: writing tip

Break your chains!

Writing with fewer words sometimes results in harder-to-understand sentences. That can be the case with noun chains—when one noun piles upon another to modify the noun at the end of the chain.

“Nouns used as adjectives often slip out of a writer’s control, producing impenetrable chains,” writes Jan Venolia in Write Right! She mentions “urban public hospital out-patient clinics” as an example of a noun chain.

The basic way to fix noun chains

To fix a noun chain, “look for the noun at the end of the chain. Move it forward and turn the other chunks into short prepositional phrases,” says Venolia.

Thus, the noun chain above would become “out-patient clinics sponsored by urban public hospitals.” The new phrase is longer than the original, but easier for the reader to understand.

More ways to fix noun chains

Raymond Ward suggests on his blog, the (new) legal writer, that hyphens can make noun chains easier to understand. “If you have a three-noun chain, the easiest solution is to hyphenate the first two nouns,” he says. For example, “cost recovery action” can become “cost-recovery action.”

Here’s another great suggestion from Ward: “If the last noun in the chain is generic, such as process, situation, activity, and the like, try deleting it to see whether any meaning has been lost.” For example, “afternoon thunderstorm activity” can become “afternoon thunderstorms.” That’s a win!

Ward also gives examples of replacing a two-noun combination with one word, changing “television antenna manufacturing facility” to “television-antenna factory.” I like how Ward thinks.

Find and break your noun chains!

When you’re writing or editing, please look for noun chains and break them when appropriate.


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.


Picture one person your work will help

Do you sometimes get stuck in the middle of writing something? Writer’s block and challenges with time When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing by Daniel Pinkmanagement are common problems. I found a tip that may help in When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing by Daniel Pink. The book discusses how to act at the right times, and how to overcome challenges at different points.

One person can help

One of Pink’s tips aims to help people who are stuck at a midpoint. “Picture one person who will benefit from your efforts. Dedicating your work to that person will deepen your dedication to your task,” he says.

I’ve met many advisors who struggle with completing blog posts, quarterly letters, or white papers. If you’re among them, would you feel more motivated to finish your blog post about 529 plans when you think about your meeting next week with the Millers, who want to help fund their grandchildren’s education? What if you think about a prospect with a highly concentrated stock portfolio, when you work on your white paper about diversification? Those thoughts would make a difference for me.

Added benefit for writers

Thinking of one person in your target audience is a doubly helpful tip for writers. Why? Because thinking about your reader will help you to write in a way that’s more reader-friendly than if your audience seems faceless to you. For example, you may remember that Jill Brown didn’t understand that technical term you used in explaining something to her.

More ways to overcome writer’s block

If you’re looking for more tips, here are my posts on managing writer’s block and distractions:

Your ideas?

How do you keep yourself moving when you feel stuck in a project? I’m always interested in learning from you.


Disclosure: If you click on the 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.


The image in the upper left is courtesy of Miklós Barabás [CC BY-SA 4.0]

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!

Writing lesson from a museum exhibit

A strong title can boost the appeal of a dull topic, as an exhibit at the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts reminded me.

I was leaning toward skipping the museum’s exhibit of Currier & Ives nineteenth century lithographs. The name summons fusty images.

But I changed my mind after I read the exhibit’s title: “The Real Housewives of Currier & Ives.”

The title promised a lively, contemporary spin on old images. Even better, it delivered on its promise, giving me a sense of women’s changing roles.

You can boost the appeal of your articles and blog posts by adapting titles of popular books and shows. If you do this well, you may attract readers who wouldn’t have looked at a more conventionally titled piece.

Have you successfully used a title from popular culture for your writing? Please share it below.

Currier & Ives travel note

If you’d like to see one of the country’s largest Currier & Ives collections, visit the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts’ Lenore B. and Sydney A. Alpert Currier & Ives Gallery.


For another exhibit-inspired blog post, go to Communications lessons from “Torn in Two” at the Boston Public Library