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How to weight and organize evidence

In a typical financial white paper, you must organize evidence to support your argument. John R. Trimble’s Writing with Style suggests how you can do that.

Step 1. List the evidence

In Trimble’s example, a writer starts by listing all of the evidence. Next, the writer weighs the arguments. This is important because “the shotgun approach—a blast of unconnected reasons—is out of the question,” says Trimble.

Step 2. Categorize

Next, it’s time to organize the arguments by category. “This is a crucial part of the writing process, he knows, for his reader will expect the proof of this is sorted into neat, logically developing stages.” In Trimble’s example, the evidence is divided into moral, economic, political, and legal reasons.

Categorizing is a step that lends itself to mind mapping, a technique that I discuss extensively in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. With Trimble’s example, I’d create “branches” for moral, economic, political, and legal reasons around a central circle holding the paper’s topic. That mind map would give me a bird’s eye perspective, which would help me work on Trimble’s next task.

Step 3. Put in the right order

Figuring out the sequence for presenting the arguments is an important related task. This poses questions, says Trimble:

Should the most persuasive ones all come first, or should he build his argument from least persuasive to most persuasive, or should he mix them? Or would he be wiser to eliminate most of the marginally persuasive reasons and go for quality rather than quantity?

Trimble votes for quality over quantity. I agree.

However, he also votes for an “increasingly persuasive order of arguments.” That’s often not the best approach, in my opinion, especially if the arguments are discrete, and don’t build on one another. In that case, you might lose your readers before they reach your best arguments.

My take on the right order

I’d prefer to start with the strongest argument. That helps you to capture your readers’ attention so they’ll stick with you throughout your white paper.

With the evidence in Trimble’s example, I might start with the strongest category and the strongest point within that category, and then move through the weaker points in that category. Then, I’d move on to the second-strongest category.

Of course, starting with the strongest category’s strongest point isn’t always possible. Sometimes that strongest point rests on a weaker point in that category—or in a different category. Such complex relationships are why I enjoy mind mapping to help me visualize the relationships among the points I want to make.

 

Whether or not you agree with every detail of Trimble’s approach, he’s right that you must categorize and weight the evidence to persuade your readers.

 

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.

The image in the upper left is courtesy of Tony Webster [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Ideal ratio of long to short sentences?

Is there an ideal ratio of long to short sentences? A tip in John R. Trimble’s Writing with Style  made me ponder this question.

Trimble says:

As a rule of thumb, whenever you’ve written three longish sentences in a row, make your fourth a short one. And don’t fear the super-short sentence. It’s arresting. Sometimes just a single word will be plenty long.

It’s a good idea to vary your sentence length. Same-length sentences—even if they’re short, not long—grow monotonous.

A short sentence—like “it’s arresting” in Trimble’s tip—gives readers a chance to breathe. Be kind to your readers.

 

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.

How to achieve continuity in your writing

Continuity in your writing is important. By continuity, I mean the easily followed flow of each sentence, paragraph, and section to what follows it.

I don’t remember reading about this topic before I encountered a section on “The importance of continuity” in John R. Trimble’s Writing with Style.

Here are four techniques that support continuity.

How to achieve continuity in your writing

1. Clean narrative line

Part of continuity is what Trimble calls “a clean narrative line. … Each sentence, each paragraph is hinged on the one that precedes it.”

As Trimble says, “When you know precisely where your essay has to go, you can ‘tell’ your argument as simply and coherently as if it were a story, which in a sense it is.” This is why, when I teach writing to financial professionals, I stress organizing your thoughts before you write. Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients devotes an entire chapter to how to do this using mind mapping.

2. Parallel structuring

Still, there are other techniques you can use for continuity. Trimble mentions parallel structuring, which refers to:

the way paragraph 2 repeats the pattern of paragraph 1; the way each of those paragraphs ends with a key sentence; the way paragraphs 3-5 all begin alike; the way the closing paragraph looks back to the opening paragraph, and so forth.

Parallel structuring is not required. In fact, sometimes it is counterproductive when it’s forced or boring. However, it can sometimes help. Consider adding it to your writing tool kit.

3. This, that, and other words

Trimble recommends “the occasional repetition of key words” as well as “the careful use of pronouns such as this and that.” Those pronouns link to the preceding sentences.

Next, there’s the use of conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases. Some are “bookish,” while others are conversational, like “in addition” versus “also.” Trimble lists many examples of these words that help “signpost” an argument.

4. Bridge sentences

Here’s another tip from Trimble: “View each paragraph opener as a bridge sentence aimed at smoothing our way into the new paragraph.” His illustration of the technique is very similar to what I suggest in my blog post discussing first-sentence checks.

Work at continuity

Continuity may not happen naturally. Trimble’s tips provide some tools to help you create continuity where it’s lacking.

 

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.

 

The image in the upper left is by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

4 tips for trimming extra words

Bryan Garner offers four tips for trimming extra words in his chapter “Waste no Words” in his HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

They include, when possible:Bryan Garner: HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

For examples of how to trim extra words, see my posts on Word and phrase substitutions for economical writers and More substitutions for economical writers

 

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 Biswarup Ganguly  [CC BY 3.0]

Wireless keyboard: traveling writer’s lightweight tool

“Wow, that is so cool!”

I’m not an adopter of bleeding-edge technology, so I was startled by the reactions of other conference attendees to my smartphone accessory. The accessory wasn’t particularly high tech. It was a wireless keyboard that I use to take notes with my smartphone when I attend conferences.

If you need to take notes when you’re away from your office, you can benefit from my experience to refine your checklist for what to seek in a wireless keyboard that will improve your ability to take notes on the move.

Typed notes beat handwritten notes

I prefer taking notes electronically to writing longhand. That’s because I can read typed notes more easily. I can even copy-paste them into the drafts of articles that I write about conference sessions.

However, I don’t enjoy the bulk and size of my laptop, to say nothing of the hassle of getting it through airport security. My iPad is lighter and smaller, but it’s so old that it’s more of a paperweight than a functioning device. That’s why I leaped at my husband’s suggestion to buy a wireless keyboard for my smartphone. My phone is even lighter and smaller than a tablet, plus I already carry it with me everywhere.

I’m currently on my third wireless keyboard. I used my first exclusively with my iPad until the keyboard died, and discovered a serious drawback in my second wireless keyboard, which I used with my phone. Along the way, I developed some opinions about what I need in a wireless keyboard.

Desirable wireless keyboard characteristics

Something to hold your phone upright—I’m not an accurate touch typist, so I need to see the words appear on my phone’s screen to ensure that I’m accurate. My current keyboard’s “cradle” is an indentation that holds my phone upright. Many wireless keyboards lack this feature, which I consider essential. The cradle is much more flexible, in terms of the devices that it’ll hold in place, than the four clips on my previous keyboard that were meant to hold only tablets of a certain size.

A name-brand manufacturer (or a track record)—A bad experience with my previous keyboard convinced me to favor a name-brand manufacturer. That keyboard had excellent Amazon reviews, but it was from a no-name manufacturer. This keyboard functioned normally about 75% of the time. The rest of the time the cursor often jumped from where I was typing to another line of my document, often causing me to lose some of what I’d typed. When contacted, the vendor said something along the lines of “Yes, we know that happens. It’s OK.”

The right kind of battery—You have a choice of rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries. With regular batteries, my current keyboard has functioned for more than six months. Of course, it doesn’t get much use when I’m not at conferences.

A case, if that’s important to you—Some wireless keyboards, like my previous one, come built into cases that will also protect your mobile device. Someone I know bought a keyboard that folds in half to protect itself and to take less space. I use my keyboard infrequently enough that I jam it in a Fedex envelope inside my tote bag to protect it.

Other wireless keyboard characteristics to consider

  • Noise—My current keyboard sounds loud to me. I always feel as if I should apologize to the people sitting around me when I type at conferences.
  • Size—The keyboard’s size makes a difference for how well it suits your hands and fits in your bag (or whatever you use to carry it).

My wireless keyboard model

If you want to copy me, I have a Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480. The first of my three wireless keyboards was also a Logitech, so I’m a Logitech fan. However, check to see if there’s a newer or better model to meet your needs.

Want more ideas for specific models? Check out “Best Bluetooth keyboards you can currently buy” and ask your friends what they’re using.

Happy keyboarding!

 

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 products in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

Image courtesy of Daddazio at Wikimedia Commons

 

Word and phrase substitutions for economical writers

Shakespeare lesson for bloggers

Shakespeare said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I read this in The Happiness Hypothesis, which cites it to emphasize the importance of your mental filters.

The quote made me think about how what seems bad can ultimately turn out to be good for your blog.

1. You’re a lousy writer—and an even worse proofreader

If you recognize that writing and proofreader aren’t your strong suits, you can work around those weaknesses.

The obvious solution is to hire a writer or proofreader who can make up for your weaknesses.

A less obvious solution is to communicate in formats other than written blog posts. Play to your strengths. Consider sharing videos or starting a podcast.

If you’re not a good communicator in any format, perhaps blogging isn’t for you. If you’re in a multi-person firm, turning the blog over to other members of your firm could energize your firm’s blog. If you go this route, check out my post on “How to manage a group blog.”

2. You lack ideas

Your lack of ideas could spur you to aggressively research what members of your target audience want to read about. You could do this by asking them in your meetings, keeping a running list of the questions they ask, and doing research online and elsewhere. You could even have someone survey your clients.

If you lack direct access to your firm’s clients, try these techniques to learn about their interests.

Asking questions of your readers is also a great way to generate content.

Another approach is to blog about the mistakes your clients make.

The research you do to make up for your lack of ideas could result in blog posts that speak more powerfully to your the hopes, fears, and dreams of your ideal clients.

3. You’re a financial professional who has made financial mistakes

Financial mistakes don’t disqualify you from blogging. In fact, sharing your personal story can boost the impact of what you write.

Carl Richards’ article, “How a Financial Pro Lost His House” sticks in my mind more than seven years after it appeared in The New York Times.

4. Your blog doesn’t get responses

It’s hard to find a silver lining in this one. However, if your blog isn’t generating responses, then perhaps there’s a bigger problem in your approach to your business. For example, perhaps you’re targeting too narrow a niche, or the wrong niche, for you.

Another problem might be that you’re not spreading the word about your blog aggressively enough.

Look at the statistics generated by your blog. If they’re bad, then let that spur you to examine what you could do better.

5. Your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects

It’s disappointing—and potentially time-consuming—if your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects.

You may be able to fix this by:

  • Changing the topics you address (or how you address them) on your blog
  • Making it easier for readers to identify whether they are one of your ideal clients
  • Creating a better process for screening clients who contact you (and having referrals or products for those who don’t qualify to work with you)

Other negatives that can be positives?

I’ve  discussed several negatives that can become positives. Can you add others to this list?

Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me “describes how something I initially saw as negative helped to push me in a positive direction.

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.”

5 things my English teachers failed to teach me

I was a B student in my high school English classes. But even if I’d been a star, I doubt I would have emerged from high school as a strong writer. Looking back, I see five things my English teachers failed to teach me about writing.

1. It’s OK to give away your main points in your introduction

My English teachers taught me about the importance of building an argument. They got that right.

However, they put so much emphasis on the argument that they overlooked the importance of a strong introduction.

I’m a big believer in giving away your conclusion in your introduction. When you tell your readers your main points in the beginning, you prepare your readers to seek and absorb the supporting evidence. I believe that you make them more receptive to your argument.

2. Wordiness is not a virtue

My high school English teachers failed to curb my long-winded sentences. I wish they had. It has taken me years to make my writing more concise.

People’s attention spans are short. In fact, they’re even shorter now that people do much of their reading on tiny phone screens, instead of printed materials like when I was in high school.

Shorter is better in terms of overall length, as well as the length of paragraphs, sentences, and even words.

3. “Which” and “that” are different

When I opened my Ph.D. dissertation to a random page, I found the following sentence misusing “which.”

Perhaps it was this accomplishment which led Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo to say of Goto, during the summer of 1932, “he smells of the Minseito, but as an agriculture minister he is splendid, serious, and able to accomplish his work.”

The “which” in that sentence should be “that.” For an explanation, see “Which vs. that: Which is right?

And, yikes, the example also illustrates how I was unaware of lesson #2.

4. Don’t use “pride capitals”

True confession: my Ph.D. thesis advisor put a lot of effort into breaking me of the habit of “pride capitals,” a lesson I failed to learn in high school or college.

While I correctly used capitals in my example above referring to Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo, I probably referred elsewhere to Takahashi, the Finance Minister. That’s wrong.

5. Don’t leave two spaces after periods

To be fair, two spaces after periods was the standard back in my high school days. But times have changed. Today, one space after a period is standard, although somewhat controversial.

What did YOUR English teachers fail to teach you?

I’m curious. What do you wish your English teachers had taught you?

Let’s be fair to my English teachers

I think my high school English teachers did a decent job, given the curriculum and expectations of their time. I don’t think my English teachers failed overall.

They taught me well enough that I wrote reports that earned As in Advanced Placement Social Studies. My writing got me into college, where I took no more English classes. So, I must credit my high school English teachers with giving me writing skills good enough to get me into graduate school at Harvard.

Financial blog post test–do YOU pass?

Do your posts pass the financial blog post test? If they do, you raise your odds of attracting clients and prospects. Aim to put “yes” in the check-boxes below.

TOPIC

___ Does your post solve a problem for the reader? Most people who search online are looking for a solution to a problem.

___ Is your topic narrow enough? The people who are searching for solutions want answers specific to their circumstances. If you tackle budgeting tips for everybody, you’ll satisfy nobody. Instead, target people who share characteristics such as age, income, and other characteristics that are important to the challenges they face.

___ Are you addressing a topic that your target audience cares about? Of course, you have to identify your target audience before you can answer this question. Here’s an example of what not to do. Don’t write a blog post about Social Security claiming strategies for an audience of twenty-something teachers who work in a state where teachers aren’t covered by Social Security. It’s wrong in two ways because of your audience’s age and lack of Social Security coverage.

TITLE

___ Does your title attract readers by appealing to their WIIFM (or by intriguing them in some other way)?

WRITING

___ After reading your first paragraph, will the reader know the main point that you’re making?

___ Is your post well organized? For example, does it pass the first-sentence-check test?

___ Have you avoided jargon? When you’re writing for professionals, a little jargon may help. If you’re not targeting institutional investors, check my list in “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks.”

___ Have you avoided common grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? Mistakes undermine your credibility. Style guidelines can help you avoid some mistakes, as I explain in “Style guidelines for financial services firms.

___ Is your writing reader-friendly? Your writing should be compelling, clear, and concise. You’ll find tips for achieving this in my financial blogging class.

FORMATTING

___ Does your post use headings? Headings help to break up your post into manageable chunks. Another way to break up your text and introduce more white space is to keep your paragraphs short. White space makes your posts easier to read, especially for people using mobile devices.

___ Does your post use images, as appropriate? Especially when you share your posts via social media, images help to attract more views.

PROMOTION

___ Do you have a plan for promoting your blog post? If you write a great blog post that nobody sees, it does you no good. Plan to promote your blog posts via email, social media, and more.

 

If your writing passes this financial blog post test, you’re in good shape. Congratulations!

If you think you could improve your financial blogging skills, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, and my financial blogging class, available on-demand.