Freelance Writer Files: Two Little Words (Or is it One?)

"Rollover" can be a confusing word, but not to your dog.

"Rollover" can be a confusing word, but not to your dog.

When you say, “Rover, roll over!” if he’s trained to do so, he’ll roll his body over. Simple enough. But there is a heck of a lot of confusion among humans over “roll over,” “rollover,” and even “Rollover,” and how to use those words in regard to finances. I’ll admit it is a little tricky, but here’s a quick primer (pronounced “primmer,” not “prymer,” as some national announcers, who shall remain nameless, have begun saying).

1. There’s “roll over” as when you turn on your side to avoid snoring.
2. Then there’s “roll over,” which is what you do to money when you cleverly extract your 401(k) money and magically transfer it into a different 401(k) or an IRA without it going into your hands, thus avoiding paying taxes on it.

Roll over" is when you take money out of your 401(k) and transfer it magically without paying taxes.

Roll over" is when you take money out of your 401(k) and transfer it magically without paying taxes.

3. Then there’s “rollover,” which is what you’ve done. You can even have a Rollover IRA.

To sum it all up:

Need a financial adviser? Don't pick this guy.

Need a financial adviser? Don't pick this guy.

• “Roll over” is a verb form used to request a physical action, as in “Roll over, sweetie, you’re snoring.”
• “Roll over” is also a verb form meaning, “Hey, Herb [your financial adviser]. Take money from my old 401(k) from that crazy sweatshop where I worked until they mercifully canned me, and put it into an IRA.”
• Rollover is a noun that can be used in a sentence like, “I asked Herb to do a rollover of my 401(k) money into an IRA.”
• After Herb fulfilled your request, you could say, “I have a Rollover IRA.”

So don’t ask your dog to do a rollover, or Herb to roll over for you. They just might take it the wrong way.

Freelance Writer Files: Buzzword Bingo and Cliches

When writing marketing copy, try not to use buzzwords.

How many of these buzzwords can you score at your next meeting?

Ever heard of the game, “Buzzword Bingo?” It was invented by someone who was very bored in certain meetings. I assume these meetings were in some field where certain lingo was used and overused to the point of nausea (almost any field). The object of the game is to score the most points by writing down the most buzzwords uttered during the meeting. It’s kind of cynical, but it is a darned good way to stay awake. And to force your co-workers to buy you a drink later on.

Buzzwords are those verbal crutches many of us depend on to get us through when we want either to shorthand an idea to someone or we don’t know what the he** we’re talking about, but we think the buzzword will convince someone else that we do.

A smart communicator will use as few buzzwords as possible. To avoid using such buzzwords as “think outside the box,” you will actually have to do exactly that. Maybe we need to dissect buzzwords, see what they mean, and state the meaning a different way.

How many ways can you think of to say “think outside the box?” Here are a few I offer:
• take your mind out for a wild ramble
• concept your way around the next corner
• ideate where no one has ideated before (OK, I adapted that one from the opening of “Star Trek.”)

Well, I have just demonstrated why people use buzzwords: It’s hard to think of a substitute for a buzzword. So the best approach may be to use a buzzword if it communicates an idea or concept to your audience, but not if you use it to try to hide a gap in your knowledge of the subject.

When I was writing for a company that needed brochure copy for an “enterprise solution,” I first tried to explain what their “solution” did in layman’s terms. Then I learned about the importance of “buzzword compliance.” The term means you have to use a few industry buzzwords in your writing, or else the techie audience will think you don’t know your stuff. So I sprinkled some buzzwords back in. If you want to avoid the most overused buzzwords, take a look at this article. It is specifically about news releases, but it applies to other writing, as well.

Here's a new idea. I wrote it myself.

We ran it up the flagpole, but nobody saluted.

Then there are cliches. My favorites are the ones from 60s advertising, referring to new ideas, like, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.” I used to say, “Let’s flush it down the toilet and see if it stays down.” Nobody laughed, for some reason.

Finally, there are dumb expressions like “end result.” Where else would the result come, if not at the end? Or “dark black.” There is no such thing as light black. A less saturated black is a different shade called “gray,” or “grey,” depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from. I hear there are 50 Shades of Gray. :-)

Whenever you’re twitching to use a buzzword, a cliche or a dumb expression, control yourself. More powerful writing results when you think about what you’re saying and write what you think.

Tips on Becoming a Copywriter

A young woman who’s about to graduate with a degree in English writes to me: “Do you think it would help my chances of getting a job if I took a class in graphic design?” My answer: “YES!”

Quizzical proto-writer

Should an aspiring copywriter study graphic design?

These days, with company budgets being what they are (small and getting smaller), creatives are expected to do the jobs of two or three people. I saw an ad for a Creative Director that required the applicant to be able to write, do graphic design, create websites, manage a department budget, and interact with clients.

In the old days (as little as five years ago), those would have been the jobs of at least five people. Today, it could be the job of one employee, depending on the size of the creative department and the agency or company. Oh, and did I mention that Creative Director-of-all-Trades job was paying $30,000 per year?

Jobs for copywriters at companies are all but non-existent, which makes it a bull market for freelancers. But though I hate to disillusion this young woman about the value of an English degree, in my experience, with only that degree, your competition is everyone who can type on a computer. Everyone thinks s/he can write. But everyone knows they need a graphic designer to make Web or printed materials look good.

So I will reply to this budding copywriter that yes, she probably should take a class in Graphic Design, if not two or three, so that she can meet the current need for multi-skilled creatives in a company or agency.

Annie Oakley, Little Sure-Shot

Loaded for bear

The more you can do, the better your chances of getting one of the few available jobs for college grads. Write? Great. Write and create designs? Better. Write, create designs, and build websites? Better still. Write, create designs, build websites and know SEO? BEST! Then, if you have Emotional Intelligence to go with all that know-how, you may have it made. It’s a lot to ask, but most companies don’t train employees anymore. They expect you to come in the door loaded for bear, with all the talents they need already in place. So go get loaded. I mean, for bear, creatively. Of course! 😉