writing well

KC Freelance Writer Files: Listen up, Mr. President!

Posted in Helpful Hints, writing well on November 8th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Throughout the long campaign season, Mr. President, I heard you say “pundints” several times. Aargh. I thought you were a Harvard grad. This error is all too common and should be strangled in its sleep. But don’t feel bad. Kansas City’s own Steve Kraske, radio host and political commentator, and a “pundit” in his own right, has blown it, too.

Did you say what I thought you said??

Did you say what I thought you said??

• Pundit
Mr. President, and Mr. Kraske, will you please note that “pundits” has only one “n?” I don’t know what “pundints” are. Perhaps a dent someone puts in your head after you deliver one too many puns?

Another one I hear now and then:

• Restaurateur
OK, I know you are thinking of “restaurant,” and the person who owns one is logically called a “restauranteur.” But it ain’t so. Don’t be so literal. “Restaurateur” is derived from the French language, the same one that gave us “auteur” and “poseur” (Two words that sometimes apply to the same person). So get with the program, and ditch that “n.”

And here’s one I hear entirely too often:

• Mischievous
I keep harping on this because it jangles my nerves. Every time I hear “mis-CHEE-vee-ous,” I think how my dear departed mother, also a word freak, would have reacted. She would have corrected it kindly. I wish I had her gift for diplomacy. Anyhow, if you have erred on this one, just look carefully at the word. The root word is “mischief.” Think of “mischievous” as being pronounced like “mischiefous.” Practice it: “MIS-chuv-uss.” There you go.

Do you flinch when you hear words mangled? If so, please share. Misery loves company, you know.

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 30th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 28th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment
Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Live Fearlessly?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, writing well on January 7th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

I may be late to the party in criticizing Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new theme line, “Live Fearless.” But I am now jumping in with both feet. Someone asked me a few weeks ago if it bothered me, and it didn’t, at the time. I replied, “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should” sounds better than if the writer had used the rather stilted, “Winston Tastes Good, As a Cigarette Should.”livefearless_banner_home

Now I’ve been exposed to the BCBS theme in print and on TV, and it’s starting to bother me, like an itchy sweater. There are two reasons it gets to me.

Reason 1: The obvious grammatical abuse

Reason 2: The thought behind that little sentence. Think about it. What do they mean when they encourage you to “Live Fearlessly?” Go bungee jumping? Go skiing in unmarked areas? Drive at 120 mph on the highway? Walk down dark alleys in shifty parts of town?

Are they encouraging their policy-holders to do dangerous things and get hurt, so they have to use their health insurance?

“Live Fearless(ly)” sounds okay, until you start thinking about it. Actually, it sounds as if it should be for a brand of outdoor wear, like The North Face. Maybe a home security system. Or maybe a brand of flaming-hot picante sauce.

As the theme of a health insurer, “Live Fearlessly” sounds all wrong to me. Better, perhaps, would be “Live Confident(ly),” since if you have health insurance, you’re confident you won’t go broke because of monstrous medical bills.

Or maybe I just think about these things too much. But what do you expect of a lifelong copywriter?

Freelance Writer Files: Thoughts on Memorial Day from Stoney Broke

Posted in freelance business, Other Stuff, writing well on June 5th, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke

Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.

This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.

Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.

My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.

Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.

Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”

Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.

He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.

Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”

Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.

Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, Motivation, Other Stuff, writing well on May 21st, 2013 by liz – 2 Comments

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Is Grammar Outdated?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, writing well on March 31st, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here I am, a proofreader and editor, as well as a writer, apparently misled by those nice lady English teachers all these years about what proper grammar is. It’s okay to boldly split infinitives? It’s okay to ask where this shipment is to go to? Good grief!

The ground beneath my feet isn’t exactly shifting, but some parts of my brain are; the parts that absorbed what apparently is false information about proper English grammar. Just take a look at this brief article. The Smithsonian is always right, so it must be so!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Most-of-What-You-Think-You-Know-About-Grammar-is-Wrong-187940351.html

Freelance Writer Files: There’s no OFF! for verbal tics.

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on March 28th, 2013 by liz – 2 Comments

But boy, sometimes I wish there were! OFF! can

Have you noticed that these days, everyone from “Fresh Air” host Teri Gross to the third-grader next door is starting sentences with “So…?”

Several years ago, when I first heard a biology grad student do it, I thought it was cute and kind of funny. I mean, it sounded as if she were continuing a conversation, rather than answering a question. The first few times you heard it, it jolted you awake. Wakefulness is always a desirable state to be in, unless you’re an insomniac. But then it became annoying. In my mind, “so” belongs in a sentence where it means one thing is a consequence of another. For instance, “His home blew away, SO he was homeless.”

But as the first word in a conversation? “So…” has gone viral, or become a meme, or *something*, and I tried to figure out why. Perhaps people don’t want to be interrupted or thought dumb, so instead of “Well” or “Uh,” they say, “So…” to alert you that they’re about to say something.

Also, how many times lately have you heard a politician or interviewee on TV or radio say, in non-answer to a question, “That’s a great question?” Every day people at City Council meetings are even using it. Good grief, if all the questions people asked before someone said that actually *were* great, fine. But the phrase, repeated several times during an interview or conversation, is not a reflection of the quality of the question. It’s just a speed bump, a breather, a two-second “think of plausible response” tic. “Let me think a second” would sound as if you didn’t know the answer. “Hmm” or the formerly popular “Y’know…” are out of fashion. It seems everyone’s doing the “great question” dodge these days.

As long as I’m griping about grammar here, the most recent thing that I dislike, even more than anchovies (ugh), is “change up” or “change out,” when “change” alone will do. A person says they’re going to “change up” their workout routine. Or they’re going to “change out” one light bulb for another. My solution: Out with the “out” and the “up.”

worn-out sneakers

“snuckered?”

Finally of course, there’s the ubiquitous “snuck” instead of the perfectly good “sneaked.” Recently I heard someone use “sneaked” as the past tense of “sneak,” and I wanted to hug that person. But the trend is toward “snuck.” Even the OED people have no problem with “snuck.” I question their standards. Question: If your sneakers are worn out, is it okay to say they are “snuckered?” Oh, well, maybe I’m stuck in the 19th century, but I cannot make myself say “snuck,” especially since it’s an ugly, blunt word. Yes, words do have shapes, and some sound lovelier than others.

What other words annoy me? Say, that’s a great question! So… What words or usages drive you up a wall? Let me know, so I can start using them on people who say “snuck!”

Freelance Writer Files: Which or that?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, writing well on February 19th, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

Do you ever furrow your brow and chew your pencil (What’s a “pencil” these days?) about whether “which” or “that” is the proper word to use in a sentence? You know there must be some rule besides, “That sounds funny.” But you’re still all at sea.

Well, fear not, there is a rule, or rather, a tricky difference between a “restrictive relative clause” and a “non-restrictive relative clause.” I can see your eyes glazing from all the way over here, just as they did in English class. Well, don’t fret. This isn’t a big deal to learn.

Take a look at the following two sentences:
• He returned the book, which was due.
• He returned the book that was due.

Both of these sentences are correct. In both these sentences, the “which” or “that” was introducing a “restrictive relative clause.” That’s a clause that gives you important information about the noun before it. The meaning of the sentence would be different if you left out that clause. Restrictive relative clauses can kick off with the words that, which, whose, who, or whom.

But there’s another type of relative clause, a non-restrictive relative clause. You could think of the “non” as the beginning of “non-essential,” because even if you left out the clause, the meaning of the sentence probably wouldn’t change much. Non-restrictive clauses can begin with which, whose, who, or whom. Using “that” to introduce them is a no-no.

Examples of sentences with proper usage of non-restrictive relative clauses:
• She watered the plants, which made the leaves damp.
• A GPS would have made it easier to navigate through the neighborhood, which had few street signs.

The giveaway that you’re looking at a non-restrictive clause is a comma before the “which.” There is none before a restrictive clause.

Examples:
Non-restrictive: He bought her a ring, which he slipped into his pocket.
Restrictive: He slipped a ring that he bought for her into his pocket.

Examples of incorrect usage:
• Here are the papers which you need to sign. (Use “that.” Or neither “that” nor “which.” It’s clear what the sentence means without either.)
• Here are the people that signed up for the class. (Trick example. Always use “who” for people. This would be a restrictive clause, because what comes after “that” or “who” is essential information.)
• She was defrosting the fish which she wanted to cook for dinner.”
(Should be “that.”)

There may be some sentences that stump you about “which” or “that,” but if you’re really stuck, sometimes the easiest answer is to rewrite the sentence to eliminate the problem. Tricks of the trade, m’dear. (wink)

Freelance Writer Files: Inescapable Writer Rules

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, writing well on January 25th, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

Recently, I joined a writers’ meetup. It’s fun hearing other people’s writing and offering words of wisdom to newbies.

Look out, world! Arf arf!

A newbie writer is like a new puppy, all bounce and go and eagerness. Arf! And like a puppy, the newbie writer doesn’t know any rules yet. He or she is just chasing after every butterfly of an idea, wild with the feeling of being FREE!

I love freedom. I love new ideas. Nothing wrong with being excited about your work, and eager to share it. Most experienced writers are gentle with newbies, as anyone would be with a new puppy. But there comes a time…

Unbounded enthusiasm and rules-free writing can be exciting for a new writer, but the grim truth is, if you’re going to write things people actually want to read, you’ll need to follow some rules.

One thing the aspiring writer must know how to use is contractions. To a sensitive reader, every misplaced apostrophe or misused word is a mild shock. It disturbs, it frustrates, it just plain makes some readers mad. So here are a few contractions any writer worth his or her salt ought to know.

Your/you’re

“Your” is possessive. Proper usage: “Here is your coat.” The coat belongs to “you.” It’s “yours.” No apostrophes in sight.

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” Think of that apostrophe as a miniscule “a.” “You’re a sweetie.” That means, “You are a sweetie.”

They’re/their/there

Oh boy, these three words trip up a lot of people. But an artist of words must master these. Let’s take the easy one first.

“They’re” means “they are.” Remember the bit about seeing the tiny “a” in “you’re?” Same thing here. “They are leaving.”

“Their” means “belongs to them.” Like “our” or “your.” “Their toys were rusted.” “The toys that belong to them were rusted.”

• I don’t know how “there” even got into this mix. It’s a completely different kind of word. Its mate is “here.” Use it to indicate where something is. “It’s over there.” “There is my hat.”

The final one for today is…

It’s and its

• The apostrophe in “it’s” also stands for a tiny letter, but in this case, it’s “i.” So “it’s” means “it is.” “It’s your turn.” “It’s easy to learn this.”

“Its” is a possessive. Example: “The cat licked its fur.” “The cat licked the fur that belonged to it.” “The Foundation named its 2013 grantees.” Well, the grantees don’t actually belong to the Foundation, but it’s not a he or a she, so when “it” does things, you’d use “its.” I know, a cat is either a he or a she, but sometimes, we don’t know or care which. How did I get into this mire? Lemme out!

There are some non-existent contractions people use, like “her’s,” but of course, you know that “her” is already a possessive (as in “her coat,” “her hair,” and so on), and if you want to refer to something that belongs to her, you would say, “That shoe is hers.” You wouldn’t put an apostrophe in “his,” would you? So don’t do it to “hers.”

All this stuff is easy, right? Right! And yes, you do have to memorize the correct usages if you’re going to write something others will read, whether it’s a Post-It note, an e-mail, or a novel. Okay, then. Go and write it right!

P.S. I know I should have said, “Write it ‘correctly,’ but “right” just sounded, well, right!