The most important characteristic of a successful piece of writing

April 24, 2017 | Writing

What makes a story, or any document, successful? I’m with Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute, a newspaper think tank and research organization, who reasons that a successful story should give readers a single, dominant message.

What is the single, dominant message of your story, report, white paper, staff memo, etc.? If you don’t have one, reconsider your approach. Are you going too broad and trying to make too many points? Is your document a scattershot of information? The dreaded “data dump” inevitably leaves readers confused and searching for the point the writer is trying to make.

Successful stories have a narrow laser-like focus; only then is it able to deliver that single, dominant message to the reader. That is how we achieve clarity with our writing — by delivering to the reader a single point. Yes, that point is supported by several other points or examples of bits of data. But in the final analysis, the reader understands with absolute certainty the point of our document.

Follow this simple four-step format. 1) Figure out your single, dominant point. 2) Make that your lead statement. 3) Provide information in the body of the document that support that point. 4) End your document by circling back to your lead by reiterating and reinforcing that point.

This cannot guarantee that people won’t take exception to your conclusion, but it will guarantee they do not say, “What are you trying to say?”

Some tips that will help you improve your slide design

April 17, 2017 | Presentations

A good presentation depends, at least partly, on good slide design. Surprisingly, if you want to make great presentation slides, it helps to understand a little bit about the human attention span.
Let’s start with you, says Catrinel Bartolomeu, head of editorial at Duarte, Inc., one of the great presentation design houses in the country. Bartolomeu asks us to picture ourselves arriving at the last presentation we attended. We were probably one of many people there and could melt into the crowd; we were interested, but preoccupied. We had a phone in our pocket, a to-do list in our head, and our next meal on our mind. The presenter was vulnerable. In the next few moments, she could ... (click on the headline to continue)

Beware of the ‘echo effect’ when using quotations

April 10, 2017 | Writing

There are many principles to keep in mind when using quotations in our documents, one of which is to avoid the dreaded “echo effect.” That occurs when the author sets up a quotation with a preceding paragraph that essentially says the same thing as the ensuing quote. Here is an egregious example ... (click on the headline to continue)

Six considerations for preparing an effective presentation

I came across a paper prepared by Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, and a fellow I interviewed years ago on my radio program, Boomtown Business. He suggests there are six keys to making an effective presentation that will serve a public speaker well in any communication situation, whether in front of a large audience or a team meeting. What follows is a brief synopsis of Rosenthal’s prescription. The first of his six recommended preparations is … (click on the headline to continue)

9 writing tips for lawyers that apply to us all

March 27, 2017 | Writing

Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, isn’t just a lawyer, he has written more than two dozen books about English usage and style. In addition to his books, Garner shares his teachings at his LawProse CLE seminars, one of which was attended by Leora Maccabee, a litigation associate at the Maslon law firm and an expert in the use of social media for legal professionals — and a Garner fan, so much so that she excised and compiled a list of writing tips from his seminar. Click on the headline to read a synopsis of her compilation.

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