Tag Archives: journalism

4 Quick Writing Tips to Improve Your Quality and Speed

20 Mar

ImageWhether you are working on a blog, business plan, or website copy, you may find the experience of writing alternately inspiring and frustrating.

Why is writing so exhilarating and yet so challenging?  It’s because you can always become a better writer.

Even the most seasoned writers must turn on their inner editors and practice self-criticism to train their prose into a publishable form.  So how can you improve the quality of your writing? Here are some of my personal writing tips below:

1. Outline First
Good writing will lead the reader through a logical structure. Before you dive into writing, think about the high-level structure of what you need to communicate.  Outline the key paragraphs and for each paragraph list the ideas, research, or arguments you are going to mention in each paragraph.  A thoughtful outline ensures that the writing to follow will be logical and coherent.

2. Let It Fly
When you begin to write, it’s tempting to strive for perfection with every word you type. Yet getting bogged down at the sentence level right away is actually counter-productive. Consider your first pass at any writing project as a free-write. Focus on getting your ideas down. After you have completed a paragraph or two, then go back and check that what you wrote relates back to your outline. Save word choice, grammar and sentence structure editing for the end of your process.

3. Don’t Abuse $10 Dollar Words
Eschew obfuscation is a favorite tongue-in-cheek idiom among editors for a reason. Writers commonly make the mistake of sprinkling their writing with multi-syllabic vocabulary words in an effort to sound more intelligent or authoritative. The problem is, most readers will have last seen these words when they were 16 and studying for the verbal portion of the SAT. When you edit your own writing, keep an eye out for complicated language and phrasing and always try to find the most direct path to your meaning.

4. Vary Your Style
Every writer has crutches in terms of word choice and sentence structure.  Take note of the phrases and words that you tend to repeat. While editing, look at the grammatical construction of each sentence, including how it starts. See  if you repeat that same type of sentence throughout your work.  Embed a Thesaurus search widget on your desktop or in your web browser so that you can more easily vary repeated words throughout your writing.

What’s your biggest writing challenge? Please share any of your own writing struggles and tips in the comments below!

Photo via stevendepolo.

Do You Agree that Word Clouds Are The “Mullets of The Internet?”

14 Oct

I am guilty of perpetuating Internet Mullets with my resume word cloud.

There’s a great piece on Nieman Journalism Lab about Jacob Harris’ hatred of word clouds. Harris, a journalist and software architect for The New York Times, argues that in terms of data visualization, word clouds just don’t deliver any valuable information. He gives some great examples of articles that use word clouds versus articles that use other more successful forms of data visualization.

I agree with Harris about word clouds popping up too frequently in journalism, but think that word clouds can be used as an online self-promotion tool for freelancers. If you go into your resume and remove all the non-descriptive words and leave all the action verbs and descriptive nouns you can turn that into a word cloud resume. I wrote a post about self-promotions for freelancers that describes this idea further.

Perhaps Harris would condone my use of a word cloud resume. He concedes that word clouds are useful for textual analysis. For example, if a Phd student wants to show how many times an author uses a specific word in a great work of literature (although arguably you could use a simple chart.)

Harris says that the biggest problems he sees with word clouds, is when a news organization uses a word cloud in a situation where textual analysis is not appropriate, like in a war analysis. Seeing how many times Iraq War coverage mentions the words “car” or “blast” really doesn’t give readers any new insight into the conflict.

Here is one choice passage from Harris’ post where he compares reading word clouds with looking at tea leaves:

I’ve seen this pattern across many news organizations: reporters sidestepping their limited knowledge of the subject material by peering for patterns in a word cloud — like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. What you’re left with is a shoddy visualization that fails all the principles I hold dear.

The best part about Harris’ blog post is at the end, when he taunts the “sadistically inclined” readers who may go ahead and make a word cloud out of his post with this.

New Yorker’s Bare Bones iPad App a Success

1 Aug

A story in today’s New York Times explains how the New Yorker’s simple iPad App, built for reading and not much else, is leading in subscriptions amongst Conde Nast publications.

I’ve always wondered why publishers want to build ridiculous Apps where there’s too much navigation and flash, and the turn of a page makes an annoying “swishing sound.” It’s good news that the bare-bones aesthetics of the Kindle work just as well for publishers on the iPad.

I do wonder how much these numbers are skewed by the combined demographics of the New Yorker’s audience and the average iPad owner. The publication has a pretty serious audience —  very different from a typical glossy ad-packed magazine. Does anyone read the New Yorker just for the cartoons? The iPad owners are also likely older, wealthier and more educated than most audiences.

The article does address the issue of demographics:

One apparent reason for The New Yorker’s success with the iPad is that the magazine has the right demographics. iPad users tend to inhabit households with annual income of more than $100,000, much like readers of The New Yorker. Research from comScore shows that all iPad users read news on the device more than they seek out entertainment like videos and games.

The article also discusses how the subscription revenue is great, but figuring out behavioral statistics and how to advertise to this audience is still an unanswered question.

Robin Steinberg, executive vice president of investment and activation for MediaVest, a media buyer, said that The New Yorker’s 20,000 iPad subscribers and the 75,000 more who had activated through their print accounts were a big first step. But she said use patterns needed further study.

“The question we now face is of those 75,000, how many are engaging with the magazine and the app or one exclusively?” she asked. “Understanding these behaviors will provide a stronger opportunity for advertisers to appropriately connect and create the right experiences by channel without misapplying dollars.”

Nevertheless this is an interesting trend to watch for in the space of digital publishing models. Long live content!

The Awl.com in NY Times for Being a “Solvent” Boutique Blog

25 Oct

I’ve always enjoyed the Awl.com because you never know whether you are going to read a post that could be in “US Weekly,” a great personal essay or a serious piece of journalism.

The Awl is a boutique blog with no start-up investors, a bunch of seasoned blogger/editors and a bevy of writers on all kinds of topics.  The Awl.com is like a fresh antidote to Nick Denton’s or Arianna Huffington’s blog empires. The editors telecommute from home, eliminating the overhead of an office. It seems as though they like what they’re doing. Instead of being paid a salary at a well-funded site and taking orders, they can cover anything they want.

Check out the story in the New York Times today, about how the Awl.com is finally becoming a solvent business. The site goes after “corporate sponsorships” that fit well with their audience, and they don’t have to rely on display advertising.

I hope their site does become profitable and establishes a precedent for other fledgling sites and all the editors and writers out there looking for a new business model and a way to keep working.