Category Archives: Writing

Online Scrolling About to Change?

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According to PandoDaily’s article, we are looking at the possibility of user-interface as we know it (ie the monotonous scrolling of a mouse to read through online text) indelibly changing forever.

What does this mean for writers?

Many things. It means that the responsibility of how we organize our information changes. Not to say we are no longer responsible for organizing our information in a way that is clearly discernible by our audience, but just that the methods and way that we organize our information will change.

Right now, professional writers creating content for online publication design it (or should design it) keeping in mind that the audience will be scrolling up and down a web page reading the material. This affects:

  • Layout of paragraphs
  • Insertions of bullet points and headings
  • Font and type-face
  • Image designs

If a new scrolling method is introduced it can create a more user-centered overall design, but it will also demand a reconsideration on the part of writers to evaluate how we write to accommodate this new format.

The new scrolling method allows the user to use the mouse to scroll with their finger, like now, but instead of moving the entire screen, it replaces each read line with a new line from the next page.  Essentially, this allows the text to stay in place allowing the reader to not lose track of where he/she left off.

You can try the new scrolling method by visiting this site.

Any thoughts on the effects this may have on you as a writer?

Rhetorically Urs,
Stacey

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Editing Technical Documents

By Stacey J. Haseleu

As writers, we are inevitably intertwined with the editing process. Writing well is synonymous with an ability to dissect the English language. Like a surgeon, we meticulously cut words, sew together phrases, and sometimes perform complete facelifts to format in order to convey our thoughts.

Editing, to some writers, is a necessary evil – operative word being evil. But to other writers, like myself, editing can be just as enjoyable and rewarding as the actual creation process. Editing makes me feel powerful, closer to my audience, and more intimate with my own thoughts and feelings.

But what happens when we’re asked to edit a document with content foreign to our expertise?

My friend of nearly 20 years is a very dedicated and talented nurse. Since the first day of college our paths were different; I studied English and Psychology, while she was drawn to the medical field. Never, in a million years, did we think that one day her RN/BSN degree would cross with my BA in English and Psychology and Masters in Professional Writing! But that day has come…

As a Legal Nurse Consultant, my friend is able to provide attorneys involved in medical lawsuits with inside knowledge of the medical field. The attorneys retaining her provide medical records, depositions, and the opposing legal team’s medical standpoint. She reviews all of the documents and presents her findings and professional opinions in a report. The legal team uses the report to help substantiate their case.

Because her final report is vitally important to the attorney’s case, my friend is left with the overwhelming task of providing a comprehensive, easy to understand, and insightful review of her opinions. For many in the medical field, this can be a daunting task. Although I’ve insisted she’s actually a great writer, she, understandably, still likes me to edit her report prior to sending the finished product to her client.

Before I continue with my advice on editing documents with content you don’t know well, I have a confession to make; I am not totally ignorant to all medical terms. While I in no way claim vast knowledge in the medical field, I did work with disability claims for over 8 years from both the HR side as well as the physician/insured side. So, I have reviewed a few medical documents in my day, and I am, admittedly, generally familiar with medical terminology; however, I am NOT familiar with all medical terminology and I am clueless on what the “standard of care” for conditions should be and these are typically the insights provided in my friend’s reports.

Just today she sent me a report for editing. Although I don’t understand all of the medical standards of care and terminology, I will be able to provide her with a professional and cohesive edited product and here’s how:

1. Since I am not a specialist in the medical field, and neither is her audience, I’ll be able to provide her a significant connection to her audience’s point of view. My first step in the editing process is to read the document twice through, focusing only on comprehension of her message.

2. After reading for comprehension, I’ll make some general notes as to what information is unclear to me and why. Is it unclear because I don’t understand the medical aspects? Or, is it unclear because of the way it’s written?

3. Next, I close the document and go to sleep. No, I haven’t given up or gotten frustrated, I’m just giving my brain the opportunity to reset from a comprehensive point of view.

4. Waking up, hopefully refreshed, I’ll go back and re-read the document from a English major’s point of view. What words are spelled wrong? Is the grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure correct? I’ll make these changes in Microsoft Word using the change tracking tool.

5. I’ll re-read the document for format. Does the format work? Is there a better way to organize the information, if so, I’ll make these changes now (again using Word).

6. Only after all of the English major edits are complete will I go back to my notes from the night before. If anything wasn’t working the night before because of formatting or structure issues this would have been fixed already. At this point I’ll send the document back to my friend asking her to read the edits thus far and call me.

7. This is the MOST CRUCIAL part of the editing process. When she calls, I’ll focus on the initial notes. What information is unclear to a lay audience? How can this content be changed without losing important information to the report? This part gets sticky because there is no guide as to how you do what. You have to collaborate with the creator; you take the viewpoint of the audience while she takes the viewpoint of the professional. I make the edits and/or notes as we discuss each aspect of the document.

8. Next, I send her a copy of the revisions we made together and ask her to read a copy. I read a copy as well and make any additional changes.

9. Last but not least, I have one more phone conversation asking if any new edits are needed on her side. If not, I let some time pass, then go over the document one last time. This time I read the document as one of the lawyers AND as an English major. If all seems well, I send the finished product to my friend.

The important part is never to close the door on editing. Don’t rush it, but don’t over think it. Make decisions and stick with them, but don’t stick to them if it is to the detriment of the rest of the document. Always, always, always, keep the audience in the back of your mind. How will they use this document? What will make it easier for them to use?

You CAN edit documents even if they are technical in nature, you are, after all, a writer; a master of words, a surgeon of thoughts and ideas. Collaborate with the professional on the technical parts and leave the rest to your editing wizardry skills!

Rhetorically Urs,
Stacey

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Book Review: Dave Kerpen’s “Likeable Social Media…How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and other social networks)”

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Introduction

Trying to promote a product, brand, company, artist, or even yourself for professional purposes?  If so, you should read this elaborate, somewhat excessive title and continue by opening the cover and flipping through each page until you’ve read the entire book.   

Why?  Because I said so, and if you’re reading my blog that means you can relate to me on some level and, perhaps, you even trust my opinions and experiences more so than the New York Times and USA Today who are saying this is a bestseller.

While many of you may not jump out of your seat and hurry to Barnes and Noble to secure your copy, my suggestion that you read this book, as well as my words that follow, will stay in the back of your mind until the day that you are working for a fortune 500 company and need to find an inexpensive, creative way to promote a new product.  Then you’ll remember reading my blog, in which I reviewed a book about successful use of social media, and you’ll choose the book I’m reviewing right now; because a suggestion by someone you relate to is more powerful than any printed advertisement or TV commercial from a stranger.

Ironically, once you purchase the book and begin reading it, you’ll find that the power of social media suggestion is precisely what Dave Kerpen discusses in this book.

Who is Dave?

The author, Dave Kerpen, according to his Wikki page, is a reality TV star, turned marketer, turned CEO, bestselling author, and public speaker.

He is the co-founder, along with his wife Carrie, of Likeable Media – a social media marketing firm based in New York City.  The company was founded, Dave reminisces in Chapter 12 of the book, after he and his wife began planning their wedding.  Although both wanted a large, New York celebration packed with friends and family, money was tight and NY weddings are expensive.

“Carrie came up with a genius idea,” he writes, “we decided to create a promotion around our wedding.”   The couple contacted a local minor league baseball team and “pitched” the idea of having their wedding at home plate after one of the games, in front of a stadium of 5,000 of the bride and grooms closest family, friends, and…. complete strangers.

The minor league team accepted the proposal and Dave and Carrie began contacting sponsors such as 1-800-FLOWERS, Smirnoff, and David’s Bridal.  When all was said and done, the couple ended up with $100,000 towards wedding costs, a $20,000 contribution to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and an absolutely amazing wedding!

News about the totally sponsored wedding spread and soon the couple appeared on TV shows and news stations across the nation.  The companies that contributed to the wedding received astronomical sales increases because of the media exposure.  Everyone was asking the couple what they would do next.

Dave says, “since we couldn’t get married again, we decided to start a company around the concepts of word-of-mouth marketing… Likeable Media was born.”

Book Breakdown

The book is comprised of 18 chapters, each giving a specific prompt for creating likeable social media.  The chapter format works well while reading as it lends itself to a step-by-step exploration of how to master the social media world.  It makes the book easy to read.  You can read one section in 15-20 minutes, put the book down for a couple of days, and pick right back up where you left off with a new chapter with no difficulty.

The chapter titles can act as an 18-step reminder of how to produce successful social media:

Chapter 1:   Listen First and Never Stop Listening
Chapter 2:  Way Beyond “Women 25 to 54”: Define Your Target Audience Better than Ever
Chapter 3:  Think — and Act — Like Your Consumer
Chapter 4:  Invite Your Customers to Be Your First Fans
Chapter 5:  Engage: Create True Dialogue with, and Between, Your Customers
Chapter 6:  Respond Quickly to All Bad Comments
Chapter 7:  Respond to the Good Comments, Too
Chapter 8:  Be Authentic
Chapter 9:  Be Honest and Transparent
Chapter 10:  Should You Ask a Lot of Questions?
Chapter 11:  Provide Value (Yes, for Free)
Chapter 12:  Share Stories (They’re Your Social Currency)
Chapter 13:  Inspire Your Customers to Share Stories
Chapter 14:  Integrate Social Media into the Entire Customer Experience
Chapter 15:  Use Social Network Ads for Greater Impact
Chapter 16:  Admit When You Screw Up, Then Leverage Your Mistakes
Chapter 17:  Consistently Deliver Excitement, Surprise, Delight
Chapter 18:  Don’t Sell! Just Make it Easy and Compelling for Customers to Buy

In addition to the 18 chapters, Kerpen includes bonuses such as an “introduction,” a “conclusion” section, an “appendix,” and a “notes” section.

Most of these sections are what I like to call the reading “fluff;” however, I would pay particular attention to the conclusion and the appendix.  In fact, if someone needed to read the book in 30 minutes, I would instruct them to read the appendix, chapter titles, and the conclusion.  While the full effect of examples Dave brings to life throughout the book would be lost, the reader would still be able to narrow down the basic theme.

The Appendix

The appendix explains the basics of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and the “blogosphere.”  This section provides general information for audiences that may not be familiar with one, or all, of the social media venues Kerpen further discusses in his book. In fact, I would suggest reading this section first as it will help you visualize Kerpen’s suggestions in a better context.

The Conclusion

After delving into specific stories, and somewhat redundant ideas, four themes begin to develop throughout Kerpen’s 18 chapters of social media wizardry.  Those four key concepts tell the reader to:

  1. Listen up – The ability to listen to your customers’ needs, wants, and likes is crucial in providing the appropriate social media coverage of your company/product/brand.
  2. Be Transparent – Trust is the cornerstone of successful social media usage.  If the customer trusts your company/product/brand, they will be more inclined to engage with you and to ultimately buy whatever it is you’re selling.  Kerpen explains in detail throughout a few of the chapters how you can be transparent, thereby gaining your consumer’s trust.
  3. Respond to Everyone – With the new age of social media, everything is not only permanent, but word also spreads more quickly.  That is why it’s so important to respond to not only negative comments on social media sites regarding your product/company/brand, but to also respond to the positive comments as well.  Responding to both, asserts Kerpen, makes you more transparent/trusted.
  4. Just Be Likeable – Ahhhh… something we all strive for in social, face-to-face situations.  In interviews, we want to be likeable and make a lasting impression.  At cocktail parties, as Kerpen suggests in his introduction, we strive to be that person at the party that everyone can relate to.  The person who is warm, open, and relatable.  Our brand/company/product needs to be that person at the cocktail party and this can be achieved through the proper use of social media.

My Overall Review

While I enjoyed reading Kerpen’s exploration of successful social media tactics, I did find many of his theories redundant.  Some of the chapters re-hashed points he already made.  Although this may have been intentional to drive his point home, it did make for a longer read than what I thought necessary.

Additionally some of the information provided is what I would consider a nod to the obvious.  Most marketing professionals out there have a basic understanding of how to attract and retain an audience.  The book does, however, provide the foundations for understanding the complex world of social media and how the paradigm shift from old media to new media can be developed through social media application.

Kerpen’s examples and stories are engaging and thought-provoking.  His writing style is simple, yet smart and he does a tremendous job of turning the reader’s attention away from concentration on a company’s wants, needs, and likes and forcing us to view the world through the eye of the consumer.

I would recommend anyone starting a new business, a career in marketing and/or writing read this book before developing social media strategies.  It provides a good foundation to build upon.

Other Reviews

“I’ve read and reviewed a lot of books on Social Media and this is the first one I’ve given five stars. It’s that good.” – David Bowers, Amazon

 

“He shows us how important it is to offer valuable content and develop relationships with people, without always thinking about the next sale.”  Awwwards Team, Awwwards_Recognition and Presitge for Web Designers

 

“Ironically enough, as much as you consider yourself a savvy entrepreneur or marketing guru, one day when you start a Facebook page for your own business, it’s easy to become that overzealous person at the cocktail party talking only about yourself. So many companies make this critical error and void some very simple behaviors that Dave Kerpen covers in his book “Likeable Social Media,” a must-read for any brand on social media.”  –  Stacia, Revolution Public Relations

Nick Reffin’s review on YouTube click here.

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Editing for Digital Media: A Metadiscourse of my Own Writing

By Stacey J. Haseleu

The Importance of Editing

The shift from old media (such as printed materials in newspapers and magazines) to new media (like posts on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and privately run blogs) specifically impacts the way writers not only need to write, but how they edit as well.  In old media, writers were faced with the challenge of editing a piece of work down to the bare bones and essentials of a story line in order for it to fit in the allocated space designated by the newspaper or magazine editor, but with the shift to new media outlets, writers are now forced to self edit without the instruction of editors looking for a specific word count.

If editing is not a pre-requisite from an editor, why is it still imperative, perhaps even more important, for writers to edit their pieces?  The answer to this question is rooted more in audience than space constrictions.  Studies show that with the new media age, readers are looking for information in a quick, easy-to-read format allowing them to get the news and quickly move on to the next portion of information or to check their emails or to spread the word in a quick snippet on their own form of social media.  Brevity is power in the digital media age.

If writers can hook a reader’s attention and then maintain the attention of the reader until all of the important information is read, then the writing is acceptable by new media standards.  So in an age of Twitter “tweets” that are 150 words or less, professional writers aren’t competing with one another to edit their pieces down for the sake of fitting into a newspaper column print, but they are competing to grab and keep the attention of online readers.

The piece I chose to edit is actually one of my blog posts.  During the first term of this semester, I was enrolled in a Political Writing course.  We wrote weekly “fact check” articles regarding the current political campaigns.  One of the most difficult concepts of these articles was keeping them at a length that provided three major components: what the candidate or campaign was claiming, what the opposing candidate said about the issue, and what was actually true.  This was difficult to achieve while also creating a piece that would hold the attention of an audience reading a personal blog.  It is for this reason that I chose one of these weekly blogs as my editing piece for this assignment.

Anecdote Removal

I first took out the anecdote I used in the article.  This was the part of the article where I made a comparison.  When writing the piece, I thought it added substance by providing the reader with a real-life example.  After I took this part out, though, I realized that the audience that was reading my political blog was, for the most part, intelligent and informed voters that already had somewhat of an understanding of the basics of Medicare.  Using the anecdote to allow the audience to relate was actually condescending to the reader and didn’t speak to the overall theme of the article.

Converting Citations

The second change I worked on was converting my parenthetical citations to actual links to the websites where I obtained my information.  In the age of writing for digital media I believe it is absolutely imperative to provide readers with in-text links to the actual sites where you get information.  No one reading on a digital media site will take the time to scroll down to the end of the article, copy down the link, and re-type it into their browser to see your source.

Format: Justifying Paragraphs

The other style change that I made was justifying the paragraphs.  In old media, such as newspapers and magazines, articles were justified so that the words could fit appropriately into the allotted column spaces.  In the age of new media, I also believe that format plays a large role in the audiences’ readability of information.  The justification of paragraphs allows the eye to continue to flow from one sentence to another.  When the paragraphs aren’t justified, they look rugged and make the eye stop at the end of the line instead of continuing throughout the document.

Eliminating Redundancy

The next edit I made to the piece was to cut out phrases that were redundant.  In political rhetoric, I find it a given that candidates use redundancy in their campaigns.  They can speak about one subject for twenty minutes and basically say the same sentence using different words.  So, when writing about politics, I found that my article did much of the same redundancy that the candidates and their campaigns are guilty of also doing; I was stating the same idea over again using different words and phrases, so I edited or changed these parts of my piece.

Cutting “Flowery” Wording

The final cut I made to the piece was adjectives.  When writing a news article, “flowery” adjectives aren’t necessary.  The point of a news article is to provide information to a reader, not to provide a Charles Dickens-like (I use his name when describing excessive imagery) account of events.  Taking away adjectives and adverbs doesn’t change the substance of the point you are making, it just gets to the point in a more reasonable and timely manner.

The Results

After achieving all of the edits, my piece dropped from 750 words to 511 words; a 30% decrease in words, but no loss of facts relevant to the central theme of the article.  The surgical cuts to the piece make it easier to read, quicker to read, and more likely to be read in its entirety.  It also looks much better on my blog!

The original article can be viewed by clicking here.

The Edited Article:

The Truth About Medicare

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Throughout the course of Wednesday’s Presidential debate, Mitt Romney made it clear that his talking point for Medicare was a broken-record account of Obama’s $716 billion dollar cut.

In fact, the transcripts of the debate show that Romney mentioned “$716 billion” and “Medicare” in the same sentence 10 times throughout the course of the 90-minute debate. He said, “What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare and the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program.”

While it’s true that President Obama will cut $716 billion of spending from Medicare over the next 10 years, this figure is misleading.

Mitt Romney insinuated that the $716 billion dollar cut would negatively impact Medicare recipients; however, Factcheck.org’s article entitled “Medicare’s Piggy Bank,” states, “…the opposite is true. These cuts in the future growth of spending prolong the life of the Medicare trust fund, stretching the program’s finances out longer than they would last otherwise.”

Medicare has four parts: Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), Part C (Medicare advantage plans), and Part D (prescription drug coverage). Part A is at no cost to retirees and is what people pay for through their FICA payroll tax. These payments are placed into a treasury fund.

While some voters believe the money they contribute through each paycheck is kept in a “piggy bank” somewhere for when they retire, they are mistaken. The Medicare trust fund works on a “pay-as-you-go” system where funding is taken out on an as-needed basis. Individuals presently in the workforce are actually paying for those currently retired and on Medicare.

With the number of individuals in the workforce disproportionate to the amount of baby boomers on Medicare, the system is financially burdened.  There isn’t enough funding in the trust to cover benefits.

In fact, the current Medicare Part A trust fund only has around $244.2 billion. Factcheck.org says, “the Part A trust fund was expected to be exhausted in 2016.”

To make up for the rapid depletion of funding in Medicare, President Obama implemented cuts to spending.  If the spending of Medicare continues, it will be bankrupt by 2016. Obama had a choice; he could continue to spend and let the funds run out in 2016, or he could reduce the amount of spending and keep Medicare running through 2024. He chose to cut spending to increase the longevity of the Medicare treasury.

What type of “spending” did Obama cut to extend the life expectancy of Medicare? Romney would have you believe the cuts were directly taken from Medicare recipients, but the Congressional Budget Office’s report to Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner indicates that The Affordable Healthcare Act, aka “Obamacare”, diminishes the spending of Medicare Part A through major reductions in payments to hospitals in the amount of $415 billion.

With the cuts, the CBO estimates that Medicare will not exhaust in 2016. In fact, if the reduction in payments to hospitals continues, Medicare will not exhaust until the year 2024. This means “Obamacare” actually extended the life expectancy of Medicare by 8 years.

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