Category Archives: writing guidance

Random Media Notes


  1. I concede. I have long insisted that media is the plural of medium. But, based on common usage, I now accept that media can be a singular term as well as plural.
  2. The New York Times “Truth” ad campaign is genius on many levels. However, just because a story appears in the New York Times, that alone does not make it necessarily true.
  3. Memo to those whose Twitter bios contain the words “Retweets are not endorsements.” Actually, they often come off that way.
  4. Judging from my Twitter feed during the Oscar show, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Love is Love is Love” thing does not apply to Mel Gibson.
  5. PriceWaterhouseCoopers is the world’s second largest accounting firm. Not only will they will survive the Oscars flub, awareness of the firm’s name and services it provides will actually increase.
  6. It’s easy to understand why Charter would want to rebrand as Spectrum. But it seems that the changeover has been glacially gradual.
  7. Speaking of branding, it turns out that the real name of the actress Cush Jumbo is… Cush Jumbo! Great name.
  8. Speaking of branding, it was clever to repackage DVDs of old romance movies (such as Somewhere In Time) with black and white graphics similar to the now familiar 50 Shades graphics.
  9. Have you noticed how the attention-getting power of the term “Breaking News” has been diminished over the last couple of years?
  10. If I were in the news biz and wanted to do something related to immigration, I’d do a feature on Global Foods in Kirkwood (MO).
  11. The most recent Nielsen radio ratings strongly indicate that St. Louis listeners prefer older music to newer music. Have young people stopped listening to radio?
  12. Can you find yourself on a map? No, not on your phone. On a map. In an atlas. Or on TV. Apparently, many otherwise intelligent people cannot. Click HERE for link.
  13. Got an email recently that said it was from “Hamilton, the Musical.” It was NOT from Hamilton, the Musical. I deleted. But only after I unsubscribed.
  14. Am I the only person in the English-speaking world who detests the word “eponymous?” It just sounds so pretentious.
  15. If you write for money, please obtain and read the book Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. And put its guidance into practice. Thank you.

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Keep It Simple


In our busy, complex personal and professional lives, filled with information coming from every imaginable source, simple things are appreciated. We all have a finite amount of time and attention to give each day.

Here’s how you can help…

  1. Write shorter paragraphs, using shorter sentences.
  2. Edit your email signature and dump all that legalese at the bottom (which no one ever reads anyway).
  3. If you own a restaurant, eliminate half of your menu items. You’ll make life easier for your diners, your staff and yourself.
  4. Include just one sales message in your marketing emails. (You don’t have to tell me everything about your organization.)
  5. Make sure images in your emails and on your website are as recognizable on a tiny phone screen as they are on your big desktop screen.
  6. Facebook and Instagram allow for long posts. Don’t do it! Most of us will just scroll on past the long ones. (Thanks, Twitter, for maintaining a maximum post length.)
  7. Place a time limit on videos you share. How long? Determine what your audience is comfortable with. (Consider that some of us may hesitate to watch a 7-minute video but will gladly watch 7 one-minute videos.)
  8. Be merciless when editing content. Three good paragraphs beats twelve mediocre paragraphs every time.
  9. Unless it’s your doctoral dissertation, don’t be afraid to use sentence fragments, when appropriate.

For a perfect example of the beauty and effectiveness of a simple approach, compare the layouts of with and (Google has a 67.68% market share for searches; Bing, 13.27%; Yahoo, 8.14%.)

An almost infinite number of choices in many aspects of our life is wonderful. Unless we want the regular version, in the standard size, and it’s not in stock. Have you ever gone grocery shopping and found a dozen or more variations on the product you want, but not the particular version you want?

The great singer/songwriter Merle Haggard who died last week was once quoted as saying, “The most important thing in a song is simplicity.” Keep it simple.

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16 Things To Know For ’16


  1. It’s great to have lots of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and LinkedIn endorsers. But a good credit rating beats all three.
  2. Despite Southwest Airlines’ longtime claim that “your miles never expire,” mine expired last year.
  3. Never ever drive through (or even around) Atlanta if you can avoid it. Ever.
  4. Best media advice I’ve heard lately came from radio meetings in Nashville: “Infuse everything you do with FOMO.” (Fear Of Missing Out.)
  5. An organization that delivers hilariously entertaining TV spots may engage in sleazy business practices. (Sorry for being necessarily vague on this one.)
  6. My number one news source is Twitter.
  7. Using the term “startup” in reference to your business generally gets you attention, even if your business is selling life insurance.
  8. Some people think it’s okay to end a 7-year business relationship via text message.
  9. The adverb is not your friend. (Writing tip from Stephen King.)
  10. A Discover Card ad offering double rewards for new cardholders contained the line “no limits and no catches” but the tag at the end of the spot said, “limitations apply.” So… which is it?
  11. “Inspired by true events” does not make a movie better than one that’s total fiction.
  12. A St. Louis area business that advertised regularly in local print media for three decades ran NO print ads in 2015… and their revenues increased.
  13. A black and white photo often has stronger impact than a color pic.
  14. Whole Foods does not take checks.
  15. Sometimes I’d prefer to READ your story in an online article instead of watching a video about it.
  16. Your strict adherence to political correctness may cause you to shake your head at times, but it beats having to apologize for a communications boner. Um, mistake.


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What’s The Story, Morning Glory?


A mass shooting occurred in California. The hard facts—the casualty numbers—were widely shared. But Americans wanted to know… Who? Why? What’s the story?

The U.S. banking industry had a meltdown in 2008. Houses were lost, jobs were lost, money was lost. What’s the story? A movie opening this month called The Big Short attempts to explain what happened. It’s a complex tale, but it presents those events through the personal stories of those who were close to the action.

A chef appears on TV showing off a special dish. It looks good. The host asks the chef, “What’s the story?” How did he come up with the dish? He tells his story about a trip to Tuscany and a restaurant owner named Antonio who invited him into his kitchen where he shared family secrets.

A reporter interviews a hospice owner who shares the basic facts about this specialized type of care. The reporter asks, “What’s the story?” Why did you start this organization? Her story reveals that her dad’s hospice care years before had been sub par and she thought she could do better.

What’s the story on… chicken jugs? In his obit in yesterday’s New York Times, Williams Sonoma founder Chuck Williams is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been attracted to items that have an interesting story to them.” That’s why he stocked jugs shaped like chickens!

When sharing information, a story gives life to simple statements of fact. Having an interesting story is a good. Telling that story in a manner that compels an audience to listen (or watch or read) closely is even better.

(Next post January 11. Have a nice holiday season!)




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Big Bad Words


Recently I have had the urge to use a few big words in my writing. Words I do not normally use like pantheon, peripatetic, truculent, paucity, exacerbate, etc. Words I would never use in normal conversation. I am sure this desire is because of what I have been reading lately online and in newspapers and magazines. When you see others using these words, you begin to think it’s okay for you to use them.

I have resisted. Because I have also been sent to the dictionary several times recently to look up words I encountered whose meanings I did not know! (By “dictionary” I mean Google.) I do not want someone who reads my writing to have to do that. (By “my writing” I mean media releases, pitches, marketing emails, social media posts, blog posts, movie reviews, etc.)

How can I know who will read what I have written? How well educated are the people on my clients’ email lists? Will my clients’ followers be impressed or confused by a multisyllabic adjective in a Facebook post (especially when a simpler term would have almost the same meaning)? Will the news producer or editor (or intern) who opens newsroom emails know what peripatetic means?

Do you remember sportscaster Howard Cosell? As a lawyer turned broadcaster, Cosell attempted to impress viewers with his vocabulary. Often, his word choices were spot on. Other times, he came off as a pompous ass. Occasionally, after Cosell had pontificated employing his would-be literary style, a broadcast partner such as Don Meredith would put Cosell’s flowery prose into simple-to-understand language. It was entertaining stuff.

There are appropriate times and places for these big words. But in most cases, the simpler, more common word will do just as well. I am hoping my urge will not be exacerbated.

Can You Teach A New Dog Old Tricks?


Newspapers are dead, according to common belief in 2015. (Just don’t tell that to the people who drop off the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wall Street Journal and New York Times at my house each morning.)

Certainly the transition to online communication from ink on paper is continuing full steam ahead (full lithium battery ahead?) and is revealing that some purveyors of online content don’t know when to stop.

A key component of a successful newspaper, for at least the last century, has been the columnist who shares opinion and information with a personal writing style. Newspapers have traditionally limited the amount of space on the page a column may occupy. Tight editing allows more space for ads and other content.

In an online context, however, a writer has an almost infinite amount of space to spew his or her thoughts. If you consume a large amount on online content, you have certainly encountered articles that run too long. You may have slogged on to the end and breathed a sigh of relief when you got there.

You have also read articles that kept your undivided attention from start to finish and, occasionally, left you wanting more.

Though the initial reason for limiting newspaper columnists may have been conservation of valuable space on the page, writers and editors have learned over the years that there are optimum lengths for columns that ensure reader engagement. These may vary from paper to paper and section to section, but a good columnist will develop the ability to compose her or his content within established parameters.

How can these old newspaper methods apply to today’s new communicators? These “new dogs” can read columnists from today’s major papers and take note of their “old tricks.” Practice self-editing. Check for redundancies. Read your prior posts and consider how you might have made them tighter. Ask your readers and associates for candid feedback.

If it takes too long to read through the piece you have written and posted, your reader may check out halfway through and move on the next article on his/her agenda. Know when to say when.

(photo credit: via,

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Write For Your Reader


Writing is vital. No matter what you are writing, you have to consider who will be reading your work.

If you write, you are not writing for yourself. You are writing for a reader. You are communicating ideas and information to a target reader and you want that target reader to understand what you have written.

You may also be writing to be searchable online. In that circumstance you still want your content to be easy to comprehend for those who find it.

Though you may know who your target reader is, you may want to consider others who might discover what you have written. Is your content too specialized, too full of jargon, too hard to grasp for those just beyond the perimeter of your target?

Make your writing easier to understand by rewriting and editing. Using shorter sentences can help. When the meaning is the same, choose a more familiar word instead of a more obscure one.

You may need to provide context for your content. While lengthy explanations can be tedious, a simple sentence or two to provide enlightenment can be useful.

Whether you are writing a textbook or a text message, think about who will be reading it. It is your responsibility to make it understandable, not the reader’s.

We all consume a ton of content every day. If we encounter writing that is unclear, inaccessible or (gasp!) boring, we are likely to move along to the next email, article, social media post, etc. Write for your reader.

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5 Lessons For Writers From Nora Ephron

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1978:  Writer and film director, Nora Ephron, poses during a 1978 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1978: Writer and film director, Nora Ephron, poses during a 1978 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

I was saddened following Nora Ephron’s passing in June 2012. She is a woman who entertained me greatly with her writing and her movies.

All of us who write, whether our writing is a media release, a technical manual, a news story or even a simple email, can learn from reading articles, essays, books and screenplays written by Nora Ephron.

Among the lessons we can take from the work of Nora Ephron:

  1. Brevity is a good thing. She said she learned to “write short” while working as a New York Daily News reporter. Her magazine articles and essays are always clear and concise. While they are often more observation/opinion than actual reporting, her training in the basics of newspaper writing served her well throughout her life.
  2. Be honest. Her writing about the increasing number of deaths of friends and associates that occurred after they (and she) turned 60 was almost painful to read. Her lists of “What I’ll Miss” and “What I Won’t Miss” (about her life) at the end of her last book will elicit both chuckles and tears.
  3. Stay in touch with real people. Nora Ephron was raised in Beverly Hills, attended Wellesley College, then lived in NY (with a brief time in DC). She was a woman who enjoyed great professional success and wealth. Yet, in her writing and in her movies, she presented stories and characters that real people across the world could relate to and identify with.
  4. Keep working. Ephron wrote and directed her 2009 film “Julie and Julia,” after she had begun treatment for leukemia. She wrote original material to go with previously published material for her 2010 book I Remember Nothing (and did numerous interviews to promote the book in ’10 and ’11).
  5. Maintain your sense of humor. Nora Ephron made me laugh many times and will continue to make me laugh when I watch certain of her movies again and reread her essays and articles. She is and will remain quotable. Note how many collections of her quotes have appeared online in the days since her passing.

As we think about Nora Ephron’s writing style, her honesty, her work ethic and her sense of humor, it’s easy to look at her career success with admiration and envy and think (to quote one of her best lines from the movie When Harry Met Sally), “I’ll have what she’s having!”


(This article was originally posted in July 2012.)

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What To Write About


Ideas needed. Every day.

If you are generating original content for a website, a blog, a Facebook page or other platform, you want to deliver something fresh every time.

Where do ideas come from? Newspaper columnists tend to react to current events or to an issue that may have been suggested by a reader, an editor or even a PR person.

Where can you find a seed that might grow into 300, 500 or a thousand words?

Here are some suggestions regarding what you might want to write about. Remember to make your content relevant to your target audience, no matter how narrow or broad it may be. I hope you might find something here that will start you up.

  1. Write about a colossal success and lessons learned from that success.
  2. Tell the story of a major failure and what that failure taught you.
  3. Describe the main difference between you (your company, your product/service, your concept) and others doing similar things.
  4. Praise a person who inspired you to pursue your current path.
  5. Share a valuable bit of info you recently acquired.
  6. If current events impact your work, acknowledge that impact and tell how you plan to respond to it.
  7. Address the biggest misconceptions about you (your company, your product/service, your concept).
  8. Recall meaningful comments you may have recently heard from colleagues or competitors and offer your own take on those remarks.
  9. Discuss the evolution of your product/service and why recent changes are good.
  10. Write about another organization like yours that has done something worthwhile.
  11. Pass along the most significant feedback you’ve ever received from a client/customer.
  12. List the goals that you (your company, your product/service, your concept) wish to achieve this year.
  13. Offer your best tips for staying focused on necessary tasks to achieve your goals.
  14. Note the significance of upcoming calendar events for your company/product. Holidays, seasonal changes, etc.
  15. Deliver your personal opinion about a good or bad business practice you’ve observed and how it has affected your behavior.

Is there a seed there somewhere? Hope so.

(photo credit:, Adikos via,

Honing Your Message

High Concept is a showbiz term used to describe an idea that can be expressed succinctly. Producers know that High Concept movies and TV shows tend to do better than those whose scenarios must be explained in detail.

The new movie Gone Girl, for example, can be described in a simple sentence: “Five years into a couple’s troubled marriage, the wife disappears and the husband is a suspect.” Of course, there’s more to the story, but that sentence tells you enough to give you a good idea what the film is about.

When you communicate messages, the idea of High Concept can help you narrow your focus and tell what really matters. Sounds easy but it can be a challenge to hone your message.

You may be required to include certain information because your boss or client demands it. You may be required to include disclaimers for legal reasons. You may feel the need to include a slogan or catchphrase. But by honing your message down to its bare bones—its high concept—you are able to convey its key elements more clearly.

Add embellishments and details as necessary later, but start by trimming your message down to its core. Think High Concept.



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