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Book Review

Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 10:50 PM

The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It by Peter Jacobi

The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It focuses on the creative process of writing an article. Articles are excerpted from various publications to exemplify how such techniques as information gathering, structuring, exposition, and description have led to successful results.

The author notes that insight and deep feeling lead to the best writing. He quotes poems and other fine work as examples.

The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It is published by Indiana University Press (April 22, 1997).This classic is still available on Amazon.com for $15.95.

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Endings To Remember

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Conclusions are just as important as the leads.

By Peter P. Jacobi

We haven't dealt with endings for a while. They're important, unless you're writing a news story in inverted pyramid structure and that sort of meanders away, your having stacked the critical information up high and then the rest of the material in descending order of value.

Endings wind up. They may also sum up or leave tantalizing questions for the reader to ponder. They may engender future action on the part of the reader, or so is the hope of the writer. They may simply be stop-action material, needed because the writer has to call a halt somewhere in the proceedings, even though the life or the event or the situation pursued in the story rolls right along without stopping.

A quote, an observation, dialogue, an anecdote, a descriptive vignette, an informational repeat, or a coalescing point may serve as means to an end. Your task is to determine the appropriate means, depending on the tenor of the story, its purported purpose for a chosen audience, and what you have provided in content and attitude during the unfolding of the story.

In other words, the end should suit what came before. It should not be a mere tag or verbal toy but a meaningful conclusion. It should be a natural part of the story's weave.

Ending with a Quote

Take this summarizing quote in a USA Today article, "Ideas pour in to help BP handle Gulf oil spill." Writer Brian Winter, after covering the flood of suggestions that concerned folks have sent in for BP to consider, tell us: "The offers of help don't always center on cutting edge technology. Sister Jenna Mahraj, director of the Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual organization with roots in India, is calling on her supporters to hold a minute of silence every hour to 'express our well wishes toward the Gulf. The power of pure thinking can accomplish many things,' she said. 'And every little bit helps.'"

The quote draws the story to a satisfactory conclusion.

The Ending Ends the Article, but not the Story

Shawn LaFraniere's in-depth story for The New York Times, "Hidden Misery: A Glimpse into North Korea, Tales of Hardship and the Toll of a Failed Policy," emphasizes the isolation of that nation's people. As the article unfolds, we discover that some citizens are beginning to break their silence in questioning the country's long standing regime and leader Kim Jong-Il. One woman recalls her sister's most recent visit and whispered comment, "People follow him because of fear, not because of love."

LaFraniere then writes: "Since the currency devaluation, she and others say, people are noticeably bolder with such comments. "Now, if you go to the market, people will say anything,' the construction worker said. 'They will say the government is a thief - even in broad daylight.'

"His wife was not among them. For weeks after the devaluation, he said, she lay on a living-room floor mat, immobilized by depression. 'I had no strength to say anything to her,' he said.

"Finally, he told her to get up. It was time to start over."

The ending sheds light through a family's experience and its aftermath, which is still ongoing.

Leave the Reader with Something to Think About

Time magazine's cover package, "The Problem with Football - Our favorite sport is too dangerous. How to make the game safer," ranges across the medical and psychological waterfront. The coverage ends with a second story authored by Buzz Bissinger, creator of the TV series Friday Night Lights. He concludes with this admonishing paragraph:

"There should be an ambulance at every high school game. There should be trainers. But don't bet on it, as school districts cry a lack of money. Kids will continue to suffer serious head injuries. Kids will continue to become paralyzed because they never learned how to properly tackle, with their heads up. The game's violence will continue because that's exactly why we like it, our gladiatorial lust still intact 16 centuries after the Romans. The bigger the hit, the greater the roar."

We're given something to think about and, perhaps, also a push to take action.

Descriptive Narrative

Virginia Morell's study for National Geographic of New Guinea's bower birds, "Build It, and they will come," finishes up with a mating situation, with a male the naturalists have named Donald hoping that a female they call Mary, or perhaps another bird, will come to him. Donald is waiting at his tower.

Says one of the scientists: "I'd guess that wasn't her first visit at Donald's. And I'd bet she'll be back." Writer Morell follows with: "Perhaps Donald thinks so, too. Or perhaps he hopes another Mary will come. Either way, he doesn't dither but gets to work again. He tucks his party crest away and putters around the base of his tower, carrying off bits of broken moss and twigs. He rearranges the nuts and straightens up his beetle pile. As a last touch, he adjusts the garlands of caterpillar feces. He steps back and eyes the whole structure, deciding, it seems, that the tower is ready for another visitation. Then Donald jumps back on his perch and starts the song again. Rat-a-tat-tat, he calls. Rat-a-tat-tat."

A descriptive narrative has served to bring this story to a close.

Choose what works for you and your story.

Which leads me to a final point: Leads have reasons for being, the big one being to cause the reader to enter the story. Endings should cause that reader to remember the reading.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The 4 Cs of Effective Writing

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Direct marketing writer offers tips that can be adapted by editors.

By Robert W. Bly

I confess: I love copywriting formulas! Why? For two reasons.

First, the best formulas are simple, easy to remember, and rapidly mastered. Knowing them can enable you to create copy that's twice as effective -- in half the time.

Second, the reason they became formulas in the first place is that they work.

Old-timers like me know there are literally dozens of time-tested copywriting formulas. Yet most of today's newbie copywriters have only heard of that handful, and have mastered even fewer.

Why is that bad? Because if you don't know all the formulas, you could unnecessarily be wasting your time reinventing the wheel each time you write. You also could be writing inferior copy that diminishes your impact.

I'd like to share a copywriting formula I use -- one of my own invention. I call it the "secret of the four Cs." It says that every good piece of copy is: clear, concise, compelling, and credible. Let's take a look at each element of the four Cs formula in a bit more detail.


What you write must be clear. Not just to you or to your colleagues or bosses, but also to your ultimate audience, the readers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson defines clarity in this way: "It is not enough to write so that you can be understood. You must write so that you can not be misunderstood."

The typical advice given to writing classes about clarity is to use small words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. This is sensible advice. Breaking up long text into sensibly organized sections, each with their own headings, also helps.

But clear writing stems primarily from clear thinking, and the converse also is true. If you don't really understand what you are talking about, your writing will be weak, rambling, and obtuse. On the other hand, when you understand your subject matter, know your audience, and have a useful and important idea you want to convey, the clarity of your writing inevitably reflects your well-thought-out idea.


Now, you may be thinking that "concise" might apply to other types of writing, but not to yours, because your audience favors long copy.

But concise and brief are not synonyms. "Brief" means "short." If you want to be brief, you simply cut words until you reduce the composition to the word count desired.

"Concise" means telling the complete story in the fewest possible words. In my direct response work, copy is long because, to make a sale or generate a qualified lead, we often have to convey a lot of information. But in good direct response copy, we convey that information in the fewest possible words --- no rambling, no redundancy, no needless repetition, no using three words when one will do.


It is not enough that copy is easy to read. It must be so interesting, engaging, and informative that the reader cannot put it down -- or at a minimum, feels compelled to skim the text to glean the important points.

A major reason so much copy is not compelling is it is written about things that interest the writer, not the reader. In marketing, the marketer is interested in his product, his organization, and, in particular, his "messaging" -- key points he wants to get across to the reader.

Unfortunately, the reader is not interested in any of these things. The reader is more interested in the reader -- his problems, needs, fears, concerns, worries, challenges, and desires.

As copywriter Don Hauptmann often said, the more your copy focuses on the prospect instead of the product, the more compelling it will be. The product is only relevant in so far as it addresses one of the reader's core concerns or desires.


Copywriter Herschel Gordon Lewis has noted that we live in an age of skepticism: Simply put, prospects are disinclined to believe what you say precisely because you are trying to sell them something.

Fortunately, there are a number of useful tools for building your credibility and overcoming reader skepticism.

One way to do this is by publishing a lot of content. Prospects are distrustful of advertising, but somewhat more trusting of information sources such as websites, white papers, and magazine articles.

[Editor's Note: Unlike marketers, as a publication editor your copy is usually accorded a presumption of credibility that others must work hard to achieve. Your challenge is not to achieve credibility, but to avoid losing it. That loss can happen through practices such as publishing articles that court advertiser favor rather than satisfy reader needs, offering advocacy (sometimes paid advocacy) in the guise of journalism, or otherwise abrogating your responsibility to serve reader needs and interests.]

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books, including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Rancom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, email him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220. He also writes for Target Marketing Magazine, where the original version of this article appeared.

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Interviews with Literary Legends

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

A collection of wisdoms on craft and conscience

By Peter P. Jacobi

As with previous volumes of The Paris Review Interviews, so it is with the recent, Volume 4, as edited by Philip Gourevitch (Picador, 2009). The major rush that comes from digging into its pages results from becoming privy to personalities and adventure-filled biographical material, to author alliances with fellow figures of fame, compellingly expressed literary insights, and comments -- sagacious, satiric, and otherwise -- made about fellow writers.

Gourevitch edited the remarkable Paris Review for five years, stepping down just about the time the book was published, so to return to his writing (for The New Yorker and to complete a book about Rwanda). The 16 interviews included in this collection, done across several decades, reportedly constitute the final volume in the set. They focus on writers of prose and poetry who turn out to be sharing, each generously responsive to long series of questions.

And that leads me to elements scattered through most of these question/answer dialogues that deal with craft and conscience. I thought that passing along a few such wisdoms might be useful to you.


Poet Marianne Moore, interviewed by Donald Hall in 1960, said: "I am governed by the pull of the sentence as the pull of a fabric is governed by gravity ... I like symmetry."


Poet/editor Ezra Pound, when asked by Hall in 1962 about the greatest quality a poet can have, said: "I don't know that you can put the needed qualities in hierarchic order, but he must have a continuous curiosity, which of course does not make him a writer, but if he hasn't got that, he will wither. And the question of doing anything about it depends on a persistent energy."

Strong Plot

Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, interviewed in 1975 by Gerald Clarke, said: "I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself if it is all right as a story. I mean, once you go saying to yourself, This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but I'm such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay -- you're sunk."

Prosaic Language

Poet John Asbery, who spoke with Peter Stitt in 1983, said: "For a long time a very prosaic language, a language of ordinary speech, has been in my poetry. It seems to me that we are most ourselves when we are talking, and we talk in a very irregular and anti-literary way."

Possessed Readers

Novelist Philip Roth was interviewed in 1984 by Hermione Lee and noted: "What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book -- if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don't. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them."

Make It Look Easy

Poet/novelist/essayist Maya Angelou told George Plimpton in 1990: "Nathaniel Hawthorne says, 'Easy reading is damn hard writing.' I try to pull the language into such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy ... I know when it's the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it's the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, No. No. I'm finished. Bye. And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it."

Perfect Paragraph

Novelist Paul Auster and interviewer Michael Wood chatted in 2003. Auster spoke of the paragraph: "The paragraph seems to be my natural unit of composition. The line is the unit of a poem; the paragraph serves the same function in prose - at least for me. I keep working on a paragraph until I feel reasonably satisfied with it, writing and rewriting until it has the right shape, the right balance, the right music -- until it seems transparent and effortless, no longer 'written.'"

Details, Details

The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami said to John Wray in 2004: "I like details very much. Tolstoy wanted to write the total description; my description is focused on a very small area. When you describe the details of small things, your focus gets closer and closer."

Tidbits from the Style Guy

E.B. White said a lot of things about the art of the essay to George Plimpton in 1969, just as one would expect from The Elements of Style guy: "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper ... Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer -- he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I have no warm-up exercises, other than to take an occasional drink. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words ... I don't think it [style] can be taught. Style results more from what a person is than from what he knows ... A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter."

And, as part of a summary to his interview, White added: "A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world. He must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation ... I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me."

I recommend the collection to you.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Lessons from the Professor

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Lessons and reminders taken from student's story assignments.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The following are excerpts taken from edits and evaluations I put on story assignments turned in to me during the just concluded spring semester at Indiana University's Ernie Pyle School of Journalism, where I still teach part time as professor emeritus. I share them with you, hoping they might serve as reminders for you, too.

Read-Aloud Copy

"There's no way you could have read this sentence aloud. I doubt you even read it over silently. It makes absolutely no sense. Why do you ruin the effort you've otherwise put into this article, all your research, all your collecting of information, by letting such ill-formed copy through?"

Plan Your Thesis

"What you need is a thesis. We've spoken of this in class how often? As your reader, I require guidance as to what this article is going to be about. Your lead gives me a clue and, thank you, tempts me into the copy. But then, I begin to wallow because you haven't tied down for me the gist of the subject. The lead alone can't do it all. Where are you going to take me, if I go on? You've got to tell me, and you're not. A thesis, if you please!"

Make It Worth Your Reader's Time

"I'm perfectly happy moving through your copy. It flows along nicely, and you've produced some lively material. I like the anecdotes because they enrich the piece. Your descriptive work seems natural. But as I peruse the pages, I begin to wonder: Why am I reading this? What are you telling me that I need or want to know? What lasting value am I gaining? Is the subject worth my time? Was it worth your doing? It's your job to make sure that, in some informational or insightful or inspirational way, you're adding to my, your reader's, life in a measurable way. Tell me what you're trying to do for me. I can't discern it."


"There's just not enough meat here. I like your idea. I like your intended approach. But you're failing to give me sufficient substance. I'm not learning enough. I'm not getting enough. You've shortchanged your article, yourself, and me by not doing informational justice to the assignment. This piece is flimsy. As a result, you're not convincing me of the importance of the subject."

Use Only the Best Material –- Get Rid of the Rest

"You have a two-headed story. Part of it is biographical material that supports a profile. Part of it is a status piece about the field in which your 'profilee' works. Yes, you need some of the latter to shape the profile, this because she exists within the world that is her profession. But since you set out to write a profile, then you should stay in that direction. What you've done here is start with profile stuff, thereby getting me all interested in her. Then, suddenly, you shift to the field. Then, just as suddenly, you go back to the profile. Consequently, I'm not sure what I'm reading, and I'm not getting a full measure of either. Insert the best of the field material into the woman's story. Use it to enhance her life, to explain it. Get rid of the rest."

Be Careful of Your Opinion

"It's fine for your article to have a point of view, to offer a perspective, to provide a sense of direction. It's not so fine to give opinion. This is not an essay. This is not a commentary. This is not a review. This is not a personal column. This is a feature article. Any opinion passed along in a feature article must originate with your sources, not you. Let others speak, and that way guide your reader along the path you've chosen. You and your article gain credibility that way. You're the scribe. The arguments are supplied by the authorities, the experts you've sought out in support of your project."

Use Good Grammar

"Ye gods, the grammar! This is a run-on sentence. Look down to the next paragraph: you've got another run-on sentence. Sentences are not connected by commas. Do we need to have a lesson on what constitutes a sentence? ... And here you've got the singular-plural mix, a lack of agreement: 'The organization is ... They are planning...' Make it: 'The organization is blank-blank and plans blank-blank.'"

Flow and Transition

"Have you forgotten flow? These two paragraphs don't connect. You need transition. Fill in the missing step so that I can follow along a path of your devising. I think if you had read the copy out loud and listened to it, you would have caught the problem. The gap is evident, certainly to the ears if not the eyes. But, the gap was evident even to my eyes. Gaps disturb the reader. Supply transition. Supply flow."

Guide Your Reader

"I think your topic holds potential importance. The material you've given me in this version doesn't measure up. I don't sense the import. Where are the statistics that prove your point? Where are the comments from those in the know? I desire a step-by-step approach that has me gaining belief in the subject. Guide me."

Pick a Tense – Present vs. Past

"The problem here is tense. Make up your mind: present or past, not both. I'd prefer present because that makes your copy more immediate and timeless. What these people told you last week they would tell you again now. So, let them speak in the present: 'says' versus 'said.' There are times, of course, when the past is not only preferred but necessary. Here, however, you have a choice, and the better choice is now."

Show, Don't Tell

"Show me. Don't tell me. How often have I stressed that? In this paper, I get tired of the expository passages. I get even more tired of all the quotes that you parade before me. Give me some action. Give me some description. Give me the closeness of 'show.' Take me there. You're keeping me distant, and that's not fair. How much life your article would gain if you put your heroes in situations that reveal how they live and work. This is far duller than it should be."

Please Your Reader

"Think of reader interest, reader service. The task is not to please yourself. It is to please the reader. This article is self-serving. It reeks of the you, of you passing along what interests you. Well, fine, part way; you need to be interested in what you write about. But you also need to translate that interest into my interest. Let me see how all this could affect me, make my life better, more enjoyable, more manageable, or whatever. It's the reader you serve, not yourself."

Care About Your Subject

"Where's the passion? You seem to meander through the pages. Vitality is missing. A sense of belief is missing. A feel of I-love-this-and-I-want-you-to-love-it-too is missing. You don't seem to care about what you've written. So, I ask myself, 'Why should I?'"

May the above, as I said, serve to remind, to lead you toward rethinking and improving what you've put together (or what the writer whose copy you've been reading put together).

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Positive Anticipation

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Tips on how to include the emotion of anticipation in your publication.

By Pat Friesen

Do you anticipate receiving birthday cards, leaving on vacation, or heading out the door on Friday afternoon? Of course you do.

Anticipation is a wonderful emotion. It literally has us looking forward, not backward, focusing on the possibility of good things to come.

Creating anticipation is a worthwhile job for all writers, designers, and editors whether they're creating content for traditional print or for digital media. Here's why this emotion is so important: anticipation leads to reader engagement.

What are you doing to build anticipation with your readers? My own work is in direct response copywriting. I'd like to share with you some of the techniques I've used. They may suggest some ideas for things you could do in your own publication.

Tips to Try

Helpful hints. These are what made Heloise famous and her column highly successful. So take this tip and create a regular column in your publication that offers helpful hints. Readers will look forward to each successive column. You'll delight readers with this and they'll await future issues with positive anticipation.

Looking for resolution. When you do an Internet search, and land on a website, what are you anticipating? Nine times out of ten, you're looking for the answer to a question or solution to a problem. Can your publication offer readers solutions to problems that they face? Let them anticipate finding resolutions regularly in your pages. Give them content that will quickly provide what they are looking for or will point them in the right direction.

Familiarity feeds expectation. It makes my day to see the familiar words Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter in the from line of my email inbox. I always look forward to reading what artist Genn has to say. Likewise, your readers will look forward to receiving issues with content from people they know and trust.

Pre-announcements. In marketing, tests show that advance announcement messages significantly increase response, as much as 30 to 40 percent. Try this technique with your publication. You can use a prior issue, your website, or email. See for yourself how pre-announcement will leave your readers watching for that upcoming feature.

Create that special feeling. Use words and phrases like "exclusive," and "just for readers of... " to make your reader feel extra-special. They create anticipation by suggesting your reader is about to have a unique experience unavailable to the general public.

Hook 'em on a series. My last tip is to use a highly interesting article series to build anticipation. Here's an example of the underlying concept. Every week, I drive though the Flint Hills of Kansas. Just outside Lehigh, there's a sign at a farm that changes daily. The copy is always short -- just two words. Early in the season it changes from Just Planted to Now Sprouting, then Not Yet. After that, it shifts to one of these: None Today, Ready Now, Darn Rabbits, or Bumper Crop. I suspect that your article series will be more wordy, but you get the idea.

I only stopped once to buy that farmer's sweet corn. Just as I did, they changed the sign. It read Sold Out. Oh, well. But, you can see that the series concept worked!

Pat Friesen is a direct response copywriter and creative strategist, writing for online and traditional media. She can be reached at 913-341-1211, pat@patfriesen.com, or at www.patfriesen.com.

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Reader Solidarity

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Strengthening your publication's bond with readers.

Some magazines have readers who think of themselves as part of a group. They relate to one another in some sort of way. Other magazines seem to lack that kind of connection. The magazines that engender reader solidarity may have something going for themselves. Not renewing a subscription becomes tantamount to leaving the group!

What makes the difference between magazines that have reader solidarity and those that don't? A tactic used by a number of magazines is to carry content that allows readers to get to know one another.

It doesn't take a degree in psychology to recognize -- and understand -- the fascination held by some readers for learning what ever they can about the feelings, attitudes, and lifestyles of others with interests similar to their own. When given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the topic or to divulge something personal about themselves, many will likely jump at the chance. That's because many readers want to see themselves as part of a group.

One technique for promoting solidarity involves celebrities. Not necessarily the Hollywood kind, but people in your field whom readers know and admire. Quotes from such well-known people or opinion leaders can be a point of interest. Guest articles from them can be popular, too. An editor told us, "Our readers are always interested in the leaders in our field. They want to know about them. They can relate to them because these people are real, and share some of the problems and concerns of us all."

Readership surveys are also an excellent way of garnering solidarity-building content. They are one of the best ways to satisfy the penchant readers seem to have for achieving a sense of group identity. Articles based on readership surveys help to give readers a chance to see where they fit into the group.

A comprehensive survey can be a considerable project, however. One editor who recently completed one told us, "Putting one of these surveys together can be a very involved process. Ours took months to do. First you have to come up with this survey. You have to make sure that it's a statistically sound survey. Then, you've got to gather all of the responses, and have them evaluated. The whole thing has to be written. It's very complex."

But, she added, "it's very worth doing."

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WikiLeaks Hits Home

Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 1:36 PM

How would you handle your own WikiLeaks conundrum? Many editors find serious ethical and legal implications in the scandal.

By Meredith L. Dias

What if you or one of your freelancers stumbled upon top-secret information of significance to your readers? Would you publish the information or keep it classified? The WikiLeaks scandal has raised this ethical question, and many others, for journalists and editors everywhere.

We recently approached editors with a hypothetical situation: What would they do if presented with classified/sensitive information that could make or break a story? Would the information involving foreign governments have any bearing on their decision? The response was as passionate as it was varied; editors discussed everything from the First Amendment to legal issues to journalism ethics.

The Measured Response

A lot of editors we spoke to didn't take sides. Instead, they pointed to a host of considerations a publication ought to take before releasing sensitive information to the public. "For me, the decision would be based on the content of the material," says editor and journalist Carolyne Gould. "I would need the information to in some way benefit humanity (i.e., save lives, prevent a war). If it were what we used to call 'yellow journalism,' I would not release it."

Other editors supported a similar approach. "It would depend on the content that was leaked, and what the repercussions of making it public would be," says technology industry editor and writer Charles Masi. "For example, recent leaks have provided information that would be embarrassing to certain governments. In that case, so what? They're big guys and can stand a little embarrassment. On the other hand, I believe some leaked information has included names of agents who might be compromised -- as in killed. I wouldn't want to be responsible for making that public."

Masi also emphasizes the importance of the public domain in the dissemination of information, noting that some leaked material was associated with published research. "The flurry of leaked emails regarding IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scientific documents was highly embarrassing to the U.N., but, generally, all documentation backing up published research should be public domain, anyway. It would have been easy to decide to publish that content."

Ben Martin, editor-in-chief of The Father Life, takes nationality into consideration. "If it's a foreign government, I wouldn't think twice. Run that story! If it's my own government, that becomes more complicated. Are there legal ramifications? Are there national security ramifications? Those would have to be carefully weighed."

The Case Against Dissemination

Other editors who responded to our survey were vehemently against the publication of classified information. "Printing knowingly leaked classified material is fatally irresponsible," says one editor, who wished to remain anonymous. Another remarked, "I never went to j-school, so I've never been indoctrinated in the freedom of the press."

Some survey respondents tempered their opposition a bit. One editor associated with the U.S. government said that he "would always err on the side of not upsetting the interests of the [government] if there was some national security concern, due to my own values as well as my employer's."

David Gewirtz, publisher and editor-in-chief of Zatz Publishing, agrees. Like the anonymous editor above, he works with national security professionals. "I would immediately contact my colleagues in the U.S. government national security command authority, report the incident, and related details. I would not publish."

The Case for Dissemination

Other editors, however, note the ethical and constitutional roles of the press. "The proper role of the Press is to 'comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,'" says Curtis Phillips, senior technical editor of Wine Business Monthly and Wine Business Insider. "If more journalists were doing this rather than kowtowing to their corporatist masters, we wouldn't need WikiLeaks. Domestically, it is a straightforward First Amendment issue. Either we have freedom of the press or we don't."

Brian Carlson, editorial director and editor-in-chief of CIO Online, shares his case for dissemination: "As an editor and writer, and American citizen, I support the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. If the content I received was of interest and I deemed it to be important material to my reader base, and publishing that material was in the scope of my editorial mission, then, yes, I would release that information. It would be my duty and responsibility to my readership and the values and ideals of a free democratic press to do so. First Amendment rights of the press have a long history and precedence, especially in cases such as the Pentagon Papers; that protects my right to provide information to the populace. If I did suppress that information due to pressure from said government body, I would be negligent in my duties as an editor."

An Unanticipated Consensus

As illustrated in this article, there is no ideological consensus when it comes to hot-button issues like the role and parameters of the press and freedom of information. There are simply too many variables for that. The consensus lies in the reaction. Regardless of position, editors and journalists across the board were on fire over the WikiLeaks scandal.

We often discuss the changing nature of content delivery in Editors Only and our sister newsletter, STRAT. That discussion has taken on a new dimension with the WikiLeaks scandal. Editors and journalists have at their fingertips access to information previously unavailable to them (or, at the very least, information once difficult to obtain). But there are a host of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to publish. For one, is it something the public needs to know? Is it unethical to share leaked information in the press when average readers could access the information on their home computers? Is national security an issue? Does the benefit to your readers outweigh the potential cost of dissemination?

(And, by the way, editors: Is it WikiLeaks or Wikileaks?)

Meredith Dias is senior editor of Editors Only and STRAT.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 1:34 PM

A chronological design, based on time or order, can solve approach issues in a wide range of assignments.

By Peter Jacobi

Dann Denny is an award-winning feature writer for the Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana. The city is where I live. The newspaper is one I serve as part-time freelancer, providing readers with a Sunday column called "Music Beat" and about 150 reviews of musical events annually. Dann Denny is a full-time staffer. Most every story he contributes can probably offer a lesson of value about writing and/or reporting. But I was deeply moved recently by a particular effort which, deservedly, ran on page 1. "Tribute to a hands-on Dad" was its title, and it retraced the embracing, nurturing relationship of a father, who had just died, and his writer son paying tribute.

The feature is a series of memories, starting with the earliest: "I was 3 years old, maybe 4. Dad would place his powerful hands beneath my armpits and hurl me high into the sky. Even at the apex of my flight, suspended in midair, I never felt fear. I knew his hands would catch me upon my descent."

Dann moves forward: "I'm 5. I'm in a swimming pool with my Dad, and his hands are beneath my stomach holding me above water ... I'm 7. I'm watching Dad, who's on his back peering at the underbelly of our leaky dishwasher ... I'm 9 ... I'm 11 ... I'm 13 ... I'm 17 ... I'm 20 ... I'm 30. I'm at my wedding rehearsal dinner. Dad rises to his feet, holding a glass of champagne in his right hand. He says he wants to make a toast. In a quavering voice, he says he hopes I light up Kim's life in the same way I have lit his. Then he sits down and starts rubbing his eyes ... I'm 38 ... I'm 39 ... I'm 58..."

This is the final paragraph: "It's March 24, 2010. Dad died today, more than a half century after he first tossed me into the air. His hands are resting now. But I can feel them still."

A love story has been shared. I'd encourage you to look up the whole piece (March 28, 2010) to be inspired by an account of two entwined lives lived so positively, so productively, so beautifully.

Chronological Years

Dann Denny's memories suggest the course of familial unity and devotion. In format, they also draw attention to a structural technique always available to you as writers and editors: chronology. Not that you want to overuse any story structure, but a chronological design, one based on time or order, can solve approach issues in a wide range of assignments.

Chronology: giving substance to a recipe. Chronology: explaining how a bill becomes law. Chronology: going back-of-the-scene to describe the conceptual origin and development of an art exhibit. Chronology: the steps that must be taken toward a healthier lifestyle. Chronology: a day in the life of someone or something. Chronology gives order to a series of events or to a process. Order, in turn, gives comfort to a reader striving to understand a topic with multiple elements.

Chronological Days

The New York Times recently ran, on its first page, "Diary of a Queens Pay Phone, Where a Link to Life Costs 25 Cents." Manny Fernandez, the author, reminds us that the public pay phone is a dying entity. "And yet," he notes, "this grimy phone -- in a silvery booth that Superman would have skipped over, for it is door-less and not fully enclosed - survives and, in its own nickel-and-dime way, thrives."

He continues: "Those who stepped into the booth last Thursday and Friday provided a snapshot of New York's pay phone user... They were mostly men, as young as 18 and as old as 62. They were Hispanic, black, white, Arab. Several said they were unemployed and could not afford a cellphone. Others owned a cellphone but did not have it for one reason or another ... .They called their mothers. The machine served not so much as a lifeline as a simple landline, with life."

The story follows use across those two selected days, from Thursday morning to Friday night. You'll have to read the story (February 13, 2010) to get details of those who called and whom they were trying to reach and what they said and why. The story will move you; it will intrigue you. And it comes to you in chronology.

Chronological Hours

I'll go back a couple of years -- to July 25, 2008 -- for an "American Idol top 10 hit the road to stardom" feature in USA Today, by Marco R. della Cava. Again, the article has been laid out in chronological form. This time, the coverage deals with just part of a day, specifically starting at "1 p.m., when a convoy of unmarked luxury tour buses pulls up to Allstate Arena, disgorging 10 American Idol finalists in search of a career." The arena is in Rosemont, Illinois.

At 1:40, according to a subtitle, "Mobs of fans greet their arrival in Chicago." At 2:30, it's "Time for a quick bite to eat - and a few quick laughs." At 4:10, there's "More meeting, more greeting, more signing." Rehearsals follow at 5:25. At 7:24, "It's showtime, and the livin' ain't easy." "Archuleta brings the show to a crescendo" at 8:55. At 10:50, the entertainers entertain "More fans" with "more autographs." And come 12:05 a.m., they're "On the road again."

Yes, it's a "day-in-the-life-of" piece, like so many others I've read across the years, each one effective, at least if and when the specifics employed for substance have resulted in individuality: "A Day in the Life of a Department Store Santa," "A Day in the Life of a Newsstand." "A Day in the Life of Hollywood," "A Day in the Life of China," "72 Hours in the Life of a College Team," "Seven Days in the Life of the City," "A Week in the Life of a Day-Care Center," "Seven Days and Seven Nights Alone with MTV," "Murder, A Week in the Death of America," "A Year in the Life of a Painting," and "An Hour in the Life of a Retail Manager."

Narrative is Chronological

As I state in my book, The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It (Indiana University Press):

"A narrative is chronological. It happens in time. Even if you employ flashbacks, you offer a series of events or happenings that become consecutive. If you have a story to tell, an event to relate, chronology becomes your means from a beginning to an ending.

"How-to articles also lend themselves to chronological treatment. They involve sequential activities. Therefore, think chronology, the technique of the storyteller."

Yes, think chronology.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com excerpt.

This month, Editors Only calculates the Fog score of a December 17, 2010, excerpt from Time.com ("Drug Companies Await FDA Guidelines for Online Marketing," by Steven Gray):

"Surprisingly, it's the pharmaceutical industry that's been at the forefront of moving the FDA to issue social-media rules. The companies realize their traditional websites and advertising strategies are no longer sufficient tools to promote products in a competitive marketplace in which doctors, pharmacists and consumers aggressively trade information about medicine on blogs. The companies are also aware that "if they can't fully participate in the social-media conversation, they get marginalized," says John Mack, publisher of Pharma Marketing Blog, which attracts about 25,000 industry readers a month. One impetus is to protect companies' credibility in the face of rogue online outlets selling dubious goods. Part of the push is to resolve practical challenges, like how to sufficiently explain a drug's risks within the bounds of a 140-character tweet. Or a sponsored Google ad's roughly two lines of text?"

--Word count: 137
--Average sentence length: 23 words (18, 34, 34, 17, 24, 10)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 24 percent (33/137 words)
--Fog Index: (23+24)*.4 = 18 (no rounding)

This passage could use some trimming. Both the average sentence length and percentage of longer words are quite high. Let's see what we can do to bring down this Fog score:

"Surprisingly, the drug companies want FDA social media rules. Their websites and ads are no longer enough. With so many doctors, pharmacists, and clients discussing medicine on blogs, they know that 'if they can't fully participate in the social-media conversation, they get marginalized,' says John Mack. Mack publishes the Pharma Marketing Blog, which attracts 25,000 readers each month. Companies want to gain trust despite the rogue online outlets selling shoddy goods. They want to convey drug risks in a 140-character tweet or sponsored Google ad's two lines of text. This is no easy task."

--Word count: 94
--Average sentence length: 13 words (9, 8, 29, 12, 13, 18, 5)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 12 percent (11/94 words)
--Fog Index: (13+12)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We were able to eliminate 43 words from the original excerpt. Average sentence length fell by 10 words, and we cut the percentage of longer words in half. The biggest challenge here was reducing the percentage of longer words without losing meaning or context.

(Note: There is one minor change to our Fog policy. We no longer consider words made 3 syllables by an "-ing" suffix in our longer word totals -- e.g., "discussing." In the past, we have only exempted words made 3 syllables by "-es" or "-ed" endings.)

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Lead + Title + Subtitle = Complete Package

Posted on Monday, November 29, 2010 at 5:23 PM

Writer's leads and editor's editions produce a winning formula.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The magazine Smithsonian, in its September 2009 issue, featured an inviting and informative section devoted to "Top Travel Writers' Dream Assignments." The six articles included led me to think once again about leads:

1. How to choose a lead, so as to introduce and drive a suitable approach for the story;

2. How to fit a lead, so as to suggest with it the purpose of and forthcoming content in the story;

3. How to enhance a lead by paving the way toward it with collaborative title and subtitle.

On the third item above, I'm using the labels "title" and "subtitle," designations for editorial matter used atop feature stories and magazine articles to guide a reader into what follows through some form of enticing suggestion about those inches of copy that follow. Were you to be writing a straight news story, then the appropriate labels would, of course, be "headline" and "subhead," which serve to succinctly summarize the copy that will then complete the editorial package.

The authors employed by Smithsonian will be familiar to many of you; they're topnotch writers: Susan Orlean, Francine Prose, Geoffrey Ward, Caroline Alexander, Frances Mayes, and Paul Theroux.

Let's look at several of their contributions and how the editors of the magazine led into the leads.

An Inviting and Educating Package

The Orlean piece was given "Where Donkeys Deliver" as title, supported by this subtitle: "The author returns to Morocco to explore the animal's central role in the life of this desert kingdom."

Orlean begins: "The donkey I couldn't forget was coming around a corner in the walled city of Fez, Morocco, with six color televisions strapped to its back. If I could tell you the exact intersection where I saw him, I would do so, but pinpointing a location in Fez is a formidable challenge, a little like noting GPS coordinates in a spider web. I might be able to be more precise about where I saw the donkey if I knew how to extrapolate location using the position of the sun, but I don't. Moreover, there wasn't any sun to be seen and barely a sliver of sky, because leaning in all around me were the sheer walls of the medina -- the old walled portion of Fez -- where the buildings are so packed and stacked together that they seem to have been carved out of a single huge stone rather than constructed individually, clustered so tightly that they blot out the shrieking blue and silver of the Moroccan sky."

Title and subtitle prepare me for surprise, for an unexpected journey. The lead paragraph takes me there. The author becomes a personal "I." The reader becomes a personal "you." The TV-laden donkey set against the ancient buildings offers the metaphor that symbolizes the contrasts of experiences facing those who live in Morocco and the distinctiveness of place that will embrace the visitor. The package invites and begins to educate. Success achieved, at least for this reader.

Setting the Mood

Francine Prose writes about "Serene Japan" where, according to the subtitle, "On the western coast, far from bustling Tokyo, tradition can be found in contemplative gardens, quiet inns and old temples."

She shares this introductory observation: "At the Buddhist temple of Gesshoji, on the western coast of Japan, the glossy, enormous crows are louder -- much louder -- than any birds I've ever heard. Crows are famously territorial, but these in the small city of Matsue seem almost demonically possessed by the need to assert their domain and keep track of our progress past the rows of stone lanterns aligned like vigilant, lichen-spotted sentinels guarding the burial grounds of nine generations of the Matsudaira clan. The strident cawing somehow makes the gorgeous, all-but-deserted garden seem even further from the world of the living and more thickly populated by the spirits of the dead. Something about the temple grounds -- their eerie beauty, the damp mossy fragrance, the gently hallucinatory patterns of light and shadow as morning sun filters through the ancient, carefully tended pines -- makes us start to speak in whispers and then stop speaking altogether until the only sounds are the bird cries and the swishing of the old-fashioned brooms a pair of gardener are using to clear fallen pink petals from the gravel paths."

One could argue con and pro about the length of Prose's sentences: "con" that they can be considered overwhelming in detail and, perhaps, meandering in development; "pro" that they establish a mystic aura, appropriate for a burial site and temple, and also that they make room for an author's flight of imagination, fostered by those noisy, seemingly protective crows in a serene and otherwise silent environment. The contemplative writing reflects the "contemplative gardens" listed in the subtitle and paves the way for what, yes, turns out to be a contemplative article. The mood is set.

You can read for yourself and gain much from reading the above pieces fully, as also "Saving Punjab" by Geoffrey C. Ward ("My wife says I suffer from an 'India problem.' She's right."). And from Caroline Alexander's "Captain Bligh's Cursed Breadfruit," about Jamaica ("An hour out of the maelstrom of Kingston's traffic, the first frigate bird appeared, and then, around a bend in the road, the sea."). And from Frances Mayes' "Under the Polish Sun" ("In 1990, when my husband, Ed, and I bought an abandoned villa in Tuscany, we hired three Polish workers to help us restore a major terrace wall. They were new immigrants, there for the money, and not happy to be out of their homeland.").

Smoothly Paving the Road

The sixth author, Paul Theroux, deals with "The Long Way Home," about which the subtitle says: "The noted world traveler fulfills a boyhood dream -- to drive across America in the spirit of Kerouac, Steinbeck and other poets of the open road."

Here's how Theroux begins: "The mixed blessing of America is that anyone with a car can go anywhere. The visible expression of our freedom is that we are a country without roadblocks. And a driver's license is our identity. My dream, from way back -- from high school, when I first heard the name Kerouac -- was of driving across the United States. The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination."

Theroux realizes his dream and, for us, he recounts it. The title/subtitle/lead combine smoothly paves the road, paves the way thematically. Adventures await me, from Los Angeles to Cape Cod. Theroux does not disappoint.

Look for the above issue of Smithsonian. See what writers' ambient leads can do. See what editors' sensitively crafted additions can do. The do-good things and all for the reader.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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If I Were Your Editor, I'd…

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:52 PM

My checklist of 13 points for editing your pieces. Try using it yourself!

By Peter P. Jacobi

If I were your editor -- aside from carefully copyreading your written submission to catch grammar, spelling, and punctuation problems along with obvious errors -- I would evaluate the work against a checklist of thirteen critically important points I’ve made in columns past.

Therefore, to head off a negative response from me, I’d urge you -- before turning in your material -- to test it first against this same list and make the changes deemed necessary. For you not to do so would represent, in my mind, a dereliction of duties (or, at least, your loss of an opportunity).

When tackling your manuscript, I would seek to determine whether or not you offered me the following.

#1 -- Anticipation

With an article that enhances the scope of coverage in your publication, this by providing something of a more timeless, lasting nature than the usual timely, print-now-or-never stories. Did you?

#2 -- Focus

Planning your article so that its approach matches reader interest, that its slant suits a particular audience and occasion, and, really, only that audience and occasion. Did you?

#3 -- Insight

Providing coverage that passes along to the reader material not available elsewhere because of the sources you’ve managed to exploit and the depth of information you’ve garnered through your research and reporting. Did you?

#4 -- Structure

Causing your facts, theme, and developments to bond so that the article unifies, makes sense, and moves ever forward. Did you?

#5 -- Context

Surrounding the critical details of your article with sufficient background, an environment that gives full meaning and import to the point you’re trying to get across. Did you?

#6 -- Perspective

Shaping a point of view, a means for the reader to understand a subject or an issue the way you want him or her to understand it. Did you?

#7 -- Epiphany

Seeking a “see the light” life changing moment for your central character because in such an event there’s drama or a lesson the reader can take away and perhaps use in his or her own life. Did you?

#8 -- Zoom

Locating a metaphoric situation that casts a spotlight on your entire subject, one that in compressive form clarifies everything you’re trying to say. Did you?

#9 -- Completeness

Providing all necessary information and shaping it in such a manner that the reader is satisfied with the provided substance and yet retains a curiosity for more. Did you?

#10 -- Reality, Spontaneity, and Visibility

Giving what you write a sense of presence, of creative spark, and of sensual power. Did you?

#11 -- Flow

Making your words an unbroken stream. Did you (read your manuscript aloud)?

#12 -- Resonance

Supplying the sort of substance and/or the sort of writing that reverberates in the reader’s mind and heart, that jars his or her sensibilities and, thereby, makes what you’ve prepared more likely become the stuff of memory. Did you?

#13 -- Voice

Individualizing your copy, making it yours, giving it a distinguishing personality that only you could have contributed because of who you are and how you practice the process of writing and in what manner you use the language. Did you?

The above words are significant. Your making them real in your writing is even more so. So, as you self-edit the piece you wrote this morning, judge yourself. Did you?

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Three Mighty Useful and Interesting Books

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 1:28 PM

Aids for writers that you can put to use in your editorial department.

By Peter Jacobi

I bring to your attention three books that might prove mighty useful and, lo and behold, they proved mighty interesting to read.

A Dictionary for Writers and Editors

That may seem unlikely with a new dictionary for writers and editors, but the title of this particular lexicon is Bill Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Broadway Books). Bryson, whether he's writing an essay or a full-length nonfiction book or a work of fiction, always gives free access of his personality and imaginative mind to enrich whatever he tackles.

The opening paragraph of his preface tells you what to expect. In part, it says: "This book is intended as a quick, concise guide to the problems of English spelling and usage most commonly encountered by writers and editors. How do you spell supersede and broccoli and accessible? Do I write archaeology or archeology? What's the difference between a cardinal number and an ordinal number? ... Doesn't Calcutta have a new name now? (It does -- Kolkata.) What do we now call the Chinese river that I knew in my school days as the Hwang Ho?"

You'll find out, from Aachen to Vladimir Zworykin. And a punctuation appendix follows.

If you want to try the word "enormity" for size, don't. Bryson's dictionary says: "Enormity does not, as is frequently thought, indicate size, but rather refers to something that is wicked, monstrous, and outrageous ('The enormity of Hitler's crimes will never be forgotten'). If what you require is a word denoting large scale, try 'immensity' or 'vastness.'"

Queen Elizabeth II gets this treatment: "(1926-) Her formal title, though seldom used, is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Queen Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. She became queen in 1952; her coronation was in 1953."

It's a great guide, amazingly inclusive (continual/continuous, entente cordiale, hara-kiri, Illinoian, Mafeking/Mafikeng, mutual/common, Poseidon, sangfroid, saccharin/saccharine, tautology/redundancy/pleonasm/solecism, Teatro alla Scala, whether or not, zeitgeist). The answers or solutions are there, simply put, absolutely clear.

Debunking the English Language

Along also comes Origin of the Specious, subtitled Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, this by Patricia O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman (Random House). O'Conner is known for her bestselling Woe Is I. Kellerman is her husband, a former editor for The New York Times.

The two set about to debunk a book-full of "beloved ideas about English" that, they say, "are bunkum." They defend, for instance, a recent resident of the White House: "Nobody ever said the W in George W. Bush stood for Wordsmith. But our former President doesn't deserve the knuckle rapping that many wordies have given him for his famous pronunciation of 'nuclear.' The word has been mispronounced so often and so publicly that NOO-kyuh-lur is gaining a foothold in dictionaries." A thorough and brightly considered discourse follows.

Further along, amidst the profusion of set-straights, O'Conner and Kellerman state: "Perhaps you dis the verb 'disrespect,' snubbing it as a gangsta interloper from the world of hip-hop. Well, chill. This so-called bad boy is getting a bum rap. 'Disrespect' is a perfectly respectable verb that's been around since the 1600s." So, too, respectable, they insist, are other "African-American slang words that have come in off the streets and enriched the language" and "don't deserve to be dissed," such as "chill," "cred," "phat" (first-rate), "bling" (flashy jewelry), and "gangsta."

I'll share one more debunk, the initial paragraph in still another whack at grammar traditionalists: "If my email is any indication, half the English-speaking world lies awake nights, grinding its teeth because the other half says 'I could care less' when it means 'I couldn't care less.' If your enamel is starting to wear down, my advice is to care less. It's true that the original phrase was 'I couldn't care less,' which makes more sense. But since when do idiomatic expressions have to make sense?"

You get the tone employed, I'm sure: it makes for easy reading, and pleasant, even when you might disagree, as I do now and then, with the point being made. The points are numerous: acronyms, "crap," gender, foreign words and phrases, "paint the town red," "niggardly," malapropisms, spoonerisms, "octopi" vs. "octopuses," "irreligious" and "nonreligious," "ain't," and on and on.

Literary Quality Writing

Stephen Pyne's Voice & Vision, A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction (Harvard University Press) assumes a more serious style, but stuffy it is not. And although it focuses on the writing of history, author Pyne passes along recommendations that we all can use to our advantage. To write history requires scholarship, yes, but a historian, says Pyne, also must write literature.

Well, journalists create a form of history, an immediate one, and -- to gain and keep an audience -- they must, we know, aim for literary quality, for writing worthy of being read. Voice & Vision provides commendable assistance.

"There are only two rules specific to nonfiction," states Pyne. "The rules are nonnegotiable: you can't make anything up, and you can't leave out something that really matters -- meaning something that, if included, would alter our fundamental understanding." Need I say we work by the same rules?

Pyne, later on in the chapter, sums up his exposition. "Don't invent," he warns, "and don't leave out what needs to be in. Beyond these, rely on prudence, humility, boldness, wit, common sense, and a recognition that theme and design have to support each other. If one is wrong, it will pervert the other. A theme at odds with its expression will be unconvincing, even ridiculous."

We've spoken on a number of occasions about thesis/theme, development, and structure. That's what Pyne is arguing for. He also argues the importance of transition. It should occur "at all levels, in the movement from one sentence to another, one paragraph to another, one scene to another, one chapter or part to another." Does that sound familiar to you, my readers?

Aha, and further along, the author reminds us: "Drama is what keeps readers turning pages. The slickest transitioning, the wittiest voice, the most elegant phrasing will not hold their attention for more than a few sentences. What matters is their urge to know more, to see what comes next, to understand how the narrative or argument works out ... They must care what comes next. Why did that happen? How? What's the point? So what?"

Pyne doesn't simply pose these issues. He digs into them and gives us ways and means. Again, I think you'll find value.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Assessing the readability of a book excerpt published on NPR.com.

This month, we examine a passage from NPR.com (an excerpt from Tom Bissell's book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter):

"For a while I hoped that my inability to concentrate on writing and reading was the result of a charred and overworked thalamus. I knew the pace I was on was not sustainable and figured my discipline was treating itself to a Rumspringa. I waited patiently for it to stroll back onto the farm, apologetic but invigorated. When this did not happen, I wondered if my intensified attraction to games, and my desensitized attraction to literature, was a reasonable response to how formally compelling games had quite suddenly become. Three years into my predicament, my discipline remains AWOL. Games, meanwhile, are even more formally compelling."

--Word count: 105
--Average sentence length: 18 words (23, 20, 14, 32, 9, 7)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 22 percent (23/105 words)
--Fog Index: (18+22) x .4 = 16 (no rounding)

In this case, the average sentence length is within reasonable range. The 32-word sentence skews the average -- without it, average sentence length is 15 words. However, it is the high percentage of long words that makes this Fog score so high.

Let's try revising the sample to improve our score:

"For a while, I hoped that my trouble concentrating on reading and writing was the result of a charred brain. I knew my pace was unsustainable and figured my discipline had treated itself to a Rumspringa. I waited patiently for its return to the farm, contrite but refreshed. When this didn't happen, I wondered if my intense attraction to games and waning attraction to books was a response to how formally compelling games had become. Three years into my problem, my discipline remains AWOL. Games, meanwhile, are even more formally compelling."

--Word count: 92
--Average sentence length: 15 words (20, 16, 13, 27, 9, 7)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (12/92 words)
--Fog Index: (15+13) x .4 = 11 (no rounding)

Overall, we were able to trim word count by 13. The language in the original sample was quite dense, so reducing our Fog score was largely a matter of eliminating longer words and trimming excess language.

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The Elements of Story

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:12 PM

A reference book that is rich in advice it is and a pleasure to read.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I enthusiastically recommend for your reference The Elements of Story, Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing, by Francis Flaherty (Harper). It is wide and yet also deep in coverage.

Flaherty, an editor at The New York Times who specializes as "story doctor," includes in the book's 280-or-so pages a welter of points designed, if we follow the advice, to improve our own writing and that of folks who write for us. Each point, to add value, is given sufficient specifics so that the reader might gain a firmer grasp on the lesson.

Instructive Wisdom Throughout

Chapters begin with a well-phrased and summarized expression of the instructive wisdom that is to follow. For instance, "A writer must regard his story through theme-colored glasses" is the nugget leading into Chapter 6, titled "Bang the Drum Strategically," a section devoted to descriptive techniques.

Sounding Out

"The sound of words and the rhythm of sentences are a language wholly apart from the dictionary. Make sure your story not only says what you mean but 'sounds' what you mean." That's the prelude to Chapter 7, "What Babies Know," an argument about the importance of sounding out your copy, this to determine the potential impact of written words on the emotional membranes of the reader's heart or mind.

The Important Verb

"Verbs are the most important words in a story, and the most important verbs are those that reflect the main theme. They are verbs with a capital V." Flaherty offers that nugget for Chapter 8, "Temptation Alley," his discourse on how verbs should be selected and for what distinct and differing purposes.

Five Senses

The author reminds us in later pages that "The five senses are a writer's most formidable tools;" that you should "Look until you see something new, for the writer is the watcher of the world;" that "Writing is an act of assertion and judgment" and, therefore, you should "not evade that part of the job by hiding behind bland language or others' words."

The Lead

In a chapter on beginnings, he argues: "No words are more important than the lead. Invest the time to compose, and compare, several possibilities." He then offers factual (straight) and anecdotal (feature) leads for three stories, accepting all for having been written well but revealing his choices and the reasons for them.

A Must-Read Book

He addresses nut graphs and transitions, organization and empathy, humanization ("Every story, even the driest, has a human face") and endings ("the bow on the package" that "can also be something more substantial"). He deals with movement, pace, and symbols; with theme, story unity, and accuracy of detail. He even covers "The Big Type," meaning titles and subtitles, which Flaherty identifies as "turbocharged text ... your work distilled."

Samples abound, from nonfictional and fictional sources. "Sometimes in this book," he explains, "I quote from real, published stories and then invent an alternative to the published version to make a point. Other times, I sketch wholly imaginary articles, many but not all inspired by subjects that have been addressed in the City Section" to which he is assigned.

This is a help book I wish I could have written, so rich in advice it is and so pleasurable it is just to read. But there's no envy in that statement because, fortunately, Francis Flaherty did write The Elements of Story. It is available now for us all to use, and the "us" certainly, happily includes me.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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That Is So Cliche

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Clichés can make writing "as dull as dishwater."

As an editor, you probably see clichés often. Even the best writers use them, and in some instances, they can be effective. Sometimes, when an article needs some personality, writers turn to similes, metaphors, and idioms for emphasis. Not a bad idea. It is when writing becomes loaded with superfluous imagery and needless abstraction that it loses all effectiveness.

Here are a few clichés from SuspenseNet's extensive list:

--beyond the pale
--cut the mustard (some consider this to be an incorrect rendering of "cut the muster")
--stranger than fiction
--reign supreme
--last-ditch effort
--experts agree
--garbage in, garbage out
--goes without saying
--law of the land
--know the ropes

It is probably best to review this list, and others, to familiarize yourself with the most commonly used clichés. Let them stick out to you like the sore thumbs they often are. In most cases, they can be revised out of a sentence without mangling the meaning.

Consider the following passage:

Because Jessica knows the ropes better than anyone in the office, it goes without saying that she will get the promotion tomorrow. Leslie has made a last-ditch effort to prove that she cuts the mustard, but it is too little, too late.

Here, we have a whopping five clichés (set in italicds). The passage is loaded with idiomatic abstraction. How can we make it not only less cliché, but clearer? Let's try some revision:

Because Jessica works more efficiently than her coworkers, she will likely get the promotion tomorrow. Leslie has taken on some extra projects this week to prove herself, but her efforts are too little, too late.

Notice that we have let the last cliché stand. It works here. "Too little, too late" tells us that Leslie's efforts are not only insufficient to win her the promotion, but also not in time to sway her boss' decision. We have made this concept clear with just four words.

Even if you don't have a list of common clichés memorized, you can likely pick out these culprits in a lineup. Look for overused similes ("like two peas in a pod," "as stubborn as a mule," etc.) and idioms that complicate things needlessly.

You don't need to strike all clichés from existence -- as seen above, they can be useful. Earlier this year, Randy Michaels of Tribune Company banned 119 clichés from his newsroom and encouraged employees to keep tabs on one another with bingo cards. No need to be that vigilant. Just make sure to present copy that is low on fog and high on clarity. Don't let an otherwise informative article become "cheesy" thanks to excessive use of clichés.

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Classic and Contemporary

Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Two books that equal a complete guide to better copy.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Let this serve as a re-introduction to a classic and an invitation to become familiar with a flamboyant, worthy-of-your-attention contemporaneous response.

The classic: The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White (4th edition, Longman).

The response: Spunk & Bite, A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, by Arthur Plotnik (Random House).

A Complete Guide

Separately, each provides a multitude of useful hints to make you stronger, as writers and editors. Together, they're as complete a guide to better copy as you're likely to find. And, in totality, they're really not contradictory, despite Plotnik's stance that Elements is "geriatric." He may argue with one or another of the rules that dominate Strunk and White's short and informative handbook, but he also validates them by using his predecessors' wisdoms as a springboard for his own musings. He simply begs for the addition of "ambience" in the use of language, as supplement to "correctness," which he judges is the principal lesson imparted in Elements.


Plotnik also points out that Strunk, White's English teacher at Cornell, determined that "the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however," he continued, "the readers will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation." And White would later admit, this years after he added his thoughts to the Strunk original (a compressive text that he used to hand out to his students): "I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood."

Read the Classic Again

You would do yourself good as writer or editor by reading or re-reading The Elements of Style. You will remind yourself to "omit needless words;" to aim for "definite, specific, concrete language;" to "avoid a succession of loose sentences;" to "choose a suitable design and hold to it;" to "write in a way that comes naturally;" to "write with nouns and verbs;" to not "explain too much;" to "make sure the reader knows who is speaking;" to "be clear," and to "not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity."

By sifting through the pages, you will come upon this passage, as part of White's summation: "Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for, as an elderly practitioner once remarked, 'Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.'

This moral observation would have no place in a rule book were it not that style is the writer, and therefore what you are, rather than what you know, will at last determine your style. If you write, you must believe -- in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message. No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader's intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing."

Locution, Freshness, Diction

Plotnik's emphasis is on "locution" ("a particular mode of speech -- the use of a word, the turning of a phrase in some stylistic manner"). It is on "freshness" ("Readers love surprise. They love it when a sentence heads one way and jerks another. They love the boing of a jack-in-the-box word. They adore images that trot by like a unicorn in pajamas."). He addresses diction (for writers "always purposeful, always a costume donned for one effect or another"). He spends a chapter on the thesaurus, how to find a good one, how to use it (and not use it).

Attribution gets a chapter, too, focused sharply on attribution and the verb "said." Plotnik counsels flexibility: yes, "said" is probably the most useful way to attach a quote or piece of dialogue to its speaker, but he is accepting of other verbs, depending on situation and appropriateness.

Leads and Closings

He gets around to leads ("'I promise that something will stimulate you if you continue reading.' Do your opening sentences make that promise? Do they wow to scratch the reader's eternal itch for sensation?"). And to closings, too, he gets (he urges a "three-point landing").

Punctuation and Grammar

Like Strunk and White, Plotnik deals with matters of punctuation and grammar: hyphens, semicolons, sentence fragments, and the shape of sentences ("Like the protagonist of a moral tale, a sentence sets out in earnest pursuit of truth and beauty. But soon it finds itself set upon by corruptive elements, which must be vanquished before the glorious end punctuation is attained.").

Two Books That Complement Each Other

Plotnik strays occasionally into the hyperbolic, but Spunk & Bite in execution matches the book's title. It complements The Elements of Style, even when in contradiction. I'd therefore recommend the combination for acquaintance and re-acquaintance.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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A Lesson from Nonfiction Writers

Posted on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Many lessons to learn from the pages of The Writer's Notebook.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Some sections of The Writer's Notebook, Craft Essays from Tin House (Tin House Books), focus exclusively on issues of fiction, which we're not in the business of. However, this collection of essays, based on craft seminars offered by those who publish the journal Tin House, is packed with nuggets worth the attention of nonfiction writers, too.

Let me share a few as a way of inducing you to look more deeply into the book's content.

Read It Aloud

Rick Bass, a Montana writer with a passion for environmentalism, has contributed "When To Keep It Simple." He discusses how to extricate oneself from the "too wrapped up in a lofty thought" situation: "Say it straight; literally. I'll try to speak the thought out loud, as if in conversation -- unaided by the treachery and guile of words on paper and speaking it as if in explanation, as when someone asks what it is you're working on, and you use plain language to tell them the synopsis rather than using high-octane dream lyrics."

How often have I preached the "read it aloud" path toward clarity and flow? Bass builds an entire essay on that potent piece of advice.

Keep It Authentic

Dorothy Allison, a Northern California-based novelist, feminist, and professor, focuses on "Place;" that's the title of her piece. She pleads for knowing detail, pointing to self experience as the means for the gathering and using of such. "I grew up among truck drivers and waitresses," she says.

Therefore: "I can give you detail. I can describe for you the tile they use in most truck stops because truckers have a horrible tendency to puke after having drunk great quantities of beer on top of chili. I know the colors of those tiles. I know, in fact, why 7-Elevens are designed the way they are. I've worked there ... Those places are real places for me. You probably read my stories to learn more about diners. And waitresses. And truck drivers. And I read to learn about the Jews in Brooklyn, the fishermen of Maine, and the combine drivers in Iowa."

Allison is encouraging authenticity, another issue I've addressed over the years. She asks us as writers to know and understand what we're writing about by using our own background or, short of that, doing careful fact finding, all to offer our readers meaningful detail.

Jim Shepard ties in to the above thought. He's a novelist and short story writer who teaches at Williams College. In his essay, "Generating Fiction from History and/or Fact," Shepard says: "The writers I admire take the world personally. It isn't true that only people who live in South LA can write about South LA: people who care enough to learn a bout South LA can write about South LA. If you can convince me of the reality of something, you have gained an authority."

Non-fictional Dream

Anna Keesey, a short story writer headquartered in Oregon, writes about "Making a Scene." She refers to John Gardner's classic text, The Art of Fiction, and his efforts to create the "fictional dream." It's "a kind of trance," she explains, "in which people read and they forget they're reading and they see the thing in front of them as though it's actually happening. They drop through the letters on the page into the imagined world and they respond to that world emotionally as if its events are actually happening."

That goal applies for nonfiction writers, too. We don't aim to get the reader into an "imagined" world, but if we can get the reader to "drop through the letters on the page" into the actual world we're trying to re-create, then we've done our job. It's a goal devoutly to be striven for.

Effective Writing

Margot Livesey, an author of fiction who serves as writer in residence at Emerson College, adds "Shakespeare for Writers" to the Tin House collection. She supplies sixteen useful lessons, among them, the following:

--"Begin dramatically."
--"Don't keep back the good stuff."
--"Consider beginning in the present."
--"Remember the power of appropriate omission. We don't need to take every journey with the characters, make every cup of coffee."
--"Don't over explain."
--"Be aware that form and tone govern content."
--"Be ambitious with your language."

Livesey expands on the above and others on her list, and -- in total -- they make for a mini-course in effective writing. But then, the entirety of The Writer's Notebook holds value. Don't be frightened off by the preponderance of fiction writers. There's much you can learn from these pages.

Revising Your Work

Take as a final example what memoirist and short story writer Chris Offutt covers in "Performing Surgery without Anesthesia." He deals with revising your copy and how to go about handling the completion of one's first draft, with which often comes the feeling of having "written something of absolute brilliance." As he puts it: "I love that feeling. It lasts until the next morning, when I look at the work again and realize it's a piece of crap." At that point, he explains, distancing becomes critical, brought on by the needed passage of time and the
re-emergence of objectivity about one's work.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Art and Science

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Supply both and the reader will likely have rewards.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I'm in the mood for a summary.

If you want your writing to take wing or if you -- as editor -- want the written material that goes into your publication to do so, understand that you must consider the art of writing, the science of writing, and the results that your readers are likely to expect from your efforts.

Art has to do with the imagination and how you employ it; science with craft. Tend to these carefully and energetically, and you will compel, or at least promote, reader reaction.

The Art

There are nine artistic needs for flight.

One -- Be Willing to Soar

The compulsion must exist within your mental muscle, your emotional sinew to not only imagine possibilities but then to realize them.

Two -- Let Yourself Go

Love the sense of freedom that comes from release of your imagination. Let yourself go. The best writers do that. With them, the reader is never quite sure what's next. That's not unsettling.

It's titillating or delectable or goose bump raising or chuckle inducing.

Three -- Yearn for Adventure

Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones, says: "Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life ... But there's another part of them that they have been training, the one that lives everything a second time. In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, newspapers over their heads. Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and pen in hand. They look at the puddles, watch them fill, watch the rain splash in them. You can say a writer practices being dumb. Only a dummy would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle ... It's your interest in living life again in your writing."

Four -- Have Courage

That means a willingness on your part to gamble, a willingness to give, a willingness to be generous. Annie Dillard says: "One of the few things I know about writing is this. Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time."

Five -- Map It

Know why you're writing and where you're heading. Have a map in your head; then, take the reader to your chosen destination. Show what the map indicates. "This is the great moment," insisted the legendary travel writer Freya Stark, "when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world."

Six -- Have a Vision

Have vision, and be willing to share it.

Seven -- Use the Senses

Work at your words and message so that the reader -- through your piece of writing -- gains the ability to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to taste. Be acutely sensual in your copy.

Eight -- Give Meaning to your Subject

Develop and use a ranging and open mind, this to give meaning to your subject through the right words, the right composition, the right logic.

Nine -- Have Passion

"Be still when you have nothing to say," preached D.H. Lawrence. "When genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

The Science

Next, combine the artistic demands with science, in the form of "My Magnificent Seven," seven elements essential for your piece of writing to be successful.

One -- the Lead

Provide an invitation to your reader, an introduction, an overture, a prelude. The opening, beginning, lead is the essential tease, an amalgam of idea, information, method, language, and design that causes the reader to decide, "This is for me. I must go on."

Two -- the Thesis

Follow the lead with a thesis, a succinct passage that tells the reader what the piece of writing is about. This is your pre-planned response to a predictable reader reaction: "You've got my attention. Now, let me in on what, more precisely, you're going to be telling or showing me or doing to me if I go on reading. What's ahead?"

Three --the Purpose

That's purpose, the why for your piece of writing. By disclosing purpose, you're striving to be more specific about what points you're going to make, about what you'll offer in the form of carefully selected substance to support your project. Here, you provide a more extended explanation, beyond thesis, of why the reader should spend time on your work, of what he or she will get out of the reading.

Four -- the Direction

A clear sense of direction because badly designed writing meanders or jumps around or turns jerky, bumpy, seemingly wandering or tread-milling on a communications road ill defined. Call it sequencing. Call it flow. Just let your reader know at every point along the way where he or she is heading.

Five -- the Propulsion

Propulsion: your piece of writing should give the reader a sense of motion, the feel of going forward, of transport, of getting somewhere.

Six --the Climax

Supply climax, one or more. Build toward high points, peaks, capstones, pinnacles, summits, factual resolutions or inspirational culminations. There need to be rises in your copy, climbs in temperature, intensities intensified.

Seven-- the Remembrance

The pleasure of reading becomes more pleasurable if there is recall, if there is something that sticks in the reader's mind or that latches on to the heart. Give the reader something to remember and/or use.

Supply art and science, and if all goes well, there will be results. The reader will likely have rewards:

1. Expectation realized
2. Surprise engendered
3. The benefit of your honesty
4. Your voice to savor
5. New worlds discovered
6. Relevance revealed, and
7. Entertainment.

About that last result, author Michael Chabon explains: "The original sense of the word 'entertainment' is a lovely one of mutual support through intertwining, like a pair of trees grown together, interwoven, each sustaining and bearing up the other. It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridgeheads. I can't think of a better approximation of the relation between reader and writer."

There's my summary. You do the filling out.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Assessing the readability of a Signature magazine article.

This month, we assess the readability of an article in the May/June 2010 issue of Signature magazine ("Does Your Media Kit Earn Rave Reviews?" by Carrie Hartin):

"An engaging sales kit is an extension of the sales presentation, helping your sales team show that story, by illustrating the crucial characteristics of your members -- not just regurgitating statistics churned out of your member survey. Tell the prospect, for example, what the readership's engagement with advertisers has been in the past and what their purchasing budgets generally look like. Follow that up with explanation of how members use your communication vehicles, and you've created a powerful selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnail examples of content-driven pages or screenshots."

--Word count: 92
--Average sentence length: 31 (37, 24, 31)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 21 percent (18/92 words)
--Fog Index: (31+21) x .4 = 20 (no rounding)

The Fog score of this sample is quite high. In this case, both the average sentence length and percentage of words with 3+ syllables are rather high. This is a tough sample to edit, as it contains longer terms specific to the subject at hand.

Let's see what we can do to improve the Fog score:

"A winning sales kit is an extension of the sales presentation. It helps your sales team by showing key member characteristics -- not just pulling numbers from member surveys. Tell the prospect, for instance, the readership's past engagement with advertisers. Show what their normal purchasing budgets look like. Then explain how members use your communication vehicles. Now, you've created a strong selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnails of content-driven pages or screenshots."

Here are the statistics for the revised sample:

--Word count: 74
--Average sentence length: 12 (11, 18, 11, 8, 8, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 14 percent (10/74 words)
--Fog Index: (12+14) x .4 =10 (no rounding)

First, we needed to split up some of the longer sentences to reduce the average sentence length of 31 words. Three sentences became six and, with some tightening up of the syntax and trimming of words, we were able to reduce this average by more than half to 12 words.

Perhaps most challenging, we needed to reduce the number of longer words, a factor that contributed heavily to the original Fog score of 20. This can be difficult in business-to-business copy, but the effort paid off -- we were able to reduce the percentage of 3+-syllable words from 21 to 14 (a reduction of one-third).

Overall, these edits cut the Fog score in half (from 20 to 10).

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"With a little bit of editing, the paragraph can be further improved:

'A winning sales kit is a key part of the sales presentation. It shows vital member characteristics, rather than simply pulling numbers from surveys. Show the prospect, for instance, the readership's past engagement with advertisers. Present their purchasing budgets. Then explain how members use your communication vehicles. Now, you've created a strong selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnails of content-driven pages or screenshots.'

Here's the Fog analysis:

Number of characters (without spaces): 372.00
Number of words: 66.00
Number of sentences: 6.00
Average number of characters per word: 5.64
Average number of syllables per word: 1.80
Average number of words per sentence: 11.00
Gunning Fog index: 8.64


--Don Tepper, Editor, PT in Motion (American Physical Therapy Association). 05-26-2010.

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