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best email subject lines scott keyser

Best email subject lines

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Today, I’m covering the remaining five techniques for writing headlines and email subject lines. I have identified nine techniques for crafting these, and I covered the first four in Email subject lines that work.

 

5.  The number

Quantifying a fact implies authority, precision and completeness. It reassures the reader that we know what we’re talking about. Received wisdom suggests that odd numbers are more memorable than even ones. And within the universe of odd numbers, at least in the West, 7 has been voted the most popular number, according to a survey done a number of years ago by the mathematician Alex Bellos. He surveyed about 50,000 Europeans. So, the number 7 (or numbers with 7 in them) are more useful and tend to be more memorable.

As an example, we might say, “Whistle blower disclosures up 17%”, or, “37 tips for getting your blog read”, or, “7 simple six-pack exercises”, (using the alliteration of three Ss), or, “17 ways to generate more leads”. And, of course, the most famous of all, the strapline for my first book, Winner Takes All, “Seven-and-a-half principles for winning more bids, tenders and proposals”. The half principle being crafting a powerful executive summary.

 

7.  The twist or surprise

This is also known as the pattern breaker, pulling the rug from under the reader. It leads them down one thought path, only to abruptly change direction at the end.

The Economist staff are masters at this. This was on a well-known outdoor poster (now known as an OOM…out-of-home medium): “I’ve never read The Economist…management trainee, age 42”. The implication is that if you don’t read The Economist, your career will stall and falter. You’ll end at the tender old age of 42, still being a trainee.

Another Economist one is, “In opinion polls, 100% of Economist readers had one”. It’s quite cheeky, in that reading The Economist enables you to be opinionated, or at least to have an informed opinion about what’s going on in the world.

Another pseudo-quote, “Economist readers welcome”. And underneath, “Sperm donor clinic”.

Finally, a more popular example of the twist, the surprise or the pattern breaker. “In February, Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian a diamond-encrusted Rolex. Three months later, they were divorced”. What that does is lead the reader down one avenue, or thought path, and then we’re abruptly changing direction.

 

8.  Juxtaposition, or contrasting pairs

An example of this might be, “Probing the cause of diabetes, one pizza at a time”. Or, an actual headline for a life insurance product: “Cash if you die, cash if you don’t”. And here was a open university subject line: “Get to the green without going to U”. The juxtaposition is that you can get a degree without actually going to university.

The next one is from an academic paper, around proletarian political policies. “Live working or die fighting: how the working class went global”.

Then another Economist headline, when Barak Obama was the U.S. president. “Putin dares, Obama dithers”. So you’ve got the pause in the middle caused by the comma. And you’ve got the alliteration of the two Ds.

We can also use word play, double meaning or double entendre (to use the French). We might say, “Wake up to the importance of sleep,” or, “Old age: a thing of the past?” And this is an old one. In the era when Volkswagens had the reputation for never breaking down (this is a sweet one, because Volkswagen owners are a bit cultish), “Ever heard people talking about their Volkswagens? They go on and on and on”.

 

9.  Standfirst under the headline

We can grab the reader’s attention with a dramatic headline, then give an explanatory one-liner, known as a standfirst, underneath it. The Economist uses standfirsts a lot in their articles.

We might say something like, “HMRC is closing in”. That’s your headline. Then the standfirst could be, “New tax laws are making it harder to set up off-shore tax havens”. So we’re giving the reader a little bit more information.

Another one. The headline could be, “It’s a class act”, followed by a standfirst, “New UK class-action procedures come into force 1 October”.

A third and final example of a standfirst would be a headline, “Leaders in driverless cars”, followed by, “What happens when left-wing politicians confront new technologies?”

 

This is how the best email subject lines are created

Now we have a total of nine ways of grabbing the reader’s attention with a headline, or in the case of an email, the best email subject lines.

I hope you’ve found this useful and interesting. Let me know how you get on with applying these techniques on the Facebook page.

I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write.

 

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Email subject lines that work

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The other day, I was speaking to a client who does a lot of cold calling. He’s a franchisee who works for an organisation that specialises in procurement and cost reduction. They are experts in what they do. Typically the franchisees rely on cold calling, but since the onset of the pandemic, they’ve been relying on email subject lines that grab attention.

With lockdown and the advent of hybrid work, more and more people are working from home. We know that to be a fact. Even though people are beginning to go back to their offices, the decisionmakers may only be going in one or two days or week. So they’re working from home. If you try to call them, the only way to reach them is through their mobile phone. So if you don’t have that number, it can be very difficult to reach them.

There was a time, pre-pandemic, when you could legitimately call the organisation’s switchboard or receptionist. They may not put you in touch with a senior decisionmaker, but they would at least connect you with that person’s executive assistant or secretary.

If you were able to sweet talk that person, you may then be able to get a slot in the decisionmaker’s diary—to speak to them at a later date. Obviously, while these people are working from home, getting in touch with them has become even more difficult.

What I’m saying—in a rather long-winded way—is that this makes email subject lines that work even more important.

 

A greater need for effective email subject lines

Chris, this client of mine, was saying that he’s sending far more emails. Those emails need to be even punchier, relevant and precise than before. He reckons that when communicating with most senior decisionmakers, he’s got between five and ten seconds to get their attention.

That’s not very long. So we were talking about the importance of the written word in headlines and email subject lines. Obviously, I have views on that. We talked about how an email’s success relies heavily on the quality and impact of the subject line.

Now I’d like to share with you nine techniques for crafting powerful email subject lines and attention-grabbing headlines. These are the same nine I share with people in my workshops.

 

Nine ways to grab readers’ attention

1.  Ask a question

A colleague of Chris’, a fellow franchisee, asked a question in the subject line of a cold email. It read, “Can we really save 20% on your fleet costs?” The organisation he was contacting operates a shipping fleet. If you ask a pointed question like that, you must then answer it immediately in the first line of the email. You’d write something like, “Yes, we can. And in fact, we did it only three weeks ago for a company very similar to yours…”.

Asking a question in the subject line is a tried-and-tested, technique. Obviously, the question you ask must be relevant and interesting to the reader. Good questions engage the reader by piquing their curiosity or sparking a mental image.

I remember the days of the .com boom and bust. I had received an email with a subject line that read, “Where have the .com profits gone?” It was very simple and effective.

 

2.  Ask a question and use the magic word

The magic word is you/your. I read an amazing one the other day. It said, “Do you close the bathroom door, even when you’re the only one at home?”

That’s a closed question, because the answer is either yes or no. But, in fact, it was a subject line for Who Gives a Crap, a company that supplies green and sustainable loo paper. In fact, I can fully recommend them. Their product is very gentle on the bum and gentle on the planet.

Using the words you and your make the reader feel as if we’re talking to them personally. Combining these with a question that addresses the reader directly on a topic that interests them is likely to engage them.

 

3.  Give a command or instruction

In essence, you’re telling the reader what to do. You’re using a verb in what’s known as the imperative mood. An example might be, “Click here to register for the course”. That’s a command or instruction. “Apply now for your early bird discount”. Notice I’ve used the magic word ‘your’. “Apply now” uses ‘now’, a powerful word. “Find out more about a career in teaching”. Again, giving a command. Or, “Fix your high staff turnover”.

 

4.  Quote a killer fact

These are memorable stats or statements that cut through the details and stun the reader into action…the action being that they actually read the article or email. They’re known as killers because they kill off opponents quicker than a worthy study or well-researched report.

You might write something like, “Two works of man are visible from space: China’s Great Wall and the Amazon fires”. Sadly and tragically, you could also say, “The California fires” or “The U.S. fires” or “The Greece fires” or the “sudden Spain fires”.

Another one might be, “A child dies every four seconds from preventable causes”. I’ve seen this approach deployed a lot by voluntary charity organisations.

 

Grab attention with email subject lines that work

There you have four ways to grab attention with headlines and email subject lines. We can ask a question, ask a question with the magic word, give a command or instruction, or we can quote a fact that will shock, surprise, intrigue…or give them something to disagree with or rub up against.

That’s only four of the nine ways we can write attention-grabbing subject lines and headlines. For the other five, be sure to read part two, Best email subject lines.

If you haven’t heard, I will be conducting workshops that include valuable writing information such as this, plus new and exciting content. The best way to stay informed about all that’s happening at Write for Results is to Like and Follow the Facebook page. Join the conversation, learn to write Human and get the results you want!

I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write.

elevator pitch scott keyser

Nailing your elevator pitch

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been coaching a coach — a lovely lady called Andrea. We’ve been working together on her value proposition and elevator pitch. She’s a highly experienced and talented executive and leadership coach.

This week we’ve made some good progress on her elevator pitch. Within that, I’ve helped her to nail what I call her soundbite. Essentially, that’s a 20- to 30-second articulation of the essence of what she does — the core of her work.

I’d urge anybody who’s running their own business or who’s a business owner to nail their soundbite, whether working with me or someone else (this isn’t a sales plug!). It’s so important to do that.

Anda (Andrea’s nickname) and I have nailed that in one paragraph. I want to share it with you because I think it’s instructive to anybody who leads a team or runs their own business.

Anda’s elevator pitch

Here’s the 30-second elevator pitch that Anda and I’ve developed:

“I’m Coach Anda, and I’m a leadership coach. I work with strong, driven leaders who are already good at what they do, but who want their team to be great. If they want to have a great team, however, first they have to be a great leader. That’s why we start with self-mastery. Whatever storms of change are swirling around them and their team, self-mastered leaders stand quietly in the eye of the storm, responding wisely to new threats and opportunities. I help good leaders become great ones, because great leaders lead great teams.”

That’s 94 words, and runs to almost exactly 30 seconds in length. Now I’d like to unpick it, particularly the beginning where she says she works with ‘strong, driven leaders.’

For any soundbite to stand out and not be bland, you need to evoke some kind of problem, issue, pain point, challenge or conflict. What Anda experiences is that strong, experienced leaders come to her, essentially saying, ‘Help me fix my team. I want my team to be great.’

What she does is throws that back to them with, ‘If you want your team to be great, you have to be a great leader.’ I’ve tried to capture that in the soundbite. So what we’re doing is modeling the message.

Juxtaposition in the opening

Within that opening, there’s a mini-conflict, or juxtaposition.

Let’s look at it again, with the ‘good/great’ juxtaposition in bold:

“I’m Coach Anda, and I’m a leadership coach. I work with strong, driven leaders who are already good at what they do, but who want their team to be great…”

Placing responsibility

Then, she throws the onus back on the leader:

“If they want to lead a great team, however, first they have to be a great leader. That’s why we start with self-mastery…”

In Anda’s work, to put it crudely, she helps the leader to fix themselves first, before they fix their team. This makes perfect sense because the leaders sits at the hub of that system, if you like. She’s throwing the ball back into their court.

More Juxtapositions

Then it’s time to bring out the idea of change:

“Whatever storms of change are swirling around them and their team, self-mastered leaders stand quietly in the eye of the storm…”

That’s another juxtaposition, or contrasting pairs of words or phrases. There’s the idea of being in the middle of a maelstrom, but ‘self-mastered’ means quietness, calmness and composure in the eye of the storm.

After that, I threw in the idea of ‘responding wisely’ because one of the things Anda had said to me was that leaders who haven’t achieved self-mastery tend to make reactive decisions. So I wanted to contrast the idea of reacting (a sort of knee-jerk reflex) with the idea of wise responses:

“…responding wisely to new threats and opportunities…”

The elevator pitch’s punchline

Then the punchline is another juxtaposition. At the end of the 30-second elevator pitch, she says…

“I help good leaders become great ones, because great leaders lead great teams.”

In that one line, we’ve captured the idea that she works with both the leader and their team.

A final word on the elevator pitch

I hope this has been instructive, interesting and helpful to you. The bottom line for us, as communicators and writers, is that if what we’re writing or talking about has no inherent pain, issue, problem or challenge, it’s going to be dull.

The reason for that goes back to the ancient origins of drama: conflict creates drama. Without conflict, you don’t have drama. You don’t have interesting theatre, if you like. This came from the ancient Greek dramatists and its wisdom holds true today.

That’s it for now. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping technical professionals to find their voice, write Human, and get the results they want from the words they write. Be sure to visit my website and my blog for exciting news, tips and wisdom on writing.

 

 

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Technical writing using S.C.O.T.T.

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On the 28th of July, I ran my first live event on WebinarJam – a one-hour webinar on how to give your technical writing more impact. It included five writing techniques for technical professionals. We had about 90 attendees. If you were one of them, thank you so much for joining us. I loved doing it. It was such a buzz.

Technical writing confidence

We kicked off the webinar with a poll. I asked people to plot their confidence in their technical writing on a scale of one to ten. It was a very typical bell curve distribution, with the rump of people landing between 4 and 7 on the confidence scale. There were no 10s. This is what I would have expected. I guess you could say that anyone who rated themselves a 10 wouldn’t need to be on the call.

Then I shared with the webinar group a really horrible piece of writing. It was a 200-word piece of corporate gobbledygook, as I like to call it. We dissected it. I colour-coded various issues, like Nounitis, Passivitis, long sentences, wording…so that the whole thing was just a riot of highlighted colour.

Then we scored its readability. Actually, according to the readability stats in Word, it scored a Zero. It was pretty damning. What I proceeded to do with the group was rewrite it, using my Big Five Writing Techniques.

That took the readability from 0 to just under 74 per-cent. When we used the Flesch Reading Ease score, the contrast was stark.

Confidence, round two

Then we ran a second poll. I say “we” because I was assisted technically by a great guy called Ben Smith, who’s an expert on WebinarJam. To be honest with you, without his help, I don’t think it ever would have happened. He ran all the behind-the-scenes technology, which was great. I just showed up with the content.

In that second poll, we asked people to plot their confidence again. This time, the overall ratings went up. There were far fewer people in the 2-to-3 and 4-to-5 brackets and many more in the 6-to-7 and 7-to-8 brackets. I think there were even a couple of 10s as well.

That was amazingly gratifying to me, to see that in the space of an hour, we were able to boost people’s confidence in their writing.

The Big Five Writing Techniques

Next, I shared with the group the Big Five Writing Techniques that I had applied. I also imparted a new acronym to help them remember those five techniques.

That acronym?

S.C.O.T.T.

  • Shorten Your Sentences. Your ASL (Average Sentence Length) should be 15 to 20 words.
  • Cure Nounitis with Verbitis. Nounitis is the overuse of nouns, and we cure that using more verbs than nouns.
  • Omit Needless Words and Phrases. Remove any redundant, needless or unnecessary words and phrases that are not adding any value, content, meaning or information.
  • Turn Your Passives into Actives. Many people are not aware of the difference between the two. As a result, a lot of people (and you may be one of them) write unconsciously in passive voice.
  • Trust in Plain English. That’s the best way to simplify your writing and your language. Don’t equate plain English with dumbing down your writing. The two are very different. Using plain English is about making your language simpler – as opposed to making it simplistic, which is bad. Simplistic means dumbing down and undermining the intellectual rigor and the quality of your content. That’s the last thing I want you to do.

A technical writing offer

Finally, there was a simple offer at the end of the webinar – to jump on a discovery call with me. It’s a no-obligation, non-threatening, relaxed way to get to know you and your writing, for people who might want to explore different ways of working with me and engaging me. Only a few people took me up on that offer, but the whole experience was just brilliant.

I loved sharing my S.C.O.T.T. acronym with people. I’m on a roll, and I can’t wait to do my next live event.

I may also run a writing clinic, where I just show up and you can ask me anything you want about writing. It can have to do with planning, drafting or editing. It can be about one of my 21 writing techniques, editorial policy or how to write winning bids and tenders. Maybe you have questions about pitches, proposals or sales letters. Absolutely anything. I welcome all-comers. If I can’t answer your questions there and then, I will get back to you with an answer within 72 hours.

I think that will be my next gig, and you will be the first to hear of it.

S.C.O.T.T. for all kinds of technical writing

What does S.C.O.T.T. mean for you and your writing?

The acronym S.C.O.T.T. represents the Big Five Writing Techniques that are guaranteed, without exception, to improve your readability if you apply them properly. That may sound like a bold statement, but I stand behind that. Use them in your technical writing, and you will notice a marked improvement in your results.

I am Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write human and change the world with their words. I invite you to browse my Write for Results blog to learn more about how to further improve your technical writing (and all types of writing for that matter). And if you like to absorb your information in audio format, don’t forget about The Writing Guy podcast.

Has remote working changed business writing skills?

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business writing skills scott keyser

A couple of weeks ago I delivered a Lunch ‘n Learn session about business writing skills at a property client. The session was called — perhaps prematurely — ‘How to write Human in a post-COVID world’. (The attendees still gave it a satisfaction rating of 96%.) One of the things I asserted was that b2b communications have changed as a result of the pandemic. People are being forced to work from home. Seems to me that the line between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ has blurred, which is a good thing if we want to improve our writing skills.

What do you think?

Business writing, unfiltered

A couple of years ago I was speaking to Laura, a client who was creating a training course in proposals best practice. In the opening section of the course she mocks the honking proposal cliché. You know the one, where the bidder thanks the client profusely in the covering letter for giving them the opportunity to bid. She refers to this as ‘the grovelling opening’.

This really made me laugh, because it’s exactly what bidders do: ‘We are ever so grateful for the opportunity to bid for this esteemed piece of work…’ or some such rubbish. (Clients don’t care how you feel. They don’t care how pathetically grateful you are for being allowed to sweat blood to respond to their onerous tender. They just want you to get to the point.)

But my client — having lambasted ‘the grovelling opening’ — then blew it by saying she’d probably have to get it ‘professionalised’ by my manager.

In the nicest possible way, I hit the roof.

The left-field opener that Laura was considering in her training course is exactly what I mean by ‘personality’ in written comms. It’s that slightly cheeky, light-hearted, real, human tone that gives business writing its flair. Calling out that honking great cliché — rather than towing the party line — would have made her training course stand out.

The remote-working effect

And that’s got me thinking about the Lunch ‘n Learn session I delivered for the property client. For the past 18 months, many of us have been working from home under lockdown. We’re all zooming or MS Teaming with colleagues and clients, trading sharp suits for tracksuits, T shirts or, in some cases, cleverly disguised pyjamas. I wonder if people are more forgiving of — maybe even reassured by — this enforced informality. Is remote working altering how we perceive each other and how we communicate?

Picture the scene: your baby wakes up and starts crying when you’re on a Zoom call. Or your dog’s barking in the middle of a Facebook Live (which has happened to me more than once!). Maybe your teenagers are fighting over the PlayStation. Or the washing machine is pinging because its cycle has finished.

In those circumstances, can you really, in all honesty and with a straight face, write with MBA-itis? Like ‘We are a partner-led, full-service law firm with 35 offices and 17,000 staff around the world, offering unrivalled best-in-breed advice on a wide range of multi-jurisdictional, pan-regulatory, anti-competition issues for our global clients’?

Can you really get away with that business jargon or management-speak?

We’re now operating in a setting where the personal and the ‘professional’ have merged like never before. Those lines are fuzzy. It was always a false distinction anyway. People actually realise that by bringing their whole personal selves to work — even if it’s at the kitchen table — everyone benefits.

Business writing skills are personal

I’m reminded of the mastermind I joined last year run by Penny and Thomas Power, which was called ‘Business is Personal’, because to me it is. If you don’t bring your whole person, your whole personality to your work, to your business, to your writing, your words won’t land. You won’t make that connection with the reader.

Remember that live BBC interview with the American Professor Robert Kelly, who was talking about South Korean politics?

If you recall, he’s answering the interviewer’s questions, with gravitas and erudition. Then his four-year old daughter, Marian, sashays in unannounced and stands behind him. He’s trying to push her away while keeping a straight face. Clearly, he’s agonising over whether to ignore or acknowledge her while responding to the interviewer’s questions. Trouble is, now the door to his office is wide open. Suddenly his nine-month old son, James, trundles in in his baby stroller to join his big sister. He doesn’t want to miss out on the fun.

business writing skills scott keyser

Enter Character #4, stage left. The Professor’s Korean wife hurtles in to the office, crouched low to stay out of the camera shot but in full view of millions of viewers. She grabs the kids and pulls them out of the office. But she’s left the door open so, with one arm lassoed around her kids, she hyper-extends the other arm to the door handle and pulls it shut. You can only imagine how many of the Professor’s synapses were firing as this farce unfolded.

The video went viral (more than 44 million views on YouTube to date). I’ve just watched it again: it makes me laugh every time. My point is that we accidentally got a hysterical insight into the Prof and his life. That he’s a regular, normal, loving, family guy, husband and father made people see him as just another human. Suddenly, he’s just as vulnerable as the rest of us. People fell in love with him. Now he’s famous…just not for South Korean politics.

How to improve business writing skills

What does all that mean for us as writers? How do we use that to improve our writing?

It’s about giving ourselves permission to be human, warts ‘n all. To get over the myth of ‘professionalism’, which forces many unintentional business writers to leave their personality at the door, or at the top of the page. World-class writing combines great content with personality. To do this takes courage.

Take heart. Your business writing skills will be transformed.

~~~

Scott is The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write. In other words, to help you improve your business writing skills.

Listen to the podcast episode 152 related to this topic, ‘Has working from home changed how we write?‘. Then subscribe to The Writing Guy podcast to learn more about business writing skills and how to improve your writing.

how to improve writing skills scott keyser

How to improve writing skills with Verbitis

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Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend called Vicky Ross, a talented coach, therapist and NLP Master Practitioner. We were talking about language, its fascinating patterns…and of course, that led me to thinking about how to improve writing skills.

Vicky helped me to better understand the idea of Nounitis. I’ve spoken about Nounitis in the past. It’s the overuse of nouns, particularly abstract ones.

To take you back to school with a quick reminder, a noun is a naming word, and the cure for Nounitis is Verbitis, or using more verbs than nouns. Verbs are words of action and doing.

Nounitis is rife in B2B communications. Someone might say “She has responsibility for the implementation of the project.” What the hell does that mean?

“Implementation” can mean so many different things. It’s a vague, abstract term.

I want to take you through a little exercise. I’m going to give you a series of words and I want you to observe how your brain computes those words. There will be three different types of words:

  • tangible, concrete, common nouns (things you could put in a wheelbarrow)
  • abstract nouns (adjectives or verbs that have turned into nouns)
  • verbs (action words)

Are you ready?

Learn how to improve writing skills:  an exercise

how to improve writing skills scott keyser

For each of the three types of words, I want you to observe what happens in your brain. Notice, too, how your body reacts.

First, the common nouns:

  • bed
  • chair
  • apple
  • pen
  • book
  • computer

Just observe how your brain deals with those.

Now for some abstract nouns:

  • freedom
  • democracy
  • liberty
  • consideration
  • implementation
  • responsibility

That’s the second list. Again, notice how you reacted to them.

And for the third list, verbs:

  • running
  • writing
  • speaking
  • jumping
  • walking

There you have three very different types of words.

What did you observe happening to your body when you read them?

When Vicky and I did this mini-exercise, I looked up to the right when she recited the abstract nouns. That’s how my body responded when trying to make sense of those words. The verbs seemed easier for me. I looked straight ahead or slightly to the left.

The point I’m making is that the common nouns are things we can see and touch. The abstract nouns are much harder to compute because they’re intellectual, abstract concepts and demand more processing power from the human brain. Since verbs are words of doing and action, they have movement attached to them.

Neither type of noun had movement. They were static. They didn’t go anywhere. There was no energy to them. In contrast, the verbs had energy — but you would expect that.

The benefits of Verbitis

There are two benefits when using more verbs than nouns. how to improve writing skills scott keyserFirst, they literally give your writing more energy. Second, verbs conjure mental images in our brains, with little or no effort.

With abstract nouns, the brain has to work to associate some kind of image from our own experiences. That’s why verbs, Verbitis and curing Nounitis are so important if we want to improve our writing skills.

There’s one more point: the relationship between movement/motion and emotion. Static, abstract nouns — for me, at least — have no emotion attached to them. There’s neither motion nor emotion. Whereas the verbs lend themselves to emotion.

For example, if I gave you the abstract phrase, “freedom from slavery,” (two abstract nouns, “freedom” and “slavery”) I can say that I agree with that concept. Like most decent people, I don’t agree with slavery or servitude. Contrast the impact of that with the sentence, “The plantation owner unchained the slave and freed him.” I’m using more words, but I’m also using two verbs (“unchained” and “freed”). Clearly, I’m creating a picture, depicting a scene.

You might say we’re losing brevity — and of course we are — but I know which type of writing I’d prefer to read.

How to improve writing skills for better results

Using verbs and simple language while leavening and scaling down the amount of abstract language you use is going to improve your writing.

I hope this was useful information and that it will lead you to new ideas on how to improve your writing skills. I know it’s spurred me to learn more about NLP and patterns of language — particularly ‘nominalisation’, or turning words into nouns.

If you’re interested in learning more about my Big Five writing techniques, including Verbitis, connect with me on LinkedIn and join us for my LinkedIn webinar on the Big Five, on the 28th of July 2021. 

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing begins with the end

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Would you agree there’s too much information about persuasive writing out there? That when it’s time to learn something that will build your brand, it takes longer to sift through bad information than it does to actually learn the skill — especially if it’s about improving your writing?

That’s why I’m thrilled to be part of Brand Builders TV, where an impressive array of professionals, experts and proven entrepreneurs from the Brand Builders Club come together to freely share what they’ve learnt over their careers.

In the episode Nail the Nasty Nine Writing Issues, you’ll not only learn the names of the nine writing problems that stop us connecting with our readers. You’ll also get an up-close look at the first three.

#1 is about ‘We-‘ing all over the reader, which the article ‘Write to Persuade and Convert’ expands on. The second, about non-existent planning, is explained in the article ‘Powerful Written Communication’. And finally, here we are at article #3 in the series, which will teach you why it’s important to know where your written content will end — before you even begin.

The other six writing issues will be forthcoming, but for now, why not go back and read those first two articles? Then you’ll be sure to miss nothing on your journey to bringing more and more customers and clients onboard.

If you’re more of a digital learner, you can view the entire recorded Brand Builders TV episode here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdLSJrXQ2fU

Your writing is about to get a lot more persuasive.

Persuasive writing knows where it’s going

As writers, when we’re not clear about where we’re going or what we’re trying to achieve, we run the risk of producing something that rambles and meanders. It’s going to drive the reader mad! It’s more effective and efficient to know where we’re going. We must identify our destination.

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

Persuasive Writing does not have a vague message or objective

The training I deliver to people around the world has little to do with pretty words or mellifluous, musical cadences (we get into that at mastery level).

What I’m talking about here is the sheer mechanics of great writing, and part of that is being really clear about our destination. It’s less about prettiness, more about behaviour change. We’re seeking, through the written word, to change the reader’s behaviour. That’s why this issue is one of the Nasty Nine.

Facts. Feelings. Actions.

What can we do about vague writing? Nail, define and articulate our purpose or objective. For this, I use a three-letter acronym: F.F.A. — Facts. Feelings. Action.

Imagine a three-column table. The first is Facts, or what you want your reader to know. The second is what you want them to feel. The last one is the action you want them to take as a result of reading your words.

For the first column, there are probably a lot of things you want your reader to know. Generally, provided you know your subject, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Now jump over to the right-hand column, Action. Typically, in any communication, there’s one thing you want your reader to do. To instruct you, give you a mandate, engage you or hire you, agree to meet with you, give you some information, send you a document…that’s usually pretty straightforward.

But where persuasive writing gets interesting is in the middle column, Feelings. What emotions do you want to evoke in your reader to drive the action? These emotions might include, but are not limited to:

Fear

You might want to scare them about something…like being laid off,  losing market share, missing out on an opportunity, their program failing, catching Covid, missing out on promotion.

Greed

What do they want more of? What are they greedy for? Money, time, information, power, control, influence, reputation, social media engagement.

Motivation

Use your words to motivate them to take action, energise them to pursue a particular course of action.

Anger

Get your reader angry about injustices in the world, to raise awareness and galvanise action.

Excitement

Get their pulse racing by describing attractive results, outcomes and benefits.

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

When you do F.F.A. properly, you break the back of your document. You’re cooking with gas. What do you want your reader to know? What do you want them to feel? And what action do you want them to take as a result of that knowledge and emotion?

Emotion matters in persuasive writing

What’s the role of emotion in persuasion? Why does emotion matter in persuasive writing? The answer lies 2,500 years ago, in the 4th century B.C., when Aristotle nailed the topic of rhetoric. He identified three persuasive ‘appeals’: Logos (logic); Ethos (credibility, character, reputation); Pathos (passion, emotion). He said all three were equally important, meaning that if we leave emotion out of our writing, we’re missing out. Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act.

What’s your objective?

I hope you’re feeling more confident about your ability to improve your writing skills. What will you do with this new knowledge?

If persuasive writing for bids, tenders, sales pages, blogs, webpages and articles is something you’d like to learn more about, then subscribe to the Brand Builders TV YouTube channel for more episodes. Or, go straight to my second video, Nail The Nasty Nine Writing Issues, Part Two, which expands on issues 4 to 6.

My time in the Brand Builders Club has not only helped me to build my brand as The Writing Guy. It’s given me invaluable feedback, accountability and networking opportunities. Why not join us? Your registration comes with no commitment, and no risk — just growth.

words of history scott keyser

Words of history prove that writing matters

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Today is the 15th of June. This morning, thinking about what I was going to do for today’s podcast, I was drawing a bit of a blank. Then I looked in my On This Day book, an almanac of world events and words of history. Of course, today is a very significant day in the history of the British Isles, particularly England and English history.

Let me give you a clue. I’m going to give you something to read in Latin. You can guess why on earth I’m giving you words of history in Latin, and then there will be a grand reveal.

Here is the opening clause of an important historical document (Hint! Hint!).

Johannes del gracia rex Anglie, dominus Hibernie, dux Normannie, Aquitannie et comes Andegavie, archiepiscopis, episcopis, abbatibus, comitibus, baronibus, justiciariis, forestariis, vicecomitibus, prepositis, ministris et omnibus ballivis et fidelibus suis salutem.

And here’s yet another clue, in the translation:

John, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Normandy in Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting.

What do these words of history mean?

Any guesses to what this hugely significant document was?

It’s of course Magna Carta, signed on the banks of the River Thames near Windsor, in a meadow called Runnymede. It was there that King John I of England affixed his royal wax seal on 15 June, 1215. The document’s full name was Magna Carta Libertatum, mediaeval Latin for ‘Great Charter of Freedoms’. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, drafted it.

words of history scott keyser the writing guyThe purpose of this document was to make peace between unpopular King John (often referred to as Wicked or Evil, Nasty King John) and a group of rebel barons. It promised the protection of church rights, to keep the church free. Barons were to be protected from illegal imprisonment. It would give them access to swift justice and put limitations on feudal payments to the Crown. Furthermore, it was to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. As history would later show, neither side actually stood behind their commitments. The charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons War (1216-1217). It was reissued by his young son, Henry III, in 1216 (although I understand it got watered down).

At the end of the First Barons War in 1217, it formed part of the Lambeth peace treaty. But as the fledgling English parliament passed new laws, Magna Carta lost a lot of its practical significance. Interestingly (and rather amusingly), it was never about the Barons being altruistic and selfless, wanting to protect the common man. It was really about looking out for themselves with baronial self-protection. I don’t think they gave two figs about the common man in the street or the villain in the fields!

Magna Carta: still significant

Magna Carta was described by Lord Denning (famous English lawyer and judge) as, ‘the greatest constitutional document of all time…the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot’. Some elevated, 21-gun-salute language from the great man, there!

There are four copies of Magna Carta in existence: two in the British Library, one at Lincoln Castle and one at Salisbury Cathedral. I was there (or near there) the other day when I visited Stonehenge, which I’ve spoken about.

What’s the relevance in words of history for writers?

We’re no longer writing in Latin, unless we’re drafting a very archaic kind of constitutional law. Nonetheless, Magna Carta shows that in order to create and preserve freedoms, things need to be written down. The written word is a much more permanent record of what was agreed between two disputing parties than the spoken word. Yet, despite that, history has shown even that wasn’t enough to hold both parties to their commitments. However, it did serve as a model and an inspiration to other fledgling democracies  — notably the United States’ founding fathers and authors of the American Declaration of Independence.

Where would we be without the written word?

It’s likely that we would still be running around as hunter-gatherers, eating each other, beating each other up and killing each other. For me, the written word is probably man’s greatest invention. It’s the invention that has most promoted modern civilization. It has given us words of history, to remember, to learn from and to preserve for all time.

I am Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, and I’d like to thank you for joining me for yet another article about how to improve writing skills. If you’d like to take your writing to the next level of quality, impact and results, let’s jump on a call and have a chat. You can book your slot here: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91/.

 

Jargon Definition Write for Results Scott Keyser

‘Jargon’ definition: where the word comes from

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Rough and ready transcription of episode 148 of The Writing Guy podcast, all about ‘jargon’ definition, as well as the origin of the word.

Hi there and welcome to episode 148 of The Writing Guy podcast. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and change the world with their words.

The Writing Guy luxuriates in birdsong

On the weekend, as I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast 147, on Saturday, I had two or three delightful hours at Stonehenge. World Heritage Site, obviously, and a site of deep spiritual, historic and astrological significance. Very, very beautiful. It was a stunning day: if you were in the UK on the Saturday, 12th of June, it was beautiful…and very, very hot. It got so hot that I had to find the shade of a tree.

About 200 metres away from Stonehenge I just lay down in the grass in the shade of this tree, watching the clouds going by and listening to the birdsong. It was very, very beautiful and very relaxing. Not sure if this is giving you insight into how The Writing Guy spends his weekends! I certainly don’t do this every weekend. But even if I did, so what? It was just beautiful to have the time and leisure to be able to do that.

And so I lay there in the shade of this tree because it was really baking hot and I just became aware of this wonderful birdsong going on around me, which as I learned later is mainly skylarks. But there was a lot of activity: flies and bees buzzing around me, and particularly the bird song was, was very impressive and that got me thinking about the word ‘jargon’, because I read many years ago that ‘jargon’ is from Old French [in the podcast I mistakenly said ‘Old English’. Ed] meaning ‘birdsong’ (at least according to the jargon definition in the online etymology dictionary).

Jargonising your writing (ugh!) won’t make your words sound like birdsong

The ‘jargon’ definition comes from the mid-14th century, meaning ‘unintelligible talk, gibberish, chattering or jabbering’, and it’s from the old French jargon. A chattering of birds. So you know, when you are using technical terms or kind of business jargon, you may think, ooh I’m being very artistic by using birdsong, but actually it’s more like unintelligible talk! Nonsense. Hot air.

And it was only from the 1650s that the word ‘jargon’ gained the additional meaning of words or language or phraseology peculiar to a sect, profession, discipline or subject, as in ‘technical jargon’, technical terms, ie ‘technical jargon’. And that’s fine as long as your reader is a member of that particular sect or profession and understands those terms (also known, by the way, as ‘terms of art’, ie a term that has a specialised meaning in a particular field or profession.

So if you’re a lawyer than the word ‘tort’ would count as a term of art. Or if you’re in financial services you might use the phrase ‘collateralized debt obligation’. That will have a particular meaning for people in that professional industry. The temptation or the risk if you like is if you overuse that kind of language, it’s just going to de-humanise it and make it hard even for a technical reader who’s familiar with that terminology to read.

And just going back to ‘jargon’, I also read in the dictionary that Middle English has it as a verb, jargounen, to chatter, which is originally from the French.

The bottom line of the jargon definition

So, yeah, what’s the bottom line from this? How did I get from listening to beautiful birdsong in Stonehenge to the origin of the ‘jargon’ definition? And what does that mean for us as writers?

I guess what that means is that if you are 100% sure that 100% of your readership belong to the same sect, discipline or specialised subject area, then you can safely use technical jargon. But in my experience that’s very rare to have 100% of your readership coming from the same industry, the same specialist industry. There may be occasions where there really is no substitute or no alternative to using a piece of technical jargon. But often, often there is. And I think we as writers need to — for the sake of the reader and readability — we need to strike that balance between using technical jargon and using what I would call plain English, which is simple, middle register, more conversational, more human sounding language.

There you go, that’s it for today. Hope that was useful and I will see you tomorrow for episode 149, Thanks for listening. Bye now.

meaning of worship scott keyser

Meaning of worship, inspired by Stonehenge

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Yesterday I had a beautiful day, discovering the meaning of worship. After dropping my daughter off at Bristol, where she’s coming to the end of her Masters there in Economics, I swung via Stonehenge. If you can believe it, in all my 62 years on the planet, specifically in England, I’ve never been to Stonehenge. It was great. Rather than paying the [what I consider rather exorbitant] 25 quid to get in, I just walked along the public footpath that takes you within 100 metres of the stones. That was good enough for me.

It’s really a truly inspiring place (even apart from the weather yesterday, which was stunning). It wasn’t that crowded either, an added bonus. And you know, it’s an incredible monument and a World Heritage Site. It was built, they estimate, 4500 to 5000 years ago, in 2500 BC, as a site of deep spiritual, astrological and astronomical significance.

You probably know this, but the heel stone, main Portal and the altar are aligned on both the mid-winter and the mid-summer solstices. In fact, the mid-summer solstice is coming up in the next few days on the 21st of June. Can you imagine the sophistication, ingenuity and calculations required to get that alignment right, year in year out, for millennia? That’s pretty phenomenal. I was in awe.

As you might expect of The Writing Guy, it got me thinking about language connected with Stonehenge and sites of spiritual significance. So, what is the origin of words like worship, reverence, veneration and adoration? Where do they come from? 

Let’s start with the meaning of worship.

 

The Writing Guy looks at the meaning of ‘worship’

According to the etymology online website, the word worship comes from the Old English or West Saxon word weorðscipe. It means ‘the condition of being worthy’. It also means dignity, glory, distinction, honour or renown. The sense of paying reverence, or revering a supernatural divine being, is first recorded in about 1300, as is the first use of it also meaning an honourable person (as in the Worshipful Company of Glovers, the Worshipful Mayor of London, from around the 13th or 14th century).

So that’s worship. The condition of being worthy, or of having value.

 

The Writing Guy looks at ‘adore’

Next, I looked up adore, which I think I’m right in saying comes from aouren, meaning to worship, pay divine honors to, bow down before. It comes from Old French aorer and before that the Latin adorare, which is composed of two root words: the prefix, ad-, meaning to or towards, and orare, to speak formally to or pray.

So, that’s where we get the idea of adoration when we’re praying to somebody or something. You are praying or speaking to it, in order to be granted some kind of desire or wish.

The meaning ‘to honour very highly’ is attested as coming from the 1590s, whilst the additional meaning of ‘to be very fond of’ is a relatively recent addition from the 1880s.

 

The Writing Guy defines ‘venerate’

Finally, we have venerate. This word comes from Latin veneratus, the past participle of venerare, to revere or worship, which in turn comes from veneris, the genitive form of venusVenus means beauty, love or desire. You can see again, we venerate, we respect something that we love and we find beautiful.

Even further back in time we find the Proto Indo-European root, wen-, which means ‘to desire or strive for’. That’s where we get words like venereal (as in venereal disease) and venery, which is an old word for hunting. I guess if you’re pursuing the object of your affection, they’re you’re ‘quarry’, just as you might pursue a stag or deer. Venial, which I think means mercenary, says you’re in love with money. Venom comes from that as well. Winsome, somebody who’s attractive, and wish comes from wen- as well. It’s something that we desire. We wish for something. So it’s all related.

 

Musings on the meaning of worship

Those are my musings. I hope they’re of some interest—spurred, stimulated and inspired by my stunning afternoon yesterday at Stonehenge.

Thanks very much for joining me here, for the meaning of worship, roused by Stonehenge. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and change the world with their words. I invite you subscribe to this blog, as well as to The Writing Guy podcast.