Thursday, June 30, 2011

Editing for one voice: the good, bad, and ugly

It’s not uncommon when many are contributing writing to a project that someone will edit so that it all reads as “once voice.” The idea is simply to smooth out the radical differences in writing styles to create a better experience for the reader.

On a basic level, this involves ensuring terms, acronyms, spelling, capitalization, and other elements are consistent.

One voice that sings

For projects where specific authorship is irrelevant, such as responses to requests for proposals (RFPs), grant requests, and accreditation applications, editing for one voice is essential.

The focus is on providing accurate and complete information in a clear, compelling, and consistent manner. It’s not about impressing with a slick writing styles or clever turns of phrases.

In these kinds of situations, editing for one voice is a good thing. If there are radical differences from one section to another, it can create confusion and annoyance.

Multiple voices blended

When the project is a compilation of several writers who are writing specific chapters or sections, and who will be credited for their writing, then the editing needs to be less.

While there should be consistency throughout in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and so forth, the individual voices of the writers should be respected. Readers will not be annoyed in these situations because they are expecting and even appreciating the different styles.

Editing that’s off-key or overkill

Editing for one voice can go too far.

In the case of proposals or accreditation material, you still want the writing to be interesting and engaging. While it won’t be reflective of any one person’s style, the writing should not be bland or completely void of style.

The goal is to create a pleasant reading experience for the evaluators, not to bore them to death. The writing, while author agnostic, must still be lively and memorable in order to gain a positive evaluation.

In the case of compilations, editing out personality can result in excessively re-written pieces and no sense of personality in the writing. I contributed to a project where this happened.

Even though multiple writers with distinct styles contributed nicely written pieces, they were so heavily edited and rewritten, none of us could recognize our own contributions.

The result was sections that were bland and non-engaging which was exactly opposite what the publisher was aiming for. Subsequently, sales of the completed book have not lived up to expectations.

It’s not just about typos

Editing material for one voice takes a deft touch and a good ear. Yes, you need to be able to “hear” the writing. This is not the kind of project to hand off to a college English student or a novice editor.

Look for an editor who has had experience in proposal development, accreditation materials development, or editing compilations or book series.

Editing is much more than hunting for typos, ferreting out questionable grammar, and getting punctuation right. The quality of the editing can give life to a dull project, or it can kill even good writing.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Corleones were not businessmen; they were thugs

One of the most evil phrases that floats around businesses is, “It’s not personal, it’s only business.”

The phrase became popular in the early 70s when the Godfather movie franchise was launched. Whenever one mobster killed another, it was never “personal” since it was only “business.” Very bloody business.

Life and death are very personal issues in any setting.

Working is about living which is why we refer to it as “making a living.”

The point of commerce is not commerce. The point of commerce is to provide people a means to earn a living so that they can provide for themselves and their families.

Commerce, aka business, has always been a very personal endeavor.

People came first, then commerce developed. All commerce is a transaction by people, for people, of the people. And it’s all personal.

Losing view of this by attempting to make business “impersonal” merely dehumanizes the workplace. It’s a way to tamp down any sense of responsibility to employees as they’re shoved out the door during layoffs. Any executive that justifies layoffs by claiming it isn’t personal, that it’s just business, should be sent to sleep with the fishes.

In business as it is in any area of our lives, it’s always personal.

The goal of communication is to connect and engage with your audience. Every audience at the other end of communication is always made up of people. So, every communication is a personal transaction.

This is an essential truth to keep in mind when developing any organizational communication.

It’s never just business, and it’s always personal. Anything less is just thuggish.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Death by lies: Rumors, gossip, and slander

Many people have been badly damaged as a result of someone starting a rumor about them. Rumors are started out of a desire for revenge, in anger, as an attempt to deflect scrutiny, to inflate the ego of the rumormonger – always very selfish reasons.

A rumor that’s directed at a person is gossip, hearsay, vilification, slander, defamation, and libel. It’s a piece of fiction masquerading as fact; a lie that someone has expended a great deal of effort to disguise as truth.

Rumors can cause irreparable harm

Children angry at their teachers or parents have fabricated horrible accusations that have ended careers and split homes. Politicians caught in compromising situations attack the reputations of innocent bystanders. Criminals cast aspersions at their victims. And, too often, in the heat and heartbreak of divorce, one spouse lashes out and falsely accuses the other of abuse, cheating, molestation, and worse, attempting to assassinate the character of someone to whom they once pledged their undying love.

Sadly, once such accusations are let loose, the accused innocent may be tagged for life. Killing rumors is like shooting at ghosts. How can you kill what isn't real?

Hear-sayers find eager ears

It’s amazing how gullible people are and how hungry they can be to readily hear and accept without question as true lies told about another.

A person who starts and feeds one or more rumors damages their own integrity, conscience, and credibility. As time goes on, they will shed friends who exhibit and maintain these positive qualities. Those who remain around them and readily believe the lies probably are also gossips and slanderers.

Gossips feed off other gossips. Slandering generates an insatiable appetite for more.

Paul describes these kinds of people in very harsh and graphic terms in Romans 1:28-32:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Denying the truth about themselves

Often those who are chronic rumormongers have serious sin issues they’re trying to deny. Instead of taking responsibility for their own moral failings, they spin condemning rumors about others to deflect scrutiny and make themselves feel superior. The person starting the rumor is attempting to bolster their own perverted sense of self-righteousness.

It’s a sick way to live.

The ultimate tragedy is when the lying gossiper sustains the rumor for so long that they forget the original truth and believe the lie they created. The lie becomes their truth and reality, ruling their lives and ultimately destroying them.

Proverbs 16:27-29 puts it like this: “A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. A violent person entices their neighbor and leads them down a path that is not good.”

Gossips are not good friends to have.

How to put the kibosh on a gossip

If someone approaches you with a “story” about some situation that they want your reaction to or advice about, if you choose to listen, be prepared to screen for gossip.

  • Ask probing, specific questions: what, where, when, how, who, and why. Gossips will leave out important facts. For example, they’ll fail to pass along that after a moral failure the person confessed and repented. A gossip will only focus on the sin and won’t mention the work toward redemption.
  • If they’re on a mission to gossip, as you probe you’ll surface inconsistencies. Pay attention for shifts in the story line and then call them on it and press them for a clear explanation. For example, a gossip may claim someone did something at a specific time and place, but you realize that person was somewhere else at the time. The gossip will then try to recast the information on the fly. Don’t let them!
  • Keep asking questions to clarify their story and get to the essential “facts.” A gossip will resist being pinned down, even if there is some truth to their lie.
  • Have them make it clear to you why they are sharing this information; ask them what they want from you. Someone seeking your advice will likely be troubled or cautious about sharing the information, while a gossip will enjoy telling you every salacious detail.
  • If you suspect you’re being fed gossip, tell them you’re going to check the story with the person or persons they’ve reference in their gossip. A gossiper will panic or try to direct you to a fellow-gossiper. But, if the person is genuinely seeking your advice, don’t break their confidence.

If someone is telling you the truth and genuinely seeking your counsel, they’ll be happy to clarify the facts. If they’re lying, your questions will make them sweat and stutter and very likely will send them packing.

Gossips want you to listen, validate them, believe horrible lies about others, and share in spreading the story. They aren’t looking for a resolution to anything, instead they want to keep the rumor mill churning. Someone seeking advice will be quick to protect reputations and believe the best about people; they are wanting to find a way to help improve what may be a painful or harmful situation.

Don’t join in with another's gossip. Listening to and spreading rumors puts your hand on the knife that’s lodged in the heart of another's reputation.

Now, have you heard about … ???

Have you ever been the victim of gossip? How did you handle it? Do you have trouble shutting down gossip? Why do you think that is? Please share your thoughts about gossip, experiences as a victim of gossip, or techniques for disarming gossip in the comments!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unless you’re targeting only geeks, don’t ask a geek to write your stuff.

There is a common mistake being made in corporate job ads for communications, writing, editing, copy writing, technical writing, and similar positions.

These ads usually start with listing requirements of the job that are very industry-specific.

In other words, for a respondent to be considered for a technical writing position with Ace Widgets, they must possess a detailed knowledge of Ace Widgets. Many times, a specialized degree or certification is specified as being required.

Later in the list of desired qualifications, “strong writing skills” will be mentioned, along with familiarity with Microsoft Word, and so forth; the kinds of general skills anyone needs to be effective in an office environment.

This is backwards.

Hire a writer, not a technically trained expert

If you are looking to hire someone whose primary output will be writing – for brochures, speeches, technical manuals, the web, or whatever – you want to hire someone who is first and foremost a writer.

You want someone who has been successful across a variety of fields writing in different markets. You want a writer who writes well in any and every circumstance.

You do not want to hire an engineer to write technical manuals. You do not want to hire a nurse to write hospital brochures. You should avoid hiring an insurance salesman to write web copy for your insurance website.

You don’t want to hire someone who is so familiar with the technical details of your products or services that they can’t translate those into jargon-free plain English aimed at your customers. These are your subject matter experts (aka geeks) from whom the necessary information can be drawn, and who can read and validate the output.

A good writer will know how to interview your subject matter experts and digest your industry-specific information in order to create engaging and understandable copy for your customers.

Subject matter experts, as a rule, are not writers. And when they are called upon to write, they will write for others like themselves. They will produce copy only other subject matter experts in their field will be able to understand. Your customers will be left scratching their heads and call your support line.

The result is frustration, not clarity or customer satisfaction.

Engineers know engineering, not writing

When I worked at AT&T developing international sales proposals, all of the material for our proposals came from engineers and others who were immersed in their different technology niches.

These men and women were smart, conversant, and skilled at their jobs. But they couldn’t write a clear layman-focused sentence to save their lives when it came to writing for their jobs. Because they were so immersed in their area of expertise, they often forgot what various acronyms stood for. They could tell you the XYZ was a piece of equipment, and they could tell you what the XYZ did and why it was important. But they couldn’t tell you what XYZ stood for.

That’s why the company needed me and my colleagues. We were not technically trained in telecommunications, but we could write. We knew how to ferret out definitions of acronyms, but more importantly, we could sit with the engineers and others and talk with them, learning what they were trying to communicate. Then, we could take their inputs and “translate” them for the lay reader.

A good writer can write well about almost anything

I have worked in education, manufacturing, telecommunications, aerospace, religion, magazine publishing, retail, book publishing, finance, tech support, call centers, and other industries. I wasn’t trained in any of these fields and I was successful as a writer in all of them. In fact, I was frequently sought out by the top executives to help with various writing projects.

It is rare that someone with deep subject matter expertise will also have strong writing skills and be able to filter their technical expertise to appeal to a lay reader. The jargon is too ingrained.

A good writer is able to write well because they possess a broad knowledge of many subjects. This enables them to create stories, metaphors, and examples that will connect with your customers, most of whom are not medical geeks, insurance geeks, or technical geeks.

If you want to produce news releases, brochures, flyers, direct mail, web copy, books, publications, collateral, and all things that involve writing that will connect with and engage your customers, hire writers who are excellent writers.

Don’t hire geeks to do your writing. Or you could end up with copy that sounds like this...


Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting to the root of the problem

Roots can be troublesome to sewer lines, sidewalks, and foundations. They can block what shouldn’t be blocked, break up what shouldn’t be broken, and weaken what’s supposed to be strong.

Roots can rot whatever they takeover. On the other hand, plants that are well-rooted are strong, healthy, and fruitful.

Are you well-rooted or being rotted by a root?

Being rooted, but not in-rooted

A rooted person is someone who is considered to be grounded, firmly established, solid. A grounded person exhibits positive characteristics. They are able to withstand the storms of life and still be fruitful.

A fruitful person is one who shares of their life, makes positive contributions to society, who gives with no expectation of getting back.

David, the Psalmist, referred to this kind of person saying, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3. NIV).

In Colossians 2:6-7, the Apostle Paul encourages us, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Being rooted is a good thing.

Being in-rooted, but not rooted

There’s a flipside to being rooted which is destructive; being in-rooted. To be in-rooted is sort of like having an infected ingrown toenail in your heart. Or, if it were possible, a tree planted with limbs down and roots up.

An in-rooted person is upside down, inside out, and just all wrong.

In Hebrews, we are cautioned, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15, NIV).

This “bitter root” refers to extreme wickedness, producing a bitter fruit, and exhibiting bitter hatred.

Being in-rooted with a heart of bitterness destroys us and “defiles many” around us. To be ingrown with bitterness means that we have missed the grace of God which can be seen in the lack of grace we extend to others.

The poison fruit of graceless bitterness is unquenchable anger, persistent clinging to grudges, noxious blaming of others, and the sickening nursing of infected wounds.

Bitterness fills the heart like pus.

A bitter heart never forgives, never seeks reconciliation, never accepts responsibility. It is thoroughly anti-grace and anti-love.

A rooted person is a loving person

Paul provides us with the ultimate description of a rooted, loving person in the well-known love passage of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Being in-rooted with bitterness is the antithesis of love. Bitterness always betrays, always doubts, and always gives up on everyone around them. It is self-seeking, easily angered, keeping an endless record of wrongs, and delights in evil and revels in lies.

A person in-rooted with bitterness is not a pretty person. They can look as craggy on the outside as a cracked sidewalk.

You’re not a tree or a sidewalk

A tree does not choose where it is planted and sidewalks can’t defend themselves against roots.

But we can choose.

If you are allowing a root to grow in you, it’s going to break you apart and destroy you, just like the root of a tree will destroy a sidewalk.

If you are choosing to be rooted in the Lord, then you will stand firm, providing shade and fruit and a positive environment for those around you.

Psalm 92:12-15 says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’”

Let God’s grace flow through your life. It will kill the bitter root in your heart while at the same time nourish your roots of faith, causing them to go deep into the soil of His righteousness.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Keep this in mind when writing anything

Ideas take form through words.

Words are powerful.

Power influences.

Influence changes behavior.

Behavior reveals character.

Character is defined by passion.

Passion follows from thought.

Thought generates ideas.

Ideas take form through words. 

Words are powerful...

Copyright © Stephen R. Clark.

This poem is included in this collection: