Science for the Public and more…

Posts tagged ‘magazines’

How to Write Copy People Will Actually Read

You’ve found your way to this article, but you probably won’t read it start to finish.

You’ve read the stats. According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% read the body. 38% of people who click on a site will leave before engaging with the content at all. People will share copy, effectively vouching for its quality, when they’ve only read 25% of it.

Does this mean no one reads anymore? Has the Internet killed literacy? Not quite, but it has given birth to a generation of scanners. [Tweeters!] That is, people who scan articles and landing pages to get the “gist” or find a section they’re especially interested in.

Why Does Scanning Matter?

People don’t read the way they used to. Why? There are a few different reasons…

  1. Attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2000, the average attention span for a human was 12 seconds. Today? A recent study found that our attention span is a mere 8 seconds. To compare, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span.
  2. We’re busier than ever. The amount of time Americans spend at work, on average, is actually declining, but the convergence of work life and personal life leaves us with an “always on” mentality. As a result, we feel “busier than ever”. Far too busy to read an entire landing page or email or article.
  3. Content overload is real. 41% of people surveyed claim to feel overwhelmed by the many choices online. Instead, they turn to friends for content and product recommendations.

So, how do people read now?

“In today’s world people are suffering from content overload. People rarely read, they scan/skim through content and dive in areas they find interesting.”

If you want people to actually read, every line of copy should pass a cost-benefit test…

  • Cost – How much time will this take? How difficult will it be to read?
  • Benefit – What’s in it for me? What will I learn or gain from reading this?

Do the Old Copy Rules Still Apply?

So, do any of the old school copy rules still apply? Of course. This is an evolution of how copy is consumed, not how it is crafted.

Two core rules still apply: (1) you must secure interest and (2) you must do so as quickly as possible.

The bottomline is that people read copy they’re interested in. If your copy is compelling and intriguing, your visitors are going to read it.

Of course, securing that interest as quickly as possible is key. People make snap decisions, so if you don’t have them hooked in the first 8 seconds, you’ve likely already lost them.

However, they likely aren’t interested in all of your copy. Instead, they will scan your copy and read only the sections they’re interested in.

For example, let’s say you found Evergage because you’re interested in targeting certain visitors for personalization.

From: Shanelle Mullin

 

Advertisements

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

Mistake #1: Writers don’t place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., “He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum.” Because both “He took the 405 freeway to work” and “he exited at the Getty Museum” are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, “and.” This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don’t make it. It’s a very easy punctuation rule to remember.

Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let’s take the above example, and change it just a little: “He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum.” I took the second “he” out. That makes the clause after “and” a dependent clause, because “exited at the Getty Museum” cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the “and.”

Of course, there are other places you need—and don’t need—commas, but this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.

Mistake #3: Writers don’t know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer’s spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that “unphased” isn’t even a word. She meant “unfazed.” To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was “waving.” And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.

Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!

Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you’re spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it (“ewe” should be “you”; “you’re” should be “your”; “fined” should be “find”; “awl” should be “all”; “yore” should be “your”; “miss” and “steaks” should be “mistakes”: and finally, “your” should be “you’re”). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.

Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: “I saw a deer driving to work today.” Uh, no—you didn’t, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, “I saw a deer while driving to work today,” or, “While driving to work today, I saw a deer.” Please, don’t put the deer in the driver’s seat!

Here’s another example: “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments.” Warm what in the microwave? You’ve got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments.”

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we’d probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can’t count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

Self-publishing; Is the Stigma Disappearing? Should It?

 

            Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached. Why is this? Mostly because we were taught in school that anything published has been thoroughly checked and edited by “those who knew more than we did, specialists of some kind.” That may have been true of our textbooks, which were written and edited by specialists in their fields.

As we became adults and, at least some of us, became teachers, writers and editors, we tried our hand at publishing and found out how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, let alone land a publishing contract. Some of us continued to butt our heads against that publishing wall until we were, at least, moderately successful. Some gave up, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. The third segment saw the modern availability of publishing technology as a way to go around the traditional publishing roadblock. It afforded low cost publishing (CreateSpace and many others), free way to get public attention (Amazon—you and several million other authors) and you kept all the profit and didn’t have a garage full of inventory and shipping to handle. A sweet deal, right?

Not so fast. You are a specialist in the subject you are writing about, right? You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library, right? (No offense to public libraries here.) You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work, right? You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon, right? You have a brand, right? A what?

Let’s look at these issues in the order they are listed:

  • You are a specialist in the subject about which you are writing. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic about which you are writing unless you a claiming your work to be the final word on the topic. Be sure you acknowledge somewhere your limitations.
  • You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library. There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand—just don’t stop there. Your local librarian will give you suggestions as to where to get more information on your topic. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is there, unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything there, whether or not it is valid.
  • You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work. Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and they have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased to see your work as better than it actually is. Choose someone, better to ask two or three people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism—it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
  • You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon. Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone know your book is there, except your family and friends who have heard you talk about it every chance you get? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.

Your marketing plan will provide a roadmap for you to follow to get attention for your book and should include some or all of the following:

  1. Your website,
  2. Your blog,
  3. Your other social media sites (Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Instagram)
  4. More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards, flyers,
  5. Radio and TV spots,
  6. Other signings and speaking engagements.
  • What is this brand of which you speak? Your brand is your personae as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything in the list immediately above works together to brand you. Acknowledge it, work with it, use it.

Does this sound like more than you are capable of doing? It may be. It is a lot of work. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they used to. It’s a fact of life.

Now, what about the stigma? It isn’t as bad as it once was. Does that mean self-published works are better than they were at one time? Yes and no. Yes, some experienced authors are going the self-publishing route. What they learned from being associated with higher quality editing and their natural maturity as writers has paid off, for them as writers and us as readers.

Yet, in large part, one often can spot a self-published book within the first page or two. Layout is strange, sometimes disjointed with lots of white where there should be print; typos, spelling and grammatical errors appear with distracting regularity. (CreateSpace does not edit the work). Yes, you do see typos in works published by the large publishers but nowhere near as many.

There you have it, my take on self-publishing. You self-publish at your own risk. If you are hoping for the next best seller, better get a large publisher.

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited August/September 2016

Five Ways to Make a Sentence More Concise

Expressing oneself clearly and concisely in speech is a challenge because one has so little time to order one’s thoughts and choose one’s wording carefully, but writing is easily improved with even the briefest review. Always read over what you have written (whether it’s a tweet or a book manuscript) before you distribute or publish it—not only to adhere to the mechanical basics of grammar, syntax, usage, and style but also to check for narrative flow and conciseness. The following sentences, and the discussions and revisions that follow each one, include advice for paring unnecessary words and phrases.

1. As you establish your policies, it is recommended that you develop a comprehensive list of business activities.

When offering recommendations, avoid overly polite entreaties, and simply state the advice as an imperative: “As you establish your policies, develop a comprehensive list of business activities.” (Other words that signal an expendable phrase are advised, suggested, necessary, and imperative.)

2. Nearly all of the processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.

In “all of the” phrases, of is almost always optional, and the can often be safely omitted as well: “Nearly all processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.”

3. IPO activity has increased over the past few years, and that presents a great advantage for the company.

Be alert for opportunities to condense sentences consisting of two independent clauses into a simple statement. Here, what was an introduced observation is recast as an acknowledged phenomenon, changing the subject from “IPO activity” to “the increase in IPO activity”: “The increase in IPO activity over the past few years presents a great advantage for the company.”

4. Organizations can realize tremendous value from risk management in a cost-effective and efficient way.

The presence of way (or manner, or basis, or any similar vague noun) at the end of a sentence signals a sentence in need of abbreviation. Simply dismantle the phrase that ends with the noun and convert the adjectives that precede the noun into adverbs: “Organizations can cost-effectively and efficiently realize tremendous value from risk management.”

5. There are core sets of critical activities and critical communications that must be performed at this stage.

When a sentence or clause begins with an expletive (“There is/are” or “It is/They are”), consider omitting the phrase and beginning the sentence with the noun or noun phrase that follows (and delete the now-extraneous that that follows the subject): “Core sets of critical activities and critical communications must be performed at this stage.”

Taking Conciseness Too Far
Be cautious, however, about overzealous conciseness, as in the case of multiple nouns and noun phrases stacked in a dense swarm of words. Relaxing a sentence can be just as effective as tightening it in improving a sentence:

Overly concise: Executive management and board of directors’ expectations about scalability can be unrealistic.
Relaxed: The expectations of executive management and the board of directors about scalability can be unrealistic.

From: Daily Writing Tips

Writing Science for the Public

It’s no secret that science has a PR problem. Scientists, it seems, are generally viewed as cold and competent but not warm and trustworthy. According to social psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University, a person’s perceived warmth strongly influences how much they are trusted. This presents a problem for scientists, especially in an era when funding, research impact, and science literacy rely so heavily on communicating effectively with a broader audience. Even when seeming warm and trustworthy could help their message be heard, it can be hard for scientists to shake the “cold and competent” stereotype. The authoritative and unemotional way that scientists are taught to write for journal articles usually is not appropriate when communicating with a general audience. Learning the principles of journalistic nonfiction often requires scientist authors to step away from an academic writing style that has come to feel intuitive. Nevertheless, using these styles can make the scientist’s work more relatable, memorable, and trusted.

Here are some tips:

  1. Write for the readers—Scientists tend to aim their writing toward what they think their colleagues want to read. This is a natural reflex—after all, that’s the audience they’re accustomed to thinking about when they write journal articles and grant proposals. But a scientist’s colleagues will be a minority of the readership of a magazine article. Try to step back, review your own assumptions, and broaden your view of who your audience really is.
  2. Use your audience’s lexicon—Introduce only the terms essential to your story and no more. Even certain words likely to be familiar to readers, like “dynamics” or “mitigate,” should be avoided just because they sound jargony and can have different meanings in different fields. Look for alternatives that are more direct. At the same time, avoid talking down to your audience. Sometimes scientists try too hard to make sure everyone is on board. It sounds like they’re talking to middle schoolers, a big turn-off to most readers.
  3. Your first sentence must be indelible—Leave your impression early. Many academics start with something more like a broader impacts statement or an obvious foundational concept in their field, as they would in a journal article. But if you tell readers something they already know in the first sentence, they are likely to think you have nothing to say that they don’t already know. You risk losing readers right then and there. If your article contains news of major breakthroughs, many of your readers will completely miss it.
  4. Know where you are taking the reader first and then tell themShow them—within the first page, provide them with a story that illustrates what is at stake and sets the scaffolding for your thesis. Your reader is busy and has lots of other things to read. They will not read your article unless you immediately let them know why they should, and fine prose is one of the quickest ways to focus your reader’s attention.
  5. Each subsection and paragraph is a potential pathway into the text for a scanning reader—Each paragraph should introduce an interesting new idea with a topic sentence.
  6. Questions generally make poor topic sentences— Framing the topic as a question can be a hard habit to break. But in narrative nonfiction, posing questions instead of stating the topic outright risks leaving out crucial information, such as who is asking the question, why that individual cares about it, and how it was first raised. Introducing how the line of inquiry arose in the first place is usually an important part of a science story.
  7. Each subsection needs to transition the reader from one idea to the next— As a section concludes it should signal why the next section follows. Transitions are the key.
  8. Stop listing things—just stop!—Try instead to figure out the narrative tying the pieces of a list together. Used profusely in academic and government writing, lists are an efficient way of communicating points or variables. But they’re dry and can be a real slog for a reader. All too easily, they become the place where readers’ eyes will glaze over and they will start flipping to another part of the magazine or return to scanning social media. A more intuitive way to communicate such ideas is to talk about how the objects of the list are connected to one another. It might take an extra sentence or two, but the reader will grasp the concepts more readily and remember them better.
  9. Use the first person—Even though the desire to avoid the first person often comes from a sense of humility, text that is essentially autobiographical but avoids first person doesn’t necessarily sound humble. It just sounds impersonal. Readers will stop reading quickly if they don’t feel connected with the people or places in the story.
  10. If you want people to understand that a problem addressed by your research affects real people, you need to illustrate the problem by telling a story about real people—When scientists rattle off statistics but do not talk about how they connect to people’s lives, they risk coming off as cold and distant. Anecdotes may not have a place in science writing, but they are absolutely essential to journalistic and literary nonfiction.
  11. Avoid passive voice and clunky sentence structures—Although passive voice is not uncommon in scientific journal articles, it sounds distant, abstract, and stuffy. Today’s readers have very little patience for slogging through wordy writing because you’re competing with short communication in the social media.
  12. When you feel you are done writing, don’t just stop in your tracks once you’ve added the last bit of information you’d planned to include—Any article needs a conclusion, but one very different from the kind you might write for a typical journal article. Narrative nonfiction conclusions return to the intrigue, suspense, or line of inquiry the writer established to draw the reader further into the article, providing a sense of closure and wrapping up any loose ends. The conclusion is not just a repetitive summary of everything the article has just said. Try to find some forward-looking insights that show greater context for your work.

Using Correct Grammar

Those grammar classes seem like eons ago. Now we’re writers and we’re not as sure as we used to be. Years of exposure to lazy writing and editing by publishers and the media make things sound right, just because we’ve heard them over and over. As an editor, I’m offering some tidbits that I hope will help you refine your writing.

Phrase vs. Clause
A phrase is a group of grammatically related words that does not contain a main verb. T e wards in the phrase act as a unit, usually functioning as a part of speech. For example:
The girl is in school today, but tomorrow she is going to hunt. Notice that ” in school ” and “to hunt” are phrases functioning as adverbs describing a place or activity. “The girl” is a phrase in the sense that the words go together as determiner and noun, but it does not function as a part of speech.
A clause is a group of grammatically related words that does contain a main verb_
Some clauses can stand alone as complete sentences. Such clauses are called main or
independent clauses. For example: The girl is at home today, but tomorrow she is going hunting.
The two clauses in this sentence are “The girl is in school today” and “tomorrow she is going to hunt.” The joining word “but” is simply a connecting word; it does not belong to either clause. Either clause, therefore, can stand alone, expressing a complete thought:
The girl is in school today. (complete thought) Tomorrow she is going to hunt. (complete thought)
Other clauses are prevented from standing alone because they begin with words that limit their meaning, words like because and when. Such clauses are called subordinate or dependent clauses. For example: The boy quit school because he missed too many classes. “The boy quit school” is a complete thought and, therefore, a main clause. “Because he missed too many classes ” is an incomplete thought and, therefore, a subordinate clause. The “because” leaves us wondering what went before.

COMMON ERROR: A common writing fault is to separate two independent clauses with a comma (with no conjunction after it).
INCORRECT: They have a fly casting class here, the students like it.
CORRECT: They have a fly casting class here. The students like it.
or
CORRECT They have a fly casting class here, and the students like it.

What’s the Object?
As a part of the sentence, an object is a word that receives the action of an action verb. For example, in the sentence The batter hit the ball, the action of hitting has a receiver, ball. The ball receives the action and is, therefore, called the object of the verb.
There are two kinds of objects: direct and indirect. The word that receives the action of the verb is called the direct object. When the direct object is passed indirectly to another receiver, that receiver is the indirect object. For example: My sister writes me long letters.
The direct object is “letters.” The indirect object is “me.” “Letters” receives the action of writing, while “me” receives the letters. One way to tell the two objects apart is that the indirect object usually comes directly after the verb.
Another way to determine which object is which is to ask these questions about the verb:
1. “Writes” what? Answer. “letters,” so direct object.
2. “Writes” to whom or for whom? Answer: “me,” so indirect object
Some verbs that often take indirect objects are: write, send, tell, give, buy, and sell.

Interrogative Pronoun?
Standard forms of this pronoun include: what, which, who, whom, whose. These pronouns are used to introduce questions: What are the odds? Who left the gate open? Which is mine?
NOTE: The subject pronoun “who” has the object form “whom.” It is the pronoun most often misused in the media today.
The tendency for many speakers is to avoid whom altogether and use who as both subject and object. This is no longer viewed as a serious error. However, using whom where the subject form is called for is an error to be avoided at all costs. For example:
ACCEPTABLE: Who are you calling?
CORRECT Whom are you calling?

INCORRECT: Whom is coming with us to the lodge?
CORRECT Who is coming with us to the lodge?

Demonstrative Pronoun
Standard forms of this pronoun are: this, that, these, those. These pronouns are used to stand for a noun and separate it from other entities. For example:
Is this the one you wanted? land me those.
NOTE: Generally speaking, use this and these to indicate items near the speaker, and that and those for items farther away. Notice that demonstrative pronouns replace the noun. The same words – this, that, these, and those – are also used as “demonstrative determiners” or demonstrative adjectives.” For example: This woods is dark. (Here “this” is specifying the noun “woods,” telling us which woods.)

Relative Pronoun
The relative pronouns are that, who, whom, which, where, when, and why. Like other pronouns, the relative pronoun replaces a noun. Like a conjunction, it serves as a joining word
between clauses. For example:
That’s the man who shot my deer.
The word “who” is a relative pronoun. It stands for “man” and it (inks the main clause “That’s the man” to the dependent clause “who shot my deer.”

Photo Captions-an important vehicle for information dissemination

Photo captions are the most read body type in a publication. Of all the information content, only the titles of articles and abstracts have higher readership than captions. It follows that standards of accuracy, clarity, completeness and good writing are as high for captions as for other parts of the paper. As with headlines, captions must be crisp; as with articles, they must be readable and informative.
Figure Captions: Captions describe the photo or graph. Descriptions or discussion of the content of the Figure should be handled in the text of the article.

Tag Cloud