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Thoughts About Writing–and Everything Else

by Robbie Hyman |

Trying something new here: a recurring column that offers a combination of writing tips and light-hearted observations about life. If you would like to see more articles like this – or if you think this should be the last of its kind – please let me know.

“WYSIWYG.” “SMU and other LRUs.” “FASB.” What in the world am I talking about? Exactly. Not all of your readers know the quirky language of your area of focus. So when you’re writing for any audience other than your inner circle of co-workers, it’s a good idea to define each term and spell out each acronym.

For you Department of Education folks: Why is there a chapter 11 in Economics textbooks?

I’m amazed at how often professionals send emails to colleagues without a greeting. A message that begins, “Please send me your comments on the presentation draft by tomorrow afternoon” comes across as cold and impersonal – and fixing that would take almost no effort. How difficult is it, after all, to add the words “Hi Nancy” to the beginning?

We can send a movie signal from a satellite thousands of miles above the earth to the TV in our living room, with perfect picture. We can have a cell phone conversation in a moving car with someone thousands of miles away — who’s also in a moving car — with nearly perfect sound quality. So why can’t we hear anything but static coming out of the fast-food drive-through intercom?

I am not a visionary person. I can almost imagine a world where I was born with real vision, but not quite.

Copywriter Joe Vitale offers a brilliant trick to overcome writer’s block. Start your document — any type of document — as a letter to a friend. You’ve probably noticed that when you write an email, if you’re close and comfortable with your recipient, you come up with great points and insights almost without effort. That’s Vitale’s insight: Writing to a friend is when you’re likely to do your best work. So even if the document you need to write isn’t a letter – pretend it is.

You can tell a lot about what a society values by what it sells and what it gives away for free. I’ve been playing around with iTunes lately, and something very disturbing just hit me: On iTunes U, you can download thousands of hours of actual lectures from Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford professors – all subjects, all for free. But the song “F*** You” by Cee Lo will set you back $1.29. Not a good sign.

I am living proof that no amount of caffeine can kill you.

The iPhone works so well at so many things but, oddly, not as a phone. I’m waiting for the commercial that says, “Need to make an important call and want to be sure you won’t get dropped in the middle of it? There’s an app for that.”

If you’re writing a document and want to make a point as strongly as possible, give it lots of breathing room on the page or screen. Nothing makes a statement like “We came in under budget” more powerful or memorable than placing it all alone in its own paragraph.

If they’re really “smart phones,” then why do half the text messages I receive look like they were written by 2-year-olds?

The most famous speech in American history, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, lasted two minutes. President Lincoln wasn’t even the featured speaker for the event. It was Congressman Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Everett spoke for over two hours. Remember learning about his speech? Neither do I. Don’t be afraid to write a short message. Some of the most memorable and persuasive letters and emails are just a few lines.

From now on, I’m shunning technology. Except for television and my iPhone. And Netflix. And TiVo. Oh, and my iPod and my other iPod. But aside from those things… I’m going Amish.

Visit the Leadership Skills Blog to see more of Robbie's writing tips and send him your writing questions.

© 2014 Robbie Hyman Copywriting. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robbie Hyman Copywriting.

About the Author

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Robbie Hyman

Robbie Hyman has been a freelance writer for 15 years. He writes newsletters, press releases, white papers, web copy, presentations, speeches, op-eds, training materials and technical documentation. Robbie is available to write for federal agencies.

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April 23, 2014

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