Posts Tagged ‘business writing’

You’re reading this post a week later than I originally tended. I couldn’t complete the first draft of this blog post for a very simple reason, I hadn’t organized what I wanted to say before I started writing!

As a result, last Sunday, I wasted a couple of valuable hours, missed an important deadline, and did a pretty good job of getting stressed out.

Don’t let this happen to you! Let me share some of the easy ways you can organize your ideas for articles, blog posts, books, and ebooks before you begin writing! Choose one of the options below, and make it a daily habit.

Taking the time to organize your ideas before you begin writing can spell the difference between writing a brand-building book or never getting published!

Organization and writing

Organization must precede writing. Organization provides a structure for your writing. Organization helps you “test drive” the sequence and relevance of your ideas.

Most important, organization eliminates uncertainty and promotes strong, concise writing that supports the message you want to share. Organization also helps keep you enthusiastic and motivated by making it easy for you to track your progress as you write.

Options for organizing your ideas

In a previous Author’s Journey blog post, How to Create a Content Plan for Your Book, I showed how I used mind mapping software to develop my latest book, #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles.

The mind map, above, represents the difference between last Sunday’s “f and f,” i.e., failed and frustrating, writing experience and today’s smooth and enjoyable writing experience.

Although I’ve written a lot about using mind mapping as a writing tool, including a 5-part blog series about creating a writing dashboard, you don’t have to use a mind mapping software program to organize your ideas before you begin to write.

Another advantage of mindmapping software is the ability to export your mind maps to your word processing program, which eliminates unnecessary typing.

10 other ways you can organize your ideas

In addition to mindmapping software, you can also organize your ideas using a variety of low-tech and software tools, including:

  1. Index cards. One of the classic “hands on” organizing techniques that authors have used for decades is to write important ideas and details by hand on index cards. The index cards are then displayed on the walls of your office, where you can easily add and delete cards and rearrange their order.
  2. Sticky notes. Another popular solution includes sticky notes, such as ©3M Post-it® notes, small squares of paper with an adhesive strip on the back that can be applied to walls or other surfaces. Advantages of this approach is that the small size of the notes encourages brevity, and different colored notes can be used to visually code the ideas.
  3. Folders. Yesterday, when I interviewed Joe Vitale, Published & Profitable’s latest author interview, Joe  described how he begins to organize new books by creating folders for each chapter, and placing print-outs or clippings in the right folders.
  4. MS Word lists. One of the easiest idea organizing techniques is to use Microsoft Word’s bulleted and numbered lists feature to flesh-out the contents of each chapter. Using lists, you can quickly drag and drop ideas into the right order and sequence. I’ve used lists to organize ideas since the earliest word processing software.
  5. MS Word tables. Microsoft Word’s table feature offers an even better, multi-column, tool for organizing book ideas into chapters and sections. You can add as much information and as many points to each topic as the tables will expand as you add content. After you’ve finished entering ideas, you can easily sort them. Worksheets created in Word can later be copied and pasted into the manuscript files for each chapter of your book.
  6. Worksheets. Before I enter text into Word tables, I often print out blank copies of the worksheets I’ve prepared for my book coaching clients, and fill them out by hand—often while watching television or while my wife is driving. In a computer age, there’s something really exciting about writing by hand. The next day, of course, I copy my handwritten ideas into Word worksheets, of course. Typing my handwritten notes the next day improves what I’ve written by giving me an opportunity for a quick edit.
  7. Spreadsheets. Many of my coaching clients who come from a corporate background use spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel, to organize their ideas. After many years of working with Excel, they’re so familiar with its capabilities that using it is second nature to them.
  8. PowerPoint. Another existing tool you can put to work as an organizing tool is PowerPoint. Instead of writing ideas on index cards or sticky notes, simply place each idea on separate slides. When you’re through, go to PowerPoint’s Slide Sorter view where you can drag and drop each slides into the proper location. Later, you might even print-out your presentation and use the slides to jot down additional ideas.
  9. Flip-charts/paper. If you’re working with a co-author, or a group of contributors located in the same room, consider brainstorming ideas and placing them on flip-charts or large sheets of paper. A recently published book, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, describes how to use flip-charts and sticky notes—together–to organize complex projects.
  10. White boards. White boards are yet another highly visual tool you can use to organize your ideas as you create a content plan for your book. Erasable white boards, hung on walls or placed on stands, make it easy to display the big ideas associated with your book, as you add supporting ideas. To learn more, I recommend David Sibbet’s Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity.

Habit is more important than selection

Your choice of book organizing tool or technique is not as important as the consistency with which you use the tool. As you prepare the various writing projects you work on during the week, which probably includes articles, blog posts, proposals, and white papers, try out different tools.

When you find one that works, make it a habit! Commit to using it every day as part of your routine.

Remember the words of Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt in The Power of Focus, “Your daily habits determine your success!”

Other tips include saving your work when you’ve finished. You may be able to reuse some of the ideas that you considered including in your book, but decided not to include. In addition, try to use your organizing tool as a way of displaying progress on your project. For example, each time you finish writing about a topic, remove the index card from the wall or change the background color or text color.

Why should you read this post?  Because this little crash course in effective writing is the collective intelligence of thousands of people just like you.  It is a living document and benefits from ongoing improvements suggested by our students.  Their suggestions and observations, especially in the final section, make us all much better writers.

In this series we have discussed Purpose, Audience, Content and Style and how each works with the others to determine the utility and readability of any document you write.  We will close this series with a discussion of writing “Mechanics” in the form of a simple list of annoyances readers complain about most often.  If you want to make sure you never experience these annoyances again, we humbly suggest you Tweet the link to this document to your family, friends and everyone you work with.  Once they see what they are doing wrong, their writing will improve and your stress level will drop!

Mechanics

Here is a partial list of our students’ and our pet peeves, assembled through the years. 100-101 dumps As a reader, if you find that a major aggravation is not listed here, email me at Mack@SolidThinking.org and we will consider including it in the next update.

This is a collection of the most common mistakes we have observed (and periodically been guilty of) in writing and assembling technical reports, CONOPS, proposals and other documents:

  1. Spell-Check. Failure to spell-check the final version, just before the final printing. Simple typos will lead some readers to conclude you are lazy, careless, stupid or all three.
  2. Total reliance upon a spell/grammar-check program, which will not necessarily catch improper word usage, for example the accidental use of “form” instead of “from”.  Read the document   s-l-o-w-l-y   and be certain every sentence makes sense.  And get others to read it. IIA-CIA-PART1 dumps Microsoft’s automated “help” features often are not of much help, especially with punctuation choices and grammar decisions.  Do not trust Bill Gates to protect your reputation.
  3. Failure to include a list of acronyms or failure to define every acronym the first time it is used.  Assume nothing about what your audience knows.  DOD (Department of Defense – – – see, we follow our own rules) workers, government and contractor, are especially guilty of this.  An example is “CONOPS” which, depending upon the agency, can mean Concept of Operations, Contingency Operations, Continuity of Operations, CONUS Operations (an acronym and an abbreviation within an acronym – “Continental United States Operations”), Continuous Operations and others.  Define it or don’t use it.
  4. Failure to define complex technical terms.  Don’t assume all readers are PhDs.
  5. Incorrect graphic/figure/table numbers. When these are manually input and another graphic/figure/table is added later, there is the ripple effect whereby every subsequent graphic, etc. must get a new number.  Instead, let the application (MS Word, Word Perfect, etc.) assign the numbers.  It precludes the ripple effect and automatically lets you later assemble a Table of Contents, List of Figures and List of Tables.
  6. Incorrect page number references in the text, making it difficult or impossible to find referenced sections.  This is usually caused when text or graphics are added somewhere in front of the page being referenced, causing the referenced section to slide onto the next page.  If sections are numbered as they should be and section sizes are less than a half-page in length, reference the section by name and number.  But if sections are large and referencing them would require the reader to search through several pages to dig out a referenced passage, cite the actual page number but double check all such citations for correctness just before publishing.  And be aware that a web-based document, especially an Adobe pdf document, may have page numbers that do not correspond to the hardcopy.
  7. Changing text color in the main body of the document.  Keep it black.
  8. Failing to italicize non-English terms (fait accompli, ad hoc, coup de grace, blitzkrieg, etc.) so people can mentally pause to remember what the term means or using the terms improperly (and we are not talking here about commonly used terms such as “via” or “vice versa”).  If you cannot pronounce a foreign term properly, or don’t know exactly what it means in the native language and how it are used in the native culture, it is probably not commonly used here in the US.  So don’t use it.  And a special caution to Francophiles (lovers of all things French):  We have found that ad nauseum – – –  Latin for “excessive to the point of causing vomiting” – – –  use of French phrases is often the hallmark of a person flaunting a writing education they never received, insinuating an intelligence they don’t actually possess or adopting a French perspective which, by itself, may upset some Americans.  Politics and cultures aside, English is a fine technical language with plenty of precise, descriptive terms.  Use them.
  9. Beginning sentences with “but” or “and”.  This is common use now.  Increasingly, people write like they speak.  It isn’t the death of English as we know it.  Get over it.
  10. Assuming that the reader can mentally keep track of where all the pieces of a CONOPS reside.  In the case of a CONOPS or proposal that has components classified at various security levels, this assumption is folly.  Give the reader a roadmap showing where all the components are, their classifications, etc.
  11. A document manager’s failure to provide a style guide and then complaining about all the work he/she must do to pull the final document together.
  12. Failure to provide references in support of key claims, instead hoping the reader just accepts the claim.  As in medicine and science, the bigger the claim, the more solid the proof needed to substantiate it.  And be certain the trip is worth it for the reader: make certain the proof you cite is directly related to the claim, not a peripheral issue!  Remember that technical professionals do not spin findings or conclusions.
  13. Failure to cross-check every text reference to a table or figure to ensure
    • The reference is correct, i.e. such a table/figure a) actually exists and b) adequately discusses the subject indicated in the text
    • The table or figure follows the reference
    • The references in the text are sequenced properly (for example Table 3-2 should be discussed in the text before Table 3-3 is discussed)
    • Any referenced document is the most current version available.  And be sure to cite the revision number and date or just use dates as revisions (rev 15 Feb 09).
  14. Reliance upon complex graphics to make a key point instead of to support a point.  Excessive use of graphics throughout the document/section is often an indication of a poor/rushed author or an unskilled writer attempting to use graphics in place of text.
  15. Misuse of the forward slash (/).  The commonly accepted meaning is “and-or”.  If you cannot substitute “and-or” then the slash is inappropriate.
  16. Beginning to write the report without an outline and letting it meander. This is often evident to even a casual reader of the resulting document.
  17. Misuse/absence of embedded links in a document.  In our web-based world, most documents are reviewed in softcopy.  So use hyperlinks to take readers to key sections and appendices. But be sure that each linked page has a “return to previous page” link so the reader can quickly return to the previous page being read.
  18. Starting the report too late and then rushing to finish. The resulting report almost always suffers with sections obviously written by different authors, key conclusions glossed-over, graphics overused and unaccompanied by explanations, typos, etc.  The typical excuse that managers hear most often is “I was too busy DOING the work and did not have time to REPORT on the work!”  My advice is not to use this excuse.  It marks you as a rookie who cannot plan his time properly.
  19. Use of vague terms like “recently”, “some” and “few”.  Quantify!  Use numbers wherever possible.  Imprecision invites varying interpretations.
  20. Use of hidden assumptions.  I’ve heard writers say things like “Everyone knows that quartz is preferable to glass in this infrared application” or “Well, the sponsor obviously knows why we are changing our technical approach because he directed the change.  So we don’t need to say that in the report.” Wrong!  Assume nothing! In the latter example, the sponsor is only one of potentially several dozen (or hundred) eventual readers of a report, most of whom will never know why your firm abandoned a perfectly reasonable technical approach in favor of a very risky one, unless you tell them!  Omit that single detail and you are likely to be labeled foolish in later meetings where neither you nor your sponsor is present to explain your actions.
  21. Excessive use of the passive voice which makes for difficult reading and complicates a document.  Here are a few common examples:
    • “The system will be capable of  . . .”  or “the system will have the ability to . . .”  (just say “the system will…”)
    • “. . . consider implementation of . . .”  (say “implement”)
    • “It was decided that . . .”  (say, instead, “Our team decided . . .”)
    • Other examples to be avoided include “…is favored by . . .” and “it was concluded that . . .”
  22. Use of “shall” in place of “will”.  You aren’t writing a specification so don’t use “shall” which is typically a legal term in business agreements and has a “binding” connotation. Write like you speak.  Use action verbs and an active, future tense.
  23. Lawyer-talk:  Don’t try to use lofty words when a common one will do, for example obtain (use get), accede (use agree), aforementioned (use already discussed), subsequent (use later), cognizant of (use know).
  24. Run-on sentences. A sentence should have a single, main point, not several.  Take a meat cleaver to long sentences.
  25. Lengthy paragraphs.  Most technical writers use fewer than ten lines per paragraph.  Robert Gunning even has a “Fog Index©” that quantifies how easy a document is to read, based on length of words, sentences and paragraphs (see reading list item #3).  Even when you have no page-count restriction, strive for conciseness.  While perhaps not as crisp and unambiguous as German, English is still a wonderful technical language when used concisely.  (This one sentence, written in formal Arabic, could require 3-4 lines of text!)
  26. Excessive use of “which” when “that” would be clearer.
  27. Use of expletives leading to wordy sentences
    • There are, is, were, was, will be . . . .
    • It is, can, was . . .
  28. Awkward page breaks.  Hold thoughts together in the text, forcing a page break to occur where it makes the most sense to the reader.  The worst infraction here is to allow a table/figure caption to become separated from the table or figure. Almost as bad is allowing the first sentence of a section to begin at the bottom of a page: push it to the next page to be with its friends!
  29. Commas inserted where they aren’t needed at all and absent where they are needed.  If you would not actually pause there when reading the text aloud, then you should think twice before putting a comma there.   If in doubt, leave it out.
  30. Lack of proofreading by anyone other than the writer.  Silly mistakes are not caught.
  31. Lack of white space: paragraphs crammed tightly against paragraphs/graphics, with very few blank lines.  Even page-constrained documents need some white space to improve readability!  The human mind appreciates occasional white breaks in the monotony of black text – – – it seems to provide time for ideas to sink in before new ideas show up in the text.
  32. Use of 10-point type size, to cram text into a page-count-constrained document.  Use 12-point or larger and cut the amount of text to make things fit.  Many senior people cannot comfortably read 10-point type and may get annoyed if you force them to use their bifocals.  And an annoyed reader may not even know why he dislikes your report (and hence, your firm), just that he does.
  33. Inconsistent use of abbreviations, terms, capitalization, etc. within the same document.
  34. Overuse of underlines versus italics.  Don’t be boring.  Mix it up but be consistent within sentences.
  35. Failure to add page numbers.
  36. Failure to insert a blank line between paragraphs.
  37. Inconsistent use of indentures.
  38. In a CONOPS, failure to number the sections, making for difficult discussions about paragraphs/sections of interest.
  39. Inconsistent depth in the outline, with some sections a shallow 2-alpha and others at an almost microscopic 5-alpha.  The temptation is to include lots of data for areas where you have it, leaving other areas barren.  Don’t do it. Balance the outline and the body of the document, putting details in an appendix.
  40. Use of “e.g.” (for example) or “i.e.” (in other words).  Since many readers don’t know these definitions, and high schools don’t seem to be teaching much Latin these days, let’s stop using these terms.
  41. Pairing people with “that” or pairing objects with “who”.  Do not write about anyone “that” did something or said something.  Use “who” when referring to people.  Use “that” when referring to anything else (objects, organizations, etc.)
  42. Use of “reiterate” when “repeat’ would do fine.
  43. Excessive use of questions as the opening sentence in a paragraph.  Occasional use of this technique is fine but be aware that it forces the reader to move out of the passive-reception mental mode and actually think, which annoys some people.
  44. Excessive employment of “utilize” when “use” would work fine.
  45. Don’t use “in order to” when “to” works just fine. For example, instead of: “In order to complete the signal processing chain the filter must be tuned to…” use this more succinct and directed version: “To complete the signal processing chain the filter must be tuned to…”
  46. Lifting Power Point ™ graphics and plopping them into Word ™ documents without regard to complexity, applicability or suitability.  In these hurried times this is common but still criminal.  Build graphics from scratch with a pencil and paper, outlining them first to answer the two questions “what do I want this graphic to accomplish” (inform, persuade, explain, motivate, etc.) and “what would be the most effective, efficient possible graphic for that purpose?”.  Then search existing graphics for candidates and give STRONG consideration to using pieces of them to custom craft a crisp hybrid.
  47. Confusion of compose and comprise.  Roget’s Thesaurus© even has this wrong.  Compose is a verb in the music business and in specialized writing such as poetry.  Elsewhere the phrase “composed of” describes a single thing and is often used in place of “made up of”.  A single, complex thing can be composed of many smaller things. But Comprise describes an assembly of multiple things and means “make up” or “add up to”: multiple things can comprise a larger thing.  But published definitions for these two terms overlap so we suggest only infrequent and careful use of them, especially of comprise, to avoid confusion.  Instead of saying “The items inside this bag comprise all my personal effects” (which is correct usage) instead just say “This bag contains all my personal effects” and hand it to the jailer.  He probably won’t believe you and you’ll be strip-searched anyway.

Crisp, clear technical writing is a learned skill and increasingly in demand.  Crafting a crisp, well-worded section in a blog post, book, proposal or report is very satisfying.  And like any other difficult-to-master skill, becoming a good writer takes practice and effort.

Lastly, remember to submit your writings early to peers and others for review because none of us is as smart as all of us.

Suggested Reading List:

  1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, 4th Edition (a classic reference book, over 10 million copies sold, available at any major book store)
  2. Systems Engineering Handbook, International Conference on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), California, 2006
  3. Technical Writing, Process and Product by Steven and Sharon Gerson (Prentice Hall, 1992)

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Why should you read this post?  Because this little crash course in effective writing is the collective intelligence of thousands of people just like you.  It is a living document and benefits from ongoing improvements suggested by our students.  Their suggestions and observations, especially in the final section, make us all much better writers.

Last week we discussed the importance of understanding the purpose of anything you write, long before you hit the first key on the old laptop.  This post discusses the crucial importance of understanding the likely audience of your document, the main content and the most appropriate style for your purpose.

Audience

Do not begin writing, or even outlining main points, until the main target audience is chosen and then include a little something for everyone.

Will the report be read by seasoned technical staff or by program management people whose technical backgrounds are unknown?  You will, of course, want to report at a level of technical complexity that mirrors your primary customer’s level of technical comprehension.  Even then, you should introduce your key points in plain speech, followed by detailed engineering discussions about why you chose the approach you chose, how your conclusions were reached, the trade-offs you performed, etc.  And if you expect your report to be read by a multi-level audience of lay and technical people, making your main points early in each section is even more important.

This is also a good time to think about the access your competition is likely to have to your report.  If the audience is the US Government, then SETA (Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance) contractors, perhaps even your competitors, are likely to read it.  If you have Intellectual Property (IP) that needs to be discussed in the report, you should try to discuss it in sufficient detail for the customer to get a feel for its significance, but not in so much detail that you lose competitive advantage to a competitor.  Consult your company’s Marketing and Intellectual Property staffs on these issues, before you write those sections.  (If you write those sections first and they are later rewritten or deleted, and if the authors of other sections have referenced your earlier [now nonexistent] paragraphs, you may cause lots of confusion.)

Content

Rookies talk mainly about the format of a document.  Professionals talk about the content.  Ensure that the content and technical/operational level of detail matches the customer’s expectations.

How deeply does your sponsor expect you to discuss key topics and important findings in this report?  How much support for your findings will she expect?  If in doubt, ask her! One hint can be found in the proposal that won you the job to begin with, and the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) in your proposal/Statement of Work (SOW): how much funding did you/he allocate to do the report?  A report for which 10 hours were allocated in the WBS should look very different from a report that was to consume 120 hours of the team’s time.  A study that changed its main thrust in mid-stream also probably needs a little more explanation/support than a study that remained true-to-proposal.  If you already know the report will be used to convince/persuade others, then you must be certain to provide sufficient rationale to carry your arguments.  Include possible objections and arguments that may occur to the reader and address those crisply and thoroughly. One way to do this is to offer those arguments as ideas that occurred to your team as well, and which were then considered during the course of the study.  Psychologically, the reader may then feel vindicated that he thought of the same issues as your technical team.  And he may also begin to believe that you and he think alike, a very important psychological milestone in your relationship!  And all of this is made possible simply by how you worded your findings.

A cautionary note:  If you are working from a document that originated elsewhere, you may not want readers of the finished document to know its detailed lineage. One US prime contractor was writing a proposal to a NATO RFT (Request for Tender) back in the 1990s only to discover that the NATO RFT’s Statement of Work actually had originated months earlier at a competitor’s facility.  Previously just pasting a document into a fresh shell document was deemed sufficient but not anymore.  Lineage data is still available to a determined sleuth.  Software plug-ins are available that can permanently erase the originator, editors and record of changes for a document.  Converting MS Word™ and Power Point™ documents to Adobe™ pdf documents works well and also makes alteration more difficult.

Style

Do not permit the concept of writing style to become an excuse for poor writing. Have trained technical writers review important documents before release.

Writing style can determine to a large degree how well the author’s information is conveyed.  Our personal writing style is the product of our education, experience and training.  A person may have a deep technical education and lots of experience in a given technical/other field, but unless they have been trained to write clearly and succinctly, their writing style is likely to be confusing and verbose.  Writing is a skill.  It must be taught (even self-taught), practiced regularly, and its impact fine-tuned via feedback from readers.  Typically, much of that feedback comes from the writer’s peers.  This is why After-Action Sessions are so useful to proposal and report writing teams.  These sessions examine what could have been done better and often solicit the opinions of other employees (preferably from varying disciplines) regarding improvements needed in writing style, content, format, etc.

When confronted with recommended changes to a report they authored, technical writers sometimes get defensive, saying “well that is just my style and I cannot change the way I write”.  But often the claim of a “unique writing style” is used to mask poor writing skills, plain and simple.  There are generally accepted standards for English usage and they should be followed.

Writing user manuals is both a science and an art form.  When you need user manuals, do not let the hardware and software teams who built the system/device also write the manuals.  Employ people who are trained to write these or risk having your system unfairly maligned by every user who struggles to understand the directions.

When you write a report on behalf of your employer, you are representing the employer.  In fact, your report may be the only thing some readers will ever know about your firm.  Readers may draw all kinds of conclusions based solely upon that document, far beyond an opinion about the writer’s likely grade in English 101:

  • Clarity and Decisiveness. If the document makes clear points and does so quickly, your company will be seen as a team of clear thinkers and decisive managers, as opposed to a bunch of hand-wringers.
  • Careful, not Convoluted. If the conclusions are well supported, the firm will be seen as comprised of careful thinkers, as opposed to a group of convoluted thinkers who draw conclusions from thin air.
  • Sparingly and Effectively Detailed. If the entire document hangs together well, with short write-ups where warranted and longer sections where needed, your firm will be viewed as being able to communicate complex ideas, with a good appreciation of where the reader might need supporting detail.
  • Thoroughness. If there are no typographical or grammatical errors, the reader will feel that the writer cared enough about the impression he would make to thoroughly proofread the entire document. It probably means the company pays attention to detail.

In the next post we will provide a rogues’ list of the main offenders in writing; we will discuss many of the mistakes, large and small, that keep writing from being as clear and crisp as it should be.  And if you do nothing more than just read about the mistakes that aggravate others, you will become aware of those errors and I guarantee you will become a better writer!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Why should you read this post?

Because this little crash course in effective writing is the collective intelligence of thousands of people just like you.  It is a living document and benefits from ongoing improvements suggested by our students.  Their suggestions and observations, especially in the final section, make us all much better writers.

Clear, sharp writing is almost a lost art.  And it is sad because to get along in life you must be able to explain yourself clearly.  Texting and its shortcuts and abbreviations let us communicate simple thoughts quickly but texting is not suited to explaining complex issues, refuting others’ positions or reporting on a technical approach.  In business if you cannot craft a grammatically correct, well-written document that people find pleasing to read, you will always be working for someone else who can.  Heck, if you cannot write, you may not be able to get a bank loan for your business or even get a letter-to-the-editor published in your local newspaper!

Once you get the basics right, it also helps to write in a flowing, friendly style that makes people want to read what you write.  But why are some documents, even long and involved ones, easy to read while others are difficult to get through?  It turns out there are five key considerations in writing: Purpose, Audience, Content, Style and Mechanics. In discussing the first four considerations we will give you some basic rules for creating effective, efficient papers of all kinds (especially the fear-inducing technical reports and business studies).  Then in the “Mechanics” section we will help you avoid the wince-inducing writing errors often found in popular articles and papers.  The goal is to prevent readers’ getting balled up finding annoying mistakes, and to instead relax, understand your points and enjoy reading the things you write.

Why should you listen to us?  Our company, Solid Thinking, teaches short courses in building Concepts of Operations or CONOPS.  These documents are combinations of systems descriptions and user’s manuals, brought into one document for use by end users and systems engineers.  CONOPS are hard-hitting documents that provide continuity for multi-year (and multi-million $$$) systems development projects, ease reorganizations of major enterprises, and help describe the operational uses of things.  CONOPS are read by senior people who have little patience for long, meandering, wordy documents so we have learned to write crisply and succinctly.  You will find references to CONOPS throughout this document but in each case, the lesson also probably applies to any written document.

We also teach Project Dominance courses which are basically Project Management courses on steroids.  Project Managers are constantly writing and reading, editing and enhancing documents.  Our courses teach people to sort out, structure, organize and manage major projects of all kinds by helping them make the best possible use of the talent on their project teams: young and old colleagues, rookies and grey-beards, scientists and business managers – – – everyone has something to contribute.  And crisp, clear, unambiguous writing by each person on a team can save time, avoid frustration and help achieve the workplace harmony we all seek.

Note that this paper uses masculine and feminine forms interchangeably.  Some people like it, others don’t.  Also, a friendly warning: Please do not edit this paper.  Editing will cause you to focus on the minutia and you will miss the learning value.  Just relax, stay at the 50,000 foot level, read for meaning and content and resist the perfectly human urge to improve everything.  But if we have entirely forgotten something really important or we have gotten a concept or technique completely wrong, please tell us in an email.

In our classes we find that just about everyone gets something beneficial out of this paper.  But if you are working in a large company or in a government organization (Federal, State or local), or you plan to someday, you will really benefit from reading this paper and applying the no-nonsense lessons.  Now let’s get into the meat of effective writing!

Purpose

Decide on the ultimate purpose of your document and make the main points up front. Make your key point in a single sentence, succinctly and in plain English, in the first part of every section/book.  Then support your conclusion/results with as much detail as needed to meet the objective of the report (inform, persuade, support, etc.).

Is the report intended to inform a sponsor (via documentation) about work recently completed?  Is it intended to persuade a sponsor to support a new idea or to award a follow-on contract?  Or will the report be used by other people, perhaps people in the sponsor’s chain of command, to secure funding for additional work?  Perhaps all three uses are foreseen for the report: it is usually safest to assume as much and then write for a technical audience but introduce each major section and key point with layman-language.  After the main point has been made, support your contentions with text and graphics and with the appropriate technical depth.

This writing technique of main-point-first is the reverse of how many scientists and engineers tend to write.  Most judge each other professionally on the thoroughness of their reasoning and on the extent to which they thought-through the various aspects of any given problem.  Consequently, when they write down their solution to a problem, they tend to present their solution using progressive-discovery.  This involves disclosing a little bit of information at a time, to lay the groundwork for their assertions and arguments.  This is supposed to convince the reader of the author’s qualifications and reasoning skills before the assertion or conclusion is unveiled.  The hope is that the reader will then be more inclined to accept the writer’s conclusion or position. Here is how this typically unfolds: First the scientist or engineer defines the problem they faced then they discuss aspects of sub-areas of the problem, weaving a web of complex interrelationships.  Then they discuss key issues associated with each aspect they uncovered.  Next come the assumptions they had to make (because nobody ever has a 100% complete data set) and then the trade-offs they made and why they made certain choices.  Lastly they describe the various conclusions they could have reached, and only then do they tell you their actual conclusions.

Why would people write this way?   It is human nature.  People inherently fear rejection of their ideas so they lay a supporting foundation prior to springing their solution on the audience. This minimizes the chance of initial rejection.  But if an entire section of a technical report is written in the discovery-style, it will inevitably have an unintended consequence: managers, technical and non-, who are reading for conclusions will be forced to wade through the entire document to understand the writer’s main conclusions.  Similarly, scientific and engineering professionals from disciplines other than that of the author must also wade through the text, and the often-unfamiliar acronyms, to get to the nuggets.  These readers will also find the detail too tedious.  Do not do this.  Use an “elevator speech” to state your conclusion up front and then support it as needed.

Always be clear, blatantly so if possible.  Whenever your chosen approach will result in clear benefits to the customer or user, say so! If faster processing will display results faster, or higher fidelity information will aid decision makers, or fewer boards will lower acquisition and life cycle support costs for your system, say so and do it up front in the section where you also present your conclusions.  But do not exaggerate: whereas engineers are likely to omit key competitive discriminators in technical reports (a serious mistake), marketers are likely to lean too far the other way (almost as serious), sometimes embellishing the benefits of a study’s findings.  To a technical reader, this may appear as an exaggeration of the facts, a “sales pitch” at best and dishonest at worst.  One way to highlight your competitive discriminators, without alienating the technical reader, is by quantifying the benefit and couching the description of the finding/result in terms of the benefit to the user. You can also write about how your approach reduces program/technical risk or reduces program cost.  An example might be in the case of a redesign effort that permits an assembly to be built using two processor boards instead of three.  One way for your team to subtly take credit for the positive aspects of this redesign would be as follows:

“While not required in the government’s Statement of Work, our team wanted to decrease the board count and believed it would be worth the 15 man-hours spent in redesign.  Our initial calculations were born out in the cost reduction assessment that followed our redesign: dropping from three to two boards in the receiver will have four major benefits – – – the initial acquisition cost of the prototype will be reduced by $3K (and each subsequent system will be $2K cheaper); we will save at least 110 man-hours in software development for the prototype because we eliminated a very complex board; one entire module can be deleted from the user’s maintenance training sessions; and a chapter can be removed from the course manual we will write as part of our contract.  Perhaps most importantly for the users, the system will now be much easier to configure and maintain.”

Remember a business or technical report may be initially written to inform but 80-90% of the time a technical report will be eventually used somewhere as a proposal to sell an idea.  Often this reuse of your report will take place without your knowledge or involvement and a later audience may be very different from the original one for whom you wrote the report.  Since the intent of a proposal is to persuade or convince someone to take an action, write every report with that possibility in mind.  Write the opening part of every document and every section with the assumption that the audience will be relatively unfamiliar with the subject matter.  Then dive as deeply as needed into the technical discussions.  Just remember the old Sears© slogan: “Something for Everyone” (technical and non-).

Next week we will discuss the critical importance of knowing your audience.  Mess this up and you’ll be writing for . . . well . . . nobody.  And we will briefly discuss content and style.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Author’s Journey #32: Speaking for Profit

by Roger Parker on July 30, 2010

Last week, I described some of the decisions involved in managing and marketing information products.

Authors depend on information products, workbooks, audios, and videos, they publish and distribute themselves because there’s more money in back-end products than they’re likely to ever earn from their books. The selling prices are typically higher, production and distribution costs are lower, and –with the exception of commissions paid to marketing affiliates–authors keep all of the profits to themselves.

However, the Internet is a crowded marketplace; there’s competition in even niche categories. And, expertly-crafted landing pages and sales letters aside, its often difficult to close sales online, especially as purchases prices increase.

Thus, the typical author’s need is to balance profits from information products with speaking profits.

Getting paid more than once

Authors who are speakers get paid over and over again. There are two reasons for this.

First, successful speakers don’t reinvent the wheel each time. They often have a limited repertoire that they customize for different speaking engagements. (I remember my excitement when Bill Cosby spoke at my son’s graduation, followed by disappointment when I saw he had repeated the same speech at several other colleges.)

Second, when you’re hired to deliver a keynote speech or presentation, you’re—basically–being paid to promote yourself.

No matter how good your online videos, when you meet your prospects face-to-face, or “press the flesh” after a speech or presentation, you’ve established a lasting bond that no online video or DVD can create.

Here are some of the other ways authors can profit over and over again from paid speaking engagements:

  • Speaking and workshop fees. A properly positioned author can earn 5-figure, and up, fees, plus travel and lodging, for one-hour keynote speeches. The better your track record and online promotion, and the more experienced your speaker bureau or sales staff, the more you can earn. One of the most successful techniques is to look for ways to up-sell prospects. If there is no price resistance, after securing agreement for a keynote speech, look for opportunities to add-on a follow-up workshop or seminar event. Better yet, in today’s tight-fisted environment, rather than negotiate your fee by reducing your prices, offer to provide some extra services, like a workshop or optional evening session, without charge. Half a loaf is always better than no loaf!
  • Back of the room sales. Traditionally, speakers have followed their speeches and presentations by selling information products from the back of the room, while the audience’s enthusiasm is at its highest. The key to these sales is your ability to subtly promote your products in the middle of your speech or presentation. Obviously, the more you’re paid for your speech, the less appropriate it is to aggressively promote your products. (But, that obviously doesn’t always keep authors on the straight and narrow.)
  • Coaching and consulting. As Harry Beckwith, author of such modern business classics as Selling the Invisible and What Clients Want told me in an interview, consulting assignments typically follow invitations to speak. Often, he’s brought into a corporation by a mid-level executive who has read his book and liked it. The original reader shares his copy with his superiors, and they are often intrigued enough to hire him. During the speech, Harry establishes eye contact and rapport with senior management, who often invite him to return to help them implement his suggestions.
  • Event premiums. During another recent interview, Bud Bilanich, the Common Sense Guy, told me that self-publishing offers numerous opportunities for speakers. “After I’m confirmed for an event, I ask my host if they have a budget for materials, or premiums, delivered during the event.” Bud then described how he prints a print-on-demand copy of his latest book for attendees, customizing the cover for the client and the event. Profits from these premium books can go right to the bottom line, as there is nothing to do except schedule the printing and book delivery to the conference center or ballroom where he will be speaking.

Annual encores. Corporate events like conferences, meetings, and corporate retreats, are often repeated each year. Once you’re invited and deliver a stellar performance, you’re likely to be invited back. Each return visit solidifies the author’s image as “one of us,” leading to more opportunities for selling information products and services.

Selling your speaking services

The starting point for premium speaking profits, of course, is write a good book; one that breaks new ground, tells an engaging story, and- -most important- -positions you as a thought leader with both information and inspiration.

This involves many of the topics previously covered in this series, such as:

  • Choosing a title that not only sells your book but creates a brand. A book is a one-time sale; a brand tells your story in a memorable way and differentiates you from the competition. A book can go out of date, but a brand can be updated for decades. So, choose your titles wisely! An earlier post in this series shared how to test your book’s proposed title and subtitle.
  • Book content must do more than just share information. Information is great, but information rarely inspires. Your tactical information has to resonate with broader concerns and goals. You want to inspire belief that positive change is possible, and- -through your writing and speaking style- -arouse enthusiasm for taking action.
  • Leveraging your book in the media. No matter how many books you sell, you’ll never sell a copy to everyone who can benefit from it. Accordingly, you need to target the markets and specific reader demographics you want to read your book, then attract the attention of the appropriate media. Best possible scenarios?  The month your book appears, an article appears in a leading business or technology magazine, reviews appear in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and you’re interviewed on MSNBC or National Public Radio’s or Marketplace. Obviously, the likelihood of this happening depends on the caliber of the marketing and public resources you hire to promote your book.
  • Speakers bureaus. In addition to public relations and press resources, you will probably want to familiarize yourself with speaker’s bureaus and the protocols associated with them. Their websites often explain the criteria they look for in potential clients. More important, with a little research, you can find out the fees speaker’s bureaus are charging for authors who have written books similar to yours

One sheets and website ideas

Although you may not be ready for a speaker’s bureau, it’s never too early to prepare a one sheet describing your speaking background and the topics you speak on. An earlier post in this series, described the essentials of a successful author one sheet and included links to several of the best one sheets I’ve discovered. Here’s another blog post about author one sheets and online promotion.

Whenever possible, try to have your speeches recorded, and always ask for a copy of the recording. Even if you can’t distribute the recording, a recording of your speech will help you evaluate your performance.

Even better, when negotiating a paid speaking engagement, try to obtain rights to post excerpts from the recording on your website and blog. Even a single moment can be enough to create a compelling visual that communicates your ability to mesmerize and animate your audience.

Invitation

Share your questions about marketing your speaking services as comments, below.

During the past 10 weeks, I’ve been discussing different approaches to marketing your book, including list-building incentives, one sheets, and obtaining pre-publication quotes. (Here’s where you can review all previous installments.)

This week, I’d like to tie the previous 10 installments together, and close Part 3, Planning, by discussing the importance of creating a book marketing plan as early as possible.

As you’ll see below, the reason to start early is to set-up systems, like a blog with incentives and auto-responders, so that everything will be placed well before your book is published. Committing to a plan, even if you only spend an hour a week on marketing activities, will save you money and stress in the long run, paving the way for a successful book launch.

A marketing plan doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective! I believe in work worksheets, like the samples shown, but you can also create your own marketing plan worksheets using the tables feature of Microsoft Word. You can also use an online calendar, like Google’s, to assign starting and completion dates for each task identified in your book marketing plan.

4-stage book marketing

There are four distinct stages, or phases, of a successful book marketing plan:

  • Announcement. As soon as you sign a contract with your publisher, or- -if you’re self-publishing- -your printer, it’s time to announce your forthcoming book online and offline.
  • Pre-Launch. During the pre-launch phase, while you’re writing your book, you should be setting up the online structure for marketing your book and building a network of marketing partners whose efforts will culminate during your publication week book launch.
  • Launch. The week of your book’s publication, you won’t have much time left over for beginning new marketing endeavors; hopefully, you’ll be too busy with interviews and events designed to call attention to your book’s publication.
  • On-going. Things will settle down to a “maintenance” stage after your book’s publication. Your primary activities will involve keeping your book in the news, (and search engines), by commenting on reader feedback, encouraging reader reviews at Amazon.com, and blogging about new ideas that have emerged after your book’s publication.

Stage 1: Announcement

Here are some of the marketing tasks you should be addressing during the Announcement stage, right after you formally plan your publication agreement:

  1. Social media. Announce your book’s title, publisher information, and publication date on your blog, and social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  2. Press. Prepare a press release and add it to your current website’s press center, as well as submit it online and offline to appropriate media.
  3. Special markets. Prepare a list targeting special, i.e., non-bookstore, markets that are likely to be interested in your book, and announce your book using postcards and special market catalogs like Brian Jud’s Premium Book Company.

As in the stages that follow, the best way to assure that the tasks are completed is to prioritize the tasks, and assign definite (and realistic) starting dates and deadlines for each task, as shown in the worksheet samples.

Stage 2: Pre-launch

The Pre-launch phase is the longest and, in many ways, the most important. Here, you’ll be preparing the structure that will roll into action as your book’s publication date approaches. Tasks include:

  1. Building anticipation. It’s never too early to start discussing your book using a series of podcasts, teleseminars, or videos describing why you’re writing your book, the topics you’re covering in your book, and how your target market will benefit from your book. Each podcast, teleseminar, or video enhances your search engine visibility and begins to attract prospective book buyers.
  2. Online marketing. Unless you’ve already set up a blog for your book, it’s important that you set up a blog with an incentive and autoresponder to capture the names and e-mail addresses of prospective book buyers. Online marketing also includes setting up an Author’s Page at Amazon.com, which can include audios, videos, and an RSS feed from your blog.
  3. Marketing partners. One of the most important pre-publication tasks is to identify others who sell to markets similar to yours, so you can set up a series of Launch Week promotions to introduce you and your book to their clients and prospects. The more work you do for your marketing partners, like creating landing pages and marketing messages for them to forward during your Launch Week promotion, the easier it will be to encourage marketing partners to promote your book’s publication, building advance sales and publication week sales.
  4. Virtual book tour. Bookstore signings, although valuable in your area, may not be as important as virtual book tours that consist of teleseminar interviews hosted by bloggers and marketers with a strong Internet presence. Elizabeth Marshall is one of the most experienced resources for setting up virtual book tours.
  5. Book covers and one sheets. It’s never too early to “encourage” your book publisher to begin working on a front cover design for your book. You’ll need a tentative book cover so you can produce downloadable and attachable one-sheets that describe your book, it’s contents, and its benefits to website visitors and the press.
  6. Pre-publication reviews and testimonials. Finally, you should be building your expert network as early as possible, and preparing a “quote package” that you can send to experts in your field, soliciting their pre-publication comments and testimonials about your book.

As always, slow and steady wins the race; consistent weekly progress, beginning as early as possible, creates the best results.

Stage 3: Launch week.

With systems already set in place by the time your book’s publication date approaches, you’ll be able to focus on putting your best foot forward as you promote your book in the following ways:

  1. Teleseminars and speaking. Hopefully, your book’s publication week will be occupied with a full schedule of local and online events. Each night, as you prepare for bed, you should review the talking points you want to weave into your interviews and responses to audience questions.
  2. Acknowledging key supporters. As soon as your advance copies of your book arrive, you should send copies, accompanied by hand-written notes, to all who contributed pre-publication quotes and reader testimonials.
  3. Encouraging reader reviews. Whenever possible, you should encourage family, friends, and key supporters to submit Reader Reviews to online bookstores like Amazon.com and others. You can also encourage these in your blogs and newsletters.

Traffic to your blogs and websites should be growing during your book launch week, as autoresponders and other online tools do the work while you reap the rewards of the marketing systems you’ve put in place.

Stage 4: On-going

Things settle down even more after the publication of your book. Promotion never “ends,” and you’ll undoubtedly discover new marketing opportunities as you move forward.

During the on-going, or maintenance, stage, a single blog post a week calling attention to your book, possibly referencing current events or new information, may be enough to maintain your book’s momentum and search engine visibility.

Setting yourself apart

The above 4-stage marketing approach, with the emphasis on the third, or Pre-Launch, stage will provide you and your book a significant competitive edge over your competition.

Many authors simply ignore the realities of book marketing, trusting their publisher or the fates to market their book for them. Most authors still begin to promote their book too late, i.e., after their book appears!

But, you can be far ahead of your competition if you’ve done your homework during the Announcement and Pre-launch stages. The benefit? While others are just getting started, you can be working on your follow-up titles, or leverage your book into highly-profitable back-end products and services.

As always, a little planning goes a long way!


In last week’s installment of my Author’s Journey, I described the importance of creating an incentive to encourage visitors to your blog to sign-up for your e-mail marketing program.

This week, I’m going to describe tip sheets, the simplest, easiest way to create an incentive to build your list and attract new prospects to your marketing funnel.

Tip sheets are powerful and effective because they don’t have to be elaborate, as the two examples, at below left, show; each is printed on one side of a single sheet of paper. They’re judged by the value of their information, not by the number of words or pages they contain.

Why tip sheets make great incentives

Tip sheets distill your expertise into 8 to 12 easy-to-implement actionable ideas. They are judged not by the length, but by the quality of the information you share.

Tip sheets save you money because they are usually distributed as downloadable PDF files, although they are multi-functional; you can easily print-out copies of your tip sheets to carry with you and to distribute at networking functions and speaking engagements.

Not only do the tip sheets save you money, they also save time, for both you and your market. Why? Because they are short and to the point – they are easily written and easily read.

  • Tip sheets save you time. Tip sheets leverage your existing knowledge into chunks of information with high-perceived value. In an hour, or so, you can write and format an effective tip sheet. The above examples contain fewer than 500 words.
  • Tip sheets save your clients and prospects time. The brevity and concisely-presented information that saves you time also saves time for your clients and prospects. They can easily judge your expertise and appreciate the value of the information you provide.

Tip sheets, of course, don’t have to be limited to one side of a single sheet of paper, and they can benefit from professional design assistance. As the example on the right shows, two-sided tip sheets provide extra space for graphics and more information to further enhance your image and communicate your expertise.

The better-looking your tip sheet, the more likely that prospects will save it and refer to it in the future.

Tips for creating and formatting tip sheets

Here are some tips for creating tip sheets.

  • Title. Choose a title for your tip sheet that engages your market by making a promise that’s relevant to your prospects.
  • Introduction. Provide a one-paragraph introduction that “sells” the relevance of the ideas that follow. The shorter, the better.
  • Content. Base your tips on the questions that clients and prospects ask you every day in person and via e-mail. Organize your tip sheet in a question and answer format, or use a short phrase to introduce each tip.
  • Call to action. End with a call to action, which can be as simple as an offer to obtain answer questions submitted by phone or e-mail.
  • Links. Use links to your website to make it easy for recipients to take the next step. Make sure that your links are spelled out (for those who may be reading a printed version of your tip sheet) and make sure the links are activated in your PDF.
  • Graphics. Personalize your tip sheets with a photograph, accompanied by a one-sentence background or positioning statement.
  • Design. Use contrasting typeface, type size, and formatting options like bold or italics to visually set the questions, or phrase introducing each tip, apart from the body copy that follows.
  • Color. Use color with restraint; less is always more. Avoid choosing light colors, i.e., yellow, for text. As always, the colors you use in your tip sheets should reflect the colors associated with your website and your personal brand.
  • Layout. Use a 2-column layout to keep lines short and easy to read. Add extra line spacing to enhance readability.

Leveraging your tip sheets

Here are some tips for leveraging your tip sheets:

  • Print and carry. Print copies of your tip sheet on your desktop printer, or have color copies made at office supply stores like Staples. Always carry copies with you wherever you go. You never know when you’ll meet your next valuable prospect!
  • Promotion. Use the back of your business card to promote your tip sheet. Show a thumbnail of your business card, and the specific page of your website where prospects can sign up to receive it.

Most important, create new tip sheets on a regular basis. Add interest to your tip sheets, and a reason for visitors to return to your site, by creating a new tip sheet on a different topic each quarter.

But, limit access to your previous tip sheets to those who sign up for your latest tip sheet! Place links to previous tip sheets on a special landing page, with a URL that you share in the confirmation e-mail prospects receive when they sign-up for your tip sheet.

Limiting access to previous tip sheets adds strength to your offering, making it more and more important for prospects sign up for your tip sheet and e-mail newsletter.

Note: for one week only, you’re invited to download (no registration required) PDF samples of the tip sheet examples shown above; visit a special page I created for my Active Garage friends.

One of your most important marketing and promoting decisions is choosing the right incentive to offer as a bonus to visitors who sign up for your e-mail newsletter or weekly tips.

It’s not enough to offer great information delivered at consistent intervals via e-mail; you have to go further and sweeten the pot with a sign-up bonus if you want to grow your list as quickly as possible.

Why you must offer an incentive

You have to strike while the iron is hot! One of the reasons to offer an incentive that is immediately delivered via an e-mail autoresponder is to immediately contact visitors who have signed up for your newsletter or weekly tips.

Visitors have short memories; if you’re midway between monthly newsletters or a weekly tip sheet mailing, by the time the next issue rolls around, visitors may have forgotten that they signed-up for it. C2010-523 dumps This won’t happen, however, if they immediately receive your incentive and a thank-you for signing up.

Characteristics of successful incentives

Your sign-up incentive should reflect the quality of information you share on a consistent basis with your clients, customers, prospects, and readers. Key characteristics include:

  • Engaging. Pay as much attention to the title of your incentive as you pay to the title of your book. Your incentive must immediately communicate a benefit that will help visitors solve a problem or achieve a goal. For help choosing the title of your incentive, use the same techniques used to choose article, book, & event titles.
  • Helpful & relevance. The success of a sign-up incentive is based not on how well it “sells” your services, but on the quality of the information you share in it. Let your information be your salesperson; don’t hold anything back- -share your expertise and leave your visitor looking forward to learning more.
  • Actionable. Avoid incentives that are long on theory, but short on information. Instead, focus on concise and simply-stated ideas that your market can immediately put to work.
  • Perceived value. Pay attention to the quality of your incentive; let the packaging, or the design and layout, of your incentive add value to your words and ideas. The design of your incentive should project an appropriate image, one that tells a story and differentiates you and your firm from the competition.
  • Low-cost or no-cost. Electronic incentives, like Adobe PDF’s, downloadable audios, or streaming videos are best because there are few out-of-pocket costs involved in creating them and no costs (other than the low monthly fees for an auto-responder) involved in distributing them.
  • Trackable. In order to test, and, thereby, continue to improve, the desirability of your incentives, it’s important that you carefully track the number of incentives you distribute and the conversions- -or sales- – that result. A simple spreadsheet will help you correlate newsletter or tip-sheet sign-ups to specific blog posts or pay-per-click advertising.

Types of incentives

As mentioned above, sign-up incentive can take many forms. Format options include Acrobat PDF files, audios, videos, and- -even- -templates to be used with popular software programs. CAS-003 dumps The following is a rundown of the types of content options you can choose from:

  • Assessments. An assessment can be as simple as a questionnaire, or as sophisticated as a self-grading interactive form. Assessments help visitors determine their needs and identify areas where improvement is possible.
  • Best-of compendiums. Your hard-drive may contain hundreds of previously-written articles, case studies, ideas, strategies, and tips, that you can assemble into a “Best of” incentive. Another source of information may be as close as your blog posts, which can be easily harvested for your incentive.
  • Checklists. Another popular incentive category idea includes checklists. Checklists help visitors evaluate their performance as they complete a task or work towards a goal.
  • E-courses. An e-course is simply an incentive sent by autoresponders at timed intervals. Typically, the first “lesson” is sent immediately, with follow-up lessons sent every few days or at weekly intervals. Each follow-up mailing reinforces your brand and your message, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
  • Glossaries. Every field has its own professional terms and jargon. Newcomers to your field are likely to appreciate a list of important terms and their definitions.
  • Resource compilations. What are the recommended books and online resources in your field? Who are the big players in your field? You can enhance your reputation as the knowledgeable “go to” individual in your field by positioning yourself as an expert “filter” who helps visitors save time locating and evaluating resources they’ll find useful…and you’ll get the credit for introducing them.
  • Software templates. Software templates, prepared for use with the popular programs like Microsoft Excel or Word, Adobe In-Design, or Mindjet’s MindManager, help prospects get a head start on their projects. Spreadsheet templates can help prospects make better decisions, and newsletter templates provide a ready-to-use framework for creating a one-page newsletter with Microsoft Publisher.
  • Speeches. Be sure your next speech is recorded, so you can offer it as a downloadable audio or a streaming video.
  • Survey results. After creating a survey of your clients, customers, prospects, and blog readers, compile a report summarizing the major trends. Survey incentives become more valuable each year, if you update the results and include comparisons with survey results from previous years.
  • Tip sheets. Tip sheets are one of the most powerful tools available. A tip sheet can be as simple as 10 tips printed on one side of a single sheet of paper, or they can become as elaborate as you desire.

Your sign-up incentives are going to be judged by their appearance as well as their contents. Ideally, the appearance of your incentives should reflect the brand associated with you and your book.

  • White papers. White papers which are educationally-oriented reports focusing on current challenges and new developments in your field are an excellent lead generation and list-building tool. The ideal length is 12 pages, or less. The key to a successful white paper is to avoid overt marketing or promotion until the very end, where you can stress your firm’s role in developing and delivering the latest advances.

Content and format options

Here are some things to bear in mind when harvesting previously written content from your hard drive and previous blog posts:

  • Clients and prospects have a short memory. Blog content quickly ages, no matter how carefully you have organized your blog posts by category. By drawing attention to valuable content 6 months, or so, older, you’re performing a valuable service for your market.
  • Different prospects prefer different formats. Just because you addressed a topic in a previous newsletter, and you have it archived on your website, doesn’t mean every prospect is aware of it. Thus, repurposing previous newsletters and blog posts into audios and videos exposes them to prospects who may welcome the information because it’s new to them.

Takeaway

Don’t make the mistake of focusing on writing the perfect book, but fail to offer a helpful, relevant, and actionable incentive. In many ways, the title and content of your sign-up incentive is as important as the title and content of your book. Successful incentives lead to successful books!


There are three basic approaches to getting others to help you write your book. As always, your choice should be determined by your goals and your resources. The three options are:

  1. Paying for Help. This option involves locating co-authors, ghost writers, and other forms of reimbursed writing assistance. Reimbursement can be based on a fixed-fee, work-for-hire basis, with the money coming either from the author’s pocket or publisher’s advance. Reimbursement can also be based on future royalties and book sales. Authors must carefully identify exactly what they’re looking for from others, and structure responsibilities and rights to avoid disappointment down the road.
  2. The Network Approach. Another option is to approach other authors and subject area experts in your field for chapters, stories, or suggestions. This often works well when combined with approaching clients and prospects with surveys and offers to contribute case studies or stories to your book. The better known you are in your field, the easier it will be to get free contributions for your book in exchange for acknowledgments and inclusion in the Resources section of your book.
  3. Social Media Approach. A newer approach is to combine the power of social media, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, with the outreach power of online surveys, from sources like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang to locate others who can help you write your book. This approach leverages the power of the latest Internet tools to help you save time writing a better book.

Social Media Approach at a glance

The social media approach offers many advantages and continues to evolve and improve.

The social media approach frees you from the limitations of the first two approaches. It eliminates the costs, possible disappointments, and possible future “entanglement” costs of working with co-authors. No agreement, no matter how well constructed, can anticipate all future scenarios, and—at one time or another–all books and relationships involve differences of opinion.

The social media approach can open the door to new relationships with others who are interested in your topic, or have had experience in it. This can broaden your perspective and pave the way for new friendships, ideas, and profit opportunities.

The social media approach to getting others to help you write your book involves 2 steps:

  1. Locate strangers with relevant information. This involves using a combination of search engine marketing, social media, and online surveys to locate others interested in sharing their views.
  2. Requesting follow-up interviews and stories. Your initial survey should contain an option allowing survey participants to share their e-mail address and permission for you to contact them in the future. This is your gateway to follow-up e-mails and, when appropriate, possible telephone conversation and interviews.

By participating in your survey, individuals are indicating their interest in your topic. This makes them likely to be willing to share their experiences and stories  with you in your book.

Driving traffic to your online survey

After creating your survey with SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, or the dozens of other free online survey providers, there are several ways you can drive traffic to it.

You can begin with promoting your survey on your blog and in your website. You can promote your survey in your permission-based e-mail newsletters. You can Tweet about it, and encourage your followers to Retweet your requests for survey participation.

You can also add survey modules to your Squidoo lenses, and create a LinkedIn Answers campaign or post your question on Facebook. Step-by-step advice for working with LinkedIn Answers can be found at Dummies.com.

Finally, you can use pay-per-click ads to attract the attention of those interested in your field and drive them to your survey. Even a relatively small budget can be enough to drive qualified traffic to your survey each day.

Help a Reporter Out

Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out, or HelpaReporter, is perhaps the most powerful, popular, and free outreach option for authors. Help a Reporter Out is a free subscription service that sends members 3 e-mails a day containing a digest of brief questions posted by authors and journalists.

Authors can use this service to drive traffic to their online surveys. They can simply ask for individuals interested in sharing their experiences to visit your survey page and answer a question, rate their concerns, or share their favorite shortcut or tip.

Over 29,000 journalists subscribe to HARO, which enhances the program’s power to drive qualified traffic to your online survey. In addition to attracting the attention of people interested in your topic, your query may prompt a journalist to contact you for a possible interview.

Being quoted as an expert in your field, of course, will introduce you to additional potential readers as well as potential contributors.

Tips for following-up surveys

Here are some tips for interviewing individuals who have participated in your survey:

  • Always record and transcribe your interviews. Recording your calls, with the interviewee’s permission, frees you from the necessity of taking notes during the conversation. You’ll be better able to pay attention to the interviewee’s responses and ask for clarification or more details.
  • Obtain permission for quotes and stories. Clarify your intent to include portions of the interview in your upcoming book. Be sure to keep careful records of interviewee names and e-mail addresses. Your publisher’s Permissions Department will want to follow-up and confirm permission before your book appears.

Conclusion

Never before has it been so easy to get others to help you write your book. Social media makes it easy to locate others interested in your topic; free online surveys make it easy to begin relationships that can lead to in-depth interviews that can add richness and depth to your book.

Before you can write your book, you need to create a content plan for your book. Mind mapping makes it easy to identify and organize your ideas.

Mind mapping software, see directory here, allows you to work visually. Ideas are displayed as clouds, or topics, organized around the main topic. The main topic can be the title of a book, a newsletter editorial calendar, or a quarterly marketing plan.

When creating the content plan for #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Creating Compelling Titles for Articles, Books, and Events, I followed the same 3-step process I always use when starting a new book:

  • Step 1: Sections. I identify the main sections of the book.
  • Step 2: Chapters. Next, I list the chapters and main ideas with each section.
  • Step 3: Export. When finished, I export the mind map to Microsoft Word.

This approach is extremely efficient. It eliminates duplicate typing. The mind map I use to plan my book and share with potential literary agents or publishers is also used to create a formal book proposal and prepare the manuscript for publication.

Step 1: Sections

Figure 1

Figure 1, created with Mindjet’s MindManager, shows what my project looked like less than two hours after I started work. If memory serves, it took me about 30 minutes to identify the major sections of the book, and another hour, or so, to fine-tune the section titles and their order.

At this point, my intention to write a book about book titles has already begun to take shape. There hasn’t really been much “stress,” and I’ve rather enjoyed the process of dragging and dropping sections into the correct order. And, I actually left the office early, after sharing copies of the map with a few key individuals.

Step 2: Chapters

Figure 2

My next step was to begin to populate the map with the next level of information, chapters.

In the case of the THINKaha book series edited by Rajesh Setty’s, the “chapters” consist of Tweets, or 140-character, ideas and examples. Accordingly, I began to write the book in MindManager, as shown in Figure 2.

A couple of things to notice:

  • Automatic numbering. MindManager, like many other mind mapping software programs, can automatically number each subtopic. This made it easy for me to track my progress and include the right number of points.
  • Keeping track of characters. Note the numbers in the call-outs. After I developed each idea and provided an example, I copied and pasted the text into Microsoft Word. I could then use Word’s Tools, WordCount feature to see how many characters I used (or had to edit to fit the 140-character limit. This quickly became a pleasurable game.
  • Notes feature. I used MindManager’s Notes feature if I had any additional ideas, such as alternative examples, for each entry.

You may have noticed that the subtitle in the mind map has been changed to “140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Titles for Articles, Books, and Events.” Change during the course of writing and editing a book is a normal, and healthy, sign of progress. Change is a positive byproduct of the collaborations and conversations between authors and publishers.

Step 3: Export to Word

When I was through, I exported my mind map to Microsoft Word, and was able to view the book from my readers’ perspective.

My initial manuscript editing was relatively easy, since, from the beginning, I was able to visually preview the order (or context) of each 140-character topic. As a result, there were no unpleasant surprises along the way.

Likewise, since my mind mapped plan was on target, there were minimum editorial queries or problem areas to adjust. The experience reminded me of what Jack Hart, veteran writing coach, had written in his A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies that Work and had emphasized when I interviewed him: Writing problems are usually the result of planning problems.

Only, in this case, starting out with a strong plan, writing (i.e., choosing the right words to communicate my ideas) was easy.

Conclusion

Good content plans create good books. Use the right tools to convert your intention to write a book into a framework you can use to sell, test-market, and write your book. The sooner you create your book’s content plan, and the more thought and care you put into it, the easier it will be to sell your book to the right publisher and finish your manuscript on time. What’s your favorite tool for creating content plans? Share your ideas, comments, and questions, below, as comments.