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The view from 39,000 feet

The view from 39,000 feet

I was catching up on some reading on the flight back from Seattle yesterday and came across a Hubspot blog post about apps for writers. I dug the idea and image capture tools, but one item hung me up good:

"If you are looking to make your posts easier to read (and you should be), Hemingway App is for you."
What's my beef? I know from working with kids whose schools rely on similar tools that having an app do this for you dramatically reduces the likelihood you learn to do it yourself. And--newsflash--if you're a pro writer or want to write like one, you need to learn, use and continuously hone the ability to improve your own writing.
Internalizing the ability to make your writing clearer makes your thinking clearer in ways that using an app simply doesn't. And, besides, what are you going to do if you don't have access to the app but need to produce something great?
Invest in learning to make your own work clearer and more concise. An easy practice I picked up from Poynter's Chip Scanlon is to chop 10-20 percent of everything I write as a first revision pass.
The goal: jettison anything that isn't absolutely necessary, that slows me down as a reader and that distracts from the main idea. I look for opportunities to:
  1. Replace multi-word verbs with single-word verbs. Consider this sentence: “I called him to set up a meeting for Friday.” Now this one: “I called him to schedule a Friday meeting.” The second is tighter and more precise.
  2. Replace weak verbs with strong verbs. These verbs don't just convey actions, they tell the reader how the actions are performed.
    • Original: “He ran quickly down the hallway.”
    • Replacement of weak verb: “He dashed down the hallway.” (A little alliteration now and then doesn’t hurt either.)
  3. Reduce the use of “state of being” verbs. It's easy to rely on forms of the verb “to be” when more precise options are available.
    • Original: “We can now reassure customers that if there was an event that would cause extraordinary losses, we are confident that their assets will be protected.”
    • Replacement of state-of-being verb: “We can now reassure customers that their assets are protected if extraordinary losses occur.”
  4. Reduce conditional words like could, should, would, will, might. Our writing automatically sounds more confident and clear when these words are kept at a minimum.
  5. Use fewer verbs per sentence. Less really is more.
  6. Remove unnecessary introductory and parenthetical phrases. This is one of the best ways to improve clarity.
  7. Rework deeply nested constructions. Those long complicated sentences lead to confusion or abandonment.
  8. Delete qualifying statements. Instead of strengthening our case, these phrases weaken it.

Try these tips on the next piece you write. After a couple weeks of using them, you'll become your own app -- ready to improve writing on-demand and without a device!


We're all working fast and hard, but not always smart. Too often, somebody says, "we need an infographic" or "let's do a press release" and we all get right to work. In our haste to be responsive and capture opportunities, we forget to ask three important questions:

  1. What's the purpose of this communication? (we want people to think, feel, do X)
  2. Why are we doing it? (to support a business objective, etc.)
  3. How do we know it's a good idea? (research supports a particular content form or channel)

Next time you feel yourself about to reflexively make or respond to a request like this, stop! Ask these three questions and proceed only if the answers validate the action.


photo courtesy: http://amitygardens.org/2015/03/09/cmpd-update-for-the-amity-gardens-neighborhood/


...and why that might be a problem

Oh, the corporate style guide. Whether it's a formal bound document, a slick PDF or just a hand-scrawled list of dos and don'ts, this foundational document can be a blessing or a curse.

I'm not going to debate its usefulness. Done right, they're very helpful. Done wrong? Well, we've all felt that pain, haven't we?

The Missing Link in Your Style Guide

While many (too many, maybe) folks cram everything but the breakroom sink into their guides, one thing I see missing in almost all of them is variations on spelling based on target languages and markets.

I admit I'd never thought much about that until I started working for Lionbridge, the world's largest translation and localization company. But I see what I've been missing.

This is, of course, critical if you're delivering content in multiple languages. But even if your content is only going to native English speakers, it's important to nail down alternate spellings if your audience includes anyone speaking British English, which is almost everyone speaking English outside the U.S. See what I'm saying?

Seriously? Who Cares?

source: LearnBritishEnglish.co.uk.

Oh, I can hear you wondering if that really matters all that much. But I think it does, especially if you've gone to the trouble of geotargeting your online content or segmenting your mailing lists by geographic location.

But chew on this: A 2014 Appia survey found that 86% of localized campaign content yielded higher click-through and conversion rates than English-only versions. The result was a 22% lift. Now, I'm not sure U.S. English to British English localization would create that much of a difference, but any lift is better than none at all, right? Plus, customers appreciate the effort. It won't add that much time to your process, and it's definitely time well-spent.

Your action items:

  1. Include the additional spellings for your British English content when you're pulling together your list of spelling rules outside of the standard AP or Chicago styles.
  2. Get more useful information on translating and localizing content from the Lionbridge Content Hub and check out the articles written by our team and Lionbridge's internal experts.

Related Content:



I'm really proud of the work we did to create the content marketing articles for this new initiative of Staples'. We wrote all the articles to support this initiative, creating a cohesive series that offers actionable tips and helpful advice for small business owners seeking loans.

Click image for larger view with active links.


avoid social sharing mistakes

Couldn't sleep last night so decided to flip through Flipboard for awhile. I came across an item from an education consultant in my Linkedin network. Paraphrasing her post here:

I agree with this article COMPLETELY. Teachers REALLY need diversity training. And they need to hire me to do it. 

I followed the link and came to poorly-written ranty post outlining bad behavior the author had witnessed in the teacher's lounge. I was surprised at how rambly the piece was and didn't think it reflected well on the re-poster.

Social Sharing Lesson 1: Whenever possible, don't post links to content that isn't up to the quality you want associated with your brand. Options: 1) Excerpt the most important thought in a blog post or extended status of your own, limiting exposure to the lower-quality content; 2) Acknowledge the quality of the ideas despite the quality of the presentation.

Then I noticed the comments. The original poster has few fans. Commenters accused him of "race-peddling", called out the quality of his writing, and suggested he was creating "fantasies" to sell his and his wife's work. Ouch! I left the post feeling like the author had been discredited, and that my connection had been a bit, too.

Social Sharing Lesson 2: Don't just read the top of the article you and post it. Read it all to be sure there's nothing later that you disagree with. And definitely read the comments--many people do. A resounding pan of the person or the post takes you brand down, too. Guilt by association, etc., etc.

Social sharing is a great way to extend and strengthen your brand, validate your own ideas, build credibility by showing your connections, and enhance trust with careful curation. It's those last two words you need to focus on, though: careful curation.