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The power of word choice

Showing my age by using a newspaper term, "op-ed", in the 21st century.

Last week, we did a presentation on opinion/persuasive writing for Leadership Triangle.

It was a great session, both from our perspective and from the evaluations. But I did pick up on something interesting. Though I couched the class and all the discussions in terms of writing opinion pieces for any medium, including blogs and other social media, I did fall back on the term “op-ed” frequently. Sue me, but I come from a print background, and even though I write two blogs and contribute regularly to a third, old terms die hard. To me an op-ed is any opinion or persuasive piece for any medium. My bad, apparently, as a few of the class members commented on my “so 1999” view of the media.

There are a few good take-aways from this feedback on word choice:

1. Be sure your audience is clear on what you mean.

Even though I knew I meant any opinion piece whenever I said “op-ed”, some members of my audience didn’t. I’m not a fan of trying to please everyone all the time (never works, anyhow), but you can bet in future workshops, I’m going to put something on the whiteboard about “op-ed = any opinion or persuasive piece for use in any media” and will work to substitute “opinion” for op-ed. That’s an easy fix.

2. No matter how much context you provide, people hear what they want.

Even with my new approach, I know some people – particularly new media evangelists – will take umbrage at my “antiquated” terminology and decide I’m too old-school to pay attention to at all. Much as I may wish to be able to reach those folks, after this long in the business, I know better. I’ll cut my losses and focus on grabbing the folks I can.

Choosing the right words for your purpose, your medium and your audience is one key to creating engaging content.

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