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6 gift ideas for coworkers

a nicely wrapped gift for a coworkerI work with a bunch of current and former journalists, so most of our gifts revolve around newsroom clichés like coffee, booze and baked goods. It's hard to go wrong.

But those may not be criteria that work for you. So I've come up with a short list of holiday gifts for coworkers or office Secret Santas that they'll actually use.

6 Gift Ideas for Coworkers

  1. Margot Lester's favorite blue penNice Pen. Despite the prevalence of devices, everyone still needs a decent writing utensil. Plus, data show that note-taking by hand is actually more effective. Choose one that feels good in your hand. Bonus points if it has a stylus for use with mobile devices. I like this one, and not just because it's my favorite color.
  2. Small Notebook. In the same vein, a small notebook or hefty notepad is one of those practical presents that's sure to get used. I can never have enough of these bad boys. Look for one with a sturdy cover that adds heft and makes writing during a commute easier. Your local office supply has tons, but don't overlook gift and specialty stores (or Etsy) for hand-crafted versions.
  3. Light Sweater. Seems weird, but we all know how insanely unpredictable office climate is. You can usually find the recipient's size on a jacket or sweater hung in their workspace. Select a neutral color that goes with anything. Pro Tip: If you're cost-conscious, visit your local consignment, retail or thrift store. I'm always amazed at the high-quality, clean and good-condition sweaters (including cashmere) I find at the PTA Thrift Shop.
  4. Gift Card. Hang on! I know these feel impersonal, but you can make them special with a tiny bit of effort. Instead of a big chain store card, choose a small local business near the office or your coworker's home. Personally, I like giving cards from local restaurants (slightly pricey) and coffee places (less costly). For instance, at my local, Open Eye Cafe, coffee is $1.25, making a $15 gift card go a long way.
  5. Go-Cups & Mugs. I know. These are the low-hanging fruit of office holiday gifts, but hear me out. Only use this option if the recipient's current model needs an upgrade or if you can personalize it in a meaningful way. That may mean purchasing a branded mug from her favorite coffee place (or vacation coffee place), or snapping some pictures of the family/vacation photos in his cube and creating a picture mug or tumbler. There are tons of ways to do this, but we like Shutterfly. Pro Tip: They run specials all the time that make giving more affordable.
  6. a pic of the WakaWaka Power+Portable Power. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't need additional battery power. One of my favorite things is my Waka Waka Power+ solar charger. It's easy to charge (via USB or ambient/sunlight), and the small form factor means its easy to stash in the old backpack, briefcase or purse, or jacket pocket. I keep mine in a sandwich-sized zip bag. Related: I'm also a fan of the ChargeCords products that are longer, sturdier and faster charging that the cords that come with your device.

Use these suggestions to solve your office gift-giving problems, or as inspiration for your own coworker gift ideas.

P.S. Looking for gifts for writers? Our award-winning book, Be a Better Writer, gets rave reviews from writers young and old!

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Dunce cap photo illustrating a post on The Word Factory blog

Nobody likes to feel stupid. And nobody likes to be around people who make them feel that way. Yet so many brands talk down to us. Even if we know we're not stupid, we end up with bad feelings about a brand whose marketers thought that tone was appropriate.

As content creators, we're most likely to do this when the subject matter is super-technical or super-serious. And making sure people understand the stakes is critically important in this kind of writing. But just like yelling at someone who may not understand your native tongue doesn't make them more likely to comprehend what you're saying, using a tone that says, "I'm not sure you understand what's at stake here" doesn't make people pay more attention. In fact, if often has the opposite effect. We think, "Of course I know that" and either stop reading altogether or harbor bad feelings about your brand. Neither, of course, is what needs to happen.

Writing to make people feel smart and capable is the key to keeping them engaged and getting them through the content that's crucial. It's an empathic act that makes us all feel more confident and that makes us more loyal. Who doesn't like hanging around people who make them feel great?

As Wharton prof Adam Grant wrote in a terrific article on vulnerability last year:

Good communicators make themselves look smart.

Great communicators make their audiences feel smart.

Sometimes, we get hung up with the content itself -- the ideas and details we decide to communicate. If they are too below or too above where our audience is, we can be perceived as talking down or talking over the audience's head. But more frequently, what I see causing the biggest problem is the voice or tone.

How to Make Your Audience Feel Smart

Voice and tone feel amorphous sometimes. Like good design, which many people can only "know" when they see it, the right voice is often not known till heard.

But it doesn't have to be that vague (or frustrating). Voice is actually pretty simple, driven by two key elements of our writing:

  1. Word Choice
  2. Sentence Fluency

Word choice is the easiest to master. Knowing our audience well enables us know pretty much where they are in terms of background knowledge and context. When we pay attention to that, we have a better barometer for what's too high or too low. For highly complex topics, plain language explanations go a long way to defining complicated processes and topics without "dumbing it down". This is also easy to suss out with A/B testing. Take a deeper dive into word choice.

Sentence fluency is the way we line up the words and sentences that tell the story and convey the information. Lots of long sentences (like in a lot of highly technical or legal content) is hard enough to get through that even good readers may start feeling intimidated. When we add in words that are too high -- and don't even bother to explain them plainly -- the impact is even worse. Learn more about how to create a rhythmic flow in your writing.

Similarly, a lot of short sentences sends a subtle signal that we might not think you can understand this. And a lot of short sentences in a row is tedious as Hell. Add words that are too simplistic and we lose the audience because they figure they can manage this on their own.

The best way to make people feel smart is to combine words that are at or just above their comfort level and to put them in sentences of various lengths so the rhythm literally propels them through the piece.

When we make progress and build understanding, we feel not just smart, but like learners.

Let's think about that for a minute. Almost every one of us recalls a favorite teacher who imparted some kind of learning on us. Decades later, we look upon them fondly. Those teachers who made us feel stupid? Our bad feelings about them persist just as long. We like feeling smart about what we know and feeling smarter after learning new things.

5 Actionable Insights to Connect with Your Audience

  1. Before you start any piece of content, take what you know about your audience and develop a persona for you, the writer. Describe a person your audience members would want to hear from on this topic. Jot down those criteria. Then think about how that person would sound (i.e., knowledgable, helpful, compassionate). What words do you think this person would use to talk about this topic? What words would you audience would use? Write them all down. This is your guide.
  2. Draft your content without thinking too much about word choice or sentence fluency -- just get the ideas out of your head and into a format you can work with. Do a quick revision to clean up errors and make the piece better.
  3. Now look specifically at word choice. Do you see opportunities to change words up or down to meet your audience? Do you need to describe some complex terms or processes? Have you used language that's too simple?
  4. Read over the piece again with your eye on sentence length and patterns within each paragraph, section and the entire piece. Is there a pleasing rhythm? Can some long sentences be broken up or punctuated more clearly? Can some short sentences be combined? Make those fixes, then read the piece out loud. Chances are good you'll find more places to create better fluency, including moving some stuff around.
  5. Finally, review what you know about your audience and your writer's persona. Read the fully revised piece aloud again to make sure it meets both sets of criteria. Keep turning the dials on your words and paragraphs until you get the right sound for your audience.

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There's a lot of talk about "big rock" content, those resource- and content-intensive assets that you can "chip away at" to create smaller, atomized content. Most folks include in the list:

  • e-Books
  • White papers
  • Research reports
  • Long-form articles

I want to make the case for adding infographics to the list. Why? Because done well, they require a significant investment in solid researching, careful writing and creative design. That's why here at The Word Factory, we consider infographics big rocks.

How to Get More Content from Infographics

A good infographic can be used to produce lots of other related content for you.

Example: Atomized Content

We suggested an infographic to one of our nonprofit clients because it was the best way to convey outcomes data and -- when designed right -- could be cut apart to produce great social graphics.

From this:

A screengrab of the PTA Thrift Shop's 2017 annual report infographic

To social posts like this:

Example: Related Content

While we were discussing ideas for this Philips Lifeline infographic, we uncovered an opportunity for related content article that could offer additional context and information.

From this:


To these blog posts:

Use these examples to inspire you the next time you're charged with creating an infographic or other big rock piece of content.

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There's been a lot of terrific reporting out of the horrible fire situation in California, but I found a passage from an LA Times enterprise story that particularly spoke to me. The details are so rich, with details about large landscapes and tiny detritus. It would be easy to overlook the small things in a story this big, but the smallest details bring the reporting down to a scale we can handle, and reminds us that these are real people who have lost much and in some cases everything. I encourage you to read the entire piece, but here's the section that stuck with me:

Excerpt from LA Times enterprise story on the Woolsey Fire

The silence was punctuated by the beep-beep-beep of utility trucks, the whir of helicopters dropping water and the roar of the wind blowing ash and dust across the hills. The shoulder of Mulholland Highway was filled with trash, burnt palm fronds and the remnants of people’s homes: a New Yorker subscription card, a page from a 1977 yearbook, a half-melted parking ticket for going 101 mph in a 60-mph zone.

Nearby, along a path of wood chips that crumbled when touched, a white yurt stood intact and pristine, surveying a valley of scorched earth and twisted trees. Stone letters on a ridge nearby spelled out: “LOVE.”

From a technical point of view, what makes this passage successful is that the writer has included just enough details. Too many would feel as overwhelming as the scale of the disaster itself. Too few would seem like a phoned-in attempt to humanize or right-size the article.

Striking a balance with our details, especially on deadline, takes a deft hand and a lot of reading out loud to "feel" the impact of the information.

How can you work this week to add relevant details to your writing to make it stronger?

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According to a recent Google thought-starter, more and more of us see our phones as tools for productivity.

image via Think with Google

But Google buried the lede. The real news centers on the emotions that stem from productivity.

Fuel Engagement with Emotion-Boosting Mobile Content

What I found most newsworthy in the Google data is the emotional bump we get from completing tasks.

Image via Think with Google

Even more importantly, 54% of the people in the Google survey say their phones reduce stress and/or anxiety.

Why should content marketers care? Because we are increasingly asked to produce content specifically for consumption on mobile.

It's tempting to focus too much on form and format when creating content specifically for mobile. Or on fast and easy consumption.

Yet, the insights from Google indicate that we can hone our "efficiency" goals for mobile,  go beyond the productivity imperative and tap into the emotions that result from completing tasks.

For instance, we just finished a package of tips and hints for a healthcare company's new mobile app. The dev team gave us the form and format requirements and we built a framework of empathy on top of that, inspired by Margaret Magnarelli and Amanda Todorvich's thoughts on empathy in content marketing. That enabled us to write content that fed users' need for productivity and efficiency, and drove their feelings of confidence and calm.

When we make people feel more confident and prepared and less stressed and anxious, we drive better engagement and make real strides toward trust and loyalty.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

While we crafting mobile content that meets the efficiency expectations everyone has for mobile, we must create also deliver experiences that produce emotional benefits, too.

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