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Telling Tales – connecting with your readers

Rosemary Gillespie - Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The best presentations are those where the speaker tells a story, right? Likewise, when we find a book riveting, we’ll pass it around. Stories may inspire us, sadden or thrill us. Whatever the emotional response, a story evokes a connection with the storyteller. Which is why telling tales in your B2B communications is so important if you want your readers to connect with you.

The more details and facts in your story, the more likely we are to believe it. So everything you say about your service or business or yourself, in print, online or verbally, needs to include details and facts so that it rings true. And that means using unambiguous, concrete words.

In 2010, a study by Joachin Hansen of New York University and Michaela Wanke of the University of Basel showed that concise, clear statements win out over wordier ones.

In their study, they asked participants to read one of two statements and say if they thought it was true or not. The statements were:

1. Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges.

2. In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe.

More people believed the second. While each statement says the same thing, the second gets to the point quickly and presents a clear image – of counting bridges.

That’s because concrete words are more precise. For example, if I told you I ate a pizza for dinner, you might ask what type. But if I had told you I ate a Hawaiian pizza for dinner, you’d immediately have an image of the pizza and not have to ask what topping I chose.

Verbs can also be concrete. There’s little ambiguity about ‘sleep’, ‘run’, ‘swim’ or ‘jump’. But verbs such as ‘help’, ‘love’, ‘enjoy’, ‘assist’, ‘deliver’ are less precise and often come a myriad of  interpretations.
So, if you want your readers to connect and believe you, tell the truth using solid, unambiguous words.

For more information, see

For help with your B2B writing, contact Rosemary Gillespie on 02 9314 7506 or 0411 123 216.

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How a little thought goes a long way

Rosemary Gillespie - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

If you find writing a tender or any business document hard work, pity your reader. There is no one on earth that wants to spend longer than necessary reading business documents.

When writing, the goal is to make it as easy, and quick, as possible for your reader to understand what you are saying.

But how do you do this without getting bogged down?

Well, here are a few easy rules to help you to structure what you want to say:

1. Start slow. Think about what you want or need to say. What is your overall message? And what key points do you need to make to get your message across? Do you need evidence, quotes, testimonials, facts or figures? The more time you spend thinking (not writing), the better your document will be. Its messages will be clearer and more logical.

2. Jot down your thoughts either in pen, pencil or on screen. You may like to make a list, but mind maps are more useful – they free up our thinking so it becomes easier to identify all the points we need to make. Don’t worry about the quality of your writing, its grammatical correctness or sequence. That comes later.

3. Put your key points into order so they follow on logically from each other. When a document flows, it is easier, and quicker, to read.

4. Now you can start writing sentences. This is when you can shift your key points from notes to complete sentences and paragraphs. Use short words and don’t waffle. Use active voice, not passive, and use personal pronouns where possible. Useful phrases link the paragraphs together, such as “for example”, “consequently” and “subsequently”.  

5. Edit and proofread. Many people edit but forget to proofread. When editing, look out for superfluous and clichéd phrases. For example, “in order to” and “push the envelope”. When proofreading, print your document and read it aloud. It makes a big difference.

Finally, ask yourself, have I made myself clear?

For help with writing your business documents, contact Rosemary Gillespie on 02 9314 7506 or 0411 123 216.

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Front-end strategies for leveraged solutions in your business communiqués. (Or: learn to cut the cr_p and say what you mean.)

Rosemary Gillespie - Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anyone who missed the recent election must have been hiding under the proverbial rock, or willfully avoiding it altogether. If the latter is the case, we at Proof Communications sympathise because at no other point in the political calendar is the main purpose of communication – to impart information clearly – so casually abused, with the use of political double-talk, repetitive slogans (moving forward, anyone?) and ‘officialese’ at an apparent all time high. Or low, depending on your point of view.

You’ll know officialese when you hear it; it’s bureaucratic, hard to follow and mostly meaningless. Consider these examples from the excellent Bendable Learnings by Don Watson, author and speechwriter for former Prime Minister Paul Keating: ‘front-end strategies’, ‘leveraged solutions’, ‘the execution of deliverables’ and (our favourite) ‘synergy-related headcount reductions’, which was Nokia Siemens’ way of saying in a media release that they planned to fire a few people. It’s management-speak designed to hide either the horrible truth… or the fact that the speaker is utterly clueless about the subject. Which gives us an excellent insight into why pollies use it so much!

Officialese isn’t just a convenient tool for misinformation used by silver-tongued politicians. It’s also a disease that, if left unchecked, can spread rapidly and infect your business writing. Look at all your business communications – that’s everything from e-mail correspondence to reports and tenders – and ask yourself: is my meaning clear? Have I used industry jargon when talking to a customer who may not understand it? Am I using unnecessarily complex words when a simple, everyday alternative would work just as well?

We’ve talked about ways to make your business writing clearer in Proof Communications newsletters before but, unlike our Prime Minister’s favourite slogan, some things can bear repetition. Here’s a quick refresher on writing clearly and effectively:

1. What am I trying to say?
Identify the purpose of your communication or ‘key message’, as well as all the supporting information you need to convey.

2. Get yourself a gorgeous body.
Structure is crucial to clarity. As a rule of thumb, every paragraph should contain a unique point that contributes to your overall message.

3. Spell-check your work.
Your computer’s spell-check function doesn’t understand jargon, so it’s an excellent way of identifying industry-specific terms, as well as misspellings.

4. Honesty is the key.
Have you used ‘antediluvian’ instead of ‘old-fashioned’ because you think it makes you sound smarter? Not only do you risk alienating your customer, you might just run out of words. As CS Lewis said, “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” Save the posh words for the cryptic crossword.

As the American Plain English Foundation says: “Though no one knows the total cost of poor communication, the information we do have suggests it's high. While writing in plain language isn't easy, it pays off in positive results”.

So stop the rot: inoculate yourself against the spread of officialese before it costs you a customer!


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How well do you know the company you keep?

Rosemary Gillespie - Sunday, May 02, 2010

Your business is a singular collective noun.

What do I mean?

I recently edited a marketing document for a thriving business that got its grammatical position as a singular collective noun correct from the first draft.

I admit I was surprised. Why?

Well, it’s very common for writers (both professionals and in-house staff) to describe the company (or organisation) they work for in the plural. This is something I see constantly, and it's incorrect. A business, company or organisation is a single entity. It is a singular collective noun.

For example, we often read, “TWP are the biggest online publishers”. It should say, “TWP is the biggest online publisher”.

Or, “RST have won the biggest government tender”. It should say, “RST has won the biggest government tender".

Remember though, it’s correct to use the plural when writing about your business as “we”. So, it’s fine to say, “At RST, we have the best tender writing team in Australia”.


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Bullet-proof: Tips for better bullet lists

Rosemary Gillespie - Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clients often ask me, “What do you think about bullet lists?” The question usually comes when they are writing a proposal or a tender, or copywriting a website or brochure. They come to read their work, only to realise it’s full of endless bullet lists.

I find B2B documents with lots of bullet lists hard to read and tend to skim over them. By zoning out, I probably miss some key messages.

Yet bullet points are great when they are used well. Here are 5 tips to make your bullets more readable.

  1. Turn a bullet list into numbered list, just like this one. Numbers make the list seem more important, and more likely to be read.

  2. Put a box around the bullet points, with or without shading, or just use shading. Highlighting your bullet points makes them stand out for your readers.

  3. Bold or underline some of the key words for emphasis and to attract your readers’ attention.

  4. Make each bullet point a stand-alone sentence so your readers get the message quickly. It saves them having to refer back to the lead-in sentence.

  5. Start each bullet point with a verb in the present tense, where possible. That’s what I've done in this list. It’s punchier and faster to read. 

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A quick and easy recipe for editing your marketing materials

Rosemary Gillespie - Monday, November 16, 2009

When you're cooking up marketing or business development materials (brochures, profiles, flyers, email, tenders, proposals) it's tricky to get the recipe right. Between your two main ingredients - a capital letter and a full stop - there are different flavours of words, and occasionally a dash of commas, to give you a sentence. Not a very tasty one perhaps, but one you can mix until you get the flavour right.

How do you get the flavour right? With good editing.

Here are 5 tips to great editing:

1. Read your work aloud. You'll hear where it doesn't flow.

2. Leave it to bake for long enough. If you have time, leave it overnight. In the morning read it afresh. You will recognise your good work, and the parts you need to revisit.

3. Add some new ingredients. Seek alternatives for the words you keep repeating.

4. Reduce the fat content. Cut out unncessary words. Adjectives (these are mostly really lovely words ending in -ly) and parts of the verb 'to be" can often be cut. For example, instead of "...the magnificent views are carefully framed", edit to "frames the magnificent views".

5. Use present tense to makes your work shorter, and livlier. Instead of, "You will receive three issues for free when you...", try "Receive 3 issues free when you...", or "You receive 3 issues free when you..."

For more help, download our free guide Do You Make These Mistakes in English? or call Rosemary on (02) 9314 7506


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