Create Copy That Persuades

Create Copy That Persuades

I recently learned from a master. Mike Long ( or @mikewrites), an award winning speechwriter, screenwriter and instructor at Georgetown University shared tips on creating speeches, op-Ed’s, and essays that actually persuade.

Long said it’s important to learn emotion trumps reason.

“We are not rational creatures,” Long said. “A mother will save her drowning baby even if she can’t swim. We feel then we think. We write by building a case out of fact. We have to select fact driven articles that inspire emotions.”

The key to creating a compelling opinion piece is humanizing your opponent.

“Do you want to win or feel superior? Stop thinking of your opponent as a monster. You have to think of them as just as decent and kind as you. You don’t have to believe it in your heart – you can still believe they are a bastard – but you have to write like they are you. You have to ask, ‘what would it take to persuade you?’ What would a reasonable person do to defeat it?”

One op-ed won’t change someones mind. You can’t make purely emotional arguments. So how do you do it?

Persuasive opinion journalism takes a set of facts and pulls you to agree without calling on ideological code words. In other words, here’s what we can achieve with this measure. It’s a mistake to get wrapped up in left vs right. You goal is to find those in the middle that are open to something.

Bad ones show you how wrong you are and how right they are. Instead you want to advance peoples lives and show them why something matters.

Before you write, you need to think about what’s the point you want the reader to think about after they are done reading.

Long suggests having “The Meeting.”

You probably have to work with a group to get all the information and ideas for the piece, you need to control their expectations from the beginning. Long said the meeting should include the people who have the power to tell you what they want in the piece and the people who can veto it.

Before the meeting, make a list of 5–6 subordinate topics or categories of benefits (afford, economy, health). These will be subjective statements which you can prove by backing evidence into it.

At the meeting get their input. Ask them to tell you the categories they’d like to have in the piece or points they want to make. Narrow it down to 3.

Long urges the writer to speak as little as possible in this meeting.

“When you get to the end of the meeting say, ‘Since we’re all in agreement, I understand this is what you want me to do. Thank you.”

Then go back to office. Send out an email that says thanks for helping me figure it out. Here’s what we agreed on.

Get ready, because the next day, you’ll get email back from someone wanting you to change things. Send them an email back thanking them for letting you know. Tell them “I’ll be happy to change it. Will you run it past everyone or do I need to?”

As a writer, you don’t have a lot of ways to push back, but this fixes it. Once all parties have agreed to things in front of each other. Make the person initiating change get the ok from everyone else.

When you are writing for someone else, writers often feel they need to finding the persons voice.

Long said there’s no such thing.

“When you can make a reader feel the emotion and passion and understanding, anyone will think you’ve written it in their voice. It’s not about capturing the voice, it’s about being plain and simple. Be clear and direct and you’ll be heard.”

Once you’re ready to write, you need to know the structure. There’s the Opening, the Middle, and the End.

The Opening (peg, problem, promise). You’re looking for a connection to the news. That’s your peg. You need to identify what’s wrong. That’s the problem. Finally you need a clear statement about how you propose to fix it – the promise.

The promise must include the word must or should. (The governor should, Congress must) You’re looking for something that allows you to offer a solution that they might not be aware of. It’s better if it’s something you don’t normally publicize.

The peg sentence will start with something like, ” This month in the journal of or this week the foundation released.” It’s the timely piece that makes your opinion relevant and newsworthy.

The first paragraph is three sentences. The more you put in it, the less likely people are to read it. Don’t get hung up on anything other than getting their attention.

The Middle is where you put what you think and back it up by what’s true. Site something in the news that translates to your point of view. It’s assertion followed by objective evidence. What you think, followed by what you know.

You’ve got to do research to find the right evidence. Is the evidence useful to prove the subjective claim? 1. Does it help? Related to the point. 2. Is it objective?

The End (restatement and call to action). It’s where you recap the big idea. Restate the promise and solution. Make sure you have call to action. That means give them something to do with their arms and legs like vote, donate, contact, or offer belief

You’ve hooked them now. Following these guidelines will have you well on your way to persuading readers and moving them to action.

Better Editing Makes Better Stories

Better Editing Makes Better Stories

There are two kinds of editing. Copy editing fixes what is grammatically wrong. Style editing is about the form and how things connect. Here are seven tips to make you a stronger editor.

1. Use direct language. Be simple, not showy. AP Style changes. Oxford comma preferred. What’s the most effective way to communicate what you are saying? Use it. Make sure you know your medium. Speeches are written to be understood,not to conform to grammar.

2. Use simple words. We try to fill up the page and impress people. Instead, we should simply get the message across. Don’t waste peoples time. The smartest person can explain it quickly and simply.

3. If a sentence is to busy, break it up. Write with the sense of drama in mind. Readers naturally understand the rise and fall of the sentence. They can swallow it and move along. If it jumbles up (more than 12 words), try to break it up.

4. Cut big paragraphs in two. People read a little bit and move along. Boredom is your enemy. Attention spans are short. Think about Larry the Cable Guy. His philosophy is “if you don’t like this joke, hang on, in 7 seconds I’ll have another one.”

5. Avoid passive voice. Inspect the opening. The first sentence in the paragraph needs to have the point you were trying to make. If it doesn’t advance the narrative, get rid of it. Show no mercy. Take a cue from Clint Eastwood. When directing, he always cuts 2 of his favorite scenes from the movie because he says they are probably just for him.

6. Avoid cliches. Circle them. Mark them and replace it. Why do we use them? It’s easier than coming up with something original. It relieves us of being precise about our meaning. Not sure what a cliche is? Think about phrases like: under the radar, thrown under the bus, scalable, actionable, synergy, peel the onion, core competency, wheelhouse, window of opportunity.

7. Stop saying very. And extremely, greatly, and every other intensifiers.

Make sure you’re passing along these techniques if you’re the editor of another writers work. Don’t just edit, educate. It’s easy to change their work and move on. If you’re goal is to only get the work off your desk, you’re missing a chance to help someone improve. Edit face to face when you can. At the very least, explain to them why you made the changes. Offer encouragement.

These seven edits will make your copy clear and readable for any audience.

Mental Prep Makes Writing Easier

Mental Prep Makes Writing Easier

Don’t start writing until you’ve put in your mental prep time. It will save you time and energy in the long run.

Mike Long ( or @mikewrites), an award winning speechwriter, screenwriter and instructor at Georgetown University said all writers should go through a 3 step process.

1. What are you trying to say? You need to be able to say what you are trying to say. Thinking it out isn’t enough. Write it down. Your core idea should be able to fit in a sentence 9 words or less. Your core idea should avoid the word and. If you have “and” in that sentence, it means you are writing two things.

2. Who are you writing it to? Give the group a name. If the word “and” appears (ex. husbands and parents), consider creating two separate messages.

3. Why are you telling them this? Do you want them to do something or know something? If you want them to do something, tell them what it is and have a call to action. If you want them to know or feel something, omit the call to action.

Long said it’s important to be still before you write. Remember writing is thinking. Most writers want to “have written.” It feels good once you are through. Writing helps you work through issues. So expect changes. Don’t expect perfection. Expect second and third drafts.

One area writers don’t think about enough is the title.

“It’s important to come up with a title to focus your efforts,” Long said. Writers need to put in the mental effort to come up with a phrase that invokes what you are trying to say.

It’s also important to know what you are being asked to communicate.

“When in doubt, it’s okay to ask,” Long said. “You’re going to have to anyway. Anything you do before you know for sure, you may have to be done again. You don’t want to look like an unprepared idiot.”

Discipline yourself to create and follow a structure. Make a list of things you want to hit in the story.

Long said outlining may feel like you’re elevating formality over the process. In reality, it helps you be creative an not burden yourself with organizational structure.

Speeches and articles are stronger when they contain stories and examples. People enjoy them and they learn from them.

Long suggested writers keeping a notebook handy to write down ideas or scenes when they occur. For the tech savvy, he offered another suggestion.

“I’m using the Record Now app,” Long said. “When I think of a funny phrase or see something, I record it and transcribe it later. I record plot ideas, images, articles, and people I’ve seen.”

Once you’re mentally ready, look at your writing environment.

“Be good to yourself,” Long said. “Be physically comfortable. Work in short bursts. Take frequent breaks. Use the online timer trick and make yourself write for a set amount of time. Surround yourself with things that make you happy. I look around and see color and images that inspire me.”

Feeling stuck? Long said it’s all in your mind.

“Writers block doesn’t exist. It’s a fear of what you put on paper isn’t as good as what’s in your head. Words bring about feelings. Accept that and move on. First drafts aren’t final drafts. Give yourself permission to revise and rewrite. Can you say it simpler. Talk it out. How would you say it to a friend? Be communicative, not fancy or professorial. Don’t try to impress people. Just try to be understood. What you want is what ever effective writer and speaker wants – to be understood and have someone feel the passion and feelings you feel. You get that from speaking as plainly as possible about what matters.”

When you put some mental work into writing before you put pen to paper you’ll be on the path to a better story. It’s not about impressing people. It’s about getting your message across and not wasting your readers time. The less time you spend writing, the happier everyone is.