1 2 3 4 Displaying 15-21 of 22 Articles

Everyone can write. But not everyone can write well.

We all learn to write at school but then society makes a distinction between 'writers' and 'the rest of us.' A writer sits in a garret and writes poetry. The rest of us write memos. It's a false division.

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My company, Articulate, runs regular seminars in London aimed at getting companies (rather than individuals) to write better. Two questions always resonate: how to encourage staff to write better and how to give feedback. Get them right and you are on your way to being an articulate business.

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There are different, competing claims about the origin of the term rule of thumb. I prefer the idea that it stems from the fact that the length from the tip of the thumb to the knuckle is about one inch (or if you're a pilot and you use 1:500,000 charts, about 10 nautical miles).

In any case, they are useful guidelines that make it easier to do something without thinking it through from first principles each time. Here are ten of mine as applied to writing:

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You've probably heard the PowerPoint jokes. You know: "Death by PowerPoint," and "power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." It certainly gets a lot of stick. It also has some surprising defenders. (Full disclosure: Microsoft is a client of mine but I don't work for the PowerPoint team.)

For example, Edward Tufte, author the beautifully named Beautiful Evidence, wrote a blistering article in Wired titled PowerPoint is Evil. Not exactly a neutral point of view. He said "The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch." He also complains that it reduces data to meaningless infoporn with little statistical validity.

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When I am up against a deadline and I absolutely, definitely have to get on with my work, I use a few tactics to force myself to concentrate:

  1. Switch off email. I don't start Outlook (or if I do, I disable all the notifications that tell me I have new mail).


  2. Isolate myself. I use Bose noise-canceling headphones but don't plug them into anything. The silence really is golden.


  3. Greed and guilt. I remind myself how much money I'm getting paid for a particular assignment and how ashamed I will be if I miss the deadline. This actually works sometimes.


  4. Stop with the blog already. When I'm pressed for time, distractions like blogging and tidying up become very compelling. Knowing this makes it easier to resist.


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Surveys are an old standby for PR companies on slow news days. But they stink of dubious statistics and questionable objectivity. No wonder the public is increasingly cynical.

You've seen the phenomenon already. Every Christmas and Easter, someone will publish a survey claiming that chocolate is good for you. The media lap it up -- it's a good story. But who benefits? Needless to say, the people behind these surveys are chocolate manufacturers and their PR firms.

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Press releases are an enormous hoax. They're written by people who pretend to be excited and received by people who pretend to be interested. It's time for a change.

In the bizarre love triangle between companies, PR firms and the media, nobody wins except the PR firms who get paid whether the press releases are read or not.

In my former life as full-time journalist I received (and ignored) thousands. I've seen editors scan through a hundred email press releases in five minutes and delete the lot. Before that, as a CEO, I paid tens of thousands of pounds for shiny press releases that got us no coverage whatsoever.

Expectations are low and cynicism is high. I think it's time to re-evaluate the whole concept and go back to basics.

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1 2 3 4 Displaying 15-21 of 22 Articles