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07.06.2015 The Three Cs of Content Marketing0

If you have an online business or blog, you know that good content can be tough to produce. The We Can Write That blog is a case in point. We're so busy writing content for customers, we let the blog slide far too often. And we're a writing site! So I can only imagine how hard it is for someone without a writing background to keep the content coming while juggling everything else that goes along with running a business. You may ultimately want to outsource your content writing, but in the meantime, you can keep in mind the three Cs of quality content, summarized here from PR Newswire.

Credible. Your content should be authoritative, showing that you're an industry expert, with the skills, experience, and facts to back up what you're saying. Content creation is ultimately about making sales, but you want to avoid being too "sales-y." Instead, show your customers that you're knowledgable about the product and its context. For example, if you're a nutritionist, your content should not be strictly about persuading your readers to become clients. Focus on thoughtful content that is based in research, which shows why you can be trusted, which will in turn convince readers that your services are worth trying.

Compelling. Compelling content demonstrates an understanding not just of your product, but of your customers. You want to show that you understand your buyers' needs and are ready to respond to them. Who are your customers, and what content formats would work best for them? You may find yourself needing a range of formats to accommodate different demographics. These formats might include blog posts, newsletters, white papers, infographics, videos, or listicles.

Consistent. Here's where a lot of content marketing falls short, since consistent content production is almost a full-time job in and of itself. You can have a well-designed, user-friendly website that checks off all the boxes, but you still need to keep that content coming consistently. For our nutritionist, a good strategy would be to do a series on the dangers of sugar, for example. That will give you several blog posts that may cover a few weeks, depending on how often you post. At the same time, don't limit yourself to focusing only on that one topic through the weeks of the series. You can also feature a client success story, or post a food challenge on social media, create a page on your site for suggested reading, or include a food survey in your newsletter. The idea is to approach a variety of topics in a variety of ways, to keep your readers engaged and informed.

The amount of content you generate will depend on your business and your goals. Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that content is for the customer. Discover what your buyers will find compelling, make it credible, and deliver it consistently.

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11.22.2014 Acing the Essay: Expository Essays0

An expository essay asks the writer to present his or her opinions, ideas, and arguments on a particular topic. As with other types of essays, a thesis statement is presented, and the five-paragraph format is usually followed. (See our blog “Acing the Essay: Introduction,” for more information on essays.)

In most cases, the undergraduate essays you’ll be asked to write will be based on a topic provided by your instructor, so we’ll go with that assumption. Let’s say you are writing an essay for a literature class, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is your primary source material. Your instructor gives you a list of topics from which to choose. Most of them have to do with social class, social customs in England at that time, and family relationships as portrayed in the novel. (Go online and Google “essay topics Pride and Prejudice," and you’ll see that these are very common topics.) You are up to a bit of a challenge, so you choose the topic “Entailment of property was a widespread practice in 19th century England. What effect did entailment have on the Bennet family?”

Whether or not your class has spent time discussing entailment, you’ll want to do some research on the subject so you’ll understand what it is. Next, you’ll think about the specifics of your instructor’s topic as illustrated in the novel and develop some questions related to it. How did the Bennets feel about the entailment of their estate? Did it worry them? Why? How did it affect the events that occurred in the story? How might events have occurred differently if not for the entailment?

Get the drift? You’ll quickly realize that Austen used entailment very effectively in her plot. In fact, you may suspect that she was saying something about her society by showing what entailment could do to a family.

Now for the difference between a research paper and an essay: You won’t merely report on what entailment is and how the Bennets reacted to it. You’ll take it a step further and write your ideas about the implications of entailment for the Bennets and for society as a whole. You are, basically, discussing the subject with your reader. You might point out the good and bad points of entailment, how it affected the plot and characters, and whether you agree with Austen’s point of view. Above all, you’ll say what you think about it.

If you express your thoughts clearly, use concise language, and stick to the topic, you will have a good chance of acing the expository essay.

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10.05.2014 Acing the Essay: Introduction0

The fall semester is underway, which means an essay will inevitably be assigned in at least one of your classes. Many students confuse an essay with a research paper, but an essay is a distinctly different type of writing. The Free Dictionary defines the essay as "a short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author."

Notice any points of difference between that definition and the research paper? A research paper explores a subject by locating several sources of information, then organizing, synthesizing, and critically evaluating the sources. The resulting paper is written objectively, and always in the third person. In contrast, while an essay may require some research in order to write knowledgeably about the subject, from there the emphasis is on your ideas about the topic. In addition, given the subjective nature of the essay, it is sometimes appropriate to write in the first person. The essay offers an opportunity for you to examine a subject through your own unique vision and to show off your critical thinking skills.

Most essays will follow the standard five-paragraph format:

Introduction, including a thesis statement
Three body paragraphs
Conclusion

Your instructor may give you different instructions; just be sure to carefully follow whatever directions you are provided.

In this series, we’ll examine several types of essays you’re likely to encounter in your undergraduate classes. Instructors are usually quite specific about which type of essay they want you to write, so it is important to understand the requirements of each. We’ll examine expository, argumentative (or persuasive), opinion, descriptive, and narrative essays in this series of blogs. Stay tuned for the first entry, in which you will learn the basics of acing the expository essay!

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09.03.2014 Movie Review Analysis, Part I0

This post starts a series discussing Rex Reed’s review of If I Were You (2013), a film which critics generally did not take to. Of the many negative reviews of this movie, Reed’s stands out to me as expressing the most dislike. His review is useful for analyzing some features of argument; recognizing the elements involved in creating and delivering an argument will help you argue (and therefore write) more successfully. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you may want to stop reading this for now until you’ve had a chance to watch it. Being familiar with the film will help you understand Reed’s argument and its components.

Reed is a fairly well known movie critic, currently writing reviews for the New York Observer.

Reed’s opening sentence is, “The people responsible for a hapless load of bunk called If I Were You can only be described as delusional.” This provides an opportunity to look at an element of argument called tone.

Tone concerns the both the way you aim to present yourself to others, as well as the way they ultimately perceive you. When presenting an idea in speech or writing, you ask yourself, “How do I want to come across to others?” When hearing or reading the ideas of others, you ask yourself (often unconsciously), “How is this person coming across?”

Tone is usually described by adjectives. To me, the tone of Reed’s opening sentence is negative, harsh, disparaging, insulting, and entertaining. Did Reed intend to come across this way? Most likely, as we’ll see when we look at the rest of the review.

Closely tied to tone is an element of argument called ethos. Ethos concerns your determinations about the author’s character, credentials on the topic, trustworthiness, and ultimately, persuasiveness. You can ask yourself a number of questions to arrive at your conclusions about the author’s ethos.

First, is the person making the argument qualified to speak or write on the topic? In the case of this movie review, we can say that yes, Reed is qualified to offer his opinion. He has been a professional movie critic for decades, writing for respected publications.

(Let’s note that a lack of credentials on the part of the author does not necessarily mean that the argument isn’t worthy of consideration. A person with no formal schooling or experience in history could still be capable of writing a cogent analysis of a given historical event. But a solid track record of education and experience on a topic gives the writer a measure of instant credibility.)

Other ethos questions include, Is this person trustworthy? Is the argument well-supported? Has the author thought through both sides of an issue? What are his motivations? Does he appear to be a person of good sense? If you have already read through Reed’s review, you may be able to answer some of those questions at this point.

That’s probably enough for now. More excitement to come, don’t worry.

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05.28.2014 Metaphors and Similes0

Let’s face it: much of what we write can be pretty dull. Authors often use metaphors and similes to spice up their sentences when writing fiction—and you can, too.

So, is there a big difference between a metaphor and a simile? No, not really. Both are ways of comparing one thing to another. The difference is that similes usually incorporate the words “as” or “like,” while metaphors do not.

Here are some examples of similes:

Bubba is as tenacious as a gator with a possum ’tween its teeth.

Margo has a personality like a storm front.

Alex dances like laundry flapping in a summer breeze.

As you can see, each simile illustrates an aspect of the sentence’s subject in a way that is more interesting than just stating that Bubba is stubborn, Margo is overbearing, and Alex’s dancing is vigorous, if somewhat floppy.

Metaphors do basically the same thing, but without the use of “as” or “like”:

From the airplane window, the ground was a crazy quilt.

The setting sun was a halo of fire behind his head.

Every day, the two of them meet at a park bench, where they sit for hours with their heads together, conjoined twins whispering neighborhood gossip.

The first sentence could have simply stated that the view from the airplane window included fields and tiny buildings, vehicles, and people. The other two sentences also imply more information about the scene than a straightforward statement of fact would have done.

The lesson is that your writing doesn’t have to be dull. Drop in some judiciously chosen metaphors and similes, and see what a difference a comparison makes!

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03.31.2014 The “I” vs. “Me” Dilemma0

The “I” vs. “Me” Dilemma

Every minute of every day, someone, somewhere is uttering a sentence with an incorrect pronoun. This tragedy can be avoided using a simple technique for choosing whether to use “I” or “me.”

Let’s look at some examples. It’s not difficult to communicate your fondness for retail therapy by saying,

“I love to relax by spending the weekend at the mall.”

So far, so good. But what if you want to mention a friend—we’ll call her Cordelia—who feels the same way? A lot of us might say,

“Cordelia and me love to relax by spending the weekend at the mall.”

Is that sentence correct? There’s an easy way to find out: Just eliminate the other person (from the sentence, not from your list of friends). What you have left is:

“Me loves to relax by spending the weekend at the mall.”

You would never say that (I hope). Look back at the first example above. That’s what you would say. Add Cordelia back in and you have:

“Cordelia and I love to relax by spending the weekend at the mall.”

Now your sentence is correct.

But wait—there’s more! Up until now, you and Cordelia have been the subjects of the sentence. Would the technique be the same if you were objects? Let’s find out:

“Mall shopping is therapeutic for Cordelia and I.”

Apply the take-out-Cordelia technique and you’re left with:

“Mall shopping is therapeutic for I.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong! You would say,

“Mall shopping is therapeutic for me.”

It’s not any different when Cordelia is sharing the experience:

“Mall shopping is therapeutic for Cordelia and me.”

Use the elimination technique and you’ll get “I” vs. “me” right every time. The world will be a better place.

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02.11.2014 Speculative Fiction: Write What You Know?0

First-time fiction writers are often told to “write what you know.” This well-meant advice assumes that inexperienced writers will have an easier time expressing themselves if the subject of a fictional creation is familiar. That is generally true, but some new writers may misinterpret the suggestion and conclude that they should write only about events they have personally experienced. Such a restriction is not beneficial to the creative process.

If you want to write speculative fiction (e.g., the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres), the world you create will be imaginary, so how can you “write what you know”? In this case, the advice applies to internal, rather than external, elements of the story. The externals—setting, time, atmosphere, plot, and so on—can be highly imaginary. But the internals—primarily character and motivation—will be based on your own experiences.

For instance, if you are writing about the inhabitants of an alien civilization, you will probably consider in what ways they are like humans, and in what ways they are different. Since you are (presumably) human yourself, your interpretation will be based on what you know about human nature, including what you have observed in others. If you’re writing about a robot or computer that incorporates artificial intelligence, you will have to decide which, if any, human characteristics are evident in its technology, how these characteristics are manifested, and why they were (or were not) included by the technology’s designers. Your imagination is the driver of your story, but the directions your imagination takes grow from your own life experiences.

So yes, write what you know, but don’t take that advice too literally. If you want to write speculative fiction, do it. You will inevitably include parts of your own experience in the story.

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11.05.2013 Hey, That Offends Me0

I’m not really one to get offended when people use certain words. I mostly think of words as strings of letters that have evolved over the years to incorporate changes in culture and accompanying shifts in meaning. The words themselves don’t have any power to be offensive or innocuous. At the same time, I don’t often use words that I know others might find offensive. Many people don’t view words the way I do, and I don’t want to upset someone who does not separate the letters from the weight of culturally agreed-upon meaning, and I don’t want to flout the rules of polite society.

But if we do think objectively about these words, it turns out that the offense one might take isn’t rooted in the word itself, and it often isn’t even rooted in the meaning we have assigned to it. It’s in the intention and purpose of the person uttering it. As an example, we have probably all heard girlfriends jokingly refer to one another as “bitch.” They don’t get offended by it because they aren’t literally calling each other bitches. It’s more like “girlfriend.” The intention is friendly, silly, and joking.

But if these same friends get in a fight and start calling each other bitches, that’s a different story, right? Suddenly their intention is to hurt, and they probably will get upset and offended.

If I’m teasing my husband about being lazy for not going to the gym, and he tells me I’m a “hard woman,” it’s funny. Because his intention is to joke right back at me. But if we’re in an argument and he tells me I have no compassion or empathy, that’s upsetting. The words themselves aren’t all that offensive, but the intention, to communicate that I’m cold and unfeeling, is hurtful.

I guess I’m not saying anything extremely profound here. I just think it’s interesting how worked up people can get over some letters in a row without regard to context or purpose. Sometimes I have a knee-jerk reaction as well, so I get it, but it can be useful to consider whether the person intended to upset me.

This doesn’t mean that people should be able to go around and say whatever they want with the excuse that they didn’t intend to offend. I’m just thinking about what’s really at the heart of that offense. But then it gets jumbled up in the question of whether the person is just being ignorant, and whether I should be offended at the ignorance. Because, honestly, who isn’t offended by an ignorant bitch?*

*Just kidding.

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08.30.2013 Dictionary-Directed Anger is Misplaced, People1

What an exciting and controversial week it has been in the world of twerking! First Miley’s performance at the VMAs, then the addition of “twerk” to the Oxford Dictionary Online. Both of these twerk-tastic events were met with angry recriminations, harsh judgments, and extreme indignation. It has certainly been fun to watch.

Comments in reaction to the addition of “twerk” to the ODO include “This is ludicrous,” “...and the world collectively loses five IQ points,” “I don't want to live on this planet anymore,” “RIP English language,” and “The degradation of society.” Why all the fuss? I have always been confused by people who view the evolution of language as something to bemoan rather than explore.

Language is always evolving. English today looks very little like English a few hundred years ago, and it will look very different a few hundred years from now. It’s silly to get upset when dictionaries reflect these changes in language. Dictionaries are not intended to tell us how we should speak, and which words we should be using. They’re reflective of language at a certain period in time. This particular period in time is characterized by a high incidence of the use of the word “twerk” and its variations. The ODO is simply acknowledging and documenting this development. The world is not becoming stupider; if you think about it, this documentation makes us more aware of linguistic trends and thereby increases our knowledge!

What people are actually upset about, I bet, is twerking itself, which as we all know by now involves some serious and shameless booty bouncing. The conversation has gone in many directions, including the question of whether Miley was actually twerking at all, whether she’s appropriating Black culture, whether her performance was any good, whether Robin Thicke should be sharing in the flack, whether there’s too much slut-shaming going on, and the like. Those are all fine and interesting topics for debate. But the evolution of language is a simple fact, and documenting it should not cause people to lament and carry on.

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05.05.2013 Fundamental Comma Rules, Part Three0

I’ve been so busy writing projects for happy clients that I have once again neglected the blog, which I know is a disappointment for my massive readership. But fret not, all of you who yearn to know more about commas. Here is the next fundamental comma rule for your enjoyment and edification. If you’re not interested in learning the rules after all, no worries. We can do all your writing for you, remember.

Rule #3 requires the use of commas with appositives. I guess I better mention what an appositive is, just in case. It’s a noun or a noun phrase that identifies, explains, or renames another noun right next to it. These definitions are never clear without examples, so here you go:

Office Cat, the most valuable member of our team, recently demanded a raise.

The appositive is “the most valuable member of our team,” which of course refers to “Office Cat.” The appositive renames “Office Cat.” Simple, right? Here are a few more examples. I won’t tell you what the appositives are; see if you can figure them out. If you can’t, leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll fill you in.

I’ve had it with this broken dishwasher, the bane of my existence.

Walking, a simple, basic exercise, has multiple health benefits.

I truly dislike geckos, those scurrying, hateful creatures of terror.

I pledge my heart to Chad Kroeger, the handsome and talented frontman of the greatest band in history, Nickelback.

See, not so bad, right? Now try these. I’ve left the commas out this time for a super-fun-time challenge. Where, oh where, do they go?

Do I really have to wait until October for Season 4 of my current TV obsession The Walking Dead?

I would have expected better production values for Revolver Golden Gods the heavy metal awards show.

The Tough Mudder adventure race probably the toughest event on the planet is an interesting combination of fun and misery.

Downward dog a resting pose actually takes quite a bit of effort to master.

Just like Rule #1 and Rule #2, this one isn’t so bad. Commas can get a little tricky, as we’ll see in later installments, but hopefully you’re beginning to feel that this grammar stuff is totally accessible. Woo, punctuation!

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