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Writing style
Wednesday, 21 December 2011 14:39

Americans rank journalists for honesty, ethics

Written by Lisette Hilton

When asked to rate professions for honesty and ethical standards, 26% of Americans surveyed indicated journalists ranked very high in honesty and ethics, according to a new Gallup poll. Forty-six percent ranked journalists as average and 27% of Americans said they thought journalists earned only a very low ranking. Three medical professions—first, nursing, followed by pharmacists and doctors—garnered top honors as the most honest and ethical of professions, according to Gallup. Members of Congress, lobbyists, car salespeople and telemarketers were labeled by those surveyed as the least honest and ethical. My beloved profession is somewhere in the middle of the list, slightly ahead of bankers and just below building contractors. That’s disturbing. We’re supposed to represent our readers—the people—when we report the news. But motives and more get in the way of good reporting.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011 14:50

Grading Content for Readability has Limitations

Written by Lisette Hilton

Copy grading services, such as Flesch-Kincaid, attempt to score content according to readability and difficulty. (The last sentence scored high in difficulty and low in reading ease. That’s not good.) Content writers worry about these scores because many clients want content scored at 8 or below. Generally, this means writing short, simple, active sentences. But not always. Like so many rules, this one is meant to be bent. Writers need to mix up the tempo and style of their writing. Let’s take the first few lines of the prologue in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off the wrapping paper and then picked up the telephone to call Detective Superintendent Morell who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarna.” That comes up as a 10.5 in grade level (or difficulty) and reading ease of 58.1. Eh, not so good, either. These are a few sentences with Flesch-Kincaid grade level scores and reading ease percentages: “I ran a marathon.” 3.6/75.8% “I ran a marathon and had a good overall time.” 4.8/78.2% “I ran a marathon, had a good overall time and didn’t get too sore.” 5.0/83.8% This one is surprising: “I ran a marathon last week, in the rain and when I wasn’t feeling too well; so, I didn’t run very well but I tried.” 2.9/96% What do you think? The last example sentence seems bulky and too complex to me, but it scored well. My point: Content graders are tools; not rules.

Walter Isaacson had the dream writing assignment. Steve Jobs cooperated with Isaacson for the writing of the new book. Yet, Jobs asked for no control over what was written. He was candid with Isaacson, and encouraged others to speak honestly. I haven't read the book, but interviews with Isaacson suggest the author set out to create a true, unbiased and fair picture of Jobs. What an opportunity for a writer... to become so immersed in an incredible life and tell that icon's story.
Expert marketing advice: Facebook allows you to separate your personal and professional identities, according to Kevin Pho, M.D., a Nashua, N.H., internist and founder and editor of "I always advise doctors to take a dual-citizenship approach: having personal pages closed and only available to friends and family, then having more professional Facebook pages open to the public, so your patients can see," Dr. Pho said during a recent interview for Dermatology Times magazine. He makes a good point. We should separate business and pleasure by having separate pages on Facebook. It's not necessarily that you might post or write about something inappropriate, but your friends could very well post things that are not for prime time.
Monday, 08 August 2011 16:08

Writing the professional bio

Written by Lisette Hilton

The professional bio: Make it snappy. Start with something that helps to tell your story but doesn't sound like a re-hashed resume line. Here's an example: A financial planner hired me to write her professional bio. Her strength was working one-on-one with people. She told me that most of her business happens around the kitchen table ... her clients' kitchen tables. That was the first line of the bio.

Wednesday, 03 August 2011 13:33

Resume writing

Written by Lisette Hilton

The way of the writing world seems to be short, to-the-point and easy--for just about any grade level--to read. Resumes are no different.

Resume writing has changed, according to a recent interview I had with Donna Cardillo, RN, MA. Donna is author of The Ultimate Career Guide for Nurses.

She says: Formats have changed. That’s because the people who receive resumes don’t read them; rather, they scan them. The long paragraphs and full sentences that we used to use in resumes are out.

What's in? A high impact format of writing, with bulleted information, and short, truncated (not complete) sentences.

Friday, 15 July 2011 13:13

Quick tips for Web writing

Written by Lisette Hilton

Short sentences are in.

Simple thoughts are in.

Monday, 11 July 2011 13:17

Writing profiles

Written by Lisette Hilton

One thing I've learned from writing profile pieces is that everyone has a story. And the most interesting stories aren't usually what PR people promote. A question that works well during my interviews is: Tell me something that you don't think people know but they should.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 14:09

Blogging for business

Written by Lisette Hilton

The other day I interviewed Wendy Lewis, president, Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd, Global Aesthetics Consultancy, about the art of blogging for Cosmetic Surgery Times magazine.


While she was talking about how cosmetic and plastic surgeons can best create and use blogs, any person in business can use these simple tips: 


  • Blogging should be about a topic of interest and within your expertise.
  • Remember to use key words in your blogging, but not so much that the content becomes impossible to read and you lose the message.
  • Good fodder for blogs: timely news topics and trends. Remember, blogs should be current.
  • Stress education over promotion in your blog content.
  • Consider writing unique content. Google doesn’t like duplicated content. If your blog post is something you pulled off another website, that’s not going to help you.


Thanks, Wendy!

Friday, 28 January 2011 12:26

The Power of Social Media

Written by Lisette Hilton

Years ago, networking meant having a Roladex. If you were lucky, you'd have 100 or so strong contacts. Today, with a combined traditional networking and social media approach, you might still have those strong contacts, along with hundreds or thousands of virtual contacts. Accessing social media via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., is amazingly powerful. I've watched my college-aged daughter amass 40,000 viewers on a relatively unknown online show. She Tweets, blogs and Facebooks about upcoming showtimes and guests. Her guests, who tend to be savvy social media users, do the same. Before you know it, she has done for free what people in the past would pay thousands of advertising dollars to achieve. I'm learning from her that it's all about followers, links, contacts. The possibilities are endless, virtually. The message here... there's no escaping the need to get onboard.    

Wednesday, 29 December 2010 15:09

Let's get real (in our writing)

Written by Lisette Hilton

Earning the trust of readers happens in the first few sentences--whether writing an article, content, or blog. I've learned that writing that earns the most positive attention doesn't make flowery claims; educates, rather than sells; and exposes truths or imperfections.


I saw this article in the New York Times. I’ve always respected the newspaper’s science writers and think this is a great article.


But how did we get here from there? You know…. There was a time when hormone replacement therapy was the mother of all interventions. It kept us from menopausal symptoms and kept us young and healthy. Wrong. Now we know better.


Women, especially, were warned that if they didn’t take extra calcium, they could break. Then, there was the news about vitamin D. Almost every media outlet reported on studies that have since been proved to be flawed.


Is it that we’re so hungry for news and advice that there’s some sort of snowball effect? It starts with some research that sounds good and turns into the truth? Who is to blame for this bad advice? How can we become better at understanding that all research is just part of a very big picture?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010 20:00

Is old-fashioned news reporting dying?

Written by Lisette Hilton

I’ve wondered in the last few years if old-fashioned news reporting is dying. It seems as if it is not so much reporting nowadays, but rather content generation. There’s more news but less depth. A report by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, called State of the News Media 2010, claims: “The notion that the news media are shrinking is mistaken. Reportorial journalism is getting smaller, but the commentary and discussion aspect of media, which adds analysis, passion and agenda shaping, is growing — in cable, radio, social media, blogs and elsewhere.” Will this usher more opinion and less fact? The trend piece in the report, goes on to say: “… the rising numbers in polling data that show 72% of Americans feel now most news sources are biased in their coverage and 70% feel overwhelmed rather than informed by the amount of news and information they see.”