So What?

by Rehann Rheel

So are you ready for the new season of ‘Game of Thrones?’”

So where do I fit in?”

So I was searching for an Airbnb…”

That sneaky so seems to constantly creep into my sentences lately. So much so that all those so’s are making me feel so-so about my writing, to be perfectly honest. Is so the new um? Is it nothing but an unnecessary crutch and filler?

There are definitely people who’d agree with that. In fact, NPR listeners considered it the second-most misused word of 2014. But it turns out that this so I apparently love starting my sentences with is not a misuse at all. It’s a linguistic phenomenon called Sentence-Initial So. But before we get into whatever the heck that means, let’s review a few of the more typical uses of so. The ones that won’t make NPR listeners take up arms.

So is a useful little word. To see its uses in detail, you can go to the Merriam-Webster page. But here’s the usage rundown:

  • Adverb: “I ate that sushi so quickly.”
  • Conjunction: “I know three languages already, so I don’t think learning anotherwill be difficult.”
  • Pronoun: “If you need to make a call, do so before we lose service.”
  • Adjective: “She arranged her pictures just so.”

Sentence-Initial So, though, is different. It’s used like the speaker or author is continuing a story or explaining something, even if neither of these things is actually happening. That begs the question, then: what exactly is happening here? Well, there are a few different theories (in no particular order, for the record):

  1. So to indicate that what’s being said has been pending. That’s why this brand of so is heard so often (like, really really often) in interviews.
  2. So to point out that the following words are relevant to the listener
  3. So to switch to a brand new topic, while acknowledging the topic that came before
  4. So to avoid awkward silences (aka the bane of my existence)

To put it super simply, Sentence-Initial So is a polite transition word.

So, how new is Sentence-Initial So anyways? Turns out, it’s not very new at all. In fact, it’s kind of old. Granted, Sentence-Initial So usage has increased over the past decade or two, but instances of this particular so can be found in recordings from the 20s and 30s, and even in Chaucer’s work way back in the 14th Century.

Also, the Sentence-Initial concept has been a part of English even before so was the reigning queen. Sentence-Initial Well held the throne most recently, Sentence-Initial Now ruled before well did, and if you go back to Old English (Beowulf for the win!) good ol’ Sentence-Initial What was where it was at.

I wonder which word will usurp so?

I’m eternally fascinated by how language evolves, and how my own language changes without me even realizing it. Have any of you noticed Sentence-Initial So? Or another seemingly odd quirk of English? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to hear more about Sentence-Initial So, check out the resources below.

Podcast Resources:

A Way with Words | College Slang Party

A Way with Words | Coast is Clear

A Way with Words | Pig Latin

Lexicon Valley | So…Let’s Talk about So

Lexicon Valley | A Needle Pulling Thread

Written Resources:

University of Pennsylvania | Language Log

Dictionary.com | Everything after Z

Do Adverbs Belong in Professional Writing?

by Samantha Herrington

Adverbs are one of the most divisive writing tools in language. Some authors wish to see adverbs in a discarded heap along with sentence fragments and comma splicing. In his acclaimed work On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King wrote, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Other authors believe that adverbs enhance how a message is understood: in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter, adverbs are prolific. Others still are accepting of adverbs in prose but not in the professional world. No matter the opinion one has on adverbs, they weaken professional writing when used in abundance. Here are some examples of when you should skip the adverbs:

  1. When They Waste Space

It’s difficult to catch a reader’s attention, let alone keep it. With unlimited options available, readers don’t want to engage in content that makes them feel as if reading becomes work. Adverbs are work. They get tedious. Even the most devoted reader would get exhausted after trudging through sentences upon sentences of, “We kindly ask that you accept the change” or, “This is arguably the best restaurant in town.” Ask for acceptance. Call the restaurant the best. Don’t waste the reader’s time with unnecessary modifiers.

  1. When They Tell, Not Show

The English language is not lacking in expressive and vivid words. There is a way to say anything and everything without your message sounding weak. In order for writing to be clear, you must show your audience what you mean. Take this example: “Fred laughed loudly”. Here, the reader is explicitly told how Fred laughed. It’s lazy writing. Yes, it gives the reader all of the relevant information, but it doesn’t show the reader anything. Try:

  • Fred’s laugh carried through the room.
  • The sound of Fred’s laugh could be heard down the street.

See the difference?

  1. When They Promote Mistrust

When we use adverbs, we basically tell the reader, “Hey, I think you need help in understanding what I’m saying, because I don’t trust that you got it from the context of the writing itself.” Not only is the writer not trusting the reader, the writer is not trusting themselves and their writing ability. Adverbs like “very or “really” are signs of mistrust:

  • The new product model is very efficient.

The writer should trust in their choice of the word “efficient” without having to use “very” as a modifier, and they should trust that the reader understands this as well. Writers, believe in your abilities.

So, When Can We Use Adverbs?

When what you are saying cannot be said without the use of an adverb, then use it. Adverbs do serve a purpose when used in moderation. Not all adverbs are bad; in many instances, they help to clarify writing or add stress to a particular thought. However, there are different ways to use adverbs and a professional writer should know when to use them and when not to use them.

Here is a helpful guide that shows the power of a well-placed adverb versus a lazy adverb.

TWA

(Typing While Angry)

By: Caitlin Starkey

Multiple studies have shown that about 50% of all emails are misinterpreted. I think we all have relate. Someone, whether it be a coworker, student, teacher or friend, has frustrated you and now you’re about to send off an angry email without really thinking it through.

These type of emails are usually filled with bolded words, excessive use of capital letters, broken sentences and grammatical errors. No one wants to be on the receiving end of such a message. Not only are they disrespectful, it makes the sender look like a jerk. What’s worse is that, as the sender, you may be right voicing your opinion with supporting facts but the way you chose to express your concerns was wrong.

Read these tips below and take them into consideration before you send off an angry email.

1. Ask “when can we meet?” I know, face to face interactions are so 2001, but they are very important when it comes to communication and getting your point across with as little confusion as possible. Often times emails and texts can go ignored or even misinterpreted. So, if you can avoid sending an email, do so.

2. Think about it. Anger is like a bolt of lightening, now you see it, now you don’t. Give your emotions some time to settle down before you reply and hit send. An immediate response is never the way to go.

3. Get a proofreader. Have someone you know and trust review your email. Personally, I compose emails and send them to my mother for advice. That extra pair of eyes can spot errors and offer effective revisions.

4. Be Professional. Don’t neglect the format. A professional email should be written the same way you would a letter, include a greeting and salutation. Try not to use a lot of exclamations and zero slang. Speaking of slang, please no emojis. I know the urge to insert a huge face with steam spewing from it’s nostrils is a hard one to fight back, but resist! I also read a tip that says, don’t CC your boss on an email to ‘keep them informed’. Neither party looks good and shows the boss two professionals cannot handle problems on their own. Same goes for the ‘reply all’ option. It brings others into the conflict that more than likely have nothing to do with the solution.

Finally, make sure you ask yourself why you are sending an email. Is an email really the right way to go? If the answer is yes, than I hope these few tips will help you get your frustrations out effectively and professionally.

Storytelling in Grant Writing

Tips to turn your forgettable proposal into an unforgettable story

By Kayla McCormley

The past two years have been a whirlwind for charitable giving and fundraising. As federal funding cuts to education, agriculture, and the arts looms and social issues continue to be at the forefront of the news cycle, grant funding has changed dramatically. While social programs continue to face an onslaught of cuts, other organizations such as the ACLU are benefiting from a significant increase in charitable giving.

All of this makes for fierce competition for grant funding. Potential funders need to invest wisely. They need the facts and the figures and the data and the graphs to support their decisions, but in my mind the most crucial piece of a proposal is the narrative and statement of need. Anyone can demonstrate need with facts and figures, but can you tell a compelling story?

In professional writing and grant writing, storytelling is just as important as it is in creative writing. A study at Princeton University by Uri Hasson found powerful storytelling can sync brain activity. It crosses language barriers

As writer you need to reach across the page or screen and attempt to do that. At a recent presentation for a grant I applied for, I found out that there were 15 applications to the small foundation I had chosen as a best match. This may sound small, but for them it was unprecedented and I found my small group competing for funding against United Way.

As a writer, how can you craft a proposal that tells a story? Read the following tips to help weave stories into your own proposals.

  • Talk to the people on the ground.

Nonprofit Hub suggests using every opportunity to connect with individuals who have benefited from a nonprofit, but also the people who make things happen. By having employees and beneficiaries sign a release form, you are able to use their stories to convince a potential funder that your organization is making a difference.

  • Give statistics a face.

It is easy to rattle of the statistics of child hunger and equally easy to skim over that paragraph. Pairing statistical data with a story that validates the it creates a compelling argument. In this case, finding a child whose life had been positively impacted by a nutrition outreach program adds a human element to the statistics.

  • Know your audience.

Are you appealing to a local or national organization? It will make a difference in how you tell your story. A local funder has a more intimate understanding of your area and needs. A organization that is not based in your area may need a more detailed account of what your needs are and why.

  • Let the funder be the hero.

As you write, it is easy to get caught up in all the ways you and/or the organization will be making a difference. After all, aren’t you the ones who will implementing the program? Yes, that is true, but you need to remember that without the funder, you wouldn’t be doing any of the above.

Part of professional writing is the ability to use all the tools and techniques available to you to produce your best work. In grant writing, storytelling can be difference between your application being on the top or the bottom of the pile.

 

 

When Writing Feels Impossible: How to Overcome Writer’s Block and Get Back to Work

By Alyssa Todd

Anyone who writes has experienced what’s known as writer’s block. You sit down to write and find yourself unable to put words together, or the words just don’t come at all. It’s a frustrating predicament, especially when you have deadlines looming ahead.

Unfortunately, as professional writers, we can’t just wait around for inspiration to strike us. That’s a sure way to never get anything written.

When you type “writer’s block” into Google, one of the top suggested searches is “writer’s block cure.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no cure. There will always be days when writing is the last thing you want to do. But there are tips and tricks all over the internet about how to overcome writer’s block. Some are more helpful than others.

The following are my favorite ways to get the ball rolling on those days when writing feels more like pulling teeth.

  1. Let yourself write a horrible first draft. Although perfectionism tries to hold us back, just getting words onto the page—no matter how awful the writing is—is a lot better than nothing. You can always revise later.

2. Try free-writing. Sometimes called free association, this is where you simply write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t pause. Don’t erase anything. Reserve judgment for later. More often than not, this exercise will produce something useful, whether it’s an idea or maybe a really good sentence. Whatever the case, it gets the words flowing at least.

3. Make a decision. We writers often get stuck when we aren’t sure where to go or what to say next. In that case, Michael Bremer, author of Untechnical Writing, says to simply make a decision and write. Choose a direction or pick an idea and just go with it. Even if it turns out to be a bad decision, he says, “you’re not wasting any more time changing something than if you sat there doing nothing.”

4. Step away from the computer. I use this as a last resort. When nothing else has worked, I get away from the computer and do something else—like fold laundry, exercise, take a hot shower, anything! Don’t spend all day doing other stuff though. Just take an hour. Thinking about other things will allow you to go back later with a fresh perspective. And who knows? Maybe while you’re out and about, inspiration will strike.

 

 

No Time to Write a Rough Draft?

By Becky Borello

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting started. When sitting down to write a rough draft I often find that my thoughts are faster than my fingers. That’s why I dictate most of my rough drafts with Evernote. Evernote is both an app and desktop program. It is very versatile and capable of syncing across all platforms.

Speaking of a rough draft being difficult. It is easy to start rambling or lose your train of thought while talking. Brainstorming is a crucial step when dictating a rough draft. Having a plan before starting is important.

My preference is to start with a concept map. The concept map helps keep me focused and reminds me of key relationships amongst the various topics. My favorite program to create a concept map is Bubbl.Us.

After creating my concept map and having a plan I start dictating. I prefer to use Siri on my iPhone to dictate to Evernote. You can dictate to Evernote via your computer, but I have found that Siri is more accurate. Evernote has created great documentation to help you with this process – How to Dictate in Evernote.


Image Source: https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*M0liUFaqefLH7vXdgRyJyQ.png

The Evernote dictation feature is shockingly accurate and easy to use once you learn a few tricks. Here are some keys to help you dictate your draft:

  • Speak Clearly
  • Enunciate
  • Speak Punctuation
    • Comma = ,
    • Full Stop or Period = .
    • Exclamation Point = !
    • Colon = :
    • Semicolon = ;
    • New Line = Starts a New
    • For more punctuation dictation tips – com

After the draft is fully dictated, next comes editing. A dictated draft typically requires more editing than a draft that is typed. The dictated draft will occasionally have homonyms and other strange errors, so proofreading is critical. However, being able to dictate your draft while driving or cooking dinner is worth the extra proofreading effort.

 

Let’s Eat Grandma?

By Amanda Toth

One factor that separates me from my dog is language.

What makes us human is our ability to communicate with each other through symbols. Written language requires rules for us to follow to effectively communicate with another.

Grammar lays the groundwork of effective communication. Would you build a house without a proper foundation? Grammar can alter the meaning and clarity of our message. Even some of the most popular books like The DaVinci Code or The Hunger Games are riddled with errors.

Here are some reasons why grammar matters:

  1. Meaning and Clarity. Forgetting a comma can cause some grave complications.

“Let’s eat Grandma!” and “Let’s eat, Grandma!” are two completely different sentences. The first implies that we actually going to eat grandma; the latter implies we are telling Grandma the food is ready to eat.

One tiny comma can change the meaning of this sentence. Neil Patel has written a great post on how to clarify your message that goes beyond grammar.

  1. Credibility. Proper grammar gives you credibility.

An effectively written e-mail gives you respect. Imagine the CEO of your company using the word their instead of there. 15 Common Grammar Mistakes That Kill Your Writing Credibility is great guide on how to clean your writing.

  1. Time Saver. Good grammer is a time saver, and can really help u save time cause it helps to clarify ur massage without youre reader having to go back, and forth, to try and figure out what you say when what you are saying can be fixed by grammar.

In short, good grammar saves you time. Your reader should not be working to decipher your message. Websites like Grammarly can help you fix your sentences but do cost money.

  1. Competitive Edge. Let’s say you are manager of a consulting firm. You have one open position for an entry-level consultant. You have sixty resumes that came in the last few days. You’re overwhelmed and need to start weeding some out. Would you choose to keep the resumes that are poorly written?

Applicant 1 writes in his cover letter, “I am the perfect fit for this job. At XYZ Consulting, I interned on there consulting team for a major project than we increased the companys’ profits by 10%.”

Applicant 2 writes, “I am the perfect fit for this job. At XYZ Consulting, I interned on their consulting team. We acquired a major corporation for a project. We then increased the company’s profit by 10%.”

As a manager hiring someone to represent your company, you would gravitate towards an effective writer. Based on the above example, Applicant 2 would be the best choice. The Important of Grammar in Business Communication has other great reasons why grammar is important.

In all, please don’t eat Grandma or cut and paste children.

Commas do matter. Sentence structure matters. Proofreading matters too.

Whether you are writing for school, for work, or for a blog, grammar must always be taken into consideration. What you need to say is important! Why not make sure your reader understands your message?

 

 

 

Fake News Writers: Ethics Doesn’t Sell

by Shannon Brenner 

When I was a kid, I’d stare at the magazines near the cash register while waiting in the grocery store checkout line with my grandma. The Sun, The National Enquirer – pieces of “journalism” that everyone knew weren’t real. It was simply entertainment, “smut papers” as my grandma called them, while she chuckled at headlines about aliens and celebrity gossip from her recliner.

Now, these “smut papers” exist exponentially on the digital platform. Websites, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter feeds – platforms where professional writers can publish outlandish stories and get paid for every click, like, or share. But where do we draw the line? Should professional fake news writers be expected to adhere to a code of ethics?

For starters, let’s have a clear definition of the term “fake news”. The Ethical Journalism Network defines fake news as “information deliberately fabricated and published with the intention to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehoods or doubting verifiable facts.”

The reason professional writers produce fake news is obvious. In This article from the Washington Post, Abby Ohlheiser reported that fake news writers can earn more than $5,000 per month. For example, during the 2018 presidential campaign, a fake news story with the headline “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE” received over half a million Facebook shares.  Undoubtedly, that resulted in a major payday for the article’s writer.

Some people argue that fake news writers shouldn’t even get the title of “professional writer.” But professional writers target a specific audience, present a clear message, and persuade their readers. We come in all shapes and sizes, and fake news writers aren’t the only ones trying to deceive the public. One look at these Marlboro ads and it’s easy to see professional writers (yes, content marketing counts) sending false messages to a vulnerable audience, much like when Trump supporters were duped into thinking that the Pope endorsed their candidate last year.

Take a look at this excerpt from the Washington Post interview with Paul Horner, the so-called King of fake news writing, and it is easy to see that he considers his work the craft of a writer, “…I don’t like getting lumped in with Huzlers. I like getting lumped in with the Onion. The stuff I do — I spend more time on it. There’s purpose and meaning behind it. I don’t just write fake news just to write it.”

So why am I calling out fake news writers like Horner and not those at the Onion? One simple fact: Satire publications like the Onion don’t try to look like real news. Included in The Onion’s Tips for Keeping Journalistic Integrity are gems of wisdom such as, “As a journalist, it’s your responsibility to recuse yourself from reporting on any crimes that you have personally aided or abetted.” One look at their home page headlines and it’s clear that the site is satire. The real culprits are fake news writers whose intention is to trick their audience into believing (or just clicking) their stories.

So we’ve established that fake news writers meet the qualifications of professional writers. So shouldn’t they be held to the same ethical standards as their counterparts in other industries? As listed by Contently, a content marking website, general ethical standards in the world of journalism include:

  • Seek the truth as fully as possible.
  • Act independently.
  • Seek to minimize harm and behave responsibly.
  • Be accountable.

Although the world of professional writing encompasses much more than journalism, it seems as though nearly all of its branches involve ethical standards. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Fostering scientific advancement requires strict adherence to ethical guidelines for research and scientific writing.” Writers in advertising and public relations adhere to codes of ethics published by the American Advertising Federation, and the Public Relations Society of America. Even the American Grant Writer’s Association has a comprehensive list of ethical standards.

Like other professional writers, fake news writers can have far-reaching impact. Horner authored several viral articles about the Trump campaign last year, including one shared by Trump’s own campaign manager that claimed a Trump protestor had been paid over $3,000, an article which Horner admits he contrived completely, down to creating a fake Craigslist ad. Horner’s work echoed into the Trump presidency when Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that paid protestors showed up to GOP town halls in a public statement back in February. And who can forget the man that opened fire at a D.C. pizzeria last year after reading a fake news article accusing Hillary Clinton of harboring child sex-slaves in the establishment.

Writers of fake news stories reject every one of journalism’s ethical standards. They certainly don’t seek the truth, since the truth doesn’t sell. They feel no obligation to minimize harm and behave responsibly. And while writers like Horner admit that their articles may have heavily impacted the presidential campaigns last year, it’s not stopping them from producing more fake news today.

It is this domino effect of lies and false accusations, sometimes with detrimental consequences, that warrants the need for some type of ethical considerations for this genre of writing. With the recent explosion of the field of fake news and its societal implications, it’s time for a Fake News Code of Ethics. Until then, I’ll stick to reading about Brad Pitt’s body odor in my grandma’s smut papers.

Say It Like You Meme It: What Pizza Rolls Can Teach Us About Marketing to Millennials

 

by Madison Butler

The millennial generation gets a bad rap for a number of things: for being entitled, overly invested in technology, for being lazy and jobless. But as a generation with rapidly growing purchasing power, it’s important that companies and the professional writers creating copy, blogs, and advertising for these companies understand this expanding market.

Despite spending around $600 million a year, Millennials are a difficult sell. Two of the biggest challenges companies face when marketing their products are overcoming a lack of disposable income and creating an authentic campaign that will make Millennials want to spend. Bloomberg says that the success of a campaign is determined by its authenticity.

Merely adopting the language and blogging habits of young people won’t make a product “#relatable.” To win over Millennials, professional writers must strike the balance between age-appropriate and genuine marketing.

What makes or breaks a campaign?

One example of an upizzamemensuccessful campaign is the blog run for Totino’s Pizza Rolls. The company is trying too hard to connect with a younger generation by using slang and memes that fall flat. This image was originally posted on Tumblr, where a successful post can have hundreds of thousands of likes and shares. This post has 72.

The main issue with this blog’s postings is that they’re trying to capture a Millennial attitude without creating a branded message. The caption “#TBT to my fave summer camp memory, canoeing on Lakey McLakeFace (yes, pizza rolls need sunblock.)” is bogged down by slang and nonsensical references. (See Boaty McBoatface.)

Advertising and…memes?

Totino’s Pete Zaroll pizza roll character is meant to be relatable, but seems disingenuous. Internet success is fickle, but one way to tank potential is to bombard the audience with ad after ad featuring a character trying to emulate millennial behavior. The idea of using memes to advertise isn’t a new one, but what most companies miss is that memes cannot be forced. Trying to intentionally create a meme will surely end with Millennials mocking your company on Twitter.

dennysOne company that has successfully marketed itself to Millennials is Denny’s. While blogs can be a great resource for companies to go in depth on their products or share news about upcoming releases and events, Denny’s has used its blog to connect to a younger audience. The Denny’s blog is also hosted on Tumblr, but their posts have a much wider reach, with at least a few hundred likes/shares per post and at most, thousands.

Where Totino’s posts are contrived-weird, Denny’s posts are truly bizarre. The most successful of their posts embrace the strange, surrealist humor prevalent among Tumblr’s users. This post from the Denny’s blog has over 12,000 likes and shares and shows a clear understanding of the audience.

Denny’s also shows an understanding of the importance of interacting with users and the types of interactions users expect. The posts with the most likes and shares on the blog are the ones where they have responded—not with information about their restaurant, but with comments that are similar in style to other comments. The brand is cohesive throughout each post.

While not every blog is going to be as strange as Denny’s, advertisers should take away that marketing to a millennial audience should be treated with consideration. The success of the Denny’s blog is twofold: understanding the audience and using professional writing skills to match that audience while delivering a message.

In advertising, genuinely weird is better than pandering. Otherwise, your audience will mock the campaign as something they could do, but can’t get hired for.

Are You Write for the Job?

by Jenna Enright

If you’re a student honing your professional writing craft, it’s only a matter of time before a future employer asks you to submit a writing sample.

We live in a sadistically redundant world of e-applications, making the writing sample just one more burden to the already over-burdened modern job seeker.

Really, though, this is your chance to prove your skills, expertise, and understanding of the position to your future employer.

Here are a few simple tips for choosing the optimal writing sample:

1. Be Relevant. Choose a sample relating to the job. If applying for a journalist position, send an article you published. Public relations candidates should submit a press release. Future lawyers and psychologists should showcase their ability to analyze concepts and ideas in a paper. I could go on but I’m sure you get it.

2. Keep Current. Don’t submit samples more than 1 year old. This says you haven’t written anything in a while.

3. Edit. Edit. Edit. Never submit a piece with typos or your professor’s comments.

4. Choose Quality Over Relevance. Or rewrite a relevant sample to improve its quality (see above).

5. Keep it Short. 1-2 pages is ideal. 4-5 pages is the limit. Hiring managers in the digital age can receive hundreds of applications for a single position. A sample that’s too long may deter them from considering it at all.

6. Be Engaging. An engaging sample will be more memorable for the hiring manager and prove that you can keep an audience hooked.

7. Avoid Personal Blogs. A piece published on your university’s professional writing blog, however, is okay.

8. Ask for Clarification. If you are still unsure about what the employer wants from a writing sample, ask. This can show initiative and attention to detail. Better safe than unemployed.

Below are links to some additional sources to help you nail the writing sample portion of the competition:

University of Pennsylvania

Monster.com

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Columbia University

Psychology Today