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Classmembers of the Son of Christa McAuliffe Watch the Launch of Space Shuttle Challenger 1/26/86 Credit:AP Photo/Jim Cole

Too many nonfiction writers think that in order to be serious they should be as free of emotion as possible. This can make boring topics even more dust dry. Try to have people feel something when they read your work. It’s easier to remember what you wrote when they remember how they felt. It doesn’t have to be touchy-feely — it can be amusement, inspiration or even outrage (although we have had a surplus of reflexive outrage as of late, so see if you can avoid inciting outrage, at least for the foreseeable future). Although it may be easier to…


Billboard with Colin Kaepernick Nike “Dream Crazy” Ad

Remember that writing with clarity is the paramount goal, but it’s not sufficient to hold your audience. But if you achieve clarity, you then have a chance to have a bit of fun. Writing that’s the most enjoyable and rewarding to read isn’t only clear, it modulates between consistency and novelty to create a liveliness that rewards readers to discover what’s around the next bend.

Like screenwriters creating dialog, copywriters feel the musicality of language as well as its communicative power. One of the ways they draw us in is by bringing to the fore contrasts that are at once…


Photograph of Warren Buffett Source: CNBC
Photograph of Warren Buffett Source: CNBC

Write with Your Audience in Mind

Avuncular nonagenarian boffo bijillionaire Warren Buffet is equally famous for his love of Cherry Coke and his “just plain folks” ability to explain abstruse financial concepts like synthetic collateralized debt obligations with breakthrough simplicity. He does so by putting himself on the reader’s side and in the reader’s shoes. He acknowledges that it’s difficult to set aside the “curse of knowledge” that presumes existing understanding. Buffett wrote this in an introduction to A Plain English Handbook for the Securities and Exchange Commission:

“One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report…


Illustration of thought bubbles with buzzwords and jargon
Illustration of thought bubbles with buzzwords and jargon

My First Rodeo

All professions develop lingo to communicate common concepts. At best these words and phrases serve as a shorthand to communicate technical or complex information. Teachers have their “makerspaces” and “rubrics.” Lawyers have their “res ipsa loquitur” and “offensive non-mutual collateral estoppel.” Doctors have their “primaperas” and “iatrogenic injuries.” But when these terms start being bandied about to non-specialists, the opposite of shorthand happens. I recall a helpful physician explaining to me that “febrile” was “doctor talk” for having a fever. No s#%t, doc? …


Excerpt from Page 92 of the Script of The Social Network

People assume because they can read and talk, they can also write. Right? Wrong. Well correct in that there are subjects and verbs, adjectives, adverbs and dangling participles all akimbo on the page. But that word salad is not anything anyone wants to read.

Last week I wrote about how Ernest Hemingway honed his fiction through laborious, editing. Hemingway likened his finished product to the visible part of an iceberg, supported by the 80% — 90% of material he threw away. …


Photo: iStock

To communicate with precision and impact, focus on what you’re not saying.

Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants begins: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.”


Once upon a time, people worked in a wide variety of noble occupations. Recently, however, lots of folks across all different sorts of professions have come to insist their work as fiduciaries, architects, roller coaster designers, contractors, doctors and marketers can be subsumed under a single meta-description: “storyteller.”

Under this banner, architects are storytellers who simply use bricks instead of words to “make a space into a place.” When it comes to neurosurgeons or invasive cardiologists, think storyteller first, physician second: “The storytelling is really where the medicine is.” Need to entrust your life savings to a financial advisor? You…

Eric Pinckert

Brand Man

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