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How to write so your words will be read, valued, and acted upon.

"Bill Watterson once drew a comic strip of Calvin that shows Calvin reading the label on the package of a microwave dinner," Don Ranly said at the opening of his presentation at the recent NEPA conference in Washington.

"In his classic outraged face, Calvin screams his protest: 'Six minutes to microwave this?? Who's got that kind of time?!'"

It's all about time, Ranly emphasized. "After all, time is more than money. Time is life. You waste my time, you waste my life.

"Readers are most likely to give you time if you offer them something useful. Yes, they'll read for relaxation and entertainment, but many don't turn to you for that.

"Remember, the opposite of useful is useless."

Ranly said that whenever crafting a story, think about time. Put it in such a way that takes the reader the least amount of time.

Inject urgency.

Write for surfers, whether your writing appears in print or online. Don't write for readers; write for non-readers, scanners, surfers.

The medium is the message

Ranly, who's always been a fan of Marshall McLuhen, said, "Anytime a new medium emerges, it affects all media." The internet has made scanners out of all of us. Write in chunks, the reader rules, remember the reader.

When writing for online publications, remember that 21 lines fill a screen. Write accordingly. Break stories up into separate entities. Subheads are great, but each subheaded component should stand on its own, Ranly advised.

Service journalism

Useful, usable, and used are the operative words in what Ranly describes as "service journalism."

"Always look to give readers useful information in a usable way (I prefer three-column formats). The whole purpose is to get the information used. That's service journalism," Ranly said.

"You must present information in the most usable way. You must present it in such a way that people will clip it out and stick it on the refrigerator--or bulletin board, or place it in a retrievable file. Some have called it refrigerator journalism," Ranly said.

In a nutshell

The four goals of the service journalist are:

1. Attention

2. Comprehension

3. Retention

4. Action

Use summary blurbs, use graphics, have a Q & A column, repeat things in different ways for different people, Ranly advised.

We might add that information that is actually used is also at the heart of your high newsletter renewal rates.

Don Ranly, Ph.D. has taught at the University of Missouri School of Journalism for the past 29 years. He is the author of several books on writing and editing, including News Reporting and Writing (7th ed.) He has also conducted more than 950 seminars for organizations, corporations, associations and individual publications and publication companies.

902 S. Glenwood Ave., Columbia, MO 65203, 573-882-7059, fax 573-884-5293,,
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Title Annotation:Editing
Author:Ranly, Don
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Jun 30, 2003
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