Credit sources fairly in your financial blog posts

Tuesday, Sep. 1st 2015

You want to do the right thing when you find an interesting idea, statistic, or quote that you use on your blog. That means crediting your source. How much information must you provide?Integrity

Citation rules for blogs aren’t as clear as for books, where sources such as The Chicago Manual of Style lay out rules. I’ve developed suggestions for you based on my experience, Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, and other resources.

1. Figure out if you’re entitled to quote the material.

Copyright and the concept of “fair use” govern your rights. The guidelines are murky. One key idea is that if you use the “heart” of the work, you’re in trouble, as explained in the “Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used” on the University of Minnesota’s “Copyright Information and Resources” page.

You’ll find more “fair use” tips and resources in “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.” Some sources may have their own guidelines, as discussed in “Are you crediting your OECD data properly?

In another example, Hubspot asks that you limit quotes on your website to “no more than 75 words. This is to prevent duplicate content issues that would impact both our own organic search rankings and the other website’s,” according to Corey Eridon’s “How to Cite Sources & Not Steal People’s Content on the Internet.”

2. Name and link to your source

At a minimum, you should name the publication or resource that’s the source of your information, whether it’s a blog, newspaper, conference presentation, or something else. Some people minimize the information, saying something like “according to The New York Times.”

I like to go further than that, naming the article and, possibly, the author.

3. Link to the source.

It’s courtesy to link to the source you’re crediting, assuming it’s available online. If your compliance professionals are uneasy about links, then make sure you follow the advice in my next tip.

4. Provide enough information for your readers to find the source on their own

I’ve struggled with how much information to put in a citation. Then I read the suggestion in Everybody Writes that you should provide “enough information about the author and the work that someone could easily find it if the original link breaks.” Ann Handley made this suggestion in Everybody Writes’ chapter on content curation, “Curate Ethically.” I think it should apply to citations in blog posts in addition to content curation.

Handley also warns readers against linking to other people’s content using nofollow links—links that deprive the author of the linked material of a boost to their search ranking. I agree. It isn’t fair.

Providing enough information might mean giving a link to “Susan Weiner’s post, ‘How a blogging buddy can help your financial planning or investment blog’” instead of “Susan Weiner’s blog.”

Strike the right balance in giving credit to your sources!

A smart, fair strategy will boost your credibility.

 

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

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Don’t break up your text too much!

Tuesday, Aug. 25th 2015

I’m a big fan of breaking up text with headings and paragraph breaks. But sometimes you can go too far with this, as Roy Peter Clark reminded me in How To Write Short: Word Craft For Fast Timespossible cut.

If you have an opportunity to make all of your text viewable on one page, consider taking it.

The potential benefit? One of the biggest is that you can quickly decide “whether the topic is worth your time,” says Clark.

Of course, a strong introductory paragraph also makes that possible. What it can’t do is show you the piece’s “beginning, middle, and end all at the same time, helping you sense the logic of the whole,” as Clark says.

Of course, single-glance texts only work in a limited number of cases. As examples, Clark mentions coupons, soup labels, and “advertisements on the outfield wall.” In financial services, a simple webpage might be a single-glance text. Something that requires compliance disclosures isn’t likely to work.

Can you think of cases where you could use single-glance text?

 

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Image courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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7 ways to manage writing by committee

Tuesday, Aug. 18th 2015

The best way to manage writing by committee? Avoid it. As Ann Handley says in Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content,

Having a buddy by your side is helpful. Having an entire committee on your back? Not so much.

However, writing in a regulated industry means that many of you must get your materials reviewed by compliance. Also, if you’re a financial marketer, your men in business meetingsubject-matter expert will want to check your work.

I have some tips, based on my experience as director of investment communications for an asset management firm.

Tip 1. Develop a process

Haphazardly approaching the review and approval of your project can slow you down as you must think about what’s the next step. Avoid this headache by developing a process. Identify who needs to be involved and when. Also, how long they need for their roles in the process.

For example, reviewing a fund commentary might involve your sending it to a subject-matter expert, then a proofreader, and, finally, your compliance professional, who may bounce it back to you.

If you work as part of a team, put your process into a flow chart to share with team members. Include the names or functions of the people involved, along with how long they’re allowed to respond.

flow chart for editing by committee process

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip 2. Learn the compliance rules

To reduce the pain of dealing with compliance, learn about the main rules that affect you and develop strategies for dealing with them.

For example, learn which topics trigger the need for disclosures. Then, you can avoid those topics or have boilerplate disclosures handy for tailoring to the content under review.

In general, familiarizing yourself with compliance guidelines will help you to write in a way that minimizes the need for editing by compliance. It’ll also speed your content’s progress through compliance review, especially as your compliance officers develop confidence in you.

Tip 3. Communicate expectations

Tell people what you’re looking for and when you need it.

Don’t invite your subject-matter experts to take an axe to your article. Instead, keep your feedback request as narrow as possible. Ask them to “check for accuracy,” or to answer a specific question. As Ann Handley says, “Please approve is likely to deliver far fewer edits than will please tell me if you have suggestions.

Tell your subject-matter experts and compliance reviewers about your deadlines. Use the techniques I discussed in tip number eight in “How to get your employees to observe style guidelines.”

Tip 4. Limit rounds of revisions

As Handley says, “One is fine. Five? Nope.” Another Handley suggestion: Get sign-off on an outline before writing a complete draft. “You can often avoid a lot of angst this way,” she says.

Tip 5. Limit the number of reviewers

The fewer your reviewers, the better, at least in the interest of speed and clarity. If you involve more than one subject-matter expert, make sure one has the ultimate power of approval. Otherwise, you may struggle to reconcile conflicting views.

Tip 6. Enforce deadlines

If you have the necessary confidence and authority, try what I think of as the “drop dead” approach to approvals. Tell your subject-matter expert, “If I don’t hear from you by DATE, I’ll assume that you’ve approved this.” Of course, you’ll need backing from higher-ups to enforce this.

Tip 7. Meet in person with the slackers

When I was director of investment communications, I used to walk to the desk of the portfolio manager whose approval I needed. That was often faster than waiting for my emailed request to catch their eyes.

YOUR suggestions?

I’d like to learn your suggestions for managing the approval process. Please comment.

P.S. My assessment of Handley’s book

You’ll enjoy Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content if you enjoy blog-post-length tips about writing, publishing, and marketing. You can sample one chapter and get something out of it.

 

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Top posts from the second quarter of 2015

Tuesday, Aug. 11th 2015

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!Top Posts

They’re a mix of practical tips on social media (#1), writing (#2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8), spelling and grammar (#3), blogging (#7), email (#9), and client communication (#10).

The number one post addresses one of my pet peeves: people who add me to their newsletter lists without my permission. Does that bother you, too?

  1. Our LinkedIn connection isn’t an invitation to spam
  2. Can YOU simplify investment commentary better than this?  <–If you’d like to streamline your sentences, you’ll find this post helpful.
  3. My five favorite reference books for writers
  4. Reader question: How to get writers to follow style guidelines?
  5. Help employees write financial content for publication
  6. Writing tip: Make your point like The Wall Street Journal
  7. Work smarter, not harder, on your blog
  8. Write your lousy first draft!
  9. 4 reasons your emails don’t get results
  10. How to capture investment client questions when you lack access?

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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The email subject line you should never use

Tuesday, Aug. 4th 2015

email tips“…emails with no subject line were opened 8% more than those with a subject line,” according to “The one sales email subject line you’ve never thought to try.” That’s a provocative statistic offered by Anum Hussain of HubSpot, a respected provider of content marketing software. Reading that statistic might make you wonder if you should start sending emails without subject lines.

“No!” That’s what I screamed when I read the introduction to Hussain’s post. Emails without a subject line scream that they are spam. I typically delete no-subject-line emails without opening them or even looking at the preview text. I don’t want my computers contaminated by their malware and ridiculous advertisements. I am fussy about email subject lines. I’ve even rejected a legitimate email sent by my husband.

However, even Hussain admits that you shouldn’t start omitting subject lines in every email.

That said, my personal opinion is that it’s highly unlikely that a cold email or first-time prospecting email will be opened with no subject line included. But once you’ve made a connection and are in a cadence of communication … the subject line may become unnecessary.

I agree that I may open an email from someone I know when there’s no subject line. But I won’t like it. I’ll feel annoyed that the writer didn’t value me enough to write an informative subject line.

My opinion? You should never send an email without a well crafted subject line.

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Financial writer’s clinic: fact vs. interpretation

Tuesday, Jul. 28th 2015

Fact or interpretation, which should you place first in your article, commentary, or blog post? You’ll find a useful model in Justin Wolfers’ “A Better Gauge Shows Steady, Dull Growth,” which appeared in The New York Times.

Which is more intriguing?

Let’s compare your reactions to two sentences. These sentences come from Wolfers’ article

  1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis on Friday revised the nation’s gross domestic product to a new estimate that it contracted by 0.7 percent in the first three months of the year from its initial guess that the economy grew over the winter at an annual rate of 0.2 percent.
  2. The government reckons that the American economy shrank over the winter, but no one really believes it.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which sentence is more intriguing and more revealing of the writer’s opinion?
  • Which sentence is easier to absorb, in terms of writing style and content?

To me, it’s clear that #2, the author’s interpretation of the data, wins as the answer to both questions.

When #2 is the introductory sentence, it snares readers’ attention and sets them up to absorb the GDP information presented in #1. This is how Wolfers starts his article, as you see in the image.

New_York_Times_article_053015-249

Unfortunately, too many financial writers drone on and on about the facts before they get to the interpretation. As a result, they fail to attract readers. Also, they quickly lose the readers who start to scan their articles.

I’m not saying you should never start an article with a fact. That works sometimes, especially when it’s a startling fact. In any case, it’s good to quickly mention your interpretation or give the reader a reason to care about your topic.

“The Upshot” as a model

Wolfers’ article appeared as one of the columns in The New York Times’ “The Upshot” columns of news analysis. If you read the columns, you’ll get more ideas for structuring your articles.

For example, Wolfers’ articles is structured as follows:

  1. Author’s interpretation of the topic
  2. Specific data point
  3. Criticism of how the data is calculated
  4. Suggestion of alternative data
  5. More criticism of the data
  6. What all of this information means for how we view the economy

Can you see how you might apply this approach to your next article, blog post, or investment commentary?

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Email lesson from a PayPal co-founder

Tuesday, Jul. 21st 2015

I found an interesting email productivity suggestion in “The Way I Work,” an Inc. article by Max Levchin of HVF, a co-founder of what became PayPal.email tips

Email tip from Levchin: Keep it short and focused

If you want your email to win a response from Levchin, keep it short and focused, especially if you want a speedy reply.

“Emails that require immediate responses need to be about one topic only,” writes Levchin. He pushes his employees to keep all emails short, his article says, because he receives about 800 emails daily.

My email tip: Complement short email with short, action-oriented subject line

In my opinion, keeping the body of your email short isn’t enough. To boost your email’s effectiveness, I suggest that you also use a short subject line that starts with an action verb and includes a deadline, if appropriate. For example, “Please approve by Aug. 5.”

Interested in more email tips? I’ve presented on “Writing Effective Emails” to chapters of the Financial Planning Association and corporate clients. Contact me to learn about hiring me to present to your group. You can also search my blog’s archives for more email tips.

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?

Tuesday, Jul. 14th 2015

crystal ballIs it a bad idea to make predictions in your investment commentary because clients will slam you when you’re wrong? Whenever you make predictions, you run the risk of being wrong. But being wrong isn’t a problem, in my mind, if your prediction reflects good thinking.

Lesson from my winning prediction

Accurate predictions alone don’t make you seem smart. I remember the time I was forced to participate in a betting pool with members of an investment policy committee. I had to guess where a certain number—probably the 10-year Treasury rate—would be one quarter later.

Guess what! I won. However, it wasn’t knowledge of Federal Reserve policy or the economy that inspired my winning bet. It was that I deliberately picked a rate 25 basis points (0.25%) lower than any other committee member’s bet.

Did I respect the losers less after I won my bet? No. They had well thought-out ideas about the factors driving bond yields. As a result, I continued to think highly of them.

The lesson is that smart people can and will be wrong. After all, look at any major investment firm’s quarterly predictions of statistics such as the fed funds rate, gross domestic product (GDP) growth, or the consumer price index. Most of the time they are wrong. Heck, the federal government revises its GDP numbers as new data comes in.

Why you should make predictions

Investment commentary that only reports facts is often boring. Plus, unless you’re pumping out commentary instantaneously, you’re not telling your readers anything they couldn’t already learn online or in The Wall Street Journal. They have no reason to read your factual, unopinionated commentary.

Keeping your clients interested isn’t the only reason to make predictions—or, at a minimum, express opinions. When you support your predictions with carefully reasoned arguments, you give clients insights into your firm’s thought processes. That’s valuable.

Imagine, for example, that you predict that the Federal Open Market Committee will boost its fed funds target later in the year. By itself, that’s not so interesting. What makes it valuable is why you think that’s true and what you recommend based on that prediction.

Unexpected events—war, natural disasters and the like—can sabotage your predictions. However, they may only delay your predictions coming true. Clients will find comfort in the soundness of your thinking.

What if you’re repeatedly wrong?

Repeatedly making big predictions that don’t pan out can bring client criticism and even defections. But sometimes the strength of your convictions means you must stick with them to remain true to your investment philosophy and process, as well as for the good of your clients.

For example, some asset management firms shunned dot-com stocks during their heyday, predicting a price collapse that ultimately occurred. The clients who stuck with them benefited over the long run.

My suggestions for your financial predications

I have some suggestions for you.

  1. Don’t make flashy predictions simply to attract attention. One day, or even one month, of fame on social media or in the news isn’t worthwhile.
  2. Do make predictions that are grounded in careful analysis. You need to be able to explain predictions.
  3. Explain your predictions. Help your readers to understand why you made your predictions and why their predictions are important for client portfolios.

Whenever possible, relate what you write to its impact on client portfolios. For example, if you foresee a rebound in the Russian ruble, explain how this might affect sectors your portfolios hold or avoid.

  1. Hedge when necessary. To keep the Securities and Exchange Commission happy, you can’t guarantee anything. Use language such as “we believe” to make it clear you’re expressing an opinion.

Hedging language also helps readers grasp that you understand there are factors that can derail the most likely scenario. You’re not pigheaded. You consider the relevant factors.

  1. Use personality if you lack opinions. If you lack provocative opinions, but you want people to read your commentary, use your personality. Writing in a distinctive style and tailoring your content to your clients’ unique needs can help you get attention from your target audience.

What about YOU?

I’m interested in learning from you. How do you balance the benefits of expressing your opinions vs. the risks of being wrong? Please comment.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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What YOU say about highlighting text in emails

Tuesday, Jul. 7th 2015

What’s the best way to highlight text in emails? That’s the question I posed in a poll earlier this year. I took away three main lessons from your responses. Thank you very much, respondents, for answering and generously sharing your email tips!

1. Lesson 1. Bold wins for highlightingPoll results for email highlighting

Use bold to emphasize text in your emails. That was by far the most popular answer to my poll asking, “What technique do you use for emphasizing text—for example, an appointment date—in an email?” This squares with my instinct to bold for emphasis, as in the example below:

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

However, with 45.71% selecting bold, it failed to win a majority. The next most popular answer, at 28.57%, was “More than one of these techniques.” I sometimes use bold plus larger font size or capital letters. You suggested other options, including some that are mainly useful in plain-text emails.

2. Lesson 2. Text-only email limits your highlighting options

Your poll responses provided a valuable reminder to me. Unlike me, some people force incoming emails into a plain-text format. This strips out fancy formatting—such as bold, italics, and colors—that relies on HTML code. People do this for reasons such as reducing the risk of computer viruses or cutting the email’s size once it’s stored on their computer.

Take note if you have an important correspondent who only reads emails in plain text. You’ll need to adapt your formatting for them.

How can you learn about your correspondent’s email-reading capabilities? If their emails to you look as if they were created on a typewriter, they’re plain text. Also, often when you reply to their emails, you’re not able to apply fancy formatting using HTML.

Some experts suggest that you send emails in both HTML and plain-text formats. But who has the time? The only exception is if you use an email newsletter program such as Constant Contact. Constant Contact automatically generates plain-text versions of my newsletters, which I could edit for formatting that’s easier for plain-text readers to absorb. Even better, it provides a link that a plain-text recipient can click on to see the nicely formatted version.

If you send plain-text emails, my poll respondents suggest using asterisks, underscores, or capital letters to highlight text. Here are some of their comments:

  • Unless I know for certain the recipient can read HTML e-mail I’ll use *asterisks* to set off the text. If the recipient is getting the mail in HTML.
  • Most of my email accounts don’t allow for [HTML]. The only thing I can do to bullet something important to place it between asterisks.

I particularly like the idea of using capital letters because they’ll seem less strange and old-fashioned if some of the readers of a group email use HTML.

Lesson 3. Remember other highlighting techniques

I agree with the respondent who said, “I think the more important point is to make sure writers are getting to the point quickly in their email messages. They need to keep the reader’s needs for information in mind and get every message off to a fast start.”

Your comments reminded me of other techniques for highlighting content in your emails, including

  • Strong subject lines, summaries at the top of your emails, and headings, an approach that I emphasize in my presentations on “Writing Effective Emails“—as one respondent said, “I place important information first in the subject line, then there’s no need to emphasize it in the email.”
  • White space to set off important information—as one respondent said, “I often isolate the information on its own line, surrounded by an empty line above and below (this is called using ‘white space’).” Indenting the information can be part of this technique.
  • Good writing techniques in general—as one respondent said, “It may be an old-fashioned notion these days, but I thought that formatting doesn’t always work in email, so I have always tried to use my writing to draw attention. I use very brief sentences, bullets, one line standing alone with a piece of important information, repeat major point again at the end – things like that. Some people use the email’s subject line, i.e., Deadline is tomorrow! I also adhere to the short and sweet method of writing, because people tend to read emails on their phone. So I’ll jump right to point – hey, my deadline is tomorrow.”

A funny HTML story

Here’s a reminder from a respondent that what you see in your email program isn’t always what appears on the recipient’s screen:

I use a Mac and one of my editors uses a PC. She kept putting what looked like little J’s after sentences in her mails to me. I finally asked what those were – turns out, that’s how her smiley emoticons were being interpreted by Mac Mail. (Not sure what she saw with my Mac smileys – I think something weird, too.) I know this isn’t about emphasizing text per se, but it does show some cross-platform problems still exist within email. :-)

What will YOU do differently now when you write emails?

After reading your poll responses, I may use capital letters more often for emphasis since they appear the same in both HTML and plain-text emails. Is there something you’ll do differently after reading my poll results?

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Our LinkedIn connection isn’t an invitation to spam

Tuesday, Jun. 30th 2015

newsletterI don’t like it when anybody adds me to an ongoing e-newsletter distribution list without asking my permission—or at least warning me that my signing up for their freebie will add me to that list. If you’re doing that, please reconsider.

The newest variation on this may be people who add their new LinkedIn connections to email lists without permission. If you do this, you’re sending me spam. Please stop.

I’m thinking about this because of a recent experience. I felt fine when I received one email communication from a new LinkedIn connection with the subject line, “Thank you for connecting on LinkedIn.” I admired my connection for making the time to follow up. I was impressed that he took the time to create an attractively formatted email, including photographs, using an e-mail newsletter program. I even forwarded the email to a friend whom I thought might learn from how the man promoted his book in his email. This kind of email is fine with me, if it happens one time only. Indeed, I welcome genuine, personalized messages from people with whom I connect.

However, I felt angry when the connection repeated the same email one month later. I realized that he had added me to a newsletter list without my permission. I think this bothered me more than the average involuntary newsletter subscription because the sender reused the email he’d sent one month earlier. A message with new content might have shown more respect for my time.

By the way, if you add me to my newsletter without my permission, I may not unsubscribe, but I will implement an email rule that sends your message to a “Newsletter” folder. Your message never hits my main inbox.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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