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

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

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

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

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

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in email | No Comments »

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

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

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | 5 Comments »

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

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

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in email | No Comments »

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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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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How to capture investment client questions when you lack access?

Tuesday, Jun. 23rd 2015

Investment commentary writers who lack direct access to clients may struggle to understand what’s on those clients’ minds. This makes it difficult for the writers tohands reaching through bars address those clients’ concerns in their commentary. What can you do in this situation?

I have some potential solutions to this challenge, which came up in a Q&A session for my presentation on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

1. Ask for feedback from the people with client contact

“What questions are your clients asking you?” This is a great question to ask the people who enjoy direct contact with the investor who use your company’s products or services. Open-ended questions like this may uncover totally new areas of interest and concern.

On the other hand, the question may be too vague to spark a memory among individuals who don’t routinely note client questions. Try asking more specific questions, such as what are your clients asking you about

  • Where to invest
  • Investments that worry them
  • Asset allocation
  • The economy
  • The effect of new taxes

When you get more specific, consider focusing on timely topics and your firm’s topical strengths.

2. Demonstrate the value of sharing information with you

What if the people in the middle aren’t communicative? A participant in one of my investment commentary programs said, “we ask our financial advisors but they won’t tell us.”

First, asking more specific questions, as I suggest above, may spur better responses.

Second, consider recruiting one person with client contact who can serve as an example of the value of sharing information. I imagine that you can find one person who’ll agree to help, especially when they understand that they’re not one of many people whom you’re asking for help. After all, they may have assumed that other people were feeding information to you.

Warning: If you take this approach, you should commit to following through on writing about at least one of your contact’s topics even if the client questions don’t seem worthy of incorporation in your next commentary.

For example, a client may ask a complex question about an investment strategy that accounts for a minuscule portion of your assets. Unless you can tie the answer to broader themes, it’s probably not worthy of incorporation in your commentary. However, the question rates an answer via phone or email. If the answer potentially has broader applications, you can share in on your website or a Q&A document.

Assuming you turn up a great client question, incorporate it in your commentary and give credit to the person who reported the question, assuming it’s okay with the reporter. Good behavior is contagious as Chip Heath says in Switch. If you highlight and reward good behavior, more should follow.

3. Find opportunities to hear directly from clients

If you can sit in meetings with individual clients, that’s great. If that’s not possible, then look for opportunities to listen in group settings.

For example, you may send a strategist or asset class specialist to speak at events attended by users of your firm’s products or services. Ask if you can send a second person to attend the event. Observers can record client questions. They can also observe what parts of the presentation most intrigue or perplex the audience. That’s valuable information.

YOUR suggestions?

If you’ve successfully tackled this challenge, I’d like to hear from you. Please share your solution.

 

Image courtesy of sakhorn38 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.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in client communication | No Comments »

Use personal stories to make your content pop!

Thursday, Jun. 18th 2015

“How can I make my content stand out, especially when I’m competing with companies with big names?” Participants in my writing workshops often ask me that busquestion when I survey them as part of my preparation. You may grapple with the same challenge.

Your personal stories are unique and can make even the dullest topic come alive.

As an example, I share below my tips for snaring a seat on a commuter bus, which originally appeared in The Boston Globe. I don’t know anyone else who could have tackled the topic as I did.

Strategy is key, at the bus stop and in the market

By Susan B. Weiner

Most folks who know us think my husband and I work hard at our jobs in Boston’s financial services industry. And we do. But they haven’t seen true concentration until they have watched us jockey for seats on the express bus heading home during rush hour.

Our bus stop on Federal Street is a major hub of commuter activity. There’s ample room for six buses to pull up along the curb of the spacious plaza, which fronts the headquarters of one of Boston’s largest financial institutions. A big crowd clusters there during the evening rush, each weary worker hoping that his or her bus is the one gliding up to the curb.

It’s then that my investment management training comes into play. When our bus arrives, we don’t just board it. I’ve worked with my husband, Allan, to create a plan to achieve our goals, just as an investment counselor would work with clients. Short term, we want a double seat on the bus so we can talk side-by-side on the ride home. Our long-term goal? A happy marriage. Presumably our onboard talks about the day’s work will contribute to a close partnership.

Risk tolerance? High for achieving the first goal, low for the second. Assets? We’re both analytical and determined. Liabilities? We’re both nearsighted and short. We can’t count on spying our bus ahead of the, crowd. Nor do we have the bodies or faces to scare potential competitors out of our path. My curlyhaired, rosy-cheeked husband is more likely to crack jokes than to scowl.

As in investing, strategy is key. If l arrive first at the bus stop, I ponder the situation as intently as a securities analyst looks at her industry. My mission: to figure out where the next bus will pull up, so I can position myself. I want to be the first person on the bus, so I can grab a double seat, a prize almost as delectable as a double-digit increase in stock price.

When my husband arrives, he knows that he should look for me not at a fixed meeting spot, but where we reckon the next express bus for Waltham will open its doors.

It’s not easy to figure. That downtown corner is the assembly point for half a dozen express buses that travel the Massachusetts Turnpike. The buses come in no particular order. Some financial commentators complain that sector rotation in the stock market is vicious—financial stocks win one week, consumer staples another. But they haven’t seen anything like the random nature of bus arrivals. It’s Newton Corner…Newton Corner…Brighton…Watertown…Riverside. Often it feels as if the Waltham bus I’ve placed my stake on doesn’t come often enough.

The buses pull in at different spots along the curb. Sometimes they’ll stop only to roll on their “out of service” signs and cut their engines, because they’re early. Just as stock prices can’t rise without a catalyst,a bus driver can’t leave ahead of schedule. At least not without special dispensation from a dispatcher.

On occasion, I catch a clue from the dispatcher as he waves a hand to direct a bus. A dispatcher’s gesture can move the crowd, just as an upgrade from an influential analyst might spark a run-up in a stock.

Other times, there’s only one opening on the block, so the bus’s destination is obvious. On other occasions, I’ll analyze the bus as it angles toward the curb. I think of that as the bus world’s equivalent of technical analysis of stocks—both involve the velocity and directional pattern of the subject.

But just when I think I’ve perfected my analytical skills, a bus driver will fake me out by parking in an unexpected spot. It’s as unpleasant as a negative earnings surprise by a company that’s overweighted in my portfolio. As they say in mutual fund advertisements, “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”

When Allan finally shows up at the bus stop, there’s only time for a quick kiss. “I’ll wait behind this bus. You go back there,” he’ll say. We split up to improve the odds of getting first crack at seats together. My husband calls this “diversifying our assets.” We both know that diversification increases rewards while reducing risk.

“There it is!” I’ll yell sometimes, if enthusiasm gets the best of me upon spotting my quarry. But just as the highest rewards go to the first investors in a stock gathering momentum, the best seat goes to the bus analyst who discreetly signals, using a raised hand or a mere wink.

Allan tries to join me without alerting our fellow commuters. Once the bus is spotted, others will pile in, as investors piled into the dot-com stocks of the 1990s. I persevere. I’ve become adept at twisting my body to fit into openings without jostling my competitors. Sometimes I reach the hard blue plastic seats before my husband can get on the bus. Like any investor, I work hard to lock in my gains. Placing a bulging briefcase on the seat next to me will often be enough. Otherwise, I repeat my mantra to those who ask if the seat is taken: “My husband is sitting there; my husband is sitting there.” Soon enough he’ll appear.

Actively managed stock portfolios struggle to beat the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The level of competition for double seats at rush hour runs just as high. It feels terrific when Allan and I succeed. I’m flushed with excitement as my husband drops happily into the seat next to me. Finally, I can relax.

Image courtesy of Adam Hickmott 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.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Writing tip: Make your point like The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, Jun. 16th 2015

pouring water“Water is hot and diet soda is not.” An introductory sentence like this will stick with the reader of your article, blog post, or investment commentary. It grabbed my attention when I read “Soft Drinks Hit 10th Year of Decline” by Mike Esterl in The Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2015).

Why this sentence works

This sentence works because it briefly sums up the article. Short sentences are easier for your reader’s brain to absorb.

I also like the rhyming of “hot” and “not.” It makes the sentence more memorable than “Water is trending up, while diet soda declines.”

How to write your short sentence

Writing short, catchy sentences like this is easier said than done. A dollop of inspiration helps.

However, if you’re short on inspiration, try the following techniques to find your sentence:

  1. Walk away from the page. Sometimes letting your piece marinate in your mind for a day or two helps you find inspiration.
  2. Try freewriting. Take 15 minutes to write whatever comes into your head as you think about your article topic. Review what you’ve written, looking for a short, catchy summary.
  3. Draw a mind map of your topic. The visual nature of a mind map may help you to develop a fresh perspective on your topic. Don’t know how to create a mind map? I give step-by-step instructions in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Once you’ve found your first sentence, look at shortening it and making it punchier. Take the flab out by deleting unnecessary words. Replace Latinate words with simpler words.

More writing lessons from this article

Esterl’s soft drinks article gave me more ideas for your writing. Consider using his overall article structure, which I see as the following:

  1. Lead sentence
  2. Supporting statistics for the lead sentence—water first, soft drinks second—the same order as in the lead sentence
  3. More information about the main point of the article—the decline of soft drinks
  4. Related information that’s less critical to the main point—the rise in water’s popularity

This isn’t the only structure that’ll work. It’s just one option for organizing your article in a reader-friendly way.

By the way, Esterl’s writing abides by the advice I give “Financial writers, lead with your message, not your source.” I hope you’ll do the same.

 

Have you succeeded in creating catchy lead sentences? Please share your favorite lead sentence in the comments.

 

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin 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.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Can YOU simplify investment commentary better than this?

Tuesday, Jun. 9th 2015

I am not perfect. I don’t have all of the answers for how to best simplify the complex sentences that abound in investment commentary and related publications. However, we would all blue pencilbenefit if the smart investment professionals could communicate more clearly and economically.

To spur conversation, I’m posting some before-and-after versions of sentences inspired by what I’ve read in online and printed investment pieces. Most of my tweaks are minor. They don’t dramatically ratchet up the sentences’ effectiveness. However, their simplicity means that they demonstrate techniques that would be easy for anyone to implement.

If you’re trying to improve your writing skills, I hope that you’ll find some inspiration. If you’re a veteran writer or editor, perhaps you can suggest better alternatives.

Investment writing before-and-after examples

Example 1

Before: An important point to make is that rising interest rates do not necessarily have a negative impact for bond investors as often perceived.
After: Contrary to what many think, rising interest rates don’t necessarily hurt bond investors.
Note: “Show, don’t tell” is standard writing advice. Instead of saying that something is important, convey its significance simply and quickly.

Example 2

Before: What are the things that matter most to members of the portfolio management team?
After: What matters most to the portfolio management team?
Note: Deleting unnecessary words makes it easier for readers to grasp your message. The “after” version might be simplified further to “What matters most to the portfolio managers?” or even, depending on context, “What matters most to the portfolio?”

Example 3

Before: The Fed’s statement will be illustrative in highlighting the Fed’s future plans.
After: The Fed’s statement will highlight its plans.
Note: This is one of several examples showing how replacing forms of the verb “to be” strengthens your sentences. Also, “illustrative” and “future” aren’t necessary in this sentence. Readers grasp them from the context.

Example 4

Before: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a management team that is well regarded.
After: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a well-regarded management team.
Note: Converting phrases such as “that is well regarded” into adjectives can streamline your sentences. Just don’t pile up too many adjectives in a row. You’ll overwhelm your readers. Some adjectives are valuable. However, I like what Mark Twain said about them: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” 

Example 5

Before: One third of S&P 500 earnings are derived from foreign sales.
After: One-third of S&P 500 earnings come from foreign sales.
Note: This is another example of how you can streamline sentences by eliminating forms of “to be.”

Example 6

Before: Our current expectation is that foreign bond buying will prevent longer-term rates from increasing significantly in 2015.
After: We expect that longer-term rates will not increase significantly in 2015, due to foreign bond buying.
Note:  Using “I”  or “we” will enliven “to be” phrases like the “before” version of this sentence. I also suggest that you put the most important part of your sentence in the beginning. I thought the writer’s interest rate expectations were more important than the foreign bond buying.

Example 7

Before: This technique improved returns without a dramatic increase in risk.
After: This technique improved returns without dramatically increasing risk.
Note: Verbs are more powerful than nouns.

Your thoughts?

I welcome your thoughts about how to improve these sample sentences or how to improve investment-related writing in general. Please comment.

 

Update on July 2, 2015: Oops, I edited the title of this post after realizing that it violated a traditional grammar rule favoring “Can you simplify investment commentary better than I” instead of “than me.” Garner’s American Usage says “I” is the traditional right answer, but “me” is okay for a deliberately relaxed, colloquial tone. After sharing this topic with friends, I changed the title because I realized that passions run high on this issue. By the way, I realized that I’ve been caught on this issue before, as you’ll see if you read “Are you as compulsive as me or I?

Image courtesy of thaikrit 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.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | 2 Comments »

Work smarter, not harder, on your blog

Tuesday, Jun. 2nd 2015
book cover: Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients

My book can help you to work smarter, not harder, on your blog. See what happy readers say on Amazon: http://ht.ly/o0d7t

You’re a busy professional. You don’t have unlimited time to devote to your investment or financial planning blog. However, if you’re blogging without a strategy or plan, you’re wasting time. Advance preparation, as I explain below, will allow you to work smarter, not harder, on your blog.

Step 1. Know your goals.

Do as I say, not as I do, when it comes to blogging. I wasted time on two earlier blogs until I found my focus in helping financial marketing professionals learn to write better.

You’ll achieve better results if you start by identifying your target audience and your topic areas. Both should align with your business focus. For example, if you offer financial planning to divorced women in their fifties or older, don’t write blog posts for Millennials about how to start saving in a Roth IRA account.

Step 2. Pick the right blogging frequency

Consistency counts when you blog. Your clients won’t be impressed if you blog twice a day for one month, quarterly for a year, and then sporadically thereafter. They’ll worry that you bring the same lack of commitment to your main business, as I discussed in “Woody Allen’s wisdom for successful financial bloggers.”

Pick a posting frequency that you can stick with. Not sure how often you can post? Create a cache of posts that aren’t time-sensitive before you go public with your blog.

Step 3. Develop a process

When you develop a repeatable process for your blog, you’ll invest less energy in creating each post. This is why my book, Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients gives you step-by-step instructions for the following topics:

  1. Brainstorming ideas
  2. Organizing your thoughts before you write
  3. Writing your first draft
  4. Making “big picture” edits
  5. Making smaller edits

The book also discusses compliance, marketing, and time management.

After you develop a process that works for you, your blog posts will take shape more quickly and easily.

Step 4. Learn your blogging personality

Different approaches to blogging work best for different people. Pay attention to what works best for you, so you can do more of those things.

For example, some people enjoy writing to a detailed editorial calendar, as I described in “How to manage a group blog: Financial advisor edition.” But that approach would be like torture for me. I need some inspiration to write.

I’ve identified some techniques that work well for me. For example

Don’t force yourself to use techniques you don’t enjoy—especially when better alternatives exist.

Step 5. Get help

You don’t have to do it all yourself. For example, Sheri Iannetta Cupo of Sage Advisory Group, LLC uses the help of Wendy Vissar to create customized images for her blog, as explained in “Boost your blog with original photos: The SAGE Advisory example.” Rick Kahler of Kahler Financial uses an editor. Some advisors have used the services of Wired Advisor to help with the design and development of their blogs. You can use my Financial Blogging book as a source of ideas for how to overcome common challenges for bloggers.

I’m not a big fan of hiring a ghost blogger. You’ll do better by letting your personality shine through in something you’ve written. You can adapt your posts to suit your skills and preferences. For example, you can write very short, opinionated pieces. Or you can create podcasts or videos.

If you’re determined to use content written by others, check out the resources in “Ready-to-use content for financial advisors.”

It’s rare for me to take on ghost-blogging outside of ongoing relationships with larger companies. However, you can hire me to critique one of your blog posts so you can learn to improve future posts.

What are YOUR best tips?

I’d like to see your best tips for working smarter, not harder, on your blog.

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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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