Is plain English for financial dummies?

Tuesday, Mar. 31st 2015

“We don’t want our clients to think we’re dummies.” When I encourage my clients to use plain English, they sometimes push back. They’re afraid they’ll seem stupid.man thinking

I disagree. I think plain, clear writing shows respect for your client’s time. I’m not alone in my belief. Folks like investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway and former SEC chair Arthur Levitt agree with me. So does The Wall Street Journal.

Warren Buffett on plain English

Here’s what Warren Buffett says:

When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters…. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.

Despite Buffett’s easy-to-understand style, plenty of financial sophisticates read his firm’s annual report.

By the way, Buffett’s quote comes from the SEC’s A Plain English Handbook, a great free resource.

Arthur Levitt on financial disclosures and language

Here’s former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt’s take on plain English:

For the language of financial disclosure, we need to raise the standard from “potentially understandable” to “impossible to be misunderstood.”

Take a few minutes to see if your writing passes “The Levitt test for financial risk disclosures.”

The Wall Street Journal

Almost every financial sophisticate in the U.S. reads The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper does a good job of making their content accessible to the less sophisticated. For some examples, see “Let’s get parenthetical.”

What about YOU?

What do YOU think about using plain English in your financial communications? What is one step you recommend to others who’d like to use plain English?

For more on plain English, see “Plain English and good writing.”

 

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 | 8 Comments »

How to highlight text in emails

Tuesday, Mar. 24th 2015

When you write emails, plain text sometimes isn’t enough. You want to visually emphasize one piece of information, such as the proposed date and time of your phone call with the email tipsrecipient. While I discuss options below, I’m interested in your ideas. Please answer my poll on this topic. I’ll report on the results in a future issue of my e-newsletter.

Text choices

Let’s examine some options for tackling your challenge in the sentence “May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?”

  1. Use bold

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

  1. Underline

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

  1. Change font color

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

  1. Use highlighting

    Highlighting in yellow seems a little too showy to me.

    By the way, the text in the example below (and in number 5)  is extra-large because it’s a screenshot. I couldn’t figure out how to produce my example directly in WordPress.

Email_sample_with_yellow_highlighting

 

  1. Combine multiple techniques

    I like bold, but I feel as if my email program’s bold doesn’t stand out enough. I often increase the font size of my bolded text, as in the example below. 

    You can try your own combinations. I suggest that you avoid two techniques that are associated with hyperlinks: underlining and blue text.

Email_sample_with_bold_and_big_font

Plain-text email limitations

Your options are limited if you must use plain-text emails. However, you can capitalize the text that you want to emphasize:

May I call you on MON., FEB. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

Bonus tips

Changing your fonts isn’t only for emphasizing a specific piece of information. You can also put the key information in your subject line, as in “2 p.m. call on Mon., Feb. 16?” If confirming that time is your email’s main goal, then repeat this in your email’s first sentence. Repeat the information in a heading, if you cover multiple topics in your email. For example, one heading could be “2 p.m. call on Mon., Feb. 16?” and the other one might be “401(k) plan next steps.”

What do YOU think?

Please take my poll on this topic. I’d like to learn about the techniques that you use. I’m also interested in what techniques annoy you. For example, one of my friends says she doesn’t like multiple font sizes because it throws off the alignment of the email’s lines.

Polls like this can influence my email practices. Before I ran the poll in “To ‘dear’ or not to ‘dear’ in your email,” I always started my emails with the recipient’s name, followed by a comma. My poll made me realize that starting emails with “Hi” and then the recipient’s name and a comma is widespread. While I still prefer the simplicity of “Susan,” now I try to notice other people’s preference for “Hi.” I reciprocate whenever I’m aware of their preference.

If you’d like to write better emails

I’m available to give presentations and workshops on “Writing Effective Emails.” I’ve spoken on this topic to the Financial Planning Association’s FPA Experience conference, FPA chapters, and corporate clients.

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 | 2 Comments »

Should you correct other people’s writing mistakes?

Tuesday, Mar. 17th 2015

The quality of your writing affects what other people think of you. That’s a good reason to polish your writing. But what if you see errors in other people’s writing? Should you tell them errorif you’re not working as an editor? It depends. I pose four questions that can help you decide whether to act.

1. How serious is the error?

Some errors are more important than others. If a writer repeatedly refers to “portfolio mangers” instead of “portfolio managers,” that’s embarrassing. It also suggests a sloppiness that reflects poorly on the individual and whatever organization is publishing the piece in which the error appears.

2. Does the error make the writing difficult to understand?

Some errors make it hard for readers to grasp the writer’s message. I dislike this kind of error more than one that’s wrong, but can be glossed over by the reader.

For example, when a writer pens a garbled introduction followed by paragraphs that lack strong topic sentences, you know that readers will struggle. This kind of error is worthy of correction.

On the other hand, some things are widely viewed as errors are open to debate and don’t—in isolation—make a piece much harder to understand.

Take “irregardless,” one of the many “mistakes” that Shea Ammon tackles in Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation. “One may not like this word, but that is far cry from it not being a word,” says Ammon.

If I saw one instance of “irregardless” in an otherwise well written piece, I wouldn’t tell the author unless I was wearing my editor’s hat. After all, most readers would grasp the meaning, even though the word has an extra syllable and, as Ammon concedes, “It is admittedly difficult to offer much by way of defense to the word irregardless.”

3. What’s your relationship with the writer?

Tread carefully if you lack a close relationship with the writer, particularly if they’re senior to you in your organization. A correction can sour your relationship. It’s not just senior folks whom you need to worry about. Many people are sensitive to correction.

4. Can you phrase your correction nicely?

Be nice when you make corrections. A classic suggestion is to criticize the writing, not the person. Nobody enjoys criticism, even when they know it’s on target.

I sometimes tell complete strangers when I spot typos in their LinkedIn profiles. I write something like, “I noticed a tiny typo in your LinkedIn profile. Your title is listed as ‘investment consutlant’ with the ‘l’ and the ‘t’ reversed. You might want to fix that.” I hope that they realize I’m contacting them because I want to help.

Another reason to phrase your corrections nicely: We all make mistakes. I know I do. I’ve featured many of my own mistakes on Mistake Monday on the Investment Writing Facebook page, where I challenge readers to identify mistakes in items that I post on Monday mornings.

By the way, if you spot errors in my work, please tell me. I’ll be grateful.

If you’re working in an editorial role

Correct as much as you can, if you’re working in an editorial role. However, you may not be able to insist on the implementation of  all of your corrections. Consider my four questions as you decide how to respond to the writer’s resistance to your changes.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 »

RIA blogs recommended by my Twitter friends

Tuesday, Mar. 10th 2015

Looking for good blogs by registered investment advisors or financial advisors? An impromptu Twitter exchange in February yielded the following recommendations, with thanks to Susan's tweet about RIA blogs@QuonWarrene for providing the first reply to my question:

You’ve probably seen some of these names on my blog before, in the following posts:

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 blog | 3 Comments »

Should you link to others in your blog?

Tuesday, Mar. 3rd 2015

complete guide to article writingIf your blog focuses solely on your own content, perhaps it’s time to change. Consider incorporating links to other people’s content.

High quality links reflect positively on you. “…The ability to aggregate really strong links helps bloggers’ credibility,” as Sara Quinn says in Naveed Saleh’s The Complete Guide To Article Writing. A section of Saleh’s book, which aims at aspiring journalists, inspired this post.

1. Help your readers

Links to good resources help your readers by explaining things in detail that isn’t appropriate for a blog post. Links can also address concerns relevant only to a small subset of your readers. You avoid alienating your mainstream readers, while satisfying the appetites of the few.

I often link to articles to give examples of the points that I make in my blog posts.

2. Provide attribution

It’s not nice to quote someone’s words without giving them credit. These days it isn’t enough to simply name them, if a relevant link is available.

However, a link alone doesn’t give you free rein to use other people’s material. Check out the resources for understanding “fair use” in my blog post, Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion. By the way, the “Legal danger” post is a good example of enhancing credibility to linking to resources.

What’s your policy?

Do YOU link to resources outside your blog or corporate website? What’s your rationale for your policy? I enjoy learning from you.

 

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.

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 blog | 2 Comments »

That vs. which: Which is right?

Tuesday, Feb. 24th 2015

Writers often use “which” when they should use “that.” The reverse is also true. It took me a while to learn this myself. This post offers some guidance on your choices.which vs. that

The “That” rule

“That” is for essential clauses. The sentence doesn’t make sense without the clause.

Take a sentence like the following:

Inflation that rises rapidly may hurt bond prices more than gradual inflation.

Omit “that rises rapidly” and you get “Inflation may hurt bond prices more than gradual inflation.” Does that make sense? No! Thus, “that” is required to reflect the presence of an essential clause.

The “Which” rule

“Which” is for nonessential clauses and requires at least one comma.

Consider the following example:

Inflation was rising rapidly, which was inflicting pain on bond holders.

Delete “which was inflicting pain on bond holders” and you still have a sentence that makes sense: “Inflation was rising rapidly.”

 The British exception

The British have different rules for the use of “which” and “that.” As Shea Ammon states in Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, they use both for essential clauses. However, they agree with Americans on using “which” for nonessential clauses.

 

For another take on which vs. that, read my post “The Which Trials” according to “Woe is I.” That post also contains links to more resources on which vs. that.

 

Note: The title of post was edited on Feb. 24, 2015, when I learned that “that” and “which” may not be considered pronouns in this context.

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 »

Should your investment commentary be different?

Tuesday, Feb. 17th 2015

“Should your investment commentary present a distinctive point of view?” That’s the great question posed by a participant in one of my presentations on “How To Write Investment 3Cs of investment commentary InvestmentWritingCommentary People Will Read.”

My answer? It depends.

What is the distinctive point of view?

If a distinctive point of view means ideas that hold their own vs. leading investment strategies, that’s easier said than done. Not everyone can be an original thinker.

Another challenge: Competing with top investment strategists may also require access to world-class data to support your contentions. That may be tough if you’re at a small company with limited resources.

On the other hand, ideas aren’t the only way to distinguish yourself. You can stand out with the way you express your ideas, instead of the actual content of your commentary. Perhaps you show some personality or you’re an elegant or humorous writer.

Your audience matters

Investment commentary that displays thought leadership appeals to some audiences more than others.

For example, if you sell your firm’s tactical asset allocation services, readers will care about the originality and accuracy of how you assess markets. In short, thought leadership matters if it is an important part of your appeal as an investment manager.

Some readers won’t care whether your ideas are original or common. This is particularly true of individual investors. I believe they’d rather know that you understand them and their needs. In their case, investment commentary explaining how a recent event or trend affects their portfolio may be more powerful than groundbreaking commentary on the stock market.

What do YOU think?

I’m curious to learn your thoughts on this topic. Please comment.

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 marketing, writing | 6 Comments »

What Napoleon’s first battle can teach writers

Tuesday, Feb. 10th 2015

Imagination is a powerful source of story ideas. This is what a picture of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first battle made me think when I visited the Bonaparte home on the French island of Corsica. And it can help you when you write.

Do you know what is portrayed in “Napoleon’s First Battle”? A snowball fight. It’s unlikely that the artist saw it firsthand, but the image offers a refreshing perspective on Napoleon.Napoleon's First Battle

What’s the lesson for you? If you’re targeting a specific audience—for example, pre-retirees in their 50s who work as cardiothoracic surgeons—write about earlier stages of their lives. You don’t have to go back to their childhood. However, showing some understanding of how your ideal prospects reached their current state will help them to trust you.

For example, you could refer to their long training, including residencies and internship, which has shaped some of the pressures in their lives.

Another idea is to write or blog about the challenges your 50-something prospects face in their 30s or 40s. This could help you to build a pipeline of ideal clients.

Have you ever tried imaging your audience at a younger age? How did it help you?

 

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 »

How I’ve benefited from Twitter—and you can, too

Tuesday, Feb. 3rd 2015

Twitter didn’t appeal to me at all in the beginning. I asked, “How can I benefit from reading an overwhelming volume of one-liners?” But @BillWinterberg and my writer friends TWITTER WORKSconvinced me to try it. I’m glad I did.

Here are 4 ways I’ve benefited from Twitter.

1. New clients

Twitter has brought me new clients, directly and indirectly. Sometimes it was as easy as tweeting that I was looking for more paid speaking gigs. One of my followers responded to that tweet. Soon, I had another chapter of the Financial Planning Association as a client for “Writing Effective Emails.” I described my tweeting for clients process in my guest post, “Secrets of a speedy sale via Twitter,” on the Social Marketing Technology blog.

Sometimes the client cultivation process started with meeting someone new on Twitter, whom I might never have met otherwise. In one case, after trading occasional tweets, I met a Twitter friend in real life for a conversation that deepened our relationship. Eventually, I snared some work for that person’s firm.

2. Greater awareness

Twitter has boosted prospects’ awareness of me. I measure that partly in an increased number of Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers since joining Twitter. My website’s Google Analytics statistics show that 24% of its visitors come from Twitter.

One prospect’s comment—“I see your name everywhere!”—made me think about how Twitter contributes, along with my blog and other social media.

Twitter has also spread the word about my new blog posts, books, presentations, and other services. I couldn’t have reached as many people prior to the arrival of social media.

3. New connections

I’ve met many new people through Twitter. While some are prospects, others are sources of new ideas or ways to solve problems.

I also enjoy the social side of Twitter. I can hop on briefly for a conversation and then hop off. That disrupts my workday less than hiking into Boston for a meeting or even chatting on the phone. Plus, the less immediate nature of Twitter exchanges is easier on an introvert like me.

4. Information

I find news I can use on Twitter. It’s a great way to get a sense of what people in my niches are buzzing about. Plus, sometimes I can ask a question and get a quick, authoritative answer from an expert.

Try Twitter, you may like it

Not convinced of Twitter’s merits? Consider the following steps to get the most out of it.

  1. Follow a diverse group of people. This means experts, colleagues, prospects, and friends.
  2. Don’t try to read every tweet. Avoid information overload using something like Hootsuite. Set up columns to monitor topics or groups of people of particular interest.
  3. Post links to original content to engage more readers. This is easy for bloggers. If you don’t write linkable content regularly, then share your own take on other people’s content when you link to it. This is how to establish your value in the eyes of other people on Twitter.
  4. Interact with others. Show that you’re not a robot. You have a personality.
  5. Don’t promote yourself relentlessly. That’s a quick way to lose followers. Guy Kawasaki says, “…promotion should be one out of 20 posts,” in “Talking tweets with author, media guru Guy Kawasaki.”

What’s worked for you?

I’m curious to learn about YOUR approach to Twitter.

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 social media | 1 Comment »

Is your free report “complimentary” or “complementary”?

Thursday, Jan. 29th 2015

Offering a free report to folks who sign up for your email list is a great marketing technique. However, you risk making a mistake if you substitute a multisyllabic word for “free.”complementary misuse example

Look at the example in the image to the right, which shows a sticker that appeared on a local newspaper. I feel confident the advertisers wanted to push the benefits of a free class. Too bad that’s not what they offered.

“Complementary” doesn’t mean “free.” It addresses the relationship between two or more items. Taking this ad literally, it suggests that if you pay to take a music appreciation class, it will enhance your experience in the other courses, lectures, or seminars offered by the advertiser.

“Complimentary,” meaning “given free or as a favor” is the word the advertisers needed.

When you offer a report at no cost to your newsletter subscribers, please consider making it “free.” You’ll avoid an embarrassing mistake. Also, the single-syllable “free” is easy for your readers to absorb.

If you must go multisyllabic, please use “complimentary.”

______________________________________________________________________

Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
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 »