5 proofreading tips for quarterly investment reports

Tuesday, Jun. 24th 2014

Proofreading quarterly investment communications stresses people. Tight deadlines and client demands add to the pressures on a small department. However, creating checklists and processes will ease the strain. I have some suggestions to help you be accurate and avoid stylistic inconsistencies and typos.

This post started as a response to the tweet you see here.Tweet asking about proofing

1. Create checklists for data

There’s nothing worse than sending out a third-quarter report that’s labeled as a second-quarter report. This almost happened to me early in my days as a director of investment communications. That near miss inspired my love of checklists.

When writing quarterly communications, create a list of data that must be updated. This is especially important if you start writing in a quarterly template document that holds the last quarter’s data.

Another way that I manage this when updating documents with previous-quarter data is to turn on Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature. I know that most of the document should turn red with changes before I “accept all changes” and start proofreading.

A variation of this data checklist is a list of common errors that you review just before you hit “send” on your document.

2. Create a style guide

Typos, poor punctuation, and stylistic inconsistencies are more likely when you lack a style guide. You can adopt a standard style guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. However, you still benefit from a style guide specific to your company. Your guide will cover issues those guides avoid, such as how to spell the plural of “Treasury” or whether a portfolio is overweight “in” or “to” a sector.

3. Use technology that identifies weaknesses

Your word processing software’s grammar and spell checker isn’t perfect, but it’s still worthwhile. I supplement mine with PerfectIt software, which checks for consistency in your usage. A free version is available as the Consistency Checker.

There’s also software that will help you to identify larger issues of style and grammar. Hemingway is a free app that assesses the difficulty level of your sentences and suggests some ways to improve them. I thank Bill Winterberg of FPPad for pointing me to “hOw wE eDiT wRiTTeN cOnTenT,” Alyce Currier’s article on Wistia  that introduced me to Hemingway. Grammarly is another option, but I haven’t tried it.

4. Read your work out loud—or get software to read it

When you do heavy editing, it’s hard for you to see the typos and other weaknesses in your work. That’s why I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to read out loud, as I described in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading.” I can hear problems that I can’t see.

5. Use a fresh pair of eyes

In an ideal world, a professional proofreader will review your work. That happens at some of my larger clients. When my client agreement permits, I often hire an outside proofreader to review the first complete draft. A pro who knows the industry will do the best job but any set of competent fresh eyes is likely to help.

If you lack the luxury of outside help, see if a colleague can review your work. Or, leave your work overnight—or at least for an hour—before you review it with fresh eyes.

More resources

For more proofreading tips, check out “Six ways to stop sending emails with errors.” You can test your proofreading skills weekly with Mistake Monday.  Check the Investment Writing Facebook page on Monday mornings.

Six ways to stop sending emails with errors
Six ways to stop sending emails with errors

 

Do you have tips for proofreading? Please join the conversation.

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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

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Wonder if people read your LinkedIn status updates?

Thursday, Jun. 19th 2014

If you’re like me, you sometimes wonder, “Is anyone reading what I post to LinkedIn or other social media?” I believe they are, for reasons I discuss 780 LinkedIn viewsbelow. I also have some tips to boost your readership.

I’m fortunate that people sometimes “like,” comment on, or share my social media updates (Thank you very much, if you’re one of those folks!) However, plenty of my status updates go without any explicit recognition.

However, that doesn’t mean that my updates—or yours—go unnoticed. People don’t acknowledge your updates for a variety of reasons, even if they read and enjoy your updates. For example, they may:

  • Be too busy to take any action beyond reading your update and clicking on your link
  • Not realize that clicking “like,” commenting, and sharing are a valuable part of social media culture—your connections probably include plenty of social media newbies
  • Be scared of getting in trouble with the compliance department—they may be especially wary of appearing to endorse financial advice

Ironically, it takes meeting with people face-to-face for me to understand the power of social media. At one of the last events that I attended in person, I said “hello” to a woman whom I hadn’t seen or corresponded within more than five years. I thought she might not remember me. Instead she responded to my greeting with “I love what you post on LinkedIn!” Wow, that gave me a jolt of positive energy. You may have similarly enthusiastic yet silent readers.

3 ways to discover whether people are reading

If you’d like to know for sure that somebody—anybody—is reading your updates, here are some techniques you can try.

1. Use your updates to pose questions

Ask a simple question in your social media updates to make it easy for people to engage with you. Simple doesn’t have to mean a yes/no question. It could be something like “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about saving for your children’s college education?”

2. Ask people if they’re reading.

You can use a poll on your blog, e-newsletter, or other location to ask your clients, colleagues, and other connections if they’re enjoying what you share on social media. You can also ask how you can improve.

3. Use tracking links.

Some of the links you share via social media can provide statistics that tell you how people have clicked on them. Check out bit.ly or the link shorteners in HootSuite or Buffer for more information. Also, LinkedIn has a built-in measurement tool that’s shown in the image above of “Who’s Viewed Your Updates.” You can click on the arrows in the upper right-hand corner of your box to see that statistics on other updates that you’ve posted.

3 reasons no one reads your status updates

If your statistics disappoint you, it may because you’re making one of the following common mistakes.

1. Your updates are all about you.

Your connections don’t want to read a steady flow of self-promotional updates. Focus on content that helps your target audience. You’ll earn their interest.

2. You don’t post often enough.

Most members of your potential readership don’t spend all day scouring the Internet for your updates. You must post regularly to catch them online. The ideal frequency varies by social media channel and individual preferences. For example, people expect more frequent status updates on Twitter than on LinkedIn. In an informal poll on LinkedIn, respondents suggested that posting up to four times a day—with breaks between your updates—is ideal.

3. Your status updates are poorly written.

Have you seen status updates that consist solely of a website address? That’s an extreme example of an unappealing status update. Another example is simply posting “July newsletter” plus a link. When you share links, it’s for better to offer an enticement, such as “3 tips to save on taxes.”

What’s YOUR experience?

What kind of feedback do you get on your social media updates? What’s working for you? I enjoy learning from you.

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Key Steps in Writing a Research Report

Thursday, Jun. 19th 2014

Securities analysts want to write better. I know this from conversations and the fact that “Writing resources for equity research analysts” is one of my most popular blog posts. I’m delighted to share tips for writing securities research reports from Tom Brakke, author of Letters to a Young Analyst. Many of Tom’s suggestions apply to other forms of writing. For example, “Don’t try to tell them everything you know.”

Key Steps in Writing a Research Report
By Tom Brakke, CFA

Tom Brakke, CFA“How do I write a good research report?”

There are many kinds of answers to that question, starting with this one: Good writers produce good research reports. The basics matter: a strong narrative structure, clear sentences, and compelling content can make a research report better, just as is the case with other forms of writing.

Taking a wider view, I think the responsibilities of investment professionals can be viewed as a combination of analysis plus communication. Throughout my years in the industry, I have observed that far too little attention is paid to the second half of that formula.

Therefore, the need for effective communications is a persistent theme in my book, Letters to a Young Analyst (which includes advice and commentary from me and a number of veteran investors, plus an extensive collection of resources). Most professionals – and most organizations – underestimate the power that comes from the proper delivery of an idea; they think that a good idea will naturally thrive on its own merits.

To stand out, you should care about and focus on the quality of your communications, whether they are verbal or written (and whether they are brief or encyclopedic). That pays dividends over time.

Of course, you have to work within the norms and templates of your organization. That can constrain your ability to communicate as well as you otherwise could. For example, look at the range of reports from sell-side firms. They are remarkably alike one to another and a great many are fill-in-the-blank exercises rather than sound communications tools.

Whatever the constraints within which you are operating, a few simple reminders can be very important (as I explained in greater depth on Quora):

Know your audience.

Don’t do what everyone else is doing. If you’re going to add value, your content needs to be different and, optimally, your presentation of it should be too.

Don’t try to tell them everything you know. Most analysts get tripped up here. Usually there are two or three things that matter. And sometimes one chart can tell the essence of a story.

Let them understand the “how” of what you have done. The narrative of your analytical approach can be very persuasive.

Put your unique conclusions in the context of the prevailing opinions on the stock. Plus, you don’t need to reiterate what everyone knows.

Use images. And, please, use good ones. I’m aghast at the poor quality of charts and tables in most research reports.

A helpful set of steps for communicating stock recommendations comes from Jim Valentine, the author of Best Practices for Equity Research Analysts. (In my review, I called it “the book on equity research.”) His guidance for clients includes three steps:

Ensure the content has value. Valentine uses his ENTER™ framework as a guide: The information should be Expectational, Novel, Thorough, Examinable, and Revealing.

Utilize the optimal channel. There are so many ways to communicate your messages. Consider which (or which combination) will be most effective.

Ensure the message has value. This is his ADViCE™ framework. Aware, Differentiated, Validated, Conclusion-oriented, and Easy-to-consume.

Finally, be yourself. A unique voice is more valuable than a common one.

______________________________________________________________________

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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How to price your self-published book—lessons from my experience

Tuesday, Jun. 17th 2014

How much should you charge for your self-published book? That’s one of the many questions I agonized over during the production of Book call-to-action boxFinancial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. In this blog post, I share suggestions from my experience. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know if I priced my book correctly. However, I’ll give you food for thought.

1. Consider your costs

There are three sets of costs that you should consider in pricing your book. They include the costs of:

    1. Producing an electronic file of your book that’s ready for distribution—think about whether you need to recover the costs of writing, editing, formatting, and marketing your book. These can run thousands of dollars, as I discussed earlier.
    2. Producing each individual book—if you’re selling printed books, there’s a cost associated with printing each volume. You’ll also incur shipping costs if you sell from your personal stock. If you sell e-books, there are no printing or shipping costs.
    3. Selling through different distribution channels—I’ll illustrate the costs using my three channels.

Amazon is one of my three distribution channels. I earn the least when I sell paperbacks through Amazon, which is why I priced my paperback higher than the PDF. Amazon pays royalties of 60%, according to this explanation of royalties on its CreateSpace unit’s website. It also deducts a fee for the cost of producing each paperback through its CreateSpace subsidiary. I fare a little better if you make your Amazon purchase through my Amazon affiliate link because I’ll earn a small commission on your purchase.

If you buy your paperback through my CreateSpace store instead of Amazon I earn a higher royalty of 80%.

The fees associated with my book’s PDF version differ from the paperback. I pay a monthly $5 fee to E-junkie, the provider of my online shopping cart. I also incur PayPal fees of about 3% on each transaction.

2. Think about why you’re publishing 

Your reasons for publishing a book should influence your pricing. Why did you write a book? If you’ve written a book with best–seller potential, with the goal of boosting your already-hefty speaking or consulting fees, you’ll probably price your book low. Selling lots of books—and generating buzz about your expertise—will enhance the demand for your services. On a related note, I’ve seen people like Guy Kawasaki, the author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, offer limited-time free giveaways of their e-books. Tactics like this may also boost a book’s sales ranking in its Amazon category, which can help it attract more buyers.

If you’d like to maximize your income from your book, it’s not as easy to suggest what part of the price spectrum your book should target. To oversimplify, would you rather sell one book at a price of $300 or 1,000 books at a price of $3 apiece?

3. Consider your genre and format

Your book’s genre and format matter. If I’d published a novel in the Kindle format, I probably would have priced it at $2.99. That seemed to be the going rate for Kindle novels.

To provide context for your pricing decision, look at how comparable books are priced. It’s easy to do research on Amazon. As a point of reference, textbooks with limited print runs can run $40-$100. That range became a touchstone for me.

4. Consider your book’s value to readers

I struggled with this point. My book captured all of the content in my five-lesson class for financial advisors, “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read”—a class that advisors had paid as much as $600 to take. In fact, the book offered additional content, too. I really wanted to price the book relative to my class. After all, I would sacrifice teaching income once the book took the place of the class. (Yes, I know I can still offer a class, but I’m struggling with how to structure and price it.)

I spoke with some consultants who’ve sold so-called “information products” to advisors. They thought that I could succeed with a volume priced around$200 and sold from a web page emphasizing the book’s practical worksheets and checklists. That was mighty tempting.

However, I received a shock when I implemented this blog post’s fifth suggestion.

5. Ask your potential readers

I’m a big fan of crowdsourcing by asking my colleagues, friends, and followers for advice. I sent some emails asking, “How much would you be willing to pay for this book?” Folks came back to me with a range of $9.99-$39. One noted that Technology Tools for Today’s High-Margin Practice: How Client-Centered Financial Advisors Can Cut Paperwork, Overhead, and Wasted Hours sold well with a list price of $60, although the hardcover was discounted to $39.01 on Amazon when I checked.

I was struck by a friend’s comment that advisors won’t think about the cost of your class when they see your book’s price. If you price it at $199, they’ll just suffer from sticker shock, he said. This was a valuable reality check for me. However, I also remembered what I’d learned in a class taught by small business coach Karyn Greenstreet. People tend to understate how much they’ll pay for your products and services.

6. Pick a price, any price

I ultimately priced my book at $39 for the PDF and $49 for the print-on-demand paperback. For the first month after publication, I provided a discount code for $15 off the list price on the PDF or paperback (but only when sold through my CreateSpace store because I don’t control the price on Amazon.com).

While I agonized over the price, I took comfort in my friends’ advice. They said, if your pricing doesn’t work, you can change it, so don’t worry!

Did I make the right decision?

My biggest fear was that no one would buy my book. I was relieved when the first few books sold. I was excited when my sales broke into double digits and then exceeded 100 volumes.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I’ve given my book a broader audience by skipping a three-digit price in favor of a more accessible, but still premium price.

If you’d like to learn more about my adventures in self-publishing my book, check out the following posts:

Good luck with your pricing decisions!

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. I am also in the process of becoming an E-junkie affiliate because it’s a service that I use successfully.

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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

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What Marilyn Monroe taught me about writing

Sunday, Jun. 15th 2014

I hadn’t painted since elementary school when I went to the Paint Monkey during a vacation in Pittsburgh. My goal? To paint a fill-in-the-outlines portrait of Marilyn Monroe like everyone else in the class. The result? I was reminded of some important lessons that apply to writing.

My Marilyn Monroe portrait

My Marilyn Monroe portrait

1. Showing personality helps

I made Marilyn Monroe’s face purple and her lips yellow because I was feeling rebellious. I “knew” my painting would be awful, so I decided to make it outrageously colored. To my surprise, some of my friends “liked” the photo when I posted it on social media. Sometimes showing personality works.

I’ve written about showing personality in your blog posts in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one” and “Part two.”

2. You can benefit from following someone else’s structure

My painting of Marilyn Monroe is recognizably Marilyn, thanks to my painting in between the lines on the canvas provided by the studio. Believe me, my freehand attempt at painting Marilyn would look nothing like her.

Following a model when you write can provide similar results. My favorite model is to define a problem and then provide a solution. I elaborate on this in “Make your writing easier with my fill-in-the-blanks approach for structuring articles.” You’ll find another model in “Blogging with James B. Stewart of The New York Times.”

3. You learn by doing and re-doing

I made mistakes painting Marilyn, starting with mixing my paint colors. If I could do it over, I’d do a better job. I learned from my mistakes.

Do-overs are easier in writing. You don’t need to buy another canvas or tubes of paint. Just open up the file on your computer and start typing.

______________________________________________________________________

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Top posts from the first quarter of 2014

Saturday, Jun. 14th 2014

Top PostsDid you miss something? Below you’ll find a list of my most popular blog posts from last quarter, as measured by Google Analytics.

Since I wrote “Your call-to-action choice makes a difference” I’ve tinkered with the call to action on my blog, moving my newsletter CTA box back to the upper right-hand corner of my website. I think the move has helped, but the results aren’t conclusive.

 

  1. Email lessons adapted from Hootsuite’s CEO
  2. Your call-to-action choice makes a difference
  3. Tackling Vitriol in Your Digital Spaces <–Guest post by Blane Warrene
  4. 5 Secrets to Finding the Best Virtual Assistant to Streamline Your Financial Advisor Blog <–Guest post by Kathy Goughenor
  5. Don’t sabotage your website’s news page

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Which investment white paper would you read?

Friday, Jun. 13th 2014

Your white paper will attract more or fewer readers based partly on your decisions. Your title—and the way you position your topic—are critical.White paper

I’ve listed some titles below. Think about which you find most appealing. If you understand what boosts the appeal of these titles, you can generate strong titles for your white papers. I welcome your comments on how to approach white papers and their titles.

Which of these white paper titles is best?

  1. Small cap stocks—this white paper could discuss any aspect of small cap stocks. The broadness of the topic cuts its appeal.
  2. Investing in small cap stocks—this title is more specific than #1, but not as specific as the titles below
  3. Why invest in small cap stocks—this title and the two that follow promise that they’ll make a case for me to invest in this asset class.
  4. The case for small cap investing
  5. The benefits of investing in small cap stocks
  6. How small cap stocks may help you boost returns, while reducing risks—this title is more specific about the benefits, which may attract readers interested in those benefits. The title is a bit long and it may make your compliance professionals nervous. Check with compliance before using any title that makes you stop and say, “Is this okay?”
  7. Opportunities in small cap stocks—this title suggests benefits without getting specific. It may be vague enough that your compliance professionals will allow it, assuming you have the proper disclosures in the body of your white paper.
  8. Your short-term opportunity in small cap stocks—”Short-term” adds a sense of urgency. If you don’t act soon, you may miss this opportunity.
  9. A 50-year opportunity in small cap stocks—I’m throwing this in because “Dan Fuss: The 50-Year Opportunity in Bonds” was one of my most popular articles for Advisor Perspectives. Of course, the name of legendary bond manager Fuss contributed to the article’s appeal.
  10. New research boosts the appeal of small cap stocks—if the title refers to proprietary research from your firm, this will help your white paper stand out from the many other white papers on this topic.

What’s YOUR take on these white paper titles? Can you suggest a better alternative? I’m interested in learning from your insights.

For more on what makes for a great white paper, read “White paper marketing: Walk a fine line.”

 

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Top problems in asset management firms’ blog posts

Thursday, Jun. 12th 2014

Investment management firms are joining the blogosphere, but they’re off to a rocky start. Here are some mistakes that I’ve seen as I’ve sampled nvestment manager blogging tipsasset managers’ blog posts.

Mistake 1: Failing to adapt materials written for other media

Materials written for other media don’t transfer well to blogs. For example, I’m thinking about traditional market commentaries and position papers. Many of these commit the mistakes I list below.

The solution? Break your traditional materials into chunks and edit them to make them more reader friendly.

Mistake 2: Poor skimmability

Everybody skims content in these days of information overload. If you present big uninterrupted blocks of text without headings you’ll scare away readers who can’t quickly assess your content’s relevance.

To reel in readers, use informative headings. For example, don’t just write “Bond Market,” but share specific information. Perhaps something like “Convertibles attractive as Fed tapers.” or “Avoid this sector as Fed tapers.”

To enhance the skimmability of your posts, write short paragraphs.

Mistake 3: Excessive formality

The blogosphere is an informal place. Writers typically use “I” and address their readers as “you.” They also shun formal words and writing styles.

Asset managers, your blog is great place to loosen up your writing style.

What do YOU think?

What are asset managers doing on their blogs that you like or dislike? I’m curious to hear your opinion.

If you’d like more guidance on writing blog posts, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

______________________________________________________________________

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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

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Content strategy and someone like you

Wednesday, Jun. 11th 2014

How can you keep the attention of your audience? That’s a big concern for anyone publishing anything these days.

The following sentence caught my eye in The Content Strategy Take Back to Work Toolkit in a Northwestern University class that I just started on Coursera:

In order to hold the attention and interest of an audience, the writer needs to speak in a voice the audience will recognize as someone like them.

Wow! That’s a vote for writing in the voice of a human being rather than an institution, unless you’re an institution trying to appeal to other institutions. I think this is an important lesson for financial services organizations to remember when communicating with individuals.

Still, I’m not convinced that statement is always correct. After all, even if I’m a casual, relaxed individual, would I want the doctor treating me for a serious illness to write in a casual, relaxed style? Formality and gravity might appeal more to me.

Someone like you?

What about you? Do you prefer content in which the writer appears to be someone like you? I’m interested in your thoughts.

______________________________________________________________________

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Writing a list? Use parallel construction

Tuesday, Jun. 10th 2014

Lists are a great way to provide easy-to-skim content. This accounts for the popularity of blog posts with titles such as “Top 10 Ways to…” Close-up Of Black Electricity Paralled lines in Cable Vertical On A Spool or “3 fatal mistakes of…” However, please construct your posts well, or you’ll lose readers.

One of the most important rules for lists is to use parallel construction. What’s that? For example, if the first of your “Three best tips” starts with an imperative verb saying “Do this,” then the rest of your tips should do the same.

Let’s compare Example A, which uses parallel construction, with Example B, so you can see how much better Example A is.

Here’s Example A:

1. Review your blog post to see if it includes the right information.

2. Check to see if the information is presented in the right order.

3. Copyedit your text.

Here’s example B:

1. Reviewing your blog post to see if it includes the right information can be helpful.

2. Check to see if the information is presented in the right order.

3. The final step is to copyedit your text.

If you’re like most people, you found Example A easier to skim and absorb than Example B.

Even professionally edited publications sometimes forget about the importance of parallel construction. I wrote this blog post after reading an article that promised a list of mistaken investment beliefs. Some of the items fit the description of “mistaken beliefs.” For example, the author does not believe that “‘Volatility’ Is For Misguided Geeks.” However, another item on the list shared one of the author’s beliefs instead of someone else’s mistaken belief.  Yet another item on the list was the author’s request to readers. I appreciated the author’s colorful writing. His headings were intriguing. However, I wish that he’d followed the rules of parallel construction.

 

Image courtesy of sritangphoto/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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