Awkward Label of the Day: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter

First of all, Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter is just plain tasty! If you haven’t already tried it, I heartily encourage you to do so.

However, the description on the label is not quite so appetizing. The description says “A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits.” Now, there is nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence. However, technically correct sentences can still feel awkward, and that awkwardness distracts from the product.

In my opinion, this sentence does not work because the dependent clause “and made with crushed biscuits” feels like an afterthought. Instead of using the coordinating conjunction “and,” I suggest restructuring the sentence to position the description “reminiscent of gingerbread” at the end:

“A deliciously unusual spread made with crushed biscuits, reminiscent of gingerbread.”

Since “gingerbread” is probably the most attractive word in the sentence for hungry consumers, placing the description at the end also gives more attention to the delightful flavor.

Mmmm, gingerbread…where’d that spoon go?

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.

 

That’s funny! Humor in Business Content

As a technical communicator, I spend a lot of time studying proper document construction. There are rules and suggestions for just about everything from paragraph formation to punctuation choices. However, most writers and editors will admit that there is also an intangible art to crafting business-related content. And part of that art includes knowing when to use humor—and when humor is just not funny.

As with all creative endeavors, there is no concrete answer. For some organizations, humor may never be an option. However, other businesses can stitch lightheartedness into even the stodgiest documents.

The trick is to maintain a message with a consistent tone and never go over the top. I personally suggest always directing humor towards yourself (as a person or an organization), rather than toward customers, clients, or other outside entities. Self-deprecation is generally accepted as a positive sign of humbleness and openness, while making fun of others can easily be misinterpreted as malevolence.

Almost any writing can include a touch of fun, if handled deftly. The best example I can think of is a headstone I saw in Colorado. It read quite simply, “I told you I was sick.” Brilliant!

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.

 

NATO—A Case of Mistaken (Acronym) Identity

Everyone who lives or works in Chicago is painfully aware that the 2012 NATO Summit will be at McCormick Place later this month. It is probably going to cause a lot of traffic disturbances and other inconveniences. But, this event will only last a couple days, so we can handle it.

Rather than worrying about the temporary disruption to my preferred bus route, I have been thinking about acronyms. Yes, acronyms. We see NATO everywhere, and most people probably know that the letters stand for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, some of us (okay, maybe just me) are a little behind the times. Until the Summit became daily news, I thought the acronym stood for North American Trade Organization. Embarrassing, but true! Oops.

But, this honest mistake on my part reveals an important tenet in technical and business writing—if you are not certain that your audience will know the meaning of an acronym, spell it out at first mention with the letters in parentheses. For example, “The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will hold its 2012 Summit in Chicago, Illinois May 20 and 21.” Thereafter, you only have to use the acronym.

As with most communication rules, there is an exception. If you are writing for a very specific audience that already knows the meaning behind the acronym, I do not believe you have to spell out the whole name. In fact, in some rare situations you may even offend your readers by spelling out something they are extremely familiar with. This is a judgment call that highlights another important tenant of all nonfiction writing: know your reader.

And now back to rerouting my bus trips for May 20 and 21…

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.

 

 

Quick Tip for Writer’s Block—Be Boring

Writer’s block doesn’t just strike those intrepid souls writing the next Twilight or Harry Potter. It can strike those of us writing nonfiction, also. In response, many people suggest doing something unusual to cure writer’s block, such as sitting at a different Starbucks than the one you normally haunt or writing at a different time of day.

If those tips work for you, great! However, when I was writing my Master’s thesis just a couple years ago, I found that the best way to deal with my own writer’s block was to be boring—very, very boring. I got into the habit of writing in the same spot at the same time, day in and day out. I went so far as to make sure I was even sitting in the same chair every day and drinking the same brand of coffee. Crazy, I know! But, this method helped me to research, write, and edit a ninety-eight page thesis on the relationship between small business and social media—in under two months.

I think this method worked for me then, and still works, because it creates a rhythm. When I’m sitting in my writing chair, my brain unconsciously feels the repetition of action and sends a signal to my fingers to start typing. Or, at least that’s my hypothesis!

So, if you are having trouble creating content, try being a bit boring. Your fingers might just feel the rhythm!

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.

Biting the Bullet—When to Use Bullet Points in Business Writing

In the last post, I discussed creating effective bullet points using parallel construction. But, where should you actually use bullet points?

Bullets are commonly found in resumes, brochures, and on websites.  These are all good locations; however, the use of bullets is sometimes underutilized in lengthier documentation, such as case studies, white papers, and proposals. I suggest using bullets in these situations, also. The trick is to use a bit of restraint and finesse. A set of bullets on every page is probably too much—but, if you are offering multiple number or phrase-based examples, then bullets (or even multiple sets of bullets) on each page may be appropriate.

Here is a brief example from a fictional case study:

In late 2011, the Illinois Coffee Mug Enthusiasts Association (ICME) relocated to their new offices in Java Park. With the help of Big Bean Movers, the ICME transported 1000 porcelain cups, 12000 jumbo mugs, 900 boxes of filters, and three espresso machines. The entire move was completed in just six hours.

Now, if we separate the numbered items into bullets, the paragraph becomes a little easier to read. In addition, the individually numbered items gain visual influence when standing on their own.

In late 2011, the Illinois Coffee Mug Enthusiasts Association (ICME) relocated to their new offices in Java Park. With the help of Big Bean Movers, the ICME transported:

  • 1000 porcelain cups
  • 12000 jumbo mugs
  • 900 boxes of filters
  • 3 espresso machines

The entire move was completed in just six hours.

One technical note: You may have noticed that in the original example, the word three is spelled out and in the second example it appears as a numeral 3. Generally, numbers below 100 are spelled out in non-technical writing. However, numbers in bullets are usually displayed as numerals, regardless of the formality of the document. This practice maintains consistency between the bullets and increases the readability of detailed information that may otherwise be overlooked.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.