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We usually think of writing as a singular contribution, but writing is really a long-term investment. Read on to find out how to repurpose your projects and ensure that your work brings a future return.
Our clients spend a huge part of their day on writing tasks. But starting over again and again on reports, white papers, newsletters, presentations, and internal and external business communications can make writing into a giant bore.

Update your approach by overlapping content and repackaging it for new readers.

To recoup calculable benefits from one-off writing, effectively repurpose and repackage your work. Think:

1. Beyond the basics: The more complex a project, the more reusable material it contains. Ignore shorter press releases or memos; identity pithy sections from larger works and use them as a springboard.

2. Beyond the first form: No written doc should remain in its original form. Think cyclically: presentations become SlideDecks; SlideDecks become infographics; infographics become social media updates.

3. Beyond the copy-and-paste: All written work must offer use-value. A list of bullet points copied from a prospective-client presentation doesn’t resonate on a website.

4. Beyond the summary: Identify a new audience’s expectations. Web readers expect a good story; white paper readers expect researched arguments. Summarize old material, but make it new.

5. Beyond the one-and-done: Repurposed content is evergreen, of course!

Make your written materials work harder for you. The effort may not mean less writing, but it does mean less work.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association—now in its sixth edition since its inception in 1929—is a constant companion to many of our academic writers (whether they like it or not!). We recently interviewed Mary Lynn Skutley, the editorial director of APA Books, who headed up the manual’s latest revision. From Skutley, we learned firsthand just what goes into the making of this slim volume, frenemy to so many.
Needless to say, revising the manual and its five ancillary texts is an undertaking of imposing proportions. “It feels like messing with the Bible,” Skutley said. “I was really aware [of that] and really didn’t want to make changes that were not necessary, because of how much people rely on it.”

Despite its biblical authority, Skutley and her team know that the APA’s role is to serve the manual’s users and reflect their concerns rather than dictate rules from on high. Ultimately, the APA’s primary responsibility is to meet “the needs of researchers and writers, to make their work easier and to encourage the smooth dissemination of information.”

Of course, revising the manual is a Sisyphean task, given the ever-changing universe of scholarly publication. Creating the sixth edition was a painstaking process that entailed soliciting feedback from general users, panels of experts, and internal task forces and editorial boards: “One paragraph in the manual may be the product of an incredible volume of discussion and analysis,” Skutley reported.

Many of the updates reflect changes in technology and information sharing. In the sixth edition, Skutley explained, “there were a lot of changes in referencing, with the beginning of digital object identifiers [DOIs] and changes in tracking online resources.”

Other updates involve trying to eradicate bias in language and dealing with historical bias in existing publications; making the organization of the Manual more intuitive and user-friendly; and clarifying concerns about intellectual property and plagiarism in light of changing practices around data sharing.

Maybe the most useful addition has been a companion blog that works to keep pace with changes in the field between editions. APA’s editors diligently respond to questions and criticism, and flexibility is a priority in their decision-making. Skutley wants to “make things as easy for the user as possible—so rather than developing new forms for new kinds of references, for example, we’re trying to use existing forms and communicate them through blog posts.”

As an editorial maven herself, we asked Skutley about her favorite resources for writers. Her personal go-to text is Joseph Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. For APA users, she also recommends the blog, along with the manual’s companion website.

As for the seventh edition of the manual, its timing “really depends on what happens in the field over the next several years,” Skutley says. And she’s grateful for a bit of respite before starting to push that boulder up the hill again.

Did you know that around 53 million estimated freelancers—about 1 in 3 workers—make up the American workforce? According to recent reports in The Economist, freelancers define an increasingly on-demand economy and augur a future in which rootlessness and flexibility will dominate. It may make sense to rely on Lyft or Handy for your driving or household needs. But does it make sense to hire an on-demand writer or editor?
As ever, the answer depends. If you are part of a business with a strong communications department looking to outsource a few finite and low-stakes projects, an on-demand market like Elance might be right for you. It offers a forum in which businesses pitch projects and freelancers compete with the lowest bids.

If, however, you are part of a business with a solid but overextended communications department, or if you expect top-quality materials at first pass that reflect and respond to your business’s mission, principles, and clients, the benefits of an on-demand editor or writer might not be worth the transactional cost.

In the on-demand marketplace, employers outsource parts of projects to specialized workers: Employers take a risk on a relatively untried entity, and workers compete to offer the cheapest rates. While the piecemeal, competitive approach works for some services, it can result in an inconsistent, substandard product for others.

This is particularly true of writing and editing projects. A business communicates its vision of itself in the documents it produces. Whether internal or external, every project is high-stakes. While a one-off editor may be able to offer an immediate solution to a temporary problem, there’s no guarantee that the services won’t be worth the low price paid. When the stakes and expectations are high, a writer with whom you are building a relationship will offer both immediate solutions and future strategies.

We embrace the on-demand economy—but maybe only part of it. For us, the time we spend building client relationships is the best part of what we do. We’ve learned (and our clients have, too) that with every project we complete, we are better prepared and more capable of anticipating and exceeding our client’s future needs.

We love books; you love books. Send us an email to join our book club.
Whether you’re starting the new year with a new project, or looking to wrap up your dissertation or publication this semester, finding the right writing support is key. If your writing group isn’t translating to publication-ready pages and you’re considering working with a professional, it’s useful to understand what kinds of support are available and how to find the best fit for your needs.
Of course, finding someone you are comfortable working with is just as important as finding someone with the necessary technical skills. Here are six issues to discuss with potential editors:

• Type of edit: Having a paper edited can mean many different things, and some editors specialize, while others offer a range of services. Are you looking for a simple proofread (i.e., a check for typos and spacing problems), do you need a developmental editor (i.e., someone who can help you develop a draft-in-progress by identifying areas for development and streamlining structure), or something in between (i.e., a substantive edit or copyedit)? Often, writers aren’t sure exactly what they need. A good editor should be able to look at your document and quickly suss that out.

• Method(s) of communication: Do you work in Word, or do you need someone who is comfortable with LaTeX? Do you prefer to communicate online, or do you want to meet face-to-face? Consider what you need in terms of the logistics of communication.

• Style: It can be hard to see someone examine your writing with a critical eye—but of course, that’s an editor’s job. The nature of the approach varies, however: do you prefer someone with a soft-and-gentle approach, or a take-no-prisoners approach? Think about how you respond to criticism and find someone who’s going to complement that.

• Experience: While some editors may specialize in particular fields (e.g., health sciences, humanities, etc.) it is virtually impossible to find someone who is a subject-matter expert on precisely your topic—and that’s okay. An experienced editor is used to working with unfamiliar content. For editors, flexibility across disciplines is more important than knowledge within a discipline. This is less true of documentation styles: finding someone who has specific experience with whatever style you’re using ensures more efficient work.

• Turnaround time: Are you a long-term planner, or do you tend to work last-minute? Find someone whose turnaround can accommodate your work habits (but be wary of anyone who claims to turn around a 150-page manuscript in 48 hours). If you have a set deadline for a project, make sure to communicate that up front, and be aware that most editors charge a higher rate for rush work.

• Pricing: Some editors work on a per-project basis, others per-hour, page, or word. Make sure the terms are clear, and don’t be a sucker for bargain-basement pricing. When it comes to an editor’s fee, you may find out that “too good to be true” is absolutely accurate.

A good editor should be willing and able to discuss all of these issues and to provide references upon request. And many will perform a sample edit of a few paragraphs or pages to give you a sense for the scope and style of their work.

While it can take work to find the right editor (and courage to share your work), the benefits are great: You’ll end up with a polished piece of writing and a relationship that can serve as a future resource. In fact, in our experience, it’s a relationship that only gets better with time—working with a good editor on an ongoing basis means that the editor can get to know you as a writer, can work more efficiently, and ideally, can support you on individual projects while also helping you becoming a stronger and more confident writer.

When we last wrote, we argued that the business world’s contemporary focus on big data demands a concomitant attention to storytelling. Now that storytelling is de rigueur, we offer insight into its most important elements.
By noting that storytelling is the most effective way for a business to demonstrate its ethos to an audience, we join a chorus of singers belting out the same tune. Much has been written, but little has been explained. Just what makes a story good, and how do businesses craft good stories? 

We all intuitively recognize good stories: a good yarn piques our interest and engages us. A great story connects with us in a way that outlasts the story’s end. 

Consequently, crafting a great story requires establishing and sustaining connections that are meaningful enough to resonate with increasingly sophisticated readers. 

How are such connections forged? While identifying the right readers is certainly crucial, businesses must also offer readers consistent and consistently genuine insights into their brands.

Such insights depend, not surprisingly, on consistent language. While most businesses possess mission statements and mottoes, these rarely offer language that is flexible enough to be continuously generative.

A business must also be able to express:

  • A direct apprehension of its value.
  • A comprehensive vision of its product and service.
  • A recognition of the motivation that drives its staff.
  • A stone-cold identification of its clients.
  • An explicit desire to build relationships.

A thorough and precise accounting for these fundamentals allows businesses to build a glossary—what content strategists call message architecture—that can be used in different ways to speak to value, vision and motivation. 

Such a glossary is invaluable for consistently crafting really good stories. But just as important, it enables cohesive communications across the board, from internal emails and memos to external reports and presentations. It can also simplify connected cross-platform outreach, from business newsletters and websites to LinkedIn pages and Twitter handles.

If storytelling were only about entertainment, writing stories would be easy. However, a really good story—one that outlasts its ending—must do much more. To put it plainly, when it comes to storytelling, consistency counts.

At MWS, we often work with coauthors to develop writing plans, streamline and correlate the editing process, and prepare papers for publication. We love watching the creative possibilities that the coauthor relationship can foster, but we know from experience that the conditions for such possibilities must be thoughtfully planned. Read on to find out how to make your next coauthored project an efficiently executed success. …
Studies show that collaborative scholarship is on the rise in many fields.[1]  And most researchers are well aware of the myriad benefits that can result from coauthorship.[2]
But what can keep scholars from enjoying collaborative research—or engaging in it at all—are the very real logistical and intellectual challenges posed by the coauthor relationship. As editors and writing consultants, we know that careful, advanced planning and open, formalized communication offer the cure to almost any coauthoring ailment. Here are the most important things to consider:

1. Make sure long-term plans are clear from the start. Each coauthor’s interests may be driven by something very different—an impending review, interest in a particular journal, longstanding research goals, etc. Whether you intend to work together on a series of paper, coauthor one main paper while individuals take on sub-papers, or something else, sketching out long-term plans at the onset of your collaboration will ensure that the goals of everyone on your team are met.

2. Relatedly, make sure the details of authorship and intellectual property are crystal clear. While some fields may dictate specific authorship criteria, others are far looser.[3] And as Fine and Kurdek (1993) note, these decisions can be complicated by issues of seniority and interpersonal clashes. An open and ongoing dialogue about contributions and responsibilities can engender clarity, particularly because the specifics of authorship credit may very likely need to evolve along with the project.

3. Keep a written record of all discussions and agreements. Headaches stemming from misunderstandings and miscommunication can be avoided with clear recordkeeping. This includes not only agreements about authorship, but also deadlines, publication goals, and all other decisions that affect the project.

4. Make use of technology. Tools like Endnote and RefWorks, Word’s “track changes” function, and the cloud’s many data sharing possibilities make the logistics of collaborative work far less challenging than ever before. Find the right tools for your project, and get all your coauthors on board with using them.

5. Clarify the division of labor for the actual writing of the paper. This may depend on various coauthors’ interest in and facility with writing, the agreed-upon terms of authorship, or other factors. Clarifying responsibilities for other process-related issues, which may not seem important at the outset but which can be very time-consuming (such as compiling individually authored sections or handling the actual journal submission), ensures far more efficient work.

6. Use an editors’ trick of the trade and create a style sheet for all of your coauthors to follow. This upfront time investment will ultimately—and exponentially—simplify the process of collating individually authored sections. Once the paper’s content is complete, consider designating the most experienced writer as the paper’s ultimate editor—or, better yet, hire an expert who can suss out inconsistencies and correlate usage, style, organization, and more.

[1] For example, Ginsberg and Miles (2011) and Greene (2007) document these trends in legal and scientific research, respectively.
[2 ]We’re thinking not only about the intellectual benefits and possible advancements to scholarship, but also the way that coauthoring allows individual researchers to gain experience in new areas and take on projects for which they might not otherwise have time. Some even consider coauthorship to be a solution to declining journal acceptance rates).
[3] See, for example, the useful survey of the authorship guidelines of prominent scientific organizations included in a study by Osborne and Holland (2009).

References

Fine, M. & Kurdek, L. (1993). Reflections on determining authorship credit and authorship order on faculty-student collaborations. American Psychologist, 48(11), 1141-1147.

Ginsberg, T. & Miles, T. (2011). Empiricism and the rising incidence of coauthorship in law. University of Illinois Law Review, 2011, 1785-1826.

Greene, M. (2007). The demise of the lone author. Nature, 450 (7173), 1165-1165.

Osborne, J. & Holland, A. (2009). What is authorship, and what should it be? A survey of prominent guidelines for determining authorship in scientific publications. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 14(15), 1-19.

We love books; you love books. Send us an email to join our book club.
In our last newsletter, we linked to Harvard Business Review’s discussion with The Washington Post economist Jim Tankersley about the merits of framing data with narrative. In this newsletter, we’ll explain why data without a story falls flat.
As evidenced by the cleverly reflexive “In One Chart” graphic, “big data is suddenly everywhere.” Readers want complex information condensed—ideally—“in one chart.”

Consequently, “analytics,” “visualizations,” and “data stories” (a new narrative genre, according to Stanford researchers) represent our hyperlinked future.

But data has its limits. While its abundance is magnificent, data does not necessarily resonate with readers’ experiences. Data certainly educates, but it seldom motivates.

At MWS, we agree with analytics marketer Daniel Waisberg: people need narrative to synthesize data. Accordingly, we find that simple storytelling is crucial to connecting organizations with their audiences.

However, simple storytelling is not easy to create. This is particularly the case today, as readers are urged to “be suspicious of stories” and are increasingly skeptical of the overt branding storytelling can clumsily deliver.

An organization (whether or not it identifies as brand-driven) can contextualize its data by first explicitly identifying its audience and by then determining the golden ratio between data and narrative appropriate to that audience.

We augment the approach described by Jim Stikeleather (chief innovation officer at Dell). To do this, we consider an audience’s level of expertise on the subject matter and the level of detail with which they’ll likely engage.

For a business report to funders, we might identify our audience as managerial and use accessible success stories to frame data. For internal marketing campaigns, we might identify our audience as expert and create copy from historical research and internal interviews.

While readers want accessible information “in one chart,” our experience and research suggests that big data cannot communicate as compellingly nor motivate as meaningfully as a well-written story. It’s the difference between conveying this point with a chart and telling the story about why data benefits from narrative.