Before a fresh page turns on a new year, a conclusion to the old year must be written.
I’m speaking figuratively, of course, but Merriam-Webster offers something a bit more literal.

The “sassiest dictionary on Twitter” welcomed 2018 with a reflection on 2017’s “words of the year.” Although these sorts of essays are typical hot-take fodder for a ravenous SEO maw, this particular piece offers an opportunity to pause the internet’s infinite conversation.
The words we speak and write and define (and redefine) shape our experiences in profound but subtle and fluid ways. Takes on the words of the year are certainly diversions, but they’re also attempts to ask us to consider why we use the words we use…and what we mean when we use them.
Merriam-Webster tells us that 2017 was a year underscored by the widespread rediscovery of feminism, by the uncomplicated meaning of complicit, by the technical definition of recuse, by the relentless search for empathy, by the high-stakes insult dotard, by the celestial experience of syzygy, by the multifaceted-if-also-mundane gyro, by the confusing denotations of federalism, by the inescapability of a hurricane, and by the omnipresence of the gaffe.
The page may have already turned on 2017, but we find that we’re still speaking and writing and defining (and then redefining) people and politics and prose. After all, a conclusion is not actually an ending, and we’re looking forward to reading—and writing—the next chapter. We hope you are, too.

​When people hear the phrase technical writing, they often hear something like:
        Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod
 incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis
        nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.
The phrase is a bit of a black box—it seems to suggest specialized knowledge, in-the-know readers, and complicated style.
But the real purpose of technical writing is to clarify
to clearly and efficiently transfer information to readers (see, for example, the inimitably easy-to-read Nikon D7000 User Manual):
​For most businesses, technical writing is obligatory work. Because few departments employ a dedicated technical writer, the task of writing guidelines, manuals, specs, directories, releases, and other informational or action-oriented material typically falls on the shoulders of the (collectively recognized) best writer on staff.
Best writer on staff? We’re here to help.

Successful execution of technical writing depends on five general principles: committing to the process, articulating the purpose, identifying the audience, determining the organizational schema, and using precise and concise language to convey the content.
Let’s fill that out:

  • Process: Technical writing is multistep and collaborative. The best writer on staff approaches the job as a project manager—​identifying a team of contributors, setting a schedule, managing the team, and assembling the final piece.
  • Purpose: Technical writing transfers information. The best writer on staff determines what (exactly) readers need to know or be able to do after the transfer.
  • Audience: Technical writing is intended for particular readers. The best writer on staff knows whether readers are new or experienced; whether they need a little or a lot of context; whether they need to absorb or to execute.
  • Organization: Technical writing is purposefully organized. The best writer on staff knows that if the purpose is to simply inform, a chronological or cause-and-effect schema is best; if the purpose is to also instruct, a sequential schema may be better.
  • Language: Technical writing is formal but not flowery, concise but not cryptic. The best writer on staff knows that language should (usually) be active, precise, accessible, and consistent.

Technical writing can be intimidating—there can be reams of information to condense, and the stakes can be relatively high. (And then, of course, there are the not-at-all-insignificant elements of style and format.) But keeping these five principles in mind ensures that the best writer on staff approaches the project with confidence.

In our last post, we talked with Susan Bordson about the pivot to video and the importance of using video in communications as a magnet, not a megaphone.
Today, we want to explore what exactly makes a video like the one for Children’s HeartLink capable of such intense attraction.
When we worked as teachers, we taught our students to read media using the tools of rhetoric. The concepts of pathos, ethos, and logos date back to Aristotle, but because they create the distance so necessary for critical viewing, they’re just as important for the digital age.
Pathos describes an appeal to emotions, logos, an appeal to logic and reason, and ethos, an appeal to the credibility of character. If we view Susan’s HeartLink video through the lens of these appeals, we can begin to see how and why it draws us in.
The video opens with appeals to both pathos and logos. The first images fill the screen with the grayscale urban grittiness of Chengdu, China, and a spare, violin-based melody cuts through the scene. A statistic appears onscreen to mirror the starkness of the city: “90% of children with heart disease live where care is inadequate.”
The next line signals a shift: “Children’s HeartLink is working to change that.” The music also takes a hopeful turn, and we next see the hustle and bustle of a brightly lit city and then the crisp antiseptic colors of a hospital. Here, the appeal to our emotions is made the more intense. In the hospital, we see a gurney wheeled by doctors; the image slows to focus on the still image of a child’s—clearly the patient’s—bare foot. Next, an image of a woman wearing a surgical mask appears, her eyes welling with tears, and we are told in a translated voiceover that “parents everywhere are the same.”
In this moment, Susan matches rhetorical appeal with video technique. The slow-mo hospital gurney and the still frame on the bare foot stretch out the appeal to our emotions. We are given the space to consider a time (in the past or to come) in which a hospital gurney holds not just a patient but a person, someone we ourselves love.
At this point in the video, pathos has done its job—the audience can now intimately relate to material it actually knows very little about. The video thus shifts to more balanced appeals: pathos in the children’s faces and actions, logos in the story of the program’s founding, and ethos in the clear expertise of the doctors.
Susan uses video to execute powerful rhetorical appeals that draw in and convince readers of the importance of HeartLink’s work. But she also makes video an extension of the nonprofit’s mission: just as HeartLink connects experts in heart disease with medical teams in underserved parts the world, its video, too, is a magneta tool of connection.
Susan Bordson knows how to get her point across. She’s an award-winning video producer, creative director, and message strategist who works with national and international nonprofits on high-stakes projects.
Case in point: she created this stunning video for live-audience presentation at a fundraiser for the Minnesota-based nonprofit Children’s HeartLink:
Makes you want to go to their website and donate, no? Go ahead. We’ll be here when you get back.
But you should come back: We recently had the chance to talk to Susan about the much-discussed “pivot to video,” which we’ve watched with interest (like everyone with a foot in the world of digital content). With so many media companies putting all their eggs into the video basket—sometimes even reorganizing their companies wholesale—many are convinced that video is the future of digital media. And while skeptics abound, the trend shows no signs of slowing.
Susan has decades of experience and accolades—and an eagle eye for what works and what doesn’t, both within any given video and in the pivot to video writ large.
“It’s such a paradox that video is becoming such a commodity,” she says, “because good video is so hard to create. In a way, it’s the least commodifiable medium.”
As viewers, we know what she means. Too much of the video out there just seems to get in the way, popping up unavoidably when we’re least interested. But as content creators, we also know that the omnipresent pressure to stay relevant makes it hard to ignore video’s potential reach.
Of course, as Susan points out, that reach depends on integrated decisions that use the best tools to craft the most persuasive message for the most receptive audience.
That’s a lot harder than it looks, particularly in light of the accessibility of video technology. Sometimes, Susan says, that smartphone video app is a great tool. “If you’re a relief organization, and you’ve got workers in the field, they might be able to get some really authentic, moving video on their phones.” Then later, “we can create a piece that we would never have gotten if we had done it all professionally.”
But moving smartphone footage is not enough: “It’s how you take that [footage] and put it together into a coherent message—that’s the expertise that’s often missing.”
An expert knows how to manage the tools of production, from visual elements, to music, to narrator tone of voice and accent. “It’s layer upon layer of all of these subjective calls,” says Susan. And each call matters because together they powerfully (and often immediately) affect a video’s message. “Even if the message is sincere,” says Susan, “if the production value makes it feel like a commercial, then we immediately look for the x [to exit the video].”
The best production decisions, Susan argues, follow from an overarching goal and “a really drilled-down objective.” To guide such decisions, you have to ask yourself whether you “are trying to educate, or move peoples’ hearts.” It’s simply impossible to do both.
Susan’s HeartLink video, for example, clearly falls on the emotional end of the spectrum, focusing almost exclusively on anecdotal information about the organization while really drawing the audience in emotionally.
On the other end of the spectrum, a marketing spot that Susan produced for a product re-launch, designed to reach current and potential users via email and at trade shows, is just as effective—in a totally different way.

Here, Susan uses entertaining, easy-to-understand graphics, text, and narration to provide clear information about a complex product.

Regardless of where a video falls on this spectrum, the difference between making a video that’s compelling enough to share, and making one that’s imminently scroll-past-able, lies in crafting “the right message for the right audience,” says Susan.
Those that miss the mark usually use what Susan calls the “megaphone” approach: it’s a video that screams “I have a story to tell! Here’s the message I’m sending out! I just want to pitch myself and sell myself to anyone within range!”
The opposite of a megaphone? The magnet: “If you think about being a magnet, that means you have to know your audience and know what’s going to be compelling to them and draw them in … Our culture tends to reward megaphones—but it’s the magnets who get things done.”
For Susan, being a magnet means really understanding the tools necessary for communicating a message that reaches your audience. It also means getting up close and personal with your audience and really understanding what you want to achieve with them.
In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at Susan’s videos to determine what makes them—and her—so magnetic.

Let’s not bury the lede: Are you author material? Maybe!

Business leaders and other expert professionals are increasingly inspired to try their hand at authorship. And, as we discussed in our last post, writing a book can be a great idea. Sure, it’s an excellent marketing tool, but more than that, the work of writing a book crystallizes and activates an author’s ideas. It puts an author in conversation with a limitless audience of readers in real and exciting ways.

But writing a book isn’t easy. It usually requires a combination of creativity, determination, persistence, and time management.

At MWS, we support leaders through this process. But first, we ask our clients if they’re ready to become authors. Our vetting process is tough—we’ve learned that not everyone who wants to claim authorship credit is ready for the investment in time, brain space, and, of course, money.

Our best authors are leaders who hit three marks:

  1. They have something to say—not just to sell.
  2. They have a goal—and it’s specific.
  3. They have patience for the process.

Easy, right?

Well, not always.

Let’s take it from the top. A book is an exceptional marketing tool, but it’s neither successful nor particularly useful if its message is buy! buy! buy! Good books are written by authors who have something to say—something that can’t just be said over a power lunch (or a PowerPoint)—not just something to sell.

Second, authors need to know why they’re writing a book. Many aspiring authors cite the book itself as the goal, but we’ve found that this is not particularly sustainable. The investment in writing a book is just too big for the book (and only the book) to be a meaningful incentive. Instead, good books are written by authors with bigger, more specific goals in mind—they want to substantiate their legitimacy by showcasing their knowledge, or they’re ready to tell their secrets in the service of launching a new product or company, or they have a story they want to tell to very specific audiences, or something else (specific and achievable).

Third, writing a great book takes time. Authors of good books have patience for the process. They know that starting with a compelling idea and ending with a smart, persuasive book in hand takes 28 weeks or longer.

​Ultimately, becoming an author in business and leadership categories is an achievable dream. Do your research, and then position yourself to benefit from professionals who can support you on the path to publication.


But books are hard to write.

Books aren’t dead—hooray! But writing a book is still really hard. Despite technology’s inexorable advance, creating a book still calls to mind deeply solitary work—completed in a room of one’s own—and a superhuman ability to conjure up a world using only words.
That effort is still very real, but today, the author category includes a few more entrants. At MWS, we’ve seen an uptick in authors whose first calling isn’t books but business. These are thought leaders who want to write a book to develop ideas, communicate secrets, explain the stories that helped bring about their success, and establish a longer, more meaningful relationship with readers, clients, and colleagues.

For these authors, books function as a long-form (a very long form) business card. A book communicates a seriousness of passion, but it also displays depth of thought. A book can help communicate—by its very existence—a major commitment.
Over the past year, we’ve fielded queries from new entrepreneurs who want a book to substantiate legitimacy, from professionals poised to make late-in-life career shifts who need a book as a claim to belonging, and from authors who want to develop ideas into something that will sustain a series of speaking engagements.

These authors reach out to us because they don’t always have all the tools—for generating ideas, producing polished researched writing, facilitating publication, establishing distribution, creating a marketing plan, or repurposing book content—to produce a successful book.

Our work with these clients has given us some insight into the writers who are ready to become authors and the writers who aren’t. In our next post, we’ll explain some of the differences between the two. 

In our last post, I talked about communications plans, what they are, and why we create them for clients. Just to sum up: we adore them, and you should to.
We’ve talked elsewhere about some of the components I mentioned, namely editorial calendars, style guides, and process charts. In this post, I’m going to focus on another component that we always include in a plan, which is an overview of communications objectives.
On its face, this sounds simple enough—your communications objectives should explain the goals of your communication. Why does your organization put out there whatever it puts out there? What drives the communication? What do you want the end result of the communication to be?
But the challenge is to make the objectives specific and descriptive enough to be useful. If you’re a business trying to reach potential new clients, whom are you targeting, and why? If you’re a nonprofit looking to expand community partnerships and volunteerism, what specific needs will these partnerships and volunteers fill?
It’s worth it to spend the time to create a detailed landscape of your communications objectives, especially as part of a larger strategic plan. Honing in on specific objectives (which should entail specific target audiences and desired outcomes) means that you’re more likely to be able to realize those objectives than you are if those objectives remain nebulous.
Specifically articulated objectives translate seamlessly to direct action.
For example, increasing awareness about your organization’s mission is a valuable and important objective for any nonprofit. But increasing awareness can look a million different ways, which renders it almost meaningless (rather than clarifying) and paralyzing (rather than galvanizing). But increasing awareness among key state legislators who could serve as potential advocates for a specific aspect of your organization’s mission? That entails clear action that makes it a million times easier to realize.

When we work with clients in our capacity as consultants, one of the things we often create is a communications plan. A communications plan addresses all the communications that an organization produces and lays out a comprehensive approach to providing stakeholders with information.
A well-crafted plan defines who should be given what information, by whom, when, and through which channels. Ideally (though not necessarily), it’s crafted as part of a long-term strategic planning process, to ensure that communications targets dovetail with the organization’s larger goals. So a communications plan serves to not only codify, but also streamline and improve the efficacy of an organization’s communications processes.
It’s a game changer.
The components of a communications plan vary widely depending on the organization and its needs, but it almost always includes an overview of communications objectives, target audiences, and desired outcomes; a parsing of communications by channel (e.g., electronic publications such as newsletters or blog posts, print publications, and even events and in-person communication); an editorial calendar that can be developed and managed in-house; and recommendations for improving content and workflow (sometimes including a style guide or process chart).
A good communications plan shows you where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. For organizations where internal communications resources are stretched thin, or for those where communications processes are decentralized and difficult to coordinate, this sort of comprehensive picture is really, really invaluable.
Look out for future posts detailing the various components of a communications plan, how they’re developed, and how they can be used.


It’s a terrible, terrible pun, and I’m sorry I made it.

But sometimes a cliché is overused because it’s apt.
Going with the flow in this case means going with the flowchart. Like an editorial calendar, a flowchart is a surprisingly integral, useful tool for coordinating communications. It gives both a bird’s-eye view of and a step-by-step guide for a variety of processes.
Flowcharts are incredibly useful, totally illuminating, and delightfully easy to make, but they aren’t used very often.
Maybe it’s because, as with the editorial calendar, they feel unnecessary. Or obvious. Or intuitive. Or irrelevant.
But flowcharts shouldn’t be taken for granted. They should be considered a valuable addition to organizational (or communications-specific) agendas.

We recently created a flowchart to help us help a recent client. We needed the chart to better understand our client’s workflow—who produced what, when, and for whom?—but we saw that our client would also benefit from the chart’s big-picture sequencing of their communications protocol.
Flowcharts are obviously useful when integrating new efforts—like new touch points—into current communications processes. But they’re also useful for new hires, who need every tool at their disposal to get up to speed, and for workhorse veterans, whose knowledge base is often locked up inside the professional experience that manifests as intuition.
Ultimately, flowcharts clarify processes, make information accessible and distributable, and contribute to departmental and even organization-wide efficiency.

So (again, I’m sorry), go with the flow!


In the last post, we talked about editorial calendars and why they promote and inspire efficiency.
Today, let’s talk more in-depth.
We’ve already covered the obvious fact that an editorial calendar is part calendar—it includes the cyclical work of reaching out to clients, including launches and events and routine touch-point opportunities.
But the crucial work of the calendar is to provide a space to associate launches, events and routine touch-point opps with relevant content:

  • Invites, RSVPs, reminders, updates, follow-ups
  • Postcards, letters, emails, Q&As, seminar series, slide decks, educational opportunities, volunteer queries

And the even more crucial work of the editorial calendar is that it allows—and really demands—a correspondence between content and production. Each calendar includes:

  • The person responsible for producing/proofing the content (who’s writing this?)
  • The relevant audience personas (who’s this for?)
  • The content’s destination (where is this going? An email, a blog, a white paper, an ebook?)
  • The relevant workflow and associated notes (is this in-progress, complete, posted?)

Lots of programs offer editorial calendar templates or plug-ins, but we like Google Sheets and Trello.

Google Sheets is easy, intuitive for the average Excel user, and basically universal. (Trello is more aesthetically pleasing [and visual people often claim that it’s easier to use]). But with a little front-end customization, you can ensure your Sheets reflect content, author, audience, etc. at little more than a glance. (We use separate tabs to manage current content, scheduled content, and our ideas for the future, too.)
Whatever medium you choose, any editorial calendar is better than none. With the right denotations and assignments, it makes the hard work of getting stuff done much easier.