writing and editing Posts

3 Terrific Tips to Reach Digitally Distracted Readers

By Jeff Herrington
Guest Blogger

Today’s readers are more distracted than ever. Thanks to voluminous emails, always-on cellphones, and ubiquitous social media, your audience has more reasons than ever to look away from your newsletter . . . if they look at it in the first place.

Alas, no one is guaranteed an audience these days. But these three tips for writing for today’s more distracted readers will increase the likelihood people check out what you have to say . . . and act on it.


1) Keep sentences to less than 25 words

No exceptions. It’s always better to present info in three, 14-word-long sentences than one 38-word-long sentence. Your content contains four more words but is more approachable. Especially in an era when so much content is getting consumed on cellphone screens that make your articles skinnier and longer. So, keep it short. REALLY short.


2) Use sentence fragments now and then

Giving every sentence a subject and verb is as antiquated an idea as is using words like “forthwith,” and “heretofore.” We don’t talk that way, so why write that way? In the previous tip, I included THREE sentence fragments (“No exceptions,” the phrase beginning with “especially,” and “REALLY short.”) You understood them, and their brevity helped the section zip along. Which is the point. (Another sentence fragment.) 😊


3) Craft tantalizing subheads

Let’s say the topic of your longer article is, “employee benefits.” You could insert subheads like, “Health Insurance,” “Vacation,” and “Special Discounts.” But why settle for the mundane, when you could just as easily craft subheads that say something like, “Your wellness redefined,” “You deserve a break today,” and “Boosting your family’s budget?” Not only are those subheads more alluring to the reader — they also position the company as a true benefactor to the employee in a way the generic subheads do not (you can always place those more generic subheads in parentheses after the creative subheads to help those readers who are scanning the page/screen.)

Respecting the fact your readers have less time than ever to absorb your content puts you two-thirds of the way toward your goal of producing effective newsletter content. Applying the tips above will take you that much closer to the finish line.



Jeff Herrington is a communications consultant and writing coach who helps communication teams write for today’s more distracted reader. Jeff has provided consulting expertise for such companies as Coca-Cola France, Whirlpool, John Deere and Wausau Insurance. His writing and content workshops have been brought on-site multiple times by more than 100 companies in the Fortune 1000, including JPMorgan Chase, American Century Investments, Arizona Public Service, Phillips 66, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

In addition to his consulting, coaching and workshops, Jeff also has composed several crossword puzzles that have been published in The New York Times, and he writes under the name of Jeffrey Eaton as a murder mystery author.

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn or on his Jeff Herrington Communications website.

5 Ways to Make Your Writing Easier to Follow

By Barbara McNichol
Guest Blogger

Whether it’s an email, an employee newsletter, or a message from the CEO, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier for your readers to follow? How can you create a smooth flow that guides them with ease and doesn’t leave the impression it’s tedious to read?

Give these five techniques a try:

Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s intended to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject has occurred. In turn, that subhead allows readers to find the related topic quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.

Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you might use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to separate each paragraph.

Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It aids the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: When crafting a list, use numbers when the order of the points matters; otherwise, use bullets.

Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string of short sentences can feel disjointed. You can add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers don’t get bogged down. Instead, they follow your meaning more easily.

Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object (active structure) is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way (passive structure), it can come across as monotonous. Along with varying your sentence length, remember to break out of the mold (command). Use a combination of commands, passive, and active structure to create a variety that keeps readers interested.

Practice these techniques to make your writing easy to follow, and you’ll get better responses from your readers every time.

To learn more ways to write better, order 18 Days to Become a Better Writer e-guide. Use code 18days for a discount.


Phoenix Public Speaking Barbara McNicholOn a crusade to boost the quality of business writing, Barbara McNichol conducts Writing Essentials WordShops and edits nonfiction books. Over the past 24 years, she has placed more than 350 books on her editor’s “trophy shelf.” She is the author of Word Trippers: Your Ultimate Source for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters.

On an ongoing basis, you’ll gain valuable writing tips by requesting her free monthly ezine Add Power to Your Pen and subscribing to her Word Trippers Tips program (details at www.WordTrippers.com).

Feel free to contact Barbara at 520-615-7910 or editor@BarbaraMcNichol.com and connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Coffee: Energy to Do More; Inspiration to do Better

Paul Barton Communications Coffee Cup

One topic I reference occasionally online in a casual way always seems to draw passionate responses. That topic – c-o-f-f-e-e !

It seems coffee is a caffeinated elixir for writers, communication professionals and creative types. Tweet “Give me coffee or give me death” or post “When the going gets tough, the tough get a double-shot latte” and there will be an outpouring of emotion.

My love of coffee first began when I was a child wandering around the back shop of my dad’s weekly newspaper. I think it was the sugar cubes that first attracted me to the coffee break room, but I was soon lured by the sound and smell of the towering 42-cup percolator. And there was something curiously quixotic watching pressmen using their pica poles to stir cream into their seldom-washed coffee cups.

By the time I reached the age of majority, coffee was my constant writing companion. It got me through term papers on philosophy in college, city council discussions about sewage treatment plants as a newspaper reporter, and late night writing of CEO Town Hall scripts as an internal communications professional. I’m pretty sure if you carefully sniff the pages of Maximizing Internal Communications, you’ll detect the faint smell of Kona coffee from numerous Honolulu coffee shops (Kissaten, Brue Bar, Spero Spera to name a few) where I wrote the book.

Today when I’m working remotely, Starbucks is my go-to “coffice.” Heck, this post was written at Starbucks. Now, I’m not saying I’m there too much but local store managers do have to explain to their District Managers the dramatic dips in their weekly sales that occur when I’m out of town.

Coffee gives me the energy to do more and the inspiration to do better. It’s the best part of waking my copy up and always good to the last word. So, in homage to this magic potion and in observance of International Coffee Day, here’s a collection of my favorite coffee writing resources, coffee quotes and coffee fun facts. Enjoy!


Coffee Writing Resources

Looking for a perfect “coffice” from which to work? My buddy Sam can always hook you up with a good place via his website The Coffice. Be sure to check out his tips on “coffice” etiquette.

Do you love to write while listening to the stimulating white noise of the coffee house but can’t go? Then bring the coffee house ambience to you with this the Coffitivity website. I like to mix in my own stimulating nouveau flamenco music with it (e.g. Novamenco).


Coffee Quotes

“If it were not for coffee, I would have no identifiable personality whatsoever.” – David Letterman

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.” – Perfect coffee, according to a Turkish proverb

“If this is coffee, I want tea. But if this is tea, then I wish for coffee.” – Abraham Lincoln


Coffee Fun Facts

  • Coffee was created about 900 AD. (The coffee in the back shop of my father’s newspaper was not brewed in 900 AD, but did taste as if it were.)
  • Coffee is second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world.
  • A coffee tree produces only 1 to 1.5 pounds of coffee a year.
  • The higher the altitude at which coffee is grown, the less caffeine it has.
  • Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows coffee.
  • International Coffee is Sept. 29. However, every day is Coffee Day at Paul Barton Communications.