Be Specific!

In a recent post on her business writing blog, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston talks about the value of giving examples:

I was on a United Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco this week, when a flight attendant said something I had never heard before.

Usually at the end of a flight, passengers hear an announcement about checking around them for any belongings. “Any belongings” is a colorless expression, something passengers pay little attention to.

But when we touched down in San Francisco, our flight attendant said something like this:

“Please check around to be sure you don’t leave anything behind. Passengers often forget glasses, glass cases, cell phones, crayons, coloring books, paperbacks, gloves, and other things they miss later.”

I immediately thought about my glasses, cell phone, and the book I had been reading. None of those would have come to mind if she had said, “Check around you for any belongings.”

Gaertner-Johnston goes on to explain how examples reduce vagueness and provide greater clarity, and she’s right on the money. I would take it a step further and also argue that when it comes to Trade Press Services’ specialty—writing articles and getting clients published in trade publications—examples are even more valuable. I’d also broaden the definition of example to include such valuable additions as expert quotes, testimony from clients and references to surveys and studies.

When it comes to the trade press, why are examples (in all their forms) so important? First, they reinforce the opinion or information the author is presenting. They provide a context. Suppose an author is explaining “managing by walking around.” Rather than just saying it’s a valuable tool, they should give real-world examples of how managing by walking around has been effective. This drives the point home for the reader and provides real-life scenarios with which they can relate.

Quotes from experts and customer testimonials help to corroborate what is being presented. By using them, the author is saying “Don’t take my word for it—listen to what these people had to say.” Readers respect the opinion of authority figures, and they relate to other business people who struggle with the same issues with which the readers struggle.

Surveys and studies are valuable because not only are they a form of expert testimony, but they often provide “shock value” or reveal attention-getting trends that make great headlines and opening statements. For example, “It’s true—9 out of 10 CEOs are aliens, a NASA study reveals,” is more powerful than “Do you ever wonder if you and your boss are on the same planet, much less the same page?”

So get specific! Take a cue from Missouri, the “show me” state, and make sure your writing is “show me” writing.

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