Catching Your Reader’s Attention

We live in a fast-paced culture. Our average attention span is 8 seconds. Goldfishes’ are 9. The key to writing blogs that catch and hold your readers’ attention is to keep them short and focused on a catchy topic. Here are some tips to guard against rambling:

Use Subheadings to Prevent Topic Drift

Subheadings can help break up your page and make it easier for the reader to follow along. They can also help you stay on target. If you can’t figure out how to tie your subheading to your title, you probably are off course. Subheadings give you a chance to check your heading and stay on target.

Reference Your Header Paragraph

You spend extra time on your header paragraph, making sure it is tight and attractive to your readers. Don’t be afraid to go back to the metaphor you used at the start and mention that goldfish again. Doing so will help you tie everything together and keep you from drifting off on a tangent.

Refine Your Topic

If you are having trouble keeping your post short and sweet, it’s probably because your topic is too broad. Take the time to distill your topic to its purest form. What is the one point you are trying to make? If you’re making 2 points, you’re writing 2 posts. Refine your topic and increase your focus – honing in on the one main thing you’re trying to say.

Tie It All Together In the End

Your closing paragraph is just as important as your header. It gives you a chance to call your reader to action and drive your point home. Make sure that closing paragraph connects to your header and all the headings. Just like you learned in high school writing class: Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you told ’em – then give them something to do with it.

You have 8 seconds to catch and hold your readers’ attention. If you go on too long or stray from your topic, you’ll lose them. Stay focused, use subheadings, and tie everything together to get your readers from beginning to end.

Lisa Schmidt is a ghost-blogger and blogging coach for LegalLinguist.com. If you need help creating your professional blog, contact Legal Linguist today for customized writing and editing assistance.

The Terror of the Blank Page

It sits there, staring at you, taunting you with your inability to fill it. But I assure you, you are mightier than the blank page and it is easily vanquished once you set aside your terror. Continue reading

Your Blog is a Conversation, Not a Brief

We’ve all seen it: an attorney who speaks eloquently and clearly, but his or her writing is so dense you can barely read it. We have slogged through briefs so full of legalese that even we, as trained lawyers, needed to keep the legal dictionary close at hand. Now imagine that brief in the hands of a prospective client. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the way some law blogs read, if they are read at all.

You wouldn’t spout legalese to a client sitting across from you in an initial consultation, so why use it in your blog. Unless your target clients are other lawyers or very savvy business executives, that kind of language will cause your prospective clients to tune out and stop reading.

Instead you should write every blog as though you were talking to an average client. Someone who is probably educated, but likely has little legal expertise. Some people say blogs should be written at a 8th grade reading level. That may not be practical in a legal context, but it should remind you not to aim too high. Try to imagine the potential client sitting across the table from you. If you would have to break it down for him or her, then you should do so in your blog too.

A conversational tone is crucial too. Most people don’t want to be lectured. They want someone to explain the answer to the question burning in their minds. So rather than write a treatise on your practice area, try writing your blog to answer questions you think might come up for prospective clients. Even when you’re summarizing new changes of the law, remember that many potential clients end up on your site because of their question, not the legal news.

By cutting out the legalese and making your blogs conversational and easy to read, you will increase the benefit they give to potential clients and make them more likely to convert to paying clients. If you need help writing your blog in plain English, contact ghost blogger Lisa Schmidt.

Top 10 Grammar Slip-ups to Watch For

What Grammar Mistake Do You Always Make?

Image Source: http://agbeat.com/editorials/the-case-oxford-comma/

We’ve all done it, published a post and then realized, “Oops! I misspelled something! Quick, fix it!” It doesn’t matter how many times you read over your work, though, if you don’t know the rules your posts will be littered with errors. And grammar counts when you’re trying to impress your readers with your expertise. So here are the top 10 grammar rules to watch for in your posts:

10. Apostrophes’ Importance

Make sure you are putting your apostrophes in the right place. “Attorney’s” means 1 lawyer owns the thing. “Attorneys'” applies to more than one.

9. Names’ Difficutly

While we’re on the topic of apostrophes, remember that Jesus’ name may not need another “s”, but the Jones’s name does. It’s a matter of historical significance.

8. It’s Not Difficult

Yes, we know, sometimes everyone makes a typo, but the difference between “it’s” (it is) and “its” (belonging to it) can drive some readers nuts!

7. Avoiding the Improper “They”

Even though you’re trying to be politically correct and watch your word count, you still can’t call a person “they.” He or she is correct, or the wordy phrase “he or she,” but “they” means more than one. Try alternating genders instead. When talking about a business or organization, use “it”.

6. They’re Sometimes a Problem

While you’re looking at “they,” make sure you’re using the right one: “they’re” means “they are,” “their” means belonging to them, and “there” means the place.

5. Make Sure You are Effective

On the topic of wrong words, many people confuse “affect” (a verb) with “effect” (a noun). Unless you’re talking about psychology, “affect” should never be tied to “an” or “the.”

4. Then Make it Accurate

Another common word-choice error is using “then” (indicating time or order) instead of “than” (a comparison).

3. Avoid Being Redundant Again

In this age of acronyms it can be easy to forget what we are actually saying, but take another look to avoid accidentally saying things like “PIN number” (“personal identification number number”) or “ATM machine” (“automated teller machine machine”).

2. Make Fewer Errors

It can be easy to confuse “fewer” (used on something countable) and “less” (used for quantities that cannot not counted). If there’s a unit of measure involved use “less” but if it’s something discrete like “employees” use “fewer”.

1. Put Enough Commas in Your List

When listing more than two items or ideas, put a comma after each one including the one right before the “and”. While modern grammar allows you to skip this last comma, the result can be strange and confusing, like in the picture above.

Using proper grammar will help you look like an authority to your readers. Grammatical errors can be distracting and confusing. Keep these tips in mind while proofreading your blog posts and keep your readers happy. If you need help writing content for your blog, contact ghost writer Lisa Schmidt.

Yes, Proofreading Matters

ID-10065185In this Internet age, with memes and Facebook posts that ignore all sense of linguistic integrity, is there any need to check the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of your Internet marketing? Won’t your readers forgive you for using the wrong “to” in your blog?

No, they won’t. Your readers come to you for authority and expertise, not for a moment of comic relief or social connectedness. And nothing destroys credibility like a confusing grammatical error, especially if it relates back to your business.

For example, I recently received an offer for social media services from a professional virtual assistance company. In the title of its email it promised to provide services “you never new you needed.” I did not read the rest of the email.

Why? Because if I am going to hire a virtual assistant, one of the attributes I will be looking for is attention to detail. The same is true for lawyers. Even though many of us are not literary and social media gurus, the public expects us to be well educated and attuned to “every jot and tittle of the law.” Prospective clients think that if we can’t be bothered to fix the spelling in our marketing materials, we will certainly make bigger mistakes in handling their cases.

You wouldn’t send in a résumé without proofreading it, would you? Sending out marketing materials to prospective clients is just the same. You are asking the public to hire you to do a job and to pay you money. Shouldn’t you put your best foot forward?

That is not to say you should hold to all the legalistic formality you were taught in law school, but using an informal tone, even on the Internet, does not excuse obvious grammatical errors. Even if only a small percentage of your audience notices the error, it will hurt your reputation and likely lead those readers to hire somebody else.

If you need someone to provide editorial assistance on your next blog, contact ghost writer and blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for a consultation.

3 Benefits of a Well-Written Brief

Speaker at PodiumYou heard it in law school: it’s important to include a well-written brief with every motion. But why? Is it really worth the time and effort to write the brief when you can just argue the motion yourself at hearing? Here are 3 reasons why you should take your professors’ advice.

1. Framing the Issue

How you frame a question can help sway the decision maker’s answer. For example, in determining child support, one party may want the question to be “How much should an unemployed person be expected to earn in this economy.” The other might say “Should the father be punished because the mother voluntarily quit her job?” By taking the time to craft a brief around your version of the issue, you can control the direction of the hearing even before stepping into the courthouse.

2. Prepping the Judge

On many motions, complex facts or intricate legal circumstances can make the difference between success and failure. If there is some distinction that wins the argument for your side, you want the judge to be aware of it ahead of time. In the above example, the father wants the judge to know the circumstances of the mother’s job loss. The mother wants the judge to know all about her income and monthly budget. Use the brief to prepare the judge so that he or she knows what to listen for at the hearing.

3. Prepare for the Hearing

Even if you have a judge with a reputation for not reading briefs, it is still worth your while to prepare one. Why? Because it will better prepare you for your argument. By researching the competing legal theories and preparing your arguments in advance you will be ready to deal with the other side’s arguments on motion call. The brief will put the answers to the judge’s questions at your fingertips when you are at the podium.

A well-written brief is the strongest tool in your toolbox on motion day. It puts the judge in the right state of mind going in, and gives you everything you need to make a convincing argument. The time it takes to research and write the brief will be well-spent and will often make the difference between winning your case and placating an unhappy client.

 

Why Should You Care About Active Voice?

MC900391700I’ve mentioned it a couple of times – it’s a good idea to use active voice instead of passive when you are writing. This general rule is valid for legal briefs and blog posts. But why should you care? If both sentences say the same thing, what does it matter how you say it?

1. Active voice makes clear who is doing what to whom.

You can write much more clearly by structuring your sentences: subject, verb, object. The subject is who or what is doing the action, which is the verb. The object is the thing having the verb done to it. Passive sentences are arranged: object was verb by subject. This can be confusing because the reader sees the object first and can easily mistake it for the subject.

2. Active voice tends to be shorter

Active voice tends to use less words because you do not need as many connecting words like was and by. For example: The police arrested the defendant is shorter than The defendant was arrested by the police. Over the course of a 10 page legal brief those couple words per sentence can add up. They are even more important in a blog where word count matters and writers are racing to keep the reader’s attention.

3. Active voice is more interesting

Action verbs grab your reader’s attention better than passive verb pairings. This gets into word choice a little too. You can keep your reader engaged by writing The police chased the defendant instead of the defendant was pursued. An engaged reader reads faster and enjoys your writing more.

As a lawyer, you have been trained to wade through passive voice and other grammatical muck and mire. You spent countless hours reading dense court opinions filled with passive voice. Police reports and even statutes are loaded with it.

But just because you can get through passive voice, doesn’t mean you should subject opposing counsel, your blog readers, or even judges to this cumbersome and often confusing legalese.

5 Linguistic Tricks to Make Your Words Count

MP900341496Last week I told you the ideal length for your blog posts. But if you are used to longer forms of writing – anything from legal briefs to novels – you might still have trouble hitting that 250-500 word mark. Here are 5 tips to help you cut the fluff and get right to the heart of your blog.

1.  Don’t Worry About Word Count at First

This might seem strange, but don’t fret over your word count during your original draft. Trying to rewrite each sentence as you go will only bog you down and distract you from your topic. Once you have a few blogs that hit the 250-500 target, you’ll start to get a feel for the length. Stop writing when your point is made, and then go back and rework the wordy parts. You’ll find you can drop as much as 50 words without losing any effect.

2.  Don’t Fear Contractions

In the more formal parts of your life you were taught not to use contractions. They were scorned in school and treated like slang. But blogs can be different. Remember my article about tone? Blogs are aimed at your target audience who, unlike the judge in your next big lawsuit, won’t be offended by casual language. It may only save you a few words, but changing ‘did not’ to ‘didn’t’ will do a lot to improve your blog writing.

3.  Justify Every of and to

Formal writing teaches you to overuse phrases like ‘in anticipation of’ or ‘with regard to.’ These linguistic patterns use extra words that bear no real weight. When editing your blog posts, look at all your small words. Can you rewrite the sentence and avoid that ‘of’ or ‘to’? Many times you can, and your tone will be stronger when you anticipate rather than do something ‘in anticipation of’ or write ‘regarding’ something instead of ‘with regard to.’

4.  Use Active Verbs

The passive voice wastes a lot of words. Passive sentences happen when objects have things done to them (‘the ball was thrown by the boy’), rather than when subjects do things to objects (‘the boy threw the ball’). By rewording your sentences using active verbs, you will reduce your word count and increase your words’ impact.

5. Avoid Covering Old Ground

Last week I mentioned cutting out tangents or explanations for later use. The reverse is also true. If you have explained the meaning of a concept before, don’t waste words going back over it again. Instead, use the concept and link it to your previous explanation. If necessary you can summarize to make the concept fit within your new post, but avoid telling your readers the same things over again.

There are lots of ways to tighten your writing style and make your blog more readable. As you write more blogs you will find yourself making these changes automatically, sometimes even in your first draft. You might also find that some changes make their way into your other writing, often for the better.

Tone Matters

Business Colleagues Working TogetherI’m going to try not to sound too much like your legal writing professor here, but tone really does matter. It’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it. I touched on this issue a little bit in a previous post, but it is important enough to stand on its own.

Tone is about how your writing sounds when read aloud (or in the reader’s head). Is the vocabulary so ostentatious that a thesaurus is a necessary companion to the piece? Or does it sound like you are talking to a 5th grader? Either extreme can be a problem. Your job as a writer is to balance the sophisticated sound of authority against the approachable sound of a conversation.

There is no one-size-fits-all. In fact, if you are a practicing attorney and a blogger you should probably have two distinct tones. Your blog should be casual, use contractions and the occasional joke, and avoid any complex terms of art. On the other hand, your legal briefs should sound far more sophisticated, be free of contractions, and emphasize technical legal terms when appropriate.

But why does that matter? If someone wants to read about what you’re writing, they should be able to handle the occasional lexical complexity, shouldn’t they?

Maybe, but no one likes to feel uneducated. If your readers feel that the topic is over their heads, the will simply stop reading. Most people do not browse blogs to find lectures. They want concise, understandable explanations to their issues.

Even judges and legal commentators prefer simplicity. There is a slow-moving trend toward plain English in legal writing. “Heretofore”s and adverbial clauses can bog down even the most sophisticated legal argument. Ask yourself if the extra verbiage is necessary, or if you are just including it out of habit.

The single best way to test the tone of your piece is to have someone else read it to you. (This is also a great way to check for typos.) How does the person sound when he or she read it? Is he or she stumbling over any portion of the work? If it is a blog post, would you sit and listen to this for 500 words if you could easily switch over to looking at cute cats?

After a bit of practice carefully crafting your tone, you should find it comes more easily and consistently. Still it never hurts to do a check once and a while to make sure you still sound like you should.