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Communication: “Shipping News” Your Writing

Communication: “Shipping News” Your Writing

One very influential book in my collection of such books is Annie Proulx’s THE SHIPPING NEWS. It looks a little out of place next to Covey’s THE 8TH HABIT, Welch’s WINNING, etc. But there’s a great reason it’s there.

The book is about a man moving to Newfoundland and landing a job at a small newspaper. Quoyle’s not particularly bright, but this isn’t much of a hinderance. Newfoundland is an island off the upper east coast of Canada (and somewhere I’d love to live), and it’s sparse, but gorgeous.

Shipping News as a Verb

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What separates Proulx’s writing in this book from most books you’ll read is how sparse her sentences are. They’re short. Each one is tiny. They don’t even always fit with grammatical correctness. Something like this.

Are you getting it?

Now, what I’m saying is this: people get TONS of things to read in a day. My day-job email is clocking about 200 emails a day. My second life email is around 100. When I get a missive, I have to scan. I don’t have time to read every volume or tome that comes my way.

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Not to mention blog posts. I scan over 100 blogs a day, and that requires the same treatment.

Suggestions

  • Mix short sentences in with long.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Break up text with subtitles (like this post).
  • Give visual queues, even if it breaks grammatical form. (Look up at my “Are you getting it?” line).
  • Use small words where you can. (Don’t say “obfuscate” when “confuse” or “distort” will do.)
  • Put really important stuff up top.
  • Close with action.

Close With Action

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In emails, blog posts, and most correspondence, the writer assumes something that’s not entirely true or accurate. The writer assumes that the reader will diligently read all the way to the bottom of the post or email, and that everything will be absorbed as if there will be a test on it tomorrow. Not so.

One way to get repeatable “full reads” of your email/post is to ensure a call-to-action at the bottom. You can be explicit: “Action Items: Dave- write a review for the site” , or you can be a little more soft-shoe. “I really want your advice on this. Drop me a line when you have a moment.”

Get your readers into the habit of fininshing your emails/posts, and it pays off. But that’s a promise you have to act upon. You have to promise to make all your emails and posts WORTH reading, and with a payoff based on the content you provide. Only then will there be the proper relationship between you and your intended audience.

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Does this work for you? I’d like to know.

–Chris Brogan’s most recent call to action is to co-found PodCamp, a FREE unConference about audio and video podcasting being held in Boston on Sept 9-10 at Bunker Hill Community College (venue sponsored by Museum of Science, Boston. Come meet the producer of the Life Hack podcast at PodCamp.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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