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Archive for the ‘persuasion’ Category

Figaro’s 5 ways to teach a kid to argue

Posted by contentgrrl on January 26, 2012

Years ago, I ran across a site that put Aristotle firmly in mind for his three Rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos. The site, which is lost now, gave some wonderfully homey examples of how a child could use the three appeals to convince her mother to let her go to a certain party.

Recently I ran across FigaroSpeech’s Teach a Kid To Argue.

What?! If you teach your kids to argue, they’ll talk back! They’ll second-guess you! They’ll question everything! They might think independently…oh, wait. I actually want that.

Here is Aristotle’s Guide to Dinner Table Discourse, according to Jay Heinrichs:

  • Argue to teach decision-making, by playing devil’s advocate. “You seem to have good reasons for what you want to do. But what’s going to happen next? What happens down the road? How does that affect your friends and family?”
  • Focus on the future. “What’s a good way to make sure that toys get cleaned up?”
  • Call fouls. “Calling names is not going to win anyone over.”
  • Reward the right emotions. “Expressing anger with whining and shouting is not pathetic enough, because it doesn’t persuade me to empathize with you. Try using a calm, big boy voice.”
  • Let kids win sometimes. Reward a good argument.

Liking this better and better. Aren’t you?

Yep, I got the book: Thank You For Arguing. Chock full of pop culture examples to illustrate rhetorical devices. Thinking of getting his Word Hero once I have time to get through dozens of similar books on my shelf. Anyone read Heinrich’s latest?

And if any of you English & Rhetoric teachers out there can find me a great source on the three appeals, please share.

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Firm response to #McDstories

Posted by contentgrrl on January 24, 2012

Nice use of Social measurement statistics in MacDonald’s response to its hijacked Twitter hash tag (hat tip Business Insider).

But the tweets are pretty entertaining:

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LinkedIn Does A Better Job of Communicating

Posted by contentgrrl on January 23, 2012

OopsSurprising phrase in an email from LinkedIn:

We could have done a much better job communicating about this change, so we want to clarify what this may mean to you…

This was the second message I’ve gotten about its changing feature set for displaying Twitter feeds.

The first alert had left me wondering if my Tweets would still update my LinkedIn status stream. This second message clarified that this service was still intact and unaffected by the change.

Now, Alsup’s Number 8 of 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation is to recognize your shortcomings. “We could have done a much better job of communicating” rang very loud about the faux pas. Think for a minute: LinkedIn might have been a little quieter about their previous oversight. But if they had left out that statement, the message would have come off as a high-handed afterthought, as though the audience was too dumb to realize the previously unspoken detail.

So that statement:

  • Brings LinkedIn down a notch
  • Keeps their reputation friendly and self-deprecating
  • Fulfills that rhetorical appeal of Ethos, or character. Kudos!

Ideally, when alerting customers about a change in services, you include a little disambiguation from the get-go. A good writer knows to anticipate and define terms the audience may find confusing. The writer’s challenge is to select details that will clearly support the purpose of the alert, while assuaging their biggest concerns and promoting a positive reputation for the organization.

In the first message, LinkedIn could indeed have done a better job of distinguishing the Twitter feed box being discontinued from a related feature that automatically integrates Tweets into your LinkedIn status updates.

But they freely admitted their oversight. Bonus, they successfully communicated the difference, while educating members about a feature that many might not have known was available.

It’s good public relations, too. If you want to temper bad news where you must take something away from your customers, come back to admit an oversight and highlight something great that you offer for free!

I may steal this trick sometime in the future. Shhh…

Two questions for discussion:

  1. What did you think of LinkedIn’s decision to remove the Tweets box from member profiles?
  2. What other examples have you seen of companies turning bad news around?

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Poll: Email Newsletters or Onesies?

Posted by contentgrrl on April 11, 2010

Posted in citizen, community, marketing, office, persuasion, publishing, reading, tools, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Lose Visitors To SurveyMonkey’s Default Landing Page

Posted by contentgrrl on February 4, 2010

While SurveyMonkey.com is one of my favorite tools to collect feedback and information from various publics (readers), the default settings can be rather self-serving on SurveyMonkey’s part.

Especially when your visitor finishes the last question: By default, SurveyMonkey will invite them to create their own survey.

If you leave it at that, you’re losing your visitors. They’re a click away from leaving your site to sign up for a free SurveyMonkey account.

Why not take the opportunity to give your visitors one more call to action? For instance, you can direct them to related articles and testimonials on your site, or to relevant product categories, or to details about the contest they’ve entered just by answering a few questions.

The nuts and bolts of it are surprisingly easy, and here I’ll tell you how. (I will say the steps were a tad buried somewhere outside of SurveyMonkey documentation, which is why I felt the need to write this up.)

The instructions below assume you’ve created a survey, and have a landing page on your Web site ready to thank your visitors for completing the survey, and provide the next call to action that keeps them engaged on your site.

  1. On the My Surveys page, click the Collect icon for your survey.
  2. If you haven’t already, select Create a link to send in your own email message or to place on a Web page, and give it a title that makes sense for your purpose.
  3. Click the Collector Name you entered.
  4. In the warning: “Before you send out your link, be sure to review the collector’s settings and restrictions” click the settings link.
    • SurveyMonkey Collector Settings - ! Before  you send out your link, be sure to review the collector's settings and restrictions.
  5. In the Collector Settings page, set fields as follows and as shown below:
    1. Allow Multiple Responses: No.
    2. Allow Responses to be Edited: Yes until they exit.
    3. Display a Thank You page: No.
    4. Survey Completion: Redirect to your own webpage and enter a URL to jump to on leaving the survey.
    5. Save IP Address in Results: Yes (This can give you another way to count unique responses)
  6. Click Save Settings.

That’s it! I welcome your feedback. Stay tuned for more entries on different ways you can put SurveyMonkey to work for you.Collector Settings in SurveyMonkey to point to your own landing page.

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12 Steps to Hatchet Mastery: Less Detail, More Dialog

Posted by contentgrrl on October 26, 2009

Less of just the right detail is more engaging to readers. That works for magazine copy, Web copy, and even proposals.

But in my geeky love for technical prowess and quotable professionals, I once was guilty of being too, um, prolific.

I wrote my first cover story for a trade magazine with an amber-on-black Tandy Radio Shack word processor, aptly dubbed the TRaSh-80. My ambitious draft was 24 screens of helpful detail and quotable quotes. My editor (Bless you, Blake!) said, “Cut it down to eight.”

It was painful, but I did it. I continued to hatchet down my own and others’ articles for years. I made “proof pages” bloody with red ink.

In celebration of Halloween, here are my 12 tips for hatchet mastery:

  1. Inverted Pyramid. Don’t bury the lead. Get to the point. Start with the crucial conclusion you want readers to take away, and sequence supporting details in order of their importance or relevance to the target audience. Fairly quickly, you’ll be able to cut the chaff.
  2. Raise questions. Leave some things unanswered. You don’t have to answer them all right now. That’s for you to do later in dialog/commentary, or for your sponsors and advertisers to do as they build the relationship, or in a follow-up story.
  3. One-Time Only. In some circles, they teach you to tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em. That works in speech and academic print publishing, but it won’t work in magazines or Web content. Just pick the best way to say it once with your key words. Save the lesser gems to polish for a future article.
  4. Select the Best Example. If you’re teaching or training, it’s a good idea to provide multiple examples. It gives your audience mental hooks to connect with you and learn new knowledge. Save such elaboration for the classroom or Webinar. Pick one example that shows off expert credibility, newsworthy timeliness, a picturesque analogy, or the audience’s deep-seated pain.
  5. Trade up for a Picture Worth a Thousand Words. Sometimes when you want to describe a thing, a whole and its parts, a process with inputs/outputs, the flow of a procedure, or an abstract concept, it’s better to illustrate it, which provides visual interest editors and visitors love. If you or your artist design the figure, chart, or photo well enough, you don’t have to reiterate much in the copy. I like short highlights followed by, “as shown at right” or “as shown in the figure below” — or even no reference at all. If it’s shown nearby, they’ll get it.
  6. Replace Lengthy Transitions with Brief Bold Subheads. Breaking up long grey columns of text with subheads shows off your organization, and helps the reader scan for what they want to know.
  7. Change Passive to Active Voice. When you clearly identify the actor and use active verbs, you can avoid the foggy rigmarole of “The prize was awarded to him by the so-called committee” in favor of  “He won the Nobel prize” — eliminating several words in the process!
  8. Shorten Sentences. Split up convoluted or compound sentences, simplifying statements to subject and verb when you can. Sometimes you can cut out “that” and “which” in subordinate clauses, as well as wordy correlative or subordinating conjunctions.
  9. Effusively Cut Adverbs and Fluffy Adjectives and strings of Prepositional Phrases. Do you really need to specify exactly where, when, how, why, which, and to what extent in every sentence? In some cases, that detail is superfluous or redundant.
  10. Bullet Lists. Sometimes you can get the point across with lists of things or short phrases instead of complete sentences.
  11. Fewer Syllables. “Utilize” is rarely better than good ol’ simple “use.” Try Thesaurus.com.
  12. Cut Articles Before Nouns. Unless you must specify which one, see how many instances of “a”, “an”,  “the”, “some”, and so on you can eliminate. Switching to plural may help. You may be surprised how many nouns can stand alone.

These 12 Steps of Wordyholism drill down to your substance, whispering promises of more.

Rather than lull readers to inaction, keep it short and succinct (KISS). Inspire possibilities and questions…Prompt them to action, and increase dialog between you, your readers, and your sponsors.

Posted in illustrating, marketing, persuasion, publishing, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Best Advice on Coding HTML Email Templates

Posted by contentgrrl on October 22, 2009

Sometimes, HTML emails just don’t work the way you expect. In my day job, I distribute HTML emails using a variety of applications, including Marketo, GroupMail 5, and a proprietary app integrated with our software issue tracker. Sometimes, despite my painstaking validation and link-checking, when I use the latter I get recipient feedback of broken links with all styles stripped, my link href URLs stripped and replaced with “/”, and other design nightmares.

The solution? You may have guessed the proprietary app, but it’s not necessarily the problem.   You have to design HTML email templates as if you’re stuck in the mid-90’s, ‘cuz that’s how standardized email clients are.

Anand Graves’s simple WordPress blog includes the most straightforward and comprehensive HTML Email Guide I’ve ever seen.

For everyone who sends HTML emails, here are a few highlights:

  • Much as we love/hate Microsoft Office — do not use Word or Outlook or even copy & paste from them. Office inserts a ridiculous quantity of hard-to-remove mso formatting tags. Thankfully, the WYSIWYG Adobe Dreamweaver ($$$) has a command to clean up Word HTML. If you don’t have the Adobe option and are collaborating with someone who insists on working in Office or Outlook, it’s worth it to paste into Notepad, which strips out all formatting, and then copy and paste into an HTML editor that affords highly clean markup. I invested in Adobe’s Creative Suite, but if i had to go without WYSIWYG, I also like Notepad++ (free). I also like the online WYSIWYG http://www.online-html-editor.org/ in a pinch.
  • Use tables for layout, nesting a narrower 580-pixel-wide table within a 100% table, where the outer table’s cell has a white background. This is to accommodate recipient email clients that ignore the body tag where you usually define the background, as well as email clients that will display your email in a narrow preview (like Outlook 2007, Hotmail, Yahoo, and the like, to accommodate their banner and skyscraper ads.
  • For images, specify both title and alt attributes for cross-browser display of the image description in case your recipient client doesn’t display images by default.
  • Get several Webemail accounts for testing, including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and AIM (AOL), and get desktop clients including Outlook Express, MS Outlook 2003/2007, & Mozilla Thunderbird.

Things I didn’t think of that Anand did:

  • Remove unnecessary HTML tags that will be ignored or removed between you and the recipient. Surprisingly, these include Doctype, HTML, body, meta, head, base, link, script, title, frames, and comments.
  • Instead of stylesheets (Unfortunately, body and head stylesheets are often ignored and replaced with client-specific styles over which you have no control), use inline styles in table cells to define the default font, font color, and font size for your content:
    <td style="font-family: Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px; text-transform: uppercase; color: black">Content</td>
    
  • Use similar inline font/size/color styles in hypertext links, and use short URLs (extensively long URLs tend to get wrapped and broken):
    <a href="http://www.tinyurl.com/####/" style="font-family: Verdana, font-size: 11px; color: blue">blah</a>
  • Send the email as multipart/alternative, one part HTML, the alternative part plain text for the remaining recipients out there whose email clients don’t display HTML. I would rely on the email delivery software or service to be able to handle this (as advised by GroupMail and MailChimp), but Anand Graves’ HTML Email Guide has included instructions for doing it with PHPMailer, available under LGPL license.

Related Links:
http://spamcheck.sitesell.com/
http://www.mailchimp.com/articles/stupid-html-email-design-mistakes/
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/10/16/best-practices-for-bulletproof-e-mail-delivery/

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3 sites for more writerly blogging

Posted by contentgrrl on January 25, 2008

On FreelanceSwitch, I’ve found a new thrill of writerly blogs and advice on improving writing:

In particular, Content Crossroads: Supernatural Success at the Intersection of Ideas is an inspiring model of good writing, even if it is a bit long. The intro reminds me of an homage* in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?, but the meat of the article is 5 ways to observe differently (learn for life, change perspective, free your mind, travel, and listen).

Another site I’m adding to my blogroll is FigaroSpeech, by Jay Heinrichs, author of Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. I’ve bought the book, and I’m both captivated and compelled to try some of those rhetorical tools.

*OK, here‘s the homage to blues legend Robert Johnson from the movie:

Tommy Johnson: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.
Ulysses Everett McGill: What’d the devil give you for your soul, Tommy?
Tommy Johnson: Well, he taught me to play this here guitar real good.
Delmar O’Donnell: Oh son, for that you sold your everlasting soul?
Tommy Johnson: Well, I wasn’t usin’ it.

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report: new evidence for evolution, lack for intelligent design

Posted by contentgrrl on January 4, 2008

Yesterday, the National Academy of Science and its Institute of Medicine published a report, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, touting new fossil evidence for evolution and emphasizing that non-scientific creationist positions have no place in public school science classrooms.

The report emphasizes the need to teach evolution. That’s just in time for consideration by certain state education boards (including Florida and of course, Texas, which I’ve already mentioned in “teaching the controversy: first Texas science classes, then the world”) who are considering adding or adjusting standards for teaching evolution in their curriculum.

The book, which can be read online for free, also takes the stance that creationism and its repackaged intelligent design alternatives are not science, and thus should not be included in public science classrooms:

Despite the lack of scientific evidence for creationist positions, some advocates continue to demand that various forms of creationism be taught together with or in place of evolution in science classes. Many teachers are under considerable pressure … to downplay or eliminate the teaching of evolution. As a result, many U.S. students lack access to information and ideas that are both integral to modern science and essential for making informed, evidence-based decisions about their own lives and our collective future. …

…[T]he science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material. Teaching creationist ideas in science classes confuses what constitutes science and what does not. [page 43]

The conclusion emphasizes that the science of biological evolution forms the basis for biomedical sciences, ecology, and some engineering fields that are profoundly important for the health and welfare of future generations.

Science and religion are different ways of understanding. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of both to contribute to a better future. (page 47)

Why can’t we all just get along? Because we — both fundamentalist and atheist, both anti-evolution and anti-creationism — say hurtful and defensive things that turn us away from each other.

In the Dover, Pa., case, duly appointed judge upheld the evidence presented by the plaintiff (Kitzmiller) to declare a certain school-board required statement promoting an Intelligent Design text unconstitutional. Afterward, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson said “to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God — you just rejected Him from your city.” It seems so unChristian and hateful of him. Just because Robertson didn’t agree with the results doesn’t mean that a loving God would retaliate against the faithful citizens of the town where the case took place.

And yes, I’ve heard my share of “infidels” discounting and insulting creationists. Them’s fightin’ words.
I for one am glad that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If parents and church thought leaders want somebody to teach intelligent design, something clearly the realm of religion, shouldn’t that be part of their Sunday School curriculum?

I found the story originally on beliefnet news, Importance of Teaching Evolution Noted. There is an interesting set of reader comments there. The Associated Press story also appears in Dallas Morning News.

Posted in citizen, community, culture, heroes, heroines, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

teaching the controversy: first Texas science classes, then the world

Posted by contentgrrl on January 1, 2008

Promoters of Intelligent Design may get their wish in Texas, due to state education board appointments and an impending review this month of state-mandated science textbooks.

This week I was passed a Dallas Morning News editorial warning that the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in Dallas has been recommended to prepare graduate students online to teach Science in Texas.

DMN is usually a rather conservative paper, but this time they at least at first took a stance supporting the separation of church and state: “It’s hard to see how a school that rejects so many fundamental principles of science can be trusted to produce teachers who faithfully teach the state’s curriculum.

And then there was the closing call to respect faith: “It’s demeaning for the faithful to tout belief as science. But equally so, the advocates of science should be respectful enough to admit that faith is all that remains when science fails to provide the answers we seek.

The ICR’s CEO wrote a letter to the editor defending his curriculum and calling into question whether the theory of evolution has been scientifically proven. But the ICR stands to gain tens of millions of tuition dollars from students around the world who want a Texas-certified master’s degree taught from a fundamentalist perspective.

An earlier story reported a Texas state board of education employee’s forced resignation, highlighting the tensions around “the first review of the science curriculum in a decade. …As one of the largest textbook purchasers, the state could dictate content across the nation.The agency hopes to fill the position in January, the same time review groups are set to begin meeting and examining each aspect of the science curriculum.”

President Bush has said he advocated teaching Intelligent Design in schools. His protégé Texas Gov. Perry appointed a Bryan, TX, dentist (who teaches Sunday School at a very conservative Bible Church) to the position of chairman of the state board of education, and Dr. McLeroy said he could support an addition that requires teaching the strengths and weaknesses specific to evolution.

Skeptics (including Science Avenger, Texas Citizens for Science, and Panda’s Thumb) think such a tactic of “teaching the controversy” is yet another repackaging of creationism and intelligent design.

Let’s take a look back to 2004, when the Dover, Pa., school board added this requirement to their curriculum, which sounds similar to what TX education board members are looking into:

Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life is not taught.

That Dover school board also required a statement promoting a textbook on Intelligent Design be read to 9th grade students; dissenting board members resigned with frustration and teachers refused on the grounds that they did not believe the statement was true, so an administrator was called upon to do the reading.

In Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, the plaintiffs argued successfully that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism, partly because its proponents did an obviously poor job of replacing the term in a draft of the proposed textbook, and was therefore unconstitutional in accordance with Edwards v. Aguillard. Nova had a documentary on this case recently.

But Teaching the Controversy could leave a big footprint. Once they can establish in the public’s mind that a controversy exists, then it would be much less controversial later to reintroduce intelligent design into public school curricula. Discovery Institute fellows have documented this reasoning and the new Texas state board chairman agrees. And if they establish this controversy in Texas, other states who buy from the same textbook publisher will follow suit.

At church this Sunday, one member asked, “If they add this to the public school’s current 180-day curriculum, then what will they have to take out? Will we have to sacrifice proven science for pseudoscience?”

At home, my husband asks, “Would you trust a doctor, who doesn’t believe in evolution, with the medical treatment of your children?” Well, squarely in the Bible belt, I am certain that many fundamentalists would flock to such doctors were they known.

On a Parenting forum, it brings up the question, “Who is the state board of education to circumvent my rights as a parent in indoctrinating my children on something that is clearly the realm of religion?”

In a more and more cosmopolitan population where more and more people come from different countries, heritages, and belief systems, I am vigilant to examine the sides in question, but I don’t see any scientific evidence on the part of intelligent design, only rhetoric that is either transparently offensive or vociferously defensive. It makes me watchful of steps that could lead a teacher or classmate to belittle, proselytize, harrass, or exclude my sons if they happen to offer an argument for evolution.

On Sept 17, 2007, the Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a report of American creationist efforts to influence European schools that concluded, “If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights which are a key concern of the Council of Europe…. The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements… some advocates of creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.”

I hope the Texas education board will listen carefully to science educators and parents of all backgrounds during the comment period. I hope they don’t make a decision that will have to go to court when the money for that expense would be better spent elsewhere. Say, on research to cure disease or on organizations who help children get out of abusive families into safe and healthy environments.

Posted in citizen, culture, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »