Jack and Jill can do more than climb hills and fetch water. They can teach 15 ways to mess up your writing, according to Brad Douglas.
Douglas, president and CEO of Shipley Associates used the well-known nursery rhyme to list “15 Ways to Ruin Your Writing:”
- Use weak verbs. Jack and Jill went up the hill to get a pail of water.
- Use unfamiliar words. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a fetch a ewer of water.
- Put introductory phrases at the beginning to push the subject back. To fetch a pail of water, Jack and Jill climbed the hill.
- Put the action at the end of the sentence. Jack and Jill, to fetch a pail of water, climbed up the hill.
- Keep modifiers as far as possible from the words they modify. Jack and Jill climbed to fetch a pail of water up the hill.
- Use the passive voice. The hill was climbed by Jack and Jill so that a pail of water could be fetched.
- Put the doer at the end of the sentence. To fetch a pail of water, the hill was climbed by Jack and Jill.
- Introduce false subjects. It was Jack and Jill that climbed up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
- Pile on the gobbledygook. Jack and Jill ascended the acclivity to retrieve a vessel of Adam’s ale.
- Turn verbs into nouns. Jack and Jill did the hill climb for the purpose of water retrieval.
- Use unnecessary technical jargon. Jack and Jill traversed the gradient to fetch an alembic vessel of H2O.
- Add wordy phrases (fluff). Jack, in the company of Jill, climbed their way up the hill for the purpose of fetching water in the approximate amount of a pail’s full.
- Use multiple redundant words. Both Jack and Jill climbed all the way up to the top of the hill summit to fetch a pail filled to its capacity with water.
- Throw in clichés indiscriminately. Jack and Jill, who need no introduction, climbed up the hill by leaps and bounds to fetch through their good offices a pail of water by hook or by crook.
- String lots of nouns together to form the subject. Jack and Jill water retrieval hill ascent was achieved.
Douglas presented his list during a panel discussion on proposal writing titled, “Getting from Good to Great.” For those of you counting, yes, two separate conferences invoked the title of Jim Collins’ business book.
Diane Wurzer, vice president of proposal operations for MAXIMUS, Inc., said she’s adopted the perspective of Mark Twain toward writing. “‘There are no good writers, only good editors.’ Give your content some time to cool. Remove yourself from it for a period of time. Then come back to it in order to improve it, she said. “I have a phrase on my desk: Write without fear. Edit without mercy.”
Anita Lee Wright, manager of support operations for Northrop Grumman, encourages her writers to imagine their proposal is the last one at the bottom of a tall stack to be read by the reviewers. “They’re tired and they are confused,” she said. “You want to make it as clear as possible to make it easy for them to understand what we offer.”
Douglas also shared 10 indicators of customer-focused writing:
- Is the buyer named before the seller?
- Is the buyer named more often than the seller?
- Is the customer’s vision statement evident?
- Is the vision statement specifically linked to this buy?
- Are the customer’s hot buttons prioritized?
- Is the hot button ownership explicit? If, so, demonstrate that you know this by tying the hot button to its owner.
- Are proof statements related back to the hot buttons
- Are the benefits of the solutions listed before the features?
- Is the content organization announced and followed? Did you make it easy for the customer to follow your structure?
- Is the value prop summarized, and are the next steps clearly defined?