Why Write Case Studies?

Writer: Teresa Madaleno

Everyone loves a good story right? Case studies are an effective, yet underutilized way to tell stories. As a business owner or sales director you might worry that case studies are too long and boring – that no one will read them. The truth is, if positioned well, case studies can paint pictures, evoke emotions, and lead to action.

Generally case studies start with a problem, outline various solutions and then offer proven results that showcase your product or service as the best solution for the problem.

So why should you consider writing a case study for your business?

  • They can position you as an authority
  • They can explain how to solve a problem
  • They can provide social proof
  • They can lead to spinoff content like blogs, newsletters, and videos.
  • They can generate sales

Case studies take time to develop. If done right, this means weeks or months. Of course, once the writing is done, you have to market the case study or should I say, maximize your case study conversions. You see that it is well worth the effort when your studies lead to interest in your products or services. Few people can become expert case study writers overnight, but I try to help get you started with my writing guide, which is coming out this fall so stayed tuned and I will let you know how you can get a copy.

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Interviewing Tips

Writer: Teresa Madaleno

interviewingAside from people asking for advice on writing, I am often asked the question: How can I become a good interviewer? I have had young journalists, human resource professionals, law enforcers, health professionals, students and business managers ask me to teach them how to be better at interviewing.

To teach interviewing is difficult, but here are some tips that can help you to really connect with people.

  • Prepare– this is the most important part of the interviewing process. You have to study up on the subject’s background. Large business organizations and some news organizations have a staff whose job is to collect background information. Not everyone has the luxury of a staff to collect background so do your homework yourself if you have to. Your background research will not only familiarize you with the subject, it will give you confidence going into a conversation, as well as make your subject more comfortable about opening up to you.
  • Ditch the notes: Many people make the mistake of carrying their research notes to the interview and clutching on to them like they are a life preserver. Don’t do that – get rid of those notes once you have read over them. It is best to take a more casual approach and allow the conversation to flow naturally. Having those notes with you can be a distraction. For example, what if the interview subject says something really intriguing, but you are hung up on the next point in your background notes and don’t pick up on this great opportunity to dive in and ask a question based on what you just heard?
  • Focus on connecting: Good interviewers are able to make people feel at ease. When a person feels at ease, they are more likely to talk and reveal interesting tid-bits about themselves. One way to make people comfortable is to match their mood during the interview. For example, if they seem like they want to be serious- you should be serious, if they seem like they are high energy – you should use high energy. Matching their mood, tone, energy level, language style; both verbal and body language, will go a long way in helping secure a good connection.
  • Empathize : It has always been thought that reporters and people who hold powerful corporate positions don’t care about people. They just care about getting the job done. If you show people a little understanding when you are having a conversation with them, they are more likely to open up to you.
  • Absorb your surroundings: Whether the interview takes place in an office, a house, or at some other location, glance around. There could be books, trophies, and photos etc. that reveal something about your subject and will spurn questions.
  • Establish ground rules: People use the term “off the record” a lot, but sometimes they don’t fully understand it. In other cases, they may understand what the term means, but once you discuss with them what you’d like to include in your writing or report and exactly how you would present it, they change their minds.

Good interviewing skills are important in building new relationships, gathering information or just becoming a good conversationalist.

The best questions to ask are those that are open-ended. They begin with How? What? Where? When? Why? They encourage expansive answers. One of the things I can remember from my days of teaching college journalism was how students would make the mistake of asking “yes” or “no” questions. Here is an example…

Journalism student: “Did it feel good rescuing the dog from the frigid waters of the lake?

Interview subject “Yes”.

Journalism Student:Were you worried you were going to drown along with the dog?”

Interview subject: “Yes”.

Journalism student: “Were you glad when you made it to shore?”

Interview subject: “Yes”.

Not too riveting.

This would be a better approach…

Journalism student: “What did rescuing the dog in those frigid water feel like?”

Interview subject: “It was freezing, but I am glad I went in and I am so relieved that I was able to reach him.”

Journalism student: “What was going through your mind as you ran into the water to rescue the dog? Why did you do it?”

Interview subject: “I just knew I had to reach the little guy. I used to have a dog and know what it is like to lose a pet.”

Journalism student: “Tell me how you felt when you realized that both you and the dog were safe on shore?”

Interview subject: It all happened so fast, but I was happy it all worked out. I’m just glad I spotted the little guy and was able to help.”

It’s important to remember that we are human and can make mistakes. In an interview situation, it is okay to edit yourself. In other words, you can say ‘Excuse me, but that was not a great question, let me put in another way…’

Interviewing can be a lot of fun; it does not have to be a chore. You never know where an interview can lead and that is what can make it exciting.

Writing a Good Speech

 

Martin Luther King's  "I Have a Dream" Speech

Martin Luther King’s
“I Have a Dream” Speech

 

Speech writing is one of my favourite types of composing. It allows me to employ many of the skills I have developed in a long career in the communications field. Research, humour, body language, story-telling; they are all used in the process of writing and presenting speeches. I do realize that speech writing isn’t everyone’s favourite task; however, sometimes even those who shy away from public speaking are thrown onto the stage and must make the most of it. Believe it or not, anyone can write a winning speech. No, not all of us can be like Martin Luther King Jr., but we can do a solid job if we set our minds to it. What it really takes is a little careful planning.

Here are some of my pointers for writing a good speech:

  • Before you begin writing a formal speech, create an outline. Answer the following questions: who am I going to be talking to? What is my main objective? What experience or knowledge can I offer the audience? What are the main sections or points I want to make in my speech?
  • Make sure you know the subject you are about to write about. You want to sound confident; as if you are an authority. The creative parts of your speech will only work if they are supported by strong knowledge. The audience will trust you if you seem well-informed so do your research.
  • Remember that this is not a formal essay or business paper you are writing. A speech is conversational so you should be writing in simple, short sentences. Write the way you would talk. Multiple clauses and long sentences will confuse your audience.
  • Personalize your speech by using examples from your own life, from work experiences or from stories you have heard from others. Make a joke or laugh at yourself to put the audience at ease.
  • Avoid using the same words over and over again. Your speech will sound too repetitive so change the words. Check a thesaurus often when you are writing your speech.
  • Keep track of how long your speech is. Some of the best speeches ever written are only a few minutes in length.
  • Always have a powerful closing.
  • Once you have your speech written out, read it out loud. Pay close attention to how it sounds and how easy or difficult it is to read. If there are any tongue twisters then change the wording. If something sounds confusing to you, it will likely be confusing to the audience so change it immediately. Always, always keep it simple.

 If you tackle your writing with a positive attitude and try applying some of the above pointers you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can turn a speech from dull to dynamic.

Some of The Best Writing Advice I Have Received

During my writing career I have been fortunate enough to meet, as well as work with some really accomplished journalists, news directors, editors, professors and authors. Along the way I have learned a great deal from all of them…so whenever I get asked for writing advice I like to refer to what they once told me; tips that I took to heart. I hope you find this advice as helpful as I have.

The best of the best writing tips…

  • Tell the stories that only you can tell. There are always going to be better writers than you, but you are the only you on the planet.
  • Consistency in your writing is key!
  • If you don’t take time to read a lot, don’t bother taking time to write.
  • Don’t kid yourself – the first draft is never close to what the final draft should look like.
  • Don’t spend time with people who are not going to support your writing efforts.
  • Collect stories from everyone you meet.
  • Every sentence should do one of two things: reveal something or advance the action.
  • Get a copy of Elements of Style.
  • Read your copy out loud.
  • Write every day.

 

 

Writing Groups

 

IMG_1960

Writers like to discuss their work with other writers, much like painters tend to hang out with other painters. A lot of it has to do with support.

Being an artist is not for everyone. There is a certain level of uncertainty attached to artistry that some people are uncomfortable with. The majority of writers for example are not connected in any way to the top levels of success. There is much more certainty in other professions. This is one of the reasons writers groups are becoming more popular – they serve as a great support system for people who already make a living from writing, want to make a living at it or just write as a hobby.

I have been writing my entire career and just recently joined two writing groups, one in my local neighbourhood and one in a town not far away. Both groups serve as great motivation for future projects. I always walk away learning something from our discussions. It is also nice to know that I can share my knowledge with those who are new to the writing game.

During one of my last meet-ups a discussion came up about the most difficult part of the writing process. Several people stated that the middle of their stories often fell flat while the beginning and end tended to be stronger. We each threw ideas on the table for improving “the middle”. Some of the ideas were note-worthy, others were destined for the trash. The discussion eventually parlayed into a debate about the best guides for those who are new to writing.

I won’t say one writing guide is better than the other; however when it comes to beginning, middle and end, Nancy Kress does an excellent job in her Elements of Fiction Writing. She shows you how to find effective ways to tackle problems as you build your story. Everything from creating drama, revealing characters effectively, developing credibility and controlling prose is covered in this guide. Following the advice in Elements of Fiction Writing-Beginnings, Middles, Ends can help writers get their story off to an exciting start, keep the readers engaged through the middle, and end with a bang. Easy exercises are included in the book to help you strengthen your writing skills.

If you are a beginner or amateur writer, Elements of Fiction Writing is a tool you might want to consider.

Can Writing Really Be Taught?

Some novelists enjoy debating whether the art of writing can really be taught. Teachers on the other hand look at it from a more practical point of view. They have seen evidence that suggests people can learn to be better writers.

To teach writing isn’t always an easy task; however, what teachers do can make a major difference in what students are able to achieve as writers. Theory and lectures are fine, but students need to write a lot – they need to be given time to write and revise. As someone is rethinking and revising they are able to slowly bring about improvements. Writing and revising is not enough though; they need to read. Reading anything and everything makes a person a better writer. When I was teaching post-graduate journalism students I would often have them take a break from a writing exercise so they could read or so I could read to the class. It doesn’t matter what you are reading if you are interested in being a writer; just read, read, read.

While as a budding writer you have to work hard at the craft, your teacher needs to do his/her part. The teacher needs to be well versed in theory and be able to turn that theory into practice. He/she must also be able to adjust to the individual styles of each student. I am a firm believer that when it comes to writing, one-on-one instruction is vital. I also believe that general comments on a paper don’t help a student; line-by-line dissection does.

New writers must be encouraged to develop their skills outside the classroom. It is not enough to simply use good habits once-in-a-while. When you think about it, we all do an excessive amount of writing in our daily lives: emailing, texting, blogging, making web-sites, keeping diaries or journals, working on projects or sending someone a birthday card. It is helpful when teachers emphasize good writing outside the classroom and when they can extend projects outside class, making writing more relevant for students.

It can be flattering to feel that someone’s work is a gift as opposed to labour so it is understandable why some argue that writing can’t be taught. Consider this though – if people can really argue that writing can’t be taught then the same would be true for many other creative endeavours such as painting, singing and dancing. We don’t hear many people debating whether or not these forms of artistic expression can be taught.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Generate Ideas For Essays

At some point most of us have had to write an essay or a short piece of writing. It might be something that you have to do on a regular basis; it might be something you have to do right now.

Many people; particularly students, say the hardest part of essay writing is getting started. They often grapple with what to write about. Generating ideas for your essay or short body of work doesn’t have to be that difficult. Below are a few suggestions that I often share with people who ask me, “how can I come up with ideas?”

  • Free Writing – this is the practice of writing down the first thing that pops into your head. It doesn’t really matter if it seems disconnected or if the grammar and spelling is all wrong, just get it down on paper. Often times writing without rules can bring out the best ideas. A good way to free-write is to type nonstop for several minutes without lifting your fingers from the keyboard. Don’t stop to think about making corrections. If you get stuck then type the word “stuck” or “free” until a new word pops into your head. While the paper may not look pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t matter because you are writing for yourself at this stage. You will see once you go back and read that a certain word, phrase or a sentence will likely formulate a great idea for a specific  essay.
  • Reading – books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, even flyers and posters can help generate great ideas. Reading information from a variety of sources can stimulate our thinking and provide us with all sorts of new concepts worth exploring. Sometimes the best approach is to read about topics you enjoy. It can be difficult to immerse ourselves in subjects that we find boring or hard to comprehend. When we read about topics that interest us, we tend to ask more questions. Sometimes those questions can lead to essay ideas.
  • Talking – when we are open to communicating with others about our difficulty it can lead to fresh ideas. We can talk to who ever we want about our essay or writing project. Don’t be afraid to approach anyone who you are comfortable with and you know will be open-minded. It could be siblings, parents, professors, close friends, neighbours, co-workers or someone you admire for their work.
  • Airwaves – most of us have discussed with a friend or co-worker something we have heard on a radio or television broadcast. Think about it – if radio and TV generates that much conversation then it can generate ideas too. For example, I recently heard about an awful fire at a nursing home in Whitby Ontario. This could generate all sorts of essay ideas…like Nursing Home Safety, Caring for Elderly, Retirement Home Standards, Women in Firefighting, the Physics of Firefighting, and The Stress of Professional Firefighting. The point is that just like newspapers and magazines, daily news programming is a good jumping off point for many people searching for topics to write about.
  • Associations- most communities have associations, clubs or networks that meet from time to time. Many even have guest speakers that give presentations on interesting topics. It is worth finding out what groups exist in your neighbourhood and who is going to be speaking in the near future. Perhaps whatever they are going to be talking about could lead to an idea for you.

I am sure there are other ways to generate ideas, but I have found the above very helpful and I hope you do too. If you have any tips on generating essay or article ideas, I would love to hear from you so I can pass them on to readers.