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PostHeaderIcon Copyblogger Weekly Wrap: Week of September 19, 2010

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This week, I finalized my plans to join the Blogworld hullaballoo in Las Vegas, which is where I’ll be winning my fortune at the blackjack tables, or possibly losing my house, or possibly not even playing blackjack at all. Blackjack is the game where you hit the ball on the rope until you wrap it around the pole, right?

Now, I try to be understanding, but you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get Copyblogger to buy you round-trip first class airfare and a $3000 per night Sky Loft suite at the MGM Grand. The negotiations were intense. “But I write the wrapup,” I argued. “Who are you and why are you hiding in my closet?” Brian retorted.

And so it goes.

I decided in the end to be a team player anyway. Be sure to look for me by the pool, wearing my homemade shirt that says, “Forget sex. Teaching Sells.”

Here’s what happened this week on Copyblogger:

Monday:

Why Being Too Diligent About Your Facts Can Hurt Your Content

Hooray! We don’t have to obsess over tons of contradictory facts anymore since any one of them could be wrong, incomplete, or tainted. Definitely check out Sean D’Souza’s alternate “moderate research” approach. Thanks, Sean! I’m off to write those posts about spontaneous generation and heliocentricity I’ve been holding back on.

Read the full post here.

Tuesday:

Discover Your Strengths and Supercharge Your Business

Notice how the news never tells you about all the people who didn’t get killed? And notice how you tend to obsess on the negative things, comments, and criticism surrounding your blog? Sonia says to focus on what you do best and do it better if you want to get more mileage. Sounds more appealing, anyway.

Read the full post here.

Wednesday:

7 Ways the iPad Can Bring Back Your Writing Mojo

I don’t totally understand the iPad. It’s like Apple took the iPhone and made it bigger. What’s next? Are ghetto blasters coming back? Still, Shane says they’re cool and would know better than me, so he’s got a list of 7 awesome apps to get you inspired and writing — maybe while cleaning your new, fashionable, gigantic satellite dish.

Read the full post here.

Thursday:

The Responsible Blogger’s Guide to Dealing with Big Brother

Another good title for this post would have been, “The internet is forever, so watch out or that video of you rollerskating in your underwear will leak out and go viral.” How you deal with comments left on your blog, stuff you’ve said casually, attribution, and libel could all come back to haunt you, so ignore it at your own risk. (Alternative way to deal with Big Brother: change the channel.)

Read the full post here.

Friday:

Follow Your MAP to Greater Writing Productivity

I have to agree with the sentiment in the first paragraphs of this one, which is, “Wow, outlining a writing project makes me want to barf.” But I have to admit that Chris Birk makes a good argument for why you might want to do it anyway — in a simplified, more purposeful manner that will make your writing sparkle. But hopefully won’t make you barf.

Read the full post here.

This week’s cool links:

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant writes and sets up cheap* blogs and websites at JohnnyBTruant.com. (That’s “cheap” as in “inexpensive,” not as in “tawdry.”)


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PostHeaderIcon Follow Your MAP to Greater Writing Productivity

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When you hear the word “outline,” do you give a little shudder?

You’re not alone. For so many of us, the outline evokes painful memories of five-paragraph essays, clumsy thesis statements, and prayers for snow days.

Outlines tend to make writers, especially younger ones, feel confined and boxed in, forced to quell their creativity for the sake of structure.

It’s time to let those middle school nightmares go. An outline can be so much more than where Roman numerals go to die.

In fact, when you learn the right approach, an outline can actually make you a better writer. I know it sounds hard to believe, but keep reading and I’ll explain what I mean.

MAP it out

Effective writing has structure, no matter what kind of writing you’re doing.

An outline is just a way of making that structure visible. A well-crafted outline makes you a more productive writer when it’s time to put pen to page.

It’s also the foundation of your MAP.

Sorry for the caps … I’m not yelling. It’s actually an acronym that stands for:

  • Medium
  • Audience
  • Purpose

Most forms of media writing (and yes, a blog post counts) can be boiled down to these three basic elements. The scope and nature of a writing project can change, sometimes dramatically, if one of those elements shifts.

Say, for example, you want to create a news release about your company’s latest innovation. The way you present and organize information for that project will be different than if you were going to write an article for a respected industry publication instead — even if you’re writing about the same innovation.

In that case, two elements — audience and purpose — shift. That means the entire article has to change its focus. With a workable outline, you can make that change much more easily.

A fluid outline is crucial to knowing where you are on the MAP. Writers who work from a rock-solid outline tend to save time and energy by avoiding the hassles of heavy edits and rewrites. That foundation also makes it easier to change when one of the elements that make up your MAP changes.

Here are a few ways to help improve the process:

1. Start with a brainstorm

It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to simply sit down and write that speech or company memo from start to finish. It can also prove hazardous to those who cherish coherent and logical writing.

Don’t come in cold and expect to start pounding out paragraphs effortlessly. In this regard, not much has changed since that persuasive essay you had to write in high school on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Embrace the “pre-outline outline” methods that favor ideas over organization. Brainstorming, mind mapping, or free-associating words and phrases on your given topic can help you think of innovative new ways to approach your material.

From that freeform mish-mash of ideas, you can start to refine and craft your outline.

2. Develop a core message

This is the calm after the brain storm. Forming a central message or concept is key to a successful piece of writing. This message and its tentacles will weave throughout the piece, carrying readers through all corners on a wave of cohesion and comprehension.

If you can’t boil down your writing project to a single sentence, you probably need to sit down and think about it some more.

This is the central nervous system of your outline. Everything is built to support and strengthen this concept. Scour those pre-outline outlines and cull all the information you can find that helps flesh out and develop your core message.

Every new concept, every thread within the body of your writing project needs to come back to this idea. A writer who asks or expects readers to connect the dots themselves isn’t writing effectively.

3. Refer to your MAP

Once it’s finally time to use your outline to start writing, be sure to refer to your MAP.

What’s the medium? Is this a blog post or an article or a business communication? And how should your style change to accommodate that?

Who’s the audience? Who, specifically, are you talking to? What specific language do they use? Do they want a formal or an informal approach? Would they consider some kinds of writing to be completely inappropriate? Mentally fix a single member of your audience in your mind and write as though you were speaking directly to her.

What’s your purpose? Are you trying to persuade your reader to take a new point of view? Are you asking her to invest time or money or energy in a project? Do you have a call to action?

Make sure you know what the point of your writing is. You’ll need to remember to drive that purpose home in several places, but particularly at the end. If your audience doesn’t know the purpose of the writing, it’s going to be difficult for them to do what you want them to do — even if they like what you have to say.

4. Give yourself some deadlines

Build staggered deadlines into your outline. Tweak them as needed, but don’t let yourself wander around your writing project without specific deadlines. This is a simple productivity tool that can help you balance all the projects on your to-do list.

The degree of flexibility may shift considerably if you’re writing a book as opposed to a time-sensitive document like a speech or report. Most writers work better with deadlines, and these built-in markers can help shepherd you through a more efficient writing process.

About the Author: Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation’s number one dedicated VA lender, and Growth Partner, a unique firm that provides angel investment and online marketing expertise to emerging companies. He blogs at Write Short Live Long.


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PostHeaderIcon The Responsible Blogger’s Guide to Dealing with Big Brother

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“What should I be doing better with my blog?”

That’s one helluva question, isn’t it? As someone who blogs to support a thriving business, I think about that question every day.

There are a lot of answers, many of which involve sexy topics like traffic, subscribers, and getting one zillion followers on Twitter.

But when’s the last time you sat down and answered the question above with:

“I should be paying more attention to blogging ethics.”

Not so sexy.

But as bloggers, we have to face facts about the world we live in. It feels like an anonymous platform where we can do and say whatever we want. But 2010 has a lot in common with 1984, and Big Brother comes in some forms that George Orwell never dreamed of.

You need to be aware of one very important fact that many seem to forget:

You can’t unGoogle anything

When you launch your words into the blogosphere and social media universe, you’re laying a digital footprint in concrete. That concrete is the Internet Elephant, and it never forgets.

Old versions of your site are cached. Facebook privacy blunders have ugly real-world consequences. And the Library of Congress is even planning on archiving our tweets. It feels like you can’t be held accountable for your rash words, but you can.

Here are some tips on blogging ethics that will help keep your reputation clean. Especially if you’re going to make blogging a part of your business, you need to protect your interests.

Your comments policy

The bottom line is, it’s your blog and you have ultimate control over what gets posted in your comments section and what doesn’t make the cut.

Please realize that whatever policy you decide on, not everyone is going to agree with you. I personally have a “post all comments” policy, except in instances of spam or blatant self-promoting garbage that adds nothing to the conversation. I also hold all comments that include links from first-time commenters for moderation (legitimate commenters are then white-listed).

Some blogs allow trash talk, some don’t. Some allow profanity, some don’t. Every blogger needs to figure out what to do with the trolls. It’s your blog and your call.

It’s always smart to make your comments policy clear. My developer is working right now on coding my site so my comments policy shows up in a cool style below each post.

If you become known for deleting comments just because the reader isn’t a fawning yes-man, your credibility and authority will suffer. On the other hand, letting the trolls run free or allowing spam to trash up your comments won’t do your reputation any favors either.

Proper accreditation

If you use photos in your blog posts, use legitimate sources for images. (Assuming, of course, you’re not using your own images or photos.)

Photos purchased from stock photo houses usually don’t require photo credit, although a few do. On the other hand, images you get under a Creative Commons license do have various requirements, usually at minimum a credit to the image owner.

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t steal other people’s images or words and put them on your blog. That content doesn’t belong to you. It’s unethical and scummy.

When you love a blog post so much that you want to send it to your readers, it is not okay to copy the post and paste it into your own blog or newsletter (even with accreditation) unless you get permission from the blogger.

A better way to show your adoration is to select a handful of quotes (I prefer to stick with no more than 50-100 words) from the post and then provide a link back to the original post, with credit to the author.

Understanding libel

Ohhhhh — legalese! (The recovering attorney in Brian Clark will love this one.)

Some bloggers make a hobby of calling people out for what they consider to be inappropriate practices, stupid decisions, or the like. Other bloggers are just plain malicious.

If you’re going to go down this road, get your ducks in a row first. Read up on what constitutes libel. You owe it to yourself. What you might consider “free speech” could get you into trouble, as the line between opinion and malicious intent can be a very fine one.

Make sure you have a liability insurance policy in place (this is a must). If you’re a member of The Author’s Guild, they offer Media Liability Insurance. You can also contact your insurance agent for a general business policy, but make sure it also covers libel and slander.

You are not invisible

Some people imagine that the internet lets them don a Cloak of Invisibility that bestows permission to do whatever the hell they want.

It’s simply not true. You are responsible for your words on the web (and in life) no matter where you leave them or how anonymous you think you’re being.

I don’t accept anonymous comments on my blog (including commenters who give fake email addresses) and here’s why: it shows me you’re not willing to be held accountable for your words.

If you’re running a blog, there are some pretty cool tools you can use to verify identity or lend at least some level of “real world” status to a commenter you might hold in question.

  • Email address verification tools: Did you know you can check any email address to see if it’s valid? Yep. And it’s free and easy. I use this one on a regular basis, but a simple web search for “verify email address” can point you towards others.
  • IP address verification: Most comment systems (Disqus, InstenseDebate, and WordPress’s built-in system) display the IP address of every commenter to the moderator. I use WhoIs to verify IP addresses (I had to do this just last week for an unfortunate situation). If you continuously receive spam comments or inappropriate comments from a particular commenter, you can block an entire IP address from your blog. If you need help with this, just ping your comments system or hit up the WordPress Codex for tips on combating spam and unwanted comments. Disqus and IntenseDebate have built-in blacklist features.

The best thing I can do here is to put just a bit of healthy fear into you.

You’re not invincible, you’re not invisible, and you have a responsibility to both yourself and your audience.

While you might have been looking for a more entertaining post on ethics (given my propensity for, ahem, colorful language), putting your thoughts out there on the web is serious stuff.

As I said, nothing can be unGoogled. It’s not like a late-night TP-ing of your least favorite junior high school science teacher’s house. Drive-bys don’t work online.

Strong ethical guidelines can keep your brand and keep your blog shop clean. If there are other best practices I’ve missed, lob them into the comments section below. While we don’t want to go all George Orwell, you have to remember that 1984 still applies in 2010 … and beyond (and it’s not such a bad thing).

About the Author: Erika Napoletano is the Head Redhead at RedheadWriting LLC, a Denver-based online strategies consultancy. Her blog, RedheadWriting, is a bastion for “unpopular thoughts and blunt advice — delivered” and consistently strives to say what others won’t (but should) about marketing, social media, business integrity, and life in general.


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PostHeaderIcon 7 Ways the iPad Can Bring Back Your Writing Mojo

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The iPad is here. And it’s here to stay.

There is a sea change going on within the mobile computing industry. And despite the cool, slick look of these devices, it’s not the hardware that makes them useful. It’s the applications (apps). Apps are little engines of innovation driving the current (and future) trends in computing, publishing, print, and media.

There are apps for everything you can imagine. In fact, the latest count shows there are more than 250,000.

But did you know that there are even apps that can help you get your mojo back if you need some writing inspiration?

Before you read on, note that there are some great non-mobile device tips here on Copyblogger for getting inspired to write.

Ready to get your mojo back? Great, let’s hit the apps.

1. Web Roulette

To find some writing inspiration, take a spin on Web Roulette.

This app has a number of categories (humor, blogs, technology, bizarre, comics, entertainment, art/photos, opinion, Wikipedia), which pull up random sites as you “spin” the wheel.

When you sit down with this app, it’s best to have a little bit of time and a way to capture your ideas as you explore. The blogs category is an obvious place to start, but consider sources like opinions and art/photos.

Web Roulette gets you out of your usual reading ruts. You can check out Web Roulette here.

2. 23,000 Great Quotes HD

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not. ~ Mark Twain

Ever read some really good quotes to give you some writing inspiration? It works.

You probably won’t be tempted to read all 23,000 in one sitting (unless you’re on deadline, of course), but you can spend a few minutes reading others’ words of wisdom with this app and see how quickly your mojo starts to creep back.

This app is more than just a bunch of quotes thrown on a page. It is organized into more than 20 categories, with quotes from 7,000 authors, and you don’t need an internet connection to enjoy it. Check out 23,000 Great Quotes here.

3. Popplet

Sometimes a good brainstorming session is really all you need to do to get a little inspiration flowing. With the iPad, you have a ton of options, but one of the best options is a good app for some non-restrictive idea generation.

Popplet is a brainstorming app that is both serious and fun. Go find a place away from distractions. Then use Popplet to visually organize your thoughts and ideas.

Typical uses are for task lists, brainstorming, concept planning, and free-form idea generation. It is full of great features but the point here is to explore and spend some time using your iPad to think outside of the box for inspiration. You can check out Popplet here.

4. iThoughts HD

Mindmapping is a powerful way to visually organize your thoughts, ideas, and information. It is also a great way to overcome a mojo slump and get some inspiration back.

Mindmapping is different from brainstorming. With a brainstorming session you typically write ideas and thoughts without worrying about structure or form. With mindmapping, you get a little more organized and structured. Mindmaps start with a seed concept and then branch out from there. They can be used for all sorts of things from task lists to idea generation.

This particular iPad app is one of the better mindmapping tools. It supports a wide range of features including varying shapes, colors, relationships, text styles, and the ability to use an external monitor.

To get the most out of mindmapping, though, don’t worry too much about the structure of the sample mindmaps. Just feel free to create your own structure. After all, it’s your mind. Check out iThoughtsHD here.

5. MovieVault

Sometimes getting your mojo back means you need to take a break from the tools and simply escape into someone else’s world. Your iPad can help here too.

MovieVault is an iPad app that connects you to an entire library of classic movies. For the single price of the app ($4.99) you get to watch as many classic movies as you want to. I reviewed MovieVault a few weeks ago and was amazed at the fact that I could stream these movies so quickly and easily (even over a 3G connection).

But how does this help you get inspired to write? Believe it or not, escaping with a great story helps you think of your own stories. It puts you in story mode. It lets your brain take a break from your current loss of mojo and it gets your creative mind going again. It’s like adding spark to a spark plug. You can check out MovieVault here.

6. Let’s Create Pottery HD

From the title, you might be imagining your iPad spinning around with a lump of clay. Not quite. But this app is pretty darn close without the mess. Truly an engaging experience, you can clear your mind and experience something unique.

Getting back your inspiration can sometimes happen when you are willing to let go of whatever it is you are stuck on and take a different path for awhile. As it turns out, your iPad can take you down that other path.

Let’s Create Pottery makes use of the iPad’s touch and motion sensors as it gives you a virtual lump of spinning clay in hi-res graphics and lets you create a pottery piece just as if you were sitting at a real wheel. Then you get to glaze, save it, and share it with others if you choose.

Now I don’t know about you, but anytime you can use your hands and mind to create, it has this additive effect on your mojo. Check out Let’s Create Pottery HD here.

7. Zinio

Did you know that there are hundreds of traditional print magazines that have gone digital? And your iPad can be a great way to experience them.

Grab the free Zinio app and gain access to an entire newsstand of digital content from mainstream to independent print and media publications. The Zinio app is free but most of the magazines you will have to pay for before downloading. There are a few samples, however, so you see what you are getting before you buy any.

Don’t just read magazines in your topic — take the opportunity to explore some new subjects, new areas of interest, and new approaches you haven’t seen before. Mojo loves novelty! Check out Zinio here.

There you have it, seven effective ways to get your writing mojo back using the iPad.

It’s great that you can do all this on one single device. But remember, as Jon Morrow points out in his getting inspired to write article, sometimes it’s smart to put everything down, including your iPad, and get out in the fresh air.

About the Author: Shane uses his Tablet Computer Geeks blog to deliver the latest and best iPad information, including accessory reviews, app reviews, and industry updates. Follow him on twitter at tc_geeks.


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PostHeaderIcon Discover Your Strengths and Supercharge Your Business

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Have you ever been kept awake until 2 in the morning having an imaginary conversation with one of your blog readers who thinks you’re great and left a long comment telling you so?

Or spent hours obsessively trying to figure out how to do better work, spurred by a fan letter from a customer about the terrific job you did?

Or is it maybe more likely that your late-night solo conversations and obsessive problem-solving go to the trolls, the complainers, and the folks who just plain can’t stand you?

Don’t worry. If you give an undue amount of attention to negative comments and feedback, to the extent of almost ignoring the good stuff altogether, it doesn’t mean you’re neurotic. It means you’re exactly like the rest of us.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their marvelous book Switch make this observation:

Imagine a world in which you experienced a rush of gratitude every single time you flipped a light switch and the room lit up. Imagine a world in which after a husband forgot his wife’s birthday, she gave him a big kiss and said, “For thirteen of the last fourteen years you remembered my birthday! That’s wonderful!”

This is not our world.

But in times of change, it needs to be.

Play to your strengths

I’ve long been fascinated by the advice to those who tell us to focus on our strengths, not our weaknesses, in order to create breakthrough success.

It’s so appealing. You mean I don’t have to learn to cold call, balance my checkbook, or know how my RSS feed works? Sign me up.

But it seems like it might be contradicted by another idea that’s gained a lot of attention recently: there’s not really any such thing as talent. Researchers like Carol Dweck and brilliant nonfiction writers like Malcolm Gladwell tell us that what we call “talent” is really the result of a heck of a lot of hard work.

What are strengths, anyway?

Until recently, I never realized this was a trick question. I thought that your strengths were things you were good at, and your weaknesses were things you sucked at.

But Marcus Buckingham, who’s made a career out of writing about strengths, put it this way:

A strength is “an activity that makes you feel strong.” It is an activity where the doing of it invigorates you. Before you do it, you find yourself instinctively looking forward to it. While you are doing it you don’t struggle to concentrate, but instead you become so immersed that time speeds up and you lose yourself in the present moment. And after you are finished doing it, you feel authentic, connected to the best parts of who you really are.

Your strengths are the activities that give you the juice to put your 10,000 hours in. They’re the work you love enough to become the best in the world at.

I’ll give you an example

I recently heard Yo-Yo Ma giving an interview about how he got started as a cellist. As it happens, Yo-Yo’s parents are both musicians, and had high musical expectations for their little son. So when Yo-Yo was three, they gave the boy a violin.

And Yo-Yo hated it. Wouldn’t practice. Wouldn’t focus. Didn’t have any zest for it. His frustrated parents finally gave up in disgust.

And then little Yo-Yo saw and heard something amazing, something that surprised and delighted him. Something that he knew was exactly what he wanted to play. It was a double bass — the violin’s really, really big brother. Now that was more like it.

He and his parents split the size difference, and Ma began to study first the viola and then settled (at four years old) on the cello. By seven he was a recognized prodigy, performing for Eisenhower and JFK, and by eight he played on national television, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

To have become so skilled between the ages of four and seven, he must have put in untold hours of practice. But they were hours spent on something he adored.

One thing that interests me about Ma is that he isn’t just a brilliant cellist. He isn’t just world-famous and in-demand and a name brand.

He also seems to be a remarkably happy and kind human being. He loves working with children. He’s been married a long time to the same person. He radiates kindness and a certain goofy charm. He’s got a great sense of humor, referring to himself at times as an “itinerant musician.” And he’s known for boundless energy.

If I’m going to be a nationally-famous virtuoso, that’s the kind I want to be.

Build your business like Yo-Yo

When you see someone busting her tail to build a business, writing tons of great content, reaching out to potential customers, speaking and podcasting and doing everything we’re supposed to do to build a terrific content-based marketing program, it’s easy to ask:

How does anyone find the time to do all that?

The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one.

When you focus on your strengths, you do the work that gives you energy. You do the work that drives you, that makes you giggle, that keeps you up late because you’re just having too much fun to stop.

When you’re starting out, you do everything. You build the blog site and write all the content and do the bookkeeping and answer the support emails. Some of those things build you up and some wear you down.

Pay attention to which is which.

As soon as you can (it could be today), find partners who are energized by the tasks that exhaust and deplete you. If you can’t find the right partner, outsource the aspects of your business that make you want to crawl back into bed.

And put your time and attention on what the Heath brothers call the “bright spots” – on what’s really working today. Put your time on the work that gives you juice.

  • Do more of what’s working well.
  • Do more of what energizes and strengthens you.
  • Do more of what your readers and customers adore.
  • Do more of what you can do better than anyone on earth.

I know it sounds too simple to be real. But it’s how every genuinely great business — of any size — is built.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger, CMO of Copyblogger Media, and founder of Remarkable Communication. Share your bright spots with her on twitter.


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PostHeaderIcon Why Being Too Diligent About Your Facts Can Hurt Your Content

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Once upon a time, the world was flat.

Now it’s round.

Who knows? Maybe some day we’ll find out it’s square.

It’s hard to come across a cold hard fact anymore.

Drink 8 glasses of water a day. Drink 16 glasses of water a day. Don’t drink any water; get all your water from fruits and vegetables.

The contradictory advice goes on forever. There’s almost nothing you can nail down with absolute certainty.

Even your own content.

When you’re writing a game-changing piece of content, it’s natural to want to nail that article down with irrefutable data. So you spend seventeen hours to come up with data from books, white papers, and online sources.

But your research is tainted

No matter how hard you work to nail down the facts, you’re going to run into accuracy problems.

That’s because your information sources aren’t entirely reliable. Even if the source is reliable, the information may not be.

For example, a magazine may accurately report the findings of a study, but who says the study results are actually correct?

Here are just a few ways your research can become tainted:

  • Research is often funded by lobby groups pushing their own agendas.
  • Passed-down information can lose relevant bits.
  • What was once fact has since been overturned by new evidence.

Let’s look at them one by one.

Problem 1: Research may not be objective

Let’s say a lobby group wants to increase sales of lemonade. They fund research to find more reasons for you to drink lemonade. They pour squillions of dollars into their research, and amazingly enough, all that research comes to the same conclusion: lemonade has amazing health benefits.

Of course, that’s not how the research is presented to you.

The research is presented in an interesting, fact-driven way that makes you believe it. Given a slew of reasonable-sounding facts and a truckload of statistics, and most of us will change our perception.

That’s not to say lobby groups are bad people. They’re just like you and me.

We tell our kids to eat spinach because it will make them big and strong. Doesn’t matter if the spinach doesn’t actually have the nutrients to get kids big and strong. Doesn’t matter if we’ve cooked the goodness out of the spinach. The kids swallow the idea — and hopefully the spinach. We all present information in the best light.

And when we add figures and facts, it becomes something written in stone.

Except it’s not written in stone. It’s not cold, hard fact. It’s just one view, one presentation of the data.

Problem 2: Hand-me down facts

Use tea bags to polish hardwood floors. Mix turmeric and honey in hot water and drink it for a cough. Use the underside of a ceramic mug to put an edge on that dull kitchen knife.

These are hand-me down facts. They work — but do they work just the way they’re written? Did the author leave out a piece of critical information in the re-telling? Perhaps you have to steep the tea bags for a certain amount of time. Maybe you have to be careful to get the exact correct angle between your knife and that ceramic mug.

Facts often develop holes over time.

As stories get handed down, they lose information. The main part of the story may be true, but misleading without key pieces of information that go with it. The only way to be sure it to check for yourself. You take those tea bags and polish a part of your hardwood floor. If the floors shine, you’ve got a personal story of your own to tell.

Hand-me-down data looks valid, but unless you’ve proved it yourself, you’re quoting unproven research.

And that takes us to the final problem: The data keeps changing.

Problem 3: Facts evolve

As recently as 1980, most neuroscientists would tell you with confidence that the brain had no meaningful plasticity.

Plasticity means that the brain is adaptable. That it can heal damage from strokes, accidents, and other horrible things, and that it can change and adapt after the critical period of childhood.

There’s now research (yeah, I’m aware of the irony in referencing research in this article) that all areas of the brain can change and evolve even in adulthood. Destroyed function can be “re-routed” to other areas of the brain. And intense mental activity (like studying for med school exams) can change the brain in measurable ways in a matter of weeks.

I want you to understand one thing: these original nay-sayers were neuroscientists. They live, breathe, and map their entire careers around research about how the brain works. Some of the smartest people on the planet. And they were wrong.

Today, neuroplasticity is an irrefutable fact.

But who’s to know what will come around the corner?

Does this mean you shouldn’t research your articles?

Not at all. Research matters. Facts matter.

All I’m saying is that it isn’t necessary to spend all those hours tracking down facts. Often, the facts you find are only half-right, or they’re just a part of greater truths to be revealed.

Go ahead and do your research, but put on an egg timer. If you don’t get what you’re looking for in about 20 minutes, it’s time to get your own facts together.

Don’t make up facts that aren’t true, but tell us your own experience.

It’s better to simply write what you know. Not only does it make for a good story, you can be secure that what you’re saying is really true.

Research makes things interesting, but your own case studies are just as interesting. So don’t be bashful. Use your personal stories and experiences more often — you don’t need fifteen sources and two experts to back you up.

You might be wrong

Sure, you may be wrong about the way you interpret what you experience.

The neuroscientists were wrong too. So were all the smart, educated people who insisted the world was flat. There have been countless geniuses who insisted on theories that would ultimately prove to be wrong.

Research won’t save you from being wrong. It’ll just get in the way of telling your story — and that’s more important than having irrefutable facts.

Especially because the facts are never irrefutable. No matter how much research you do.

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a great free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Be sure to check out his blog, too.


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PostHeaderIcon Copyblogger Weekly Wrap: Week of September 12, 2010

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Nope, I didn’t get fired. I’m back in the saddle around here, ready to summarize things for you and put them into an easily digestible, bullet point form.

So why the layoff on the weekly wraps (now twice as delish with half the calories)? Well, it was summer. Brian and Sonia wanted a break from removing libelous statements from my scribblings, and I wanted time to pursue my hobby of reworking large companies’ marketing slogans.

For example: BP: Well, at least you know who we are now.

No? Okay, fine… here’s what happened this week on Copyblogger and around the web:

Monday:

How Eminem Stayed Relevant (And Why it Can Save Your Blog)

In this post that finally proves that Sean Platt actually is Eminem, you’ll learn about how Marshall Mathers phoned it in for a few albums, then apologized, and then BROUGHT IT yet again… and how you can do the same to rebound from mediocrity back up to your A game.

Read the full post here.

Tuesday:

How to Build Credibility with Your Sales Copy

This post is the definitive guide to writing cred-building copy that will get past your customer’s defenses and get them to buy. (Dave called those defenses “shields,” so really, converting customers is like attacking the Death Star.) There’s three shield-busting approaches in this post, but he totally forgot “bomb the ventilation shaft.”

Read the full post here.

Wednesday:

The Freakonomics Guide to Making Boring Content Sexy

The book Freakonomics proves that even boring subjects can be interesting if you add wrestlers, and so offers a great model for making your blog more readable. (But if you want real inspiration, watch for my memoir: Exciting Tales of the Pennsylvania Municipal Tax Code.)

Read the full post here.

Thursday:

How to Blog Like Bond. James Bond.

Today we learned that the best way to build a popular blog is to drink, be smooth, battle supervillains, have indiscriminate relations with many women, and kill people. Or possibly there was some other lesson here, I don’t remember. You might want to read this post and see, come to think of it.

Read the full post here.

Friday:

3 Reasons to Tell Readers Why

You can’t trust that people will listen to you just because you think you’re talented or awesome. You have to give them a reason to care and to read. One Brian missed: “Read this post or the bunny gets it.”

Read the full post here.

This week’s cool links:

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant is in the middle of a free, 4-session call and webinar series about selling via storytelling (which is how he sells pretty much everything).


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PostHeaderIcon 3 Reasons to Tell Readers Why

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You know you’re right, right?

Everyone should fall in line and accept what you know in your heart to be true.

Sorry, that’s not how people work.

So much of persuasive writing comes down to proof. And so many people fail at persuasion because they offer assertions without giving people reasons.

So persuasive writers know to give reasons for everything. Here are the three most important reasons to tell readers why.

1. A Reason to Read

This begins with your headline, and that’s why headlines are so important. You can be cutesy or clever to satisfy your ego, or you can get you ideas absorbed and acted upon. Busy people need a reason to invest attention. Do you have one?

2. A Reason You’re Different

Why you and not the other options? If your product or service is better, say specifically why. Your winning difference in the minds of the people you’re aiming at has to be distinct, clear, and believably better. Are you leading, or following?

3. A Reason to Believe

Most of all, demonstrate, don’t pontificate.

What reasons work for you? What other reasons are you giving that work?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.


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PostHeaderIcon How to Blog Like Bond. James Bond.

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When it comes to being a badass, few can hold a candle to good old 007.

Calm, cool, and collected under pressure, Bond is known as much for his seductive personality as he is for his incredible ability to get himself out of any situation in one piece.

What he isn’t known for is writing a successful blog.

But everyone’s favorite fictional, womanizing secret agent has more to do with writing killer copy and running a great site than you might think.

Here a few things you can learn about great blogging from everyone’s favorite snappy dresser/sex addict/paid assassin.

Know exactly who you are

From the specific type of drink he orders (martini, shaken not stirred) to the unique presence he commands when walking into a room, James Bond always knows exactly who he is (yes, I realize I sound like an American Idol judge, but it remains true).

When you’re dealing with James Bond, you know what you’re going to get. If you’re a psychopathic villain bent on world domination, you don’t want to find out that Bond is on your case because you’re most likely going to end up dead.

Readers should know exactly who you are within minutes of coming to your site.

  • When you visit Copyblogger, you know you’re going to learn how to write great content that builds both your business and your reputation.
  • When you visit The Art of Nonconformity, you expect a point of view that challenges the status quo. You also learn very quickly that author Chris Guillebeau has made it his mission to visit every country in the world.
  • When you visit Man Vs Debt.com, you know you’re getting a guy trying to destroy his debt.
  • Spend three minutes on any of Gary Vaynerchuk’s sites and you feel like you’ve known the guy for years.

Your reader should know not only who you are but also what you’re providing within just a few lines.

It took me nine months of writing every day before I finally found the right “voice” and felt confident enough to use it. Once I finally embraced my personality and injected it into each post, my site really caught on with new readers and became much more enjoyable for me to write.

Recognize the importance of style

Other than his killer instinct and love of women, James Bond is probably known for one key attribute:

Style.

Bond always looks fantastic, no matter how recently he’s escaped the clutches of an evil villain. He knows how to dress, he knows how to drink, he knows the right watch to wear and the right car to drive. He presents impeccable manners at a dinner table and in conversation. He makes a calculated show of his best possible side in every situation.

Can you offer that kind of consistence in your presentation? Does your site’s color scheme and visual style match the tone of the content? Is your site loaded up with misplaced ads that distract rather than enhance your site? Does your About page accurately and quickly tell the reader what they’re getting?

Most importantly, does it all work together?

I hate to be superficial, and I would much rather tell you that it’s what’s on the inside that matters most. But in today’s instant-gratification, StumbleUpon, YouTube culture, you often have less than five seconds to make your first impression. Make the most of those five seconds.

Hook them with good looks, and then keep them with great content.

It’s okay to be witty

James Bond has a dry one-liner for every situation.

Bond: That looks like a woman’s gun.
Largo: Do you know a lot about guns, Mr. Bond?
Bond: No, but I know a little about women.

Domino: What sharp little eyes you’ve got.
Bond: …Wait ’til you get to my teeth.

A witty comment can help you make a point more clear, keep readers engaged, get them thinking, or provide some necessary comic relief in an otherwise somber situation. Life’s too short to be serious all the time. There’s no crime — and a lot of style — in making your readers laugh.

Stay cool under pressure

When Bond jumps between two high-rise buildings, he knows he can make the jump. He simply doesn’t allow any room for doubt.

If he goes to a gunfight with six terrorists, he knows he’s going to win. There’s always a villain trying to kill him; there are always members of his own government who question his motives and tactics.

Bond moves forward with confidence, and he gets the job done.

As your blog increases in traffic, it’s easy to start doubting yourself and your abilities. Sure, you felt comfortable when it was just your mom and friends reading. But as your readership starts to grow, you might start to question yourself.

Here’s the thing. You got where you are thanks to your talents and abilities.

You will hit roadblocks, and you will have villains of your own. Don’t let them take you down.

I’ll never forget my first negative comment left by a random stranger, on an article of which I was extremely proud. I spent the next four hours freaking out, researching his claims, and crafting a response that I agonized over before finally posting.

The commenter eventually emailed me the next day and said, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way, I was just in a bad mood.”

It takes time to develop some perspective about the negativity. If you are confident in your abilities, if you know what you’re doing is right for you and your readers, you will learn to take constructive criticism from the right people and ignore the villains.

Shoot to kill

James Bond knows that a single bullet can kill or incapacitate an enemy. To use any more firepower than necessary could be the difference between life and death in the next shoot-out.

When he sees a room full of enemies, 007 thinks to himself: “Six bad guys, six bullets. Perfect.

Words are like bullets — don’t waste them. If you can say it in 500 words, why spend 1000?

Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits writes an article and then continually refines it until the message is clear, quick, and concise. After writing something, go back through it, line by line, and decide what’s necessary and what’s superfluous. Embrace the art of brevity.

Aim for the kill by picking words and sentences that drive your point home immediately.

A little modesty can go a long way

Think back to any action scene from a Bond flick. He wipes out an entire army, drives a car off a cliff, saves a woman, and then brushes off his tux and moves onto the next task.

You don’t see him pulling a Ron Burgundy, claiming to be “kind of a big deal.” You’ll rarely hear Bond discuss his accomplishments or accolades — he doesn’t have to. His actions already speak louder than his words ever could. Restating the obvious would just tarnish the cool.

In today’s online world, bloggers are constantly trying to one-up each other, promising the BEST CONTENT EVER or announcing they’re the WORLD’S GREATEST AUTHORITY ON LIFESTYLE DESIGN. Hyperbole, exaggeration, and gratuitous self-promotion have unfortunately become commonplace.

Let’s imagine for a second that 007 ran his own blog.

After catching your eye with terrific design and blowing you away with incredible content, Bond’s blog would get the attention it deserved without him having to shout from the rooftops how great he is.

If you are sharing content that is worth reading, you don’t need to be your own biggest cheerleader. Leave that to the people you just wowed: your fans.

Your Mission

Take what you’ve learned from this secret agent and apply it to your own Web site. Build your style, be confident in your abilities, shoot to kill — and then tell them it’s all in a day’s work.

Good luck.

When he’s not watching Bond flicks, Steve is helping nerds and average Joes find their own inner James Bond over at NerdFitness.com. You can sign up for the free Nerd Fitness Rebel Army Newsletter by email, or get updates via RSS


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PostHeaderIcon The Freakonomics Guide to Making Boring Content Sexy

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It’s easy to write about certain topics, like celebrities, or technology, or even social media. Everybody wants a piece of it.

But what if your passion is botany, supply chain logistics, or cognitive psychology?

How do you get noticed with a compelling story when your subject is … well … boring?

In the summer of 2006, an economics book was on the New York Time Bestseller list. The title was provocative and promised to be anything but a boring read.

Even my hero Malcolm Gladwell said, “Prepare to be dazzled.”

Since I really can’t stand economics (hated it ever since college), I skeptically handed over my $25 and took Freakonomics home.

From the very first page, I was treated to a wild ride through the most bizarre stories I’d ever encountered. I learned about cheating schoolteachers and self-sacrificing sumo wrestlers. Why drug dealers still live with their moms and how the KKK is like a real estate agent.

Every story taught a boring economic principle in a way that made me want more.

I realized that Freakonomics was an instruction manual for transforming boring blog posts into sexy must-read masterpieces.

Check it out:

People love “dot connectors”

Our world is getting more complicated by the second. Every day your readers are trying to get a handle on what happened yesterday, what’s happening now, and what will happen tomorrow. If you connect the dots for them, you can get popular in a hurry.

Freakonomics is built around connecting dots in an interesting way. For example, it’s long been an economic principle that almost every choice we make is connected to incentives. Pretty boring stuff — until author Steven Levitt used a story about daycare centers to show how some incentives backfire.

Since parents were showing up late frequently, the daycare center started a policy of a $3 fine to incentivize parents to show up on time. Unfortunately, the fine wound up incentivizing parents to pay $3 for an hour of babysitting and not feel guilty for showing up late!

Giving your reader’s these “aha” moments is a great way to keep them reading a so-called boring topic and have them asking for more.

Headlines still matter

Even with all of our shiny social media tools, good ol’ standby skills like writing a great headline still matter.

You can be a masterful storyteller and write killer posts, but you still lose if no one reads them.

Titles are the closest thing us writers have to a “silver bullet.” Don’t waste ‘em. Do you think that Freakonomics would have been a New York Times Bestseller with the title Aberrational Behavior and the Causal Effect of Incentives?

The quickest way to give your boring blog a facelift is to put some eye-hijacking power into your headlines. In fact, write your headline first, before you even start the rest of the post. It’s that important.

Numbers are a blogger’s best friend

One common complaint of blogs is that they can’t be taken seriously. We are accused of playing fast and loose with the facts and being weak on proof. It’s easy to avoid hard numbers and focus on writing the soft stuff, but Freakonomics shows that this is a mistake.

Many bloggers are afraid that statistics, equations, and hard facts will scare away our readers, but that’s not giving our readers enough credit. The problem isn’t the numbers — it’s that we stick numbers out there without a story.

Freakonomics uses numbers to reveal a hidden story. Levitt looked up the numbers on standardized tests for Chicago students. On the face of it, this was pretty boring data. This district got such-and-such a score, this district got such-and-such a score. Yawn.

Until those numbers revealed that teachers were cheating.

In some districts, teachers received salary boosts when their students performed better on standardized tests — motivating them to fill in a few additional correct answers for their students.

The story makes the numbers interesting. The numbers make the story credible. Give it a try.

Everyone loves a mystery

Why would a successful sumo wrestler throw a match? The obvious answer would be that he’s getting paid to do so, but Levitt quickly discovered there was a much more mysterious motivation that drove who won and who lost in Japan’s sumo contests.

The answer is buried in psychology, probability, and incentives, but the only thing that I care about is that there’s a mystery. Any mystery begs for gumshoe detective work. We can’t leave well enough alone and we want to know why — especially if someone else is going to do the legwork of figuring out the answer for us. That’s why the CSI series has spun off more offspring than a jackrabbit.

You can use this quirk of human nature to make your topic enticing. Look closely at your topic and uncover some old-fashioned mysteries. Now write a post that presents the mystery and leads your reader through the investigation to its incredibly satisfying conclusion.

Provide a better way to solve common problems

Freakonomics uses a powerful set of tools to explain the way the world works. By the end of the book, you can’t help but think that every problem imaginable can be solved with the right incentive, data analysis, or storytelling. When you’re finished you feel that there is a better way to tackle your problems.

This is what “added value” means. Simply restating a problem is boring. Offering new tools and perspectives to solve problems helps your reader get closer to their goals — and that makes you someone whose content they’ll want to read every time you come out with something new.

Freakonomics: The Movie is coming out soon, and I’ll be first in line — because reading the book was so valuable to me I can’t wait to see what else the authors have to offer. To get devoted fans who’ll anticipate your every output with the same enthusiasm, give them some solutions.

Time to get freaky

Have you ever used any of these techniques to make your content sexier? Can you see how to apply some of them to your own blog?

And if you read Freakonomics yourself, tell us in the comments about any other blog-enhancing tips you picked up!

Stanford obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s fishing with his boys. Follow him to get the latest about his new ebook “Get Noticed.”


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