3 Ways to End Wimpy Writing

It might be hard to tell from my recent posts, but my day job is in Marketing Communications. I write a lot, and I edit a lot of copy written by others. Over the years I’ve noticed some patterns that no one shared with me while learning to write, and for what it’s worth, I thought I would share:

I see (or commit) these specific wimpy writing techniques almost daily. When you have these moments: stop, think, and write boldly.

1. When you say something “helps”

A wise yogi once said, “You don’t have to prove anything to anyone; just become it.” It reminds me of sheepish writing. If we know Open Educational Resources save money, why would we say OER helps save money? Just say the subject DOES the verb. Consider: If you aren’t sure it’s true, why are you writing it that way? Know your material and say it like you mean it.

2. When you use the word “and” twice (or more) in once sentence

I run into this often, when the writer seems to lack focus. It’s like they haven’t quite figured out what they want to say. They want to talk about how great this thing is, that it does everything for everyone! If it really does all of those things, are you sure you want to cram them all into one sentence? I’m as big a fan of tight copy as the next lady, but there are times when more sentences are needed to tell the story. Ask yourself: if it’s not worth elaborating on, is it worth including at all?

There are two types of these sentences:

The double list syndrome: The application saves money, time, and energy for students, parents, teachers and staff.

The ‘and we can’t forget…’ sentence: “The tools and resources we’ve developed will help drive research and scholarship at Ohio State and around the world.”

Just decide what you’re talking about and make it a stronger statement. Consider: Can’t we just say tools OR resources? Is this thing we’re doing actually involved in research or is it really about publishing scholarly work? Be decisive. Be direct.

3. When you use an exclamation point

Exclamation points are to copy writing as “thirst” is to dating. What you have to share is valuable, right? If it isn’t, you’d just not write it, right? Exclamation points say “hey I couldn’t figure out a way to make this relevant for you, but I’m desperate so here’s THIS!

Find other ways to connect readers to your content. It takes more brainpower than tacking on an exclamation point (or, G-d forbid, points), but punctuation isn’t going to convince someone to be excited about what you have to say.


How do you write boldly? When do you catch yourself writing wimpy?

Leg Work Leading Up

Since the maternal ward was scheduled to open sooner than my arrival, the CLI team wanted to launch the surveillance project before I arrived–my advisor was hoping for as early as April. And it kind of did.

I’ve been working since last fall with the team to develop  (several iterations of) the death audit form, a training manual for the village volunteers, a surveillance protocol, a database, etc.

A couple of weeks ago some 30 community surveillance volunteers came to the McGuire Wellness Center to get familiar with their roles in the project and learn about maternal and neonatal mortality. Involving the community is vital for these kind of projects: these volunteers don’t need to know all of the medical stuff, but they are our eyes and ears in the villages.

When any of the volunteers across the 60+ villages hears of a death of a baby or a woman (we give them a wide age range), they report it to CLI. From there, one of our Health Surveillance Assistants asks a few more questions to determine whether this death fits our case definition of a maternal or neonatal death. If it seems to, they head out into the field to get the details from the health care provider and family of the deceased. They complete the audit and take a narrative version of the interviewees’ testimonies.

One tricky part was figuring out how to incorporate an existing audit: the Ministry of Health’s maternal death report. It does exist, but is not shared among facilities, and is not as comprehensive as many of our CLI physicians would have liked to see. I added to the maternal version and included a neonatal section. I also added some questions and did some rewording to apply to deaths that might occur in the community. Our hope is that for the facility deaths, the MOH audit form will already be complete when our HSA arrives, and that the form can be used to cross reference answers we get from the interviewees.

Doing this kind of auditing requires some tact: No one likes to get interviewed on all the things they do wrong. It’s our job to assure the facilities and providers that we’re simply collecting information and are not placing blame or taking any kind of retributory action.

Getting everyone together for a meeting was an exciting first start, and the partners who conducted the training said it was an energetic group. Volunteers have agreed to go ahead and contact their assigned HSA when they hear of a death, but CLI is still translating of the forms I developed. I’ll also be sending over funds for airtime cards for the community volunteers. We’ll continue attracting more volunteers so each village can (more or less) have its own surveillance volunteer. The (kind of) good news is, the maternal ward has not yet opened.

My advisor is traveling to Malawi next month, and she’ll deliver my “volunteer toolkits” that provide each participant an ID badge as a CLI surveillance volunteer, the airtime cards and some other things that will help them feel Official. I hope these tokens and trainings empower and motivate them to take an active role in the project.

Moms in Malawi deserve safe deliveries too! I’m excited to be a part of it and look forward to spreading the good feelings.


I’m knee-deep in the project so am surely missing pieces and parts when talking about it. Would love to receive your questions in the comments below!

Healthcare Exchange Enrollment – What March 31 might mean to you.

I get the idea behind the “Enroll before February 15th to make sure you’re covered on March 1st” campaign



(and these others)…










People are procrastinators. Focus on an earlier “deadline” that might actually inspire some action upon reading it. Also, the “OMG We built it and no one will come!” panic hasn’t fully subsided, and life will be easier if enrollees get it done sooner rather than later.

But I worry this tactic might cause some confusion over what the actual deadlines for enrollment in the health exchanges are. Just sticking to the March 31 date and considering all the exceptions and qualifiers along the way is complicated enough.

I made an interactive kind of brainstorming/discussion wall with Padlet and sadly it doesn’t embed here. =( But please consider dedicating your 30th new tab to my Health Exchange Enrollment Board. I started with some of the common questions I’ve been hearing, and welcome new posts and prompts. Add your own and let me dig up an answer for you! No account making, security question memorizing or lame list serve subscribing required.

Mirroring without Over-Sharing (tips for iOS and Mac)

The new Digital Union location in Stillman Hall has a wireless display setup so you can deliver your content seamlessly by mirroring your laptop, tablet, even your smartphone. No more rushing out of the office, packing up your equipment, worrying about dongles and adapters and doo-hickys so everything connects.

Mirroring is often preferred over using a room’s pre-installed hardware, because it better preserves your formatting. Here are a couple of tips for presenting from your own device:

1. Presenting only your presentation:

Everything is synced these days. Applications are designed to be readily available to you. Desktop popups let you know there’s a message to respond to, a task delivered, a phone call to return. Mobile notifications send coupons you just can’t miss, meeting reminders, a friend in your vicinity, you name it.

These alerts, when managed selectively, can be helpful.








During a presentation, they can be annoying. Even weird, depending on the situation.









For this reason, Do Not Disturb is your friend.

It’s the moon icon on your iOS device. Swipe up from the bottom of your screen to activate and deactivate.

















On your laptop, go to Notifications under System Preferences or through your menu bar’s Notification Center.


My default was set to Do Not Disturb when mirroring to TVs and projectors.









2. Protecting your password:

Now you’re presenting, completely on your game. Say you’re presenting from your iPhone.








Someone asks a great question to which you respond thoroughly and intelligently. It takes a minute, and your device goes to sleep.












What to do? Politely ask everyone to look away? Type in your password quickly, hoping no one is paying much attention?







I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, you can swipe up and access the Control Center to turn off AirPlay before entering your password.









Of course, if you prep ahead of time, you can change your settings so it takes longer to fall asleep in the first place. But this is a good feature to know, just in case.

Have you ever over-shared when mirroring for a presentation? Do tell.

Happy presenting!

Grammar Neurotics at Ohio State, Rejoice!

Ohio State recently made the switch to Associated Press style. The AP Stylebook is the holy text in journalism school, so anyone coming from a news writing background was surely giddy over this announcement.

The best part is, Ohio State has its own digital AP Stylebook, at apstylebook.com/osu. It includes the writer’s rules of the road, with supplemental tips tailored for Ohio State:

In writing style, things change. I love how social context makes language malleable and that AP style reflects that. The problem was, buying a new AP Stylebook every year was a serious pain (I finally recycled my 2008 print copy yesterday).

In the online stylebook, next to OSU pointers, are notes on when things have been updated. This comes in handy for someone like me who’s been out of the game for a few years. When I’m wrong I can at least redeem myself and say “ah! It was two words when I learned AP Style…”

So, next time you find yourself in one of the most dreaded office conflicts:

“Shouldn’t you spell that out?”

“Is it Blackberrys or BlackBerries?”

“Isn’t it a Master’s of Arts Degree?”

Just look to the stylebook. Breaking editorial stalemates since 1953.