Archives for January 2013

Why targeting is awesome–with squids

From: Laura Converse
To: Promotion Team; Marketing Leads; Email Marketing Team

Hi Team,

With the huge variety of emails we’re getting out the door, we need to all be thinking strategically about how to get the right message to the right people.

We have some amazing targeting capabilities with our rules engine, and this can dramatically improve how we do email.

Let’s use an example.

Say we have a sweet discount on squids.  We set a goal  to get 100 people buy one via emails.

We might try to tell 100,000 people about it, hoping that 100 of them buy.  But what if we could find the right people? We might only have to ask 200 of them to get those squids sold.

Here are some of the options we have with email:

  • Chances are, there are 100 people on the NewsWire list willing to buy a squid. We can send an email to the NewsWire list, hoping to get 100 bites out of almost 600,000 people.
    • Pro: This is a lot of people.  We’re really getting the word out about squids.
    • Con: What about all the people on the list who don’t care about squids at all, or worse yet, hate squids? Or what if they already own a squid, and we’re just sending them an offer they can’t use?  By sending them this email, we encourage them to unsubscribe.
    • Let’s narrow down, then. We can send an email out to the Ocean Studies Special Offers list. It’s a much smaller list, but chances are, people who sign up to that list will probably be interested.
      • Pro:  People on this list really do want the good deals of the sea, and this is a great one.  Maybe a squid will be their first purchase from us, and we’ll be able to bring them into our ecosystem!
      • Con: Still the same con: there might be people on this list who are not exactly squid fans, or they are, but they already bought a squid at full price.  And, the list is much smaller than the NewsWire, so we’re not even going to have sheer quantity going for us like we would have with the NewsWire list.
      • If we want to make sure we get only the right people in the know, we can (and should) create a BusinessDesk rule.
        • We could include these groups:
          • Everyone who owns an octopus, a sperm whale,  a lobster, or even a starfish
          • Everyone who has squids on their wish list
          • Everyone who has squid reference materials
          • Everyone who once canceled a preorder or abandoned a cart with a squid in it
  • We could exclude these groups:
    • Everyone who already has a squid
    • Everyone who has purchased the anti-squid handbook
  • Then, we can sync this rule to any email list.

Remember: there are always people who won’t be interested in your email.  If we can figure out who they are and cut them from our recipient pool, we’re keeping people subscribed who will later be interested in another offer.

If you want to know more about targeting, please feel free to ask me about it.  It’s a really exciting thing we can do to make our efforts pay off even more.

Laura Converse, Email Marketing Team Lead


From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Parallelism is the matching of sentence parts. It’s one of your best tools for compelling writing. By framing like ideas in like phrases, you reinforce the connection between them—it’s a way of making life easy for your readers. And easy reading makes for sweet, sweet clickthrough rates.

What does it look like?

  • Not like “I cleaned my car, lawn, porch, and the sidewalk.” That’s out of parallel, since “my” connects to “car,” “lawn,” and “porch,” but not to “the sidewalk.” We’d revise the sentence to “I cleaned my car, my lawn, my porch, and the sidewalk.”
  • Not like “The industrious warthog digs tunnels, caves, chambers, and over 100 miles a year”—that doesn’t break any grammatical rules, but it lumps a measure of distance in with #thingsthatwarthogsdig. We’d probably revise to “The industrious warthog digs tunnels, caves, and chambers—over 100 miles of digging a year.”
  • Not like “She grew up in Colorado, studied at WWU, and has published three books: . . .”—again, no outright broken grammar here, but one subject (“She”) is doing things both in the past tense (“grew up,” “studied”) and in the past participle (“has published”). We’d probably revise to “She grew up in Colorado and studied at WWU. She has published three books: . . .”

Proper parallelism has a few less obvious applications, too:

  • Bullet points must be parallel.
    • “The world’s most popular translation” and
    • “See Scripture references on mouseover”

. . . don’t work; we’d revise the first to “Read the world’s . . .” or the second to “Scripture references that appear . . .”

  • Number ranges must use “to” or “and,” not an en dash, when introduced by “from” or “between.” He didn’t live from 1988–2013; he lived from 1988 to 2013. (And hopefully longer.)
  • Phrases like “not only . . . but also,” “either . . . or” and “both . . . and” need parallel terms after each half. “Not only do you need to know Spanish, but also French” doesn’t work—that should be “You need to know not only Spanish, but also French.” Nonparallel “not only . . . but also” phrases are some of the trickiest offenders to spot; when you use these constructions, reread them to make sure they’re legit.


Sometimes parallelism isn’t worth it. “Search the ESV, NIV, NASB, KJV, LEB, FSB, and more!,” for example, is technically out of parallel: “the” connects to all the Bibles, but not to “and more.” But the parallel version is as ugly as a warthog: “Search the ESV, the NIV, the NASB, the KJV, the LEB, the FSB, and more!” And the original is in no way hard to read; there’s no need for parallelism to smooth out the syntax. You can break parallelism if the parallel version is unmistakably worse than the nonparallel.

But always try the parallel version first—you’ll almost certainly prefer it, and your readers will too.

You’ll find more style tips in the marketing style guide.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. As always, let me know if you have questions or requests. (Or a guest post you’d like to write!)

David Davidson

Simple words, simple syntax

From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Or, “Write Everything You Need, and Nothing More.”

Here’s a look at word choice and very basic syntax:

1. Simple words and complex ones

“[W]ould a self-respecting mathematician say 12/48 instead of 1/4 just to sound more erudite?” —from Garner’s Modern American Usage

Of course not. And you shouldn’t write “utilize” when you mean “use,” or “of a generous nature” when you mean “generous,” or “viz.” when you mean “namely.” George Orwell wrote, “Never use a long word where a short one will do”—his point extends to unnecessarily-high-register words in general.

When you write. . .  . . . ask yourself if you mean:
Prior to Before
Subsequently Later
Desire Want
Approximately About
Advise Tell, Explain, Inform . . .
In a professional manner Professionally
Make an attempt, make an effort Try
Illustrate, exemplify Show
Indicate Say, suggest, show
In order to To
Etc. Etc.

To be sure, we don’t want to avoid fancy words entirely. To complete Garner’s quotation, “But what about the mathematician who arrives at 15/16?” Don’t simplify to the point of losing nuance—if you’re arguing a point about logic, say, don’t replace “fallacious” with “wrong” (most of the time). If you’re A/B testing emails, don’t demand “improve” in place of “optimize.” We don’t want a bland, spartan style—just one that’s no fancier than the content demands.

2. Buried verbs

Many verbs have corresponding noun forms, typically ending in -tion, -sion, -ment, -ence, -ance, or -ity. The verb form is almost always better. “The contributors provide analysis, translation, and clarification of . . .”? No, “The contributors analyze, translate, and clarify . . .”

I had an English professor once, a freshly minted PhD, who overused buried verbs (and their corresponding abstractions) so egregiously that we’d mock him by using wooly nonwords like “printity” (= the printed nature of print materials) in essays. He never objected. Don’t be that guy.*

When you write. . .  . . . ask yourself if you mean:
Gains knowledge of Learns
Is in violation of Violates
Is in opposition to Opposes
Makes a contribution to Contributes to
Attempts at enhancement Attempts to improve
Has the intention of Intends to
Is dependent on Depends on
Leads to a reduction of Reduces by
Provides an illustration of Illustrates
Conducts an examination of Examines
Is in conformity with Conforms to
Etc. Etc.

3. Trimming prepositions

One nice side effect of turning “conducts an examination of Ecclesiastes” into “examines Ecclesiastes”: you lose “of,” a preposition. And prepositions, which correspond to relationships, make your syntax unnecessarily complex. So, courtesy of Bryan Garner (of my first quotation), four more ways to trim prepositions:

  • Delete redundant phrases: “The editor of the document” can usually work well as just “The editor.”
  • Replace prepositional phrases with adverbs: “She rode with swiftness” into “She rode swiftly.”
  • Move from passive voice to active: “The email was written by him” into “He wrote the email.”
  • Use possessives: “The meaning of the book” into “The book’s meaning.”

This last option is a favorite of mine because it puts the emphasis where it usually belongs: on “meaning,” now stronger at the end of the sentence. Unless you’re intentionally emphasizing the second half of a phrase—“having studied Paul’s life, let’s look at the life of Jesus”—you’re almost always better off with “Y’s X,” not “the X of Y.”

4. Closing thoughts on jargon

I understand discipline-specific technical language to have three main uses, arranged in order of descending value:

  • It can provide the most precise, concise term. Replacing “eschatology” with simpler language would require more words. Same goes for “fallacy” in logic and “optimize” in A/B testing.
  • It can indicate membership in a discourse community. Theory-heads who see “ontology” in a subject line click through because they expect the rest of the email to “speak their language.”
  • It can be a way to show off, to seem smarter than the reader.

Think carefully about jargon in that second category—can you be compelling without it? Who among your readers won’t respond to it? Will be excluded by it?

As for the third category, avoid it altogether.

* Then again, he once sneezed all over me and my plate of pizza at a department function. I told him, “Tobias, you just sneezed all over my pizza.” He nodded, smirking, and said, “Life goes on.” Such confidence.

Thanks for reading!


David Davidson

Hyphens! Dashes! Thrills!

From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Marketing, ’sup.

Over the last week, some of you have asked about hyphens and dashes. Here’s your how-to guide:

Hyphens (-)

Hyphens can do all sorts of things: separate digits in a phone number (“1-800-CAT-FNCY”), separate letters in spelled-out words (“That’s d-a-v-i-d”), even separate letters in reference to American Sign Language (“He could fingerspell ‘M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i’ faster than I could type it”).

But the most interesting use of hyphens is in compound adjectives like “original-language [adj.] resource.” If I write, say, “Readers overwhelmingly prefer one book about biblical Greek and Hebrew. John Doe’s Linguistic Basics, the original language resource . . .,” do I mean that Linguistic Basics is the biblical-Greek-and-Hebrew-focused book we’re discussing, or the first language resource of its kind—the original? “Original-language resource” prevents confusion or hesitation. The rule of thumb: hyphenate compound adjectives when they precede the noun, but leave them open when they follow the noun.


  • “Cutting-edge [adj.] software [n.],” “the software [n.] is cutting edge [adj.]”
  • “Emerald-green hat,” “the hat is emerald green”

Often, phrases act as adjectives only before the noun; after the noun, they, too, serve as noun phrases. So, as if they were still adjectives, we just leave them open after the noun:

  • “Bible-study [adj.] resources [n.],” “resources [n.] for Bible study [n.]”

Naturally, the most common argument for hyphenating compound adjectives (preceding the noun) is that such hyphenation prevents ambiguity. But we editors are always invoking “clarity” when we really mean just  “sounding smart.” Wilson Follett, the twentieth-century usage authority, wrote of the hyphen that “Nothing gives away the incompetent amateur more quickly than the typescript that neglects this mark of punctuation or that employs it where it is not wanted.” Snobby? Very much so—but we market to an audience that understands itself as scholarly, so properly placed hyphens are worth our diligence.


We don’t hyphenate two-word compound adjectives in which the first word is an -ly adverb: “properly placed hyphens,” not “properly-placed hyphens.”

  • Then again, we do hyphenate two-plus-word compound adjectives that include -ly adverbs: “poorly-thought-out department-wide email,” not “poorly thought-out department-wide email.”

Related comment: we tend to omit the hyphen when forming words with prefixes: “postwar,” not “post-war”; “nonviolence,” not “non-violence.” There are exceptions, of course, but that’s a topic for another email.

En dashes (–)


En dashes most commonly join number ranges: “1988–2013.” They can also indicate direction: “Seattle–Bellingham train.” Or score: “a 3–99 defeat.” But if you write out “from” or “between” before your number range, write out “to” or “and,” too—not “from 1988–2013,” but “from 1988 to 2013.”

Most interestingly, en dashes can take the hyphen’s place when a compound adjective includes an “open compound,” one that never takes a hyphen. Such compound terms are often proper nouns, like “Black Friday.” So:

  • “post–Black Friday deals!”

Note the logic behind this editorial nicety: it prevents “post-Black” from appearing as a compound adjective distinct from “Friday.”

Who among us has not once dived recklessly into young love’s passion? For me, that love was the en dash. I was so enamored of it that I started using it in phrases like “US–Canadian relations” [sic], even though The Chicago Manual of Style’s sense of the en dash doesn’t extend all the way to “between”—it’s “US-Canadian relations,” unfortunately. The ever-vigilant Phil Gons pointed out this exception.

Em dashes (—)


Em dashes can do nearly anything: they can take the place of a colon, a pair of commas, or a pair of parentheses.

  • In place of two commas: “I walked into Logos—whistling a ‘Silent Night’ quite inappropriate for the season—and scored some Talking Rain.”
  • In pace of a colon: “I walked into Logos and helped myself to its most refreshing benefit—Talking Rain!”
  • In place of parentheses, setting off grammatically unrelated stuff: “I walked into Logos—what a cool building!—and immediately wanted that sweet, sweet Talking Rain.”

Why are they awesome?

  • They’re a tool for concision—they let you join related thoughts without spelling out “because” (as in this sentence).
  • They’re a tool for logic. Evidence-based persuasion consists in working from facts (or generally-agreed-upon propositions) to new claims, and em dashes do a splendid job of joining the former and the latter. For example, “introductory discounts end Feb. 4—don’t wait!” works from evidence (the first half) to point (“don’t wait!”); the em dash is the right choice for joining those two ideas.
  • They’re a tool for benefit-first writing—a way to reverse cause and effect. “Get our best deals—sign up now!,” for example, is better than “Get our best deals by signing up now!” or “Sign up now to get our best deals” or “Get our best deals. Sign up now!”

Exceptions, overuse

Because em dashes are awesome, they’re easy to overuse, as the eagle-eyed folks in Design so often remind me. Don’t use them within other em dash pairs, or in the same sentence as unrelated em dashes. Avoid them in H1s. In general, avoid them in two consecutive sentences. If you see three em dash–packed sentences in a row, I’m not doing my job very well.

And don’t let them appear right after a line break: “Introductory discounts end Feb. 4 [line break]—hurry!” robs the dash of its suspensive power, because at first you don’t even see it following the preceding word. To avoid this, when you’re coding emails, just put <nobr></nobr> around the words before em dashes—that way, future copy tweaks won’t accidentally introduce line breaks where you don’t want them.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. As always, feel free to send in questions or tips. Or write a guest post!

Also, I write these day-of, so I’m bound to mess up eventually—if you catch a usage error in my work, let me know. J

David Davidson

Meeting Requests

From: Nathan Elson
To: Marketing Dept

One thing is for sure: we love meetings.

Because of our size, our potential for growth, and the sheer volume of the things that we do it is time to step up our game when it comes to meetings. Over the next several months we will be looking into how we can get better at meeting.

Step 1 is the meeting request.

  1. Use descriptive subjects. It may even be helpful to prefix the title with the area of the meeting. For example: “LOGOS: End of launch period planning”. This can help attendees who are more mobile calibrate themselves as they move from meeting to meeting.
  2. Concisely describe the purpose and the goals of the meeting in the request. This helps attendees and management understand who should be there, what they can expect during the meeting, and what to expect from the meeting. Bullet points are often welcomed.
  3. Outlook (both Windows and Mac) allows you to set an attendees attendance requirement – if you would like someone to be there, but it is not CRITICAL for them to be there you can set them to “optional”.

Thanks for all of your hard work and here is to an amazing 2013.




From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Hi there, Marketing,

This is the first in what will be a series of reference emails on all things writing. Each week, I’ll discuss a common writing problem or question.

January 10: Danglers

Master Bundles are packed with topic-specific, nuanced scholarship. And even better—when used in conjunction with your base package, you’ll get a library that’s both broad and deep.*
See anything wrong?

Though the writer presumably meant “used” to describe “Master Bundles,” the syntax forces it to describe “you.” Rearrange the sentence to see the problem more clearly: And even better—you’ll, when used in conjunction with your base package, get a library that’s both broad and deep. Uh-oh! That’s a “dangler”: an introductory clause that doesn’t match the main clause’s subject.

If you’re ever in doubt, rearranging the sentence is your path to safety. (You don’t have to rearrange it permanently—just long enough to make sure you’re dangler-free.) It’s important that you put the intro clause directly after the subject—for example, you’ll get a library that, when used in conjunction with base packages, is both broad and deep doesn’t set off alarms as a dangler, though it’s still illogical.

Danglers can be hard to spot. Some examples:

  • She had a hard childhood. By age 10, her parents had died . . .

Read:  . . . Her parents, by age 10, had died . . .

  • Born in Bend, OR—a city filled with pubs and ski shops—John Doe’s work history speaks to the range of his interests.

Read: John Doe’s work history, born in Bend, OR . . . speaks to the range of his interests.

  • Having looked at these examples, danglers are obnoxious.

Read: Danglers, having looked at these examples, are obnoxious.

Exceptions: lots of -ing words are fine at the beginning of sentences. “According,” “assuming,” “barring,” “concerning,” “considering,” “given,” “judging,” “owing to,” “regarding,” “respecting,” “speaking,” and “taking” [into account] are all usually fine. “Owing to the snow, we’ll all eat soup”? No problem.

Make it your rule of thumb to think twice about any introductory clause.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Have a pet peeve or lingering doubt? Let me know—I’ll write about it! And if you’d like to contribute a “guest post,” I’d appreciate the help. J

*Not an excerpt from any coworker’s writing.

David Davidson

Be in the loop with this easy trick

From: Laura Converse
To: Marketing Dept

Want to be in the know about what we’re sending our customers?

Stay in the loop and help us improve email by subscribing to all our email lists with your work account. 

You can easily subscribe to these emails and keep them from disrupting your inbox by following these steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Check the box for every list
  3. Open Outlook and click the “create rule” icon
    1. click “Advanced Options” in the lower right corner
    2. Select “with specific words in the recipient’s address.” Click “specific words” and add “
    3. Hit “Next” and select or create a folder of your choice, and hit “Finish”

Once you’ve set this up, you can see all the outgoing marketing emails at any time, and even help us make email better by reporting anything you think might be fishy to me (2 of the same email in your inbox? Missing unsubscribe link? All of it is very important to know about.)

Let me know if you have more questions regarding this item. And thanks in advance for your efforts to improve the quality of our subscribers’ experience with us!

Laura Converse, Email Marketing Specialist

For reference: be more efficient in 2013

From: Laura Converse
To: Marketing Dept

With the implementation of the SEE process and the 2013 promotional calendar, this year promises to be a challenging and dynamic one for Marketing.

The start of the New Year’s getting me thinking about how I can get more work done, do all of it better, and take less time doing it—and I’d like to make a tool for doing that more available to you all as well.

Many of us receive several hundred emails daily, all of which need varying degrees of attention.  (If you haven’t used Outlook to create rules for sorting your emails, I highly recommend doing so.  You can have Outlook auto-sort by sender name/address, by distribution lists like All Sales, or, my personal favorite: by words or phrases in the subject line.)

If we consistently use a standard words or phrases in subject lines for emails of certain types, we’ll be able to sort emails by action required and significantly decrease the turn-time for various items.

For the benefit of everyone who gets emails from me, this is what I’m going to do with all my subject lines—and it would help many of us immensely if others got on board with this, too.

I’ve created a wiki page including the types of emails I often send and receive, and standard ways to create subject lines for all of them.

Please check it out, and add any suggestions for more email types you’d like to standardize with a subject line to the bottom section of the page (or email me directly).

You will probably notice that these standard formats won’t take much trouble to remember; all this should be pretty intuitive.  It will just take some intentionality when giving a subject line to your email.

If you have questions about how to make Outlook rules work for you, ask around—many of us use them regularly and would be glad to help.

Thanks, and happy New Year!

Laura Converse, Email Marketing Specialist