MyFaithApps Bis Opp

From: Dan Pritchett
To: Marketing Dept

Something to think about… no need to respond.

When you got this email from Bill, did you:

A) Delete it—because he sent it to way too many people and it is not your job to deal with this.

B) Check out the site—because it sounded interesting/you were curious.

C) Sign up for the site’s email list, because you never know what other new things an email from someone in the Christian Apps category might introduce you to for partnerships, market awareness, advertising leads, email promo trades, marketing ideas, new product launches, competitive research, actionable industry news, blog ideas, product ideas, marketing insight, continuing education…

D) Look up the site, sign up for the email list, watch the video, notice it uses a song that sounds very familiar, found Terrence, his phone number, his job, his company, and where he lives (definitively him, not just a guess).

If you did D you are thinking like me, wow that’s cool/crazy I like to hear about that!  🙂  (I realize It is probably overkill for most people, but I have a compulsion to research which is stronger than most I admit.)

If you did B, C, then A congratulations! Great job! You’re thinking like a marketer! I love it! (Feel free to brag to me and let me know)   🙂

If you just did A, read over the benefits of C and consider the usefulness and reasoning behind B and C, and see how that could apply to your position even if it is not directly your job.

If you are stumped as to how signing up for this list could be useful in your particular job function, give me a shot to see if I can figure out an application for you. I’ll bet I can find one.

Takeaway message:  Junk mail, SPAM, email broadcasts, email lists… are a gold mine of ideas, leads, contacts and cash if you think of them as serving you for your purposes and stop thinking of them as an annoyance or interruption to your day. I am signed up for more lists than you would believe, and can get literally hundreds of emails per day. Over the years I have found these lists an invaluable source of business/ideas/contacts/sales opportunities… so getting Bill’s email which has nothing to do with my particular job, could introduce me to a whole new world, because Bill’s misdirected email was a lead to me that put me on to potentially hundreds of other leads, and they in turn… you get the idea…  It is all a matter of perspective, and what you do with it.

Extra credit:  If, before hearing about this email you actually looked up Terrence Johnson in Businessdesk, looked up myfaithapps in Businessdesk, searched his domain records, you deserve a gold star!

Extra Extra Credit: If you can definitively discover on your own what town and state Terrence lives in—in under five minutes with no help—you get ice cream. No guesses, you have to prove that it is actually the same guy with documentation to back it up.

 Dan Pritchett, Executive Vice President

Logos Bible Software
1313 Commercial St., Bellingham WA 98225-4307
Voice (360) 685-2335 FAX (360) 527-1707
Twitter: @DanPritchett


From: Bill Schwartz

To: Marketing Dept

From Sales Inbox.  Didn’t know where to send this.  Thanks.

Bill Schwartz

Logos Bible Software – Direct Sales Representative


From: Terrence Johnson
To: Logos Customer Service


My name is Terrence, founder of the MyFaithApps app store. The reason for me contacting you today is that I came across your app doing research on faith based apps and developers. I would like to send you more information about the MyFaithApps app store as I would like to get your apps in our store. If you have any questions please contact me via email/

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


CEO/Founder MyFaithApps


Can you answer these tough questions about Logos?

From: Nathan Smoyer

To: Marketing Dept

We recently had a blogger ask a few tough questions before deciding to review Logos. Phil took the time to answer his questions.

Below you’ll see the questions and answers. Please read these. I believe the answers will help you describe, understand, and speak about Logos books.

  1. When it comes right down to it, do I own the books I purchase through Logos? Or is it more accurate to say that I license them? It is most accurate to say that you own a license to the content you’ve acquired. The EULA might prove helpful in articulating some of these distinctions (e.g., “Ownership of the Content remains with Copyright holders.”). There are two different kinds of licenses: perpetual (i.e., ownership) and temporary (i.e., rental). Rental is new, so very few products [currently one, but probably multiple in a week or two] are available this way currently, but you’ll probably see us experiment more with rental in the future.
  2.  I have theological works, commentaries, and reference books my father owned before me because he helped establish my theological library by thinning his own. It was encouraging and very helpful when he did this. If at some point I determine to do the same for my son, and if I have built my collection in Logos, will I be able to transfer ownership of certain titles to him? Yes. See here, here, and here. The key principle is that you can transfer anything you purchased as long as you transfer it in its entirety. You cannot transfer part of a product. For example, if you purchased WBC as a collection, you’d need to transfer it as a collection. You couldn’t transfer a subset of it.
  3.  It is one thing to give away books while I love. It is something else entirely to have my entire collection simply cease to be when I die. When I die, will I be able to give my book collection to my son? If not my collection, can I pass my account to him or to anyone else? Yes. See #2 above.
  4.  As time goes on, we are seeing more and more classic works that are no longer under copyright released very cheaply on Kindle and in other ebook formats. For example, I can find The Reformed Pastor for $0.99 on Kindle while the same volume is $15.95 for Logos. Why the discrepancy? Do you ever expect that this gap will close? If all you want to do is read a PD work, it might be difficult for some to justify the increased price for Logos books compared to Kindle books [I’d be happy to do so if you want] (but it might also be hard for some to justify any cost when Google and others make scans available for free). If you want to research, it becomes easy to justify the cost [which I’d also be happy to do]. You’re paying for the robust markup and the interconnected digital library, not just the content. Our markup accompanied by our powerful tools makes our content superior to Kindle and other ebook formats. However, I do see us continually trying to be more competitive with PD content. We’ve tended to focus on selling collections and have priced individual titles to incentivize the collection sale, but that’s changing a bit with the growth of mobile users. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our Community Pricing program, where it’s often possible to get books for ~$1 each. Customers set the price, maximizing their discount rather than our profit.
  5.  We are seeing classic works fall in price, but we are also seeing publishers regularly discount current works to $1.99 or $2.99. Can we find similar deals for Logos? If not, do you expect that such a time will come? Vyrso books are more analogous to Kindle books (although superior in some smaller ways). Vyrso distributes publishers’ content just like Amazon does. Most sales publishers do are multi-channel. We participate in as many of them as we can. [I can explain more about the differences between Logos and Vyrso if you’d like.]
  6.  Are Logos books a proprietary format or can anyone create and distribute books that can be added to my library (or anyone else’s library)? Logos books are in a proprietary format, and in many ways this is what sets us apart. Our markup is the secret sauce that allows the software to do really cool things with the content, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what we plan to do. However, our free desktop apps come with a Personal Books tool, which allows users to create and distribute their own content. Very soon, they’ll be able to distribute this content in our store and even sell it (think Apple App Store).
  7.  If the history of computing has taught us anything, it’s that things changed quickly. Most of the hardware, software and files we used only ten years ago are now completely lost and inaccessible. What assurance do I have that 5 years from now, and 20 years from now, and 100 years from now, Logos will still exist and still be usable?  I’m not going to pretend that we can provide any sort of guarantee, but I do think we have a track record that instills confidence. (1) We’ve been in business for 22 years, and we’ve never been stronger. We’re not going anywhere, if God wills. (2) A license to content from 22 years ago is every bit as good as a license to the same content you’d purchase today. File formats have changed, software versions have changed, delivery methods have changed, but the license hasn’t. We provide free updates to the all content you have a license to. Read more on this point. See also here.


Nathan Smoyer

Social Media Coordinator, Marketing


Pitching makes a huge difference

The intern hack-a-thon taught me a lot about the importance of constantly growing the skill of pitching.

Learning how to pitch can make a huge difference in your career.

You can use pitching skills to:

  • Drive customers to open emails, click on buttons and place orders
  • Get approval for, and excitement about, your ideas
  • Persuade others that your project or request deserves more focus or a higher priority (or that it should be canceled)
  • Recruit awesome people to join our team
  • Convince a publisher to let us put their books into our format
  • Ask for  a promotion and/or a raise

The intern hack-a-thon: pitching skills can make or break it

As a marketing mentor for the intern hack-a-thon I had the opportunity to to hear three versions of almost every team’s pitches:

1. Friday at lunch they gave pitches to recruit team members

  • As I watched groups formed I realized that convincing the right team member to join a team could make or break the team’s success.
  • The max team size was five members. There was a team that started with two members and didn’t recruit anyone else through their initial pitch. They ended up being the only team that was not able to demonstrate a working prototype.

2. Saturday morning I met with most of the teams about their product pitches

  • Two of the teams sent me stuff to review ahead of time. One team sent me an email the night before asking for data to quantify the potential revenue their product could produce. Another team sent me a written pitch that showed they had really thought through the business and marketing implications of their product.
  • Both of the teams that prepared in advance ended up winning.
  • One team I met with had “something” missing from their product. As we talked we realized it was that the presenter wasn’t passionate about the product.
  • During my meetings it was interesting to see that some teams joined together in crafting their pitches while others delegated it to a single member.

3. Saturday after lunch the interns presented their pitches and demos for the judges

  • It was stressful! The main conference room was filled with tension and excitement.
  • The pitches/demos were timed (4 minutes) with a 1-minute warning. No additional time was given for technical malfunctions.
  • The judges asked questions for 5-6 minutes. The questions were intense and topics included: revenue implications, how revenue estimates were determined, why a specific coding language was used, why an app wasn’t integrated into Faithlife, how long it would take to get the code ready to ship, etc.

Some take aways

  • If others don’t buy-in or join in, you probably need to refine your pitch or come up with a different idea.
  • If you don’t feel passionately about your idea or products others probably won’t either.
  • You can give an excellent pitch and still not win.
  • Pitches don’t have to be perfect to be successful.
  • Presenting pitches with a team is useful because they can answer questions that you can’t.
  • Planning the “go-to-market” pitch with the entire team led to greater insights and better presentations then when the marketers worked on their pitches separately from their teams.

Here’s a few articles I thought were interesting on this subject:

You may also want to check out this video that Jim shared with the interns:

I’m currently reading Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In and getting ready to start Spin Selling. If anyone wants to do a book discussion group on either one, let me know.

Do you have any other articles (or books) you would recommend?

Email Etiquette in a Growing Business

Email-Etiquette-2Many of you know that I came to Logos from a rather large company — the largest in the world, in fact. As Logos continues to grow, there are a few areas of our business that could be tweaked, in order to help alleviate growing pains.

And based on my short time here, I think one of those areas is email etiquette.

As a smaller company, email, phone conversations, and even Lync chats can seem superfluous. If you have a question, concern, or project you need finalized, you simply walk down the hall and ask the person directly. The amount of meetings in a smaller company allows for this sort of casual flexibility, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

But as a company like Logos begins to grow, emerging from the shell of a “small business” and morphing into something — dare I say — more “corporate,” we must adjust some of the ways we communicate, in order to continue to be efficient, effective, and profitable (while still preserving the laid-back, “start up” vibe).

I would certainly never suggest that we adopt any hard-and-fast rules, nor should we all of a sudden become a company with corporate “red tape” and a litany of endless policies and procedures. After all, I left that work life behind for a reason. But there are some general tips we can appropriate for the benefit of not only productivity, but also the general sanity and well-being of Logos as a whole. I also think this is especially important as we continue to bring on new employees from a variety of big-business backgrounds.

  • Don’t reply to say “Thank you,” unless there’s more to the conversation. This is a pet peeve of many, and while it is nice to be thanked, this is probably best left being done in person. I struggle with this one, personally, so I’m sorry if I’ve ever sent you a ton of “Thank yous!”
  • Summarize long discussions. Don’t just forward a lengthy chain of emails without any explanation. Instead, give the receiver a synopsis of the discussion/project/problem up to that point, so they can quickly respond and act on the matter.
  • Reply promptly. This might seem counter-intuitive to productivity, especially if someone just says “I don’t know the answer, let me find out,” but it is vital from the standpoint of both company morale and long-term efficiency. People want to know that they are being listened to, and that their concerns are being addressed, but they also want to know that their project is moving forward. We have great resources like the Wiki and Asana to track projects — but always point a person to such resources, in case they’re not aware of the status of a project (or where it’s located).
  • Be proactive. Think about other follow-up questions or issues that might arise as part of your discussion, and answer them before they’re asked. This saves time, and helps others think through their projects. Two heads are better than one.
  • Only copy relevant people. Don’t cc the entire office when you want to reply to a single person. Don’t bcc someone if you’re concerned they might Reply All. And don’t Reply All unless it’s to tell us that the building is on fire.

More tips on email etiquette can be found here.

The better we are at communicating through services such as email and Lync, the more we’ll accomplish as a business. Because let’s face it: as we continue to grow, our face-to-face time will be less and less, and the need to streamline communication will only increase.

What do you think? What are other ways we can help improve our communication as a growing business?

4 literary tips for better copywriting

From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Hi there, marketers,

One of my favorite novels is Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a deeply tongue-in-cheek story couched in some beautiful prose. DeLillo’s no copywriter, but many of the techniques that he uses make marketing copy stronger.

What can we learn from him?

1. Use long sentences to set up your short ones. Most of DeLillo’s sentences are lean: one subject, one verb, often no introductory clause. We already know this is good. But DeLillo also writes some really long sentences, and those long ones make the short ones stronger. In the following passage, the contrast between the second-to-last and last sentences reinforces the tension and resolution.

What time was it when I opened my eyes, sensing something or something nearby? Was it an odd-numbered hour? . . . Was it dawn already? Were those crows I heard screaming in the trees?

There was someone sitting in the backyard. A white-haired man sitting erect in the old wicker chair, a figure of eerie stillness and composure. At first, dazed and sleepy, I didn’t know what to make of the sight . . . I felt cold, white. I worked my way back to the window, gripping a doorknob, a handrail, as if to remind myself of the nature and being of real things. He was still out there, gazing into the hedges. I saw him in profile in the uncertain light, motionless and knowing. Was he as old as I’d first thought—or was the white hair purely emblematic, part of his allegorical force? That was it, of course. He would be Death, or Death’s errand-runner, a hollow-eyed technician from the plague era, from the era of inquisitions, endless wars, of bedlams and leprosariums. He would be an aphorist of last things, giving me the barest glance—civilized, ironic—as he spoke his deft and stylish line about my journey out. . . . When the storm door banged shut, the man’s head jerked and his legs came uncrossed. He got to his feet and turned in my direction. The sense of eerie and invincible stillness washed off, the aura of knowingness, the feeling he conveyed of an ancient and terrible secret. A second figure began to emerge from the numinous ruins of the first, began to assume effective form, develop in the crisp light as a set of movements, lines and features, a contour, a living person whose distinctive physical traits seemed more and more familiar as I watched them come into existence, a little amazed. It was not Death that stood before me but only Vernon Dickey, my father-in law.

2. Repeat phrases, not words. Overusing any individual word—“Bible,” say—feels sloppy, but repeating entire chunks of syntax lends your writing a sense of rhythm, a forward momentum. This technique is especially useful in rising action—the body of an email leading up to a CTA, for example. Here’s DeLillo using it:

I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in [car crashes in commercial films]. I see those car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old ‘can-do’ spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. . . . I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream.

I tell them it’s not decay they’re seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It’s a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naïveté. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities.

I tell them they can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act. It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs. I connect car crashes to holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth. We don’t mourn the dead or rejoice in miracles. These are days of secular optimism, of self-celebration. We will improve, prosper, perfect ourselves. Watch any car crash in any American movie. It is a high-spirited moment like old-fashioned stunt flying, walking on wings. The people who stage those crashes are able to capture a lightheartedness, a carefree enjoyment that car crashes in foreign films can never approach.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we do the same thing with “You’ll . . .”: “With the FSB, you’ll share notes and prayer requests. You’ll explore insights from today’s top scholars. You’ll dig deeper, together.”

3.    Avoid clichés. It’s hard to find a set phrase in DeLillo’s work. Where other writers might choose “ghost” or “grim reaper,” DeLillo talks about an “aphorist of last things” and Death’s “hollow-eyed technician” (see #1). It’s not that the constituent words are fancy or rare—it’s that I pay attention because I’m not used to hearing them combined like that. Next time you start to write “scholarly yet accessible,” remember that such phrases wither through overuse.

4.    Cut unnecessary exclamation marks. Compare the following two speakers—who’s more powerful?

The plane had lost power in all three engines, dropped from thirty-four thousand feet to twelve thousand feet. Something like four miles. When the steep glide began, people rose, fell, collided, swam in their seats. Then the serious screaming and moaning began. Almost immediately a voice from the flight deck was heard on the intercom: ‘We’re falling out of the sky! We’re going down! We’re a silver gleaming death machine!’ This outburst struck the passengers as an all but total breakdown of authority, competence and command presence, and it brought on a round of fresh and desperate wailing.

Then there was a second male voice from the flight deck, this one remarkably calm and precise, making the passengers believe there was someone in charge after all, an element of hope: ‘This is American two-one-three to the cockpit voice recorder. Now we know what it’s like. It is worse than we’d ever imagined. They didn’t prepare us for this at the death simulator in Denver.’

In general, try to avoid using more than one exclamation mark per paragraph. Multiple exclamation marks back to back, as used by the first speaker, don’t really sound exciting; they sound sort of hysterical. And when you do use an exclamation mark, ask yourself, “Is this really exciting?—from the reader’s point of view?” If you can get away with not using exclamation marks, you’ll let the ones you really need convey more excitement.

As always, thanks for reading!


Top 5 mistakes from hypercorrection

From: David Davidson
To: Marketing Dept

Sometimes the desire for perfection trips us up. Hypercorrection is what happens when we set out to follow even the strictest rules and, in doing so, fall into error. Here are the top five slipups:

1.    Adverbs wrongly used in place of adjectives

A linking verb connects a descriptive word with a subject. “To be” is the most common, of course—in “I am hungry,” “hungry” describes “I,” not “am.” But sometimes we interpret the descriptive word as an adverb, not an adjective, writing “open widely” instead of “open wide” or “feel badly” instead of “feel bad.” Be careful with “be,” “feel,” “look,” “seem,” “appear,” and other linking verbs—if an adverb follows, there’s a good chance it’s wrong. In such cases, ask yourself, “Do I mean that I feel in a bad manner, or that what I feel is bad?”

2.    False or pretentious Latin plurals

Latin plurals have long been associated with correctness, but not every -us word in English should, when pluralized, end in -i. “Octopus” is a good example—though we often say “octopi,” “octopus” comes from Greek; it entered New Latin as a loanword. The classical plural, then, is “octopodes,” not “octopi”—shoutout to marketing assistant and hairless-cat enthusiast Amanda Olson for already knowing this—but you should write “octopuses,” the anglicized plural. Likewise, “ignorami,” “apparati,” and “prospecti” are incorrect for “ignoramuses,” “apparatuses,” and “prospectuses.” “Indices” and “appendices” aren’t outright errors for “indexes” and “appendixes,” but outside scientific and mathematical contexts, the native-English forms are preferred. Your best bet? Double-check Merriam-Webster whenever you pluralize such words, and use the first plural form listed.

3.    Prepositions inelegantly moved from sentence ends

Lots of us were taught never to end sentences with prepositions. That “rule,” arbitrary in the first place, is long defunct; good luck finding a contemporary usage authority who’ll back it up. But there are two reasons it’s still worth keeping in mind: (1) We deal with readers who understand themselves as academics, and the traditionalists among them might (wrongly) look down on our “incorrect” usage. If it’s just as elegant to move the preposition elsewhere, might as well—that way we keep all readers happy. (2) A sentence’s “punch word” comes at the very end: for example, Be ready when people ask, “Why?” is much stronger than Be ready for the “why” questions. Prepositions are pretty much never punchy, so if you’re ending a sentence with one, it’s worth asking if it’s really the word you want to emphasize.

4.    “I,” “myself,” “whom” wrongly used

This is probably a topic worth treating on its own, but—in short—“I” and “who” are for people who do verbs, “me” and “whom” are for people whom things are done to (or who are the object of prepositions, as in the previous phrase), and “myself” is for people who are simultaneously the doers and the ones being acted on. So “Between you and I, this email’s too long” isn’t right: “I” isn’t doing anything. “Get in touch with Jayson or myself” isn’t right: “myself” doesn’t point back to the doer, as it does in “I feed myself.” (The implicit actor in imperatives is “you.”) But what about a sentence like “Voters whom politicians think are underinformed”? “Whom” sounds right because the voters are the object of the politicians’ thought, but “voters” is the subject (the doer) of “are.” In such cases, “who,” not “whom,” is correct. This may be old news to many of you; the tricky part is remembering it every time “I,” “myself,” or “whom” just sounds right.

Note: in blog posts and emails, you’re not obligated to use “whom” even when it is correct. “Who” is often more idiomatic, and we aim for a colloquial (if polished) style in most of our messaging.

5.    “A number of people was there,” “A handful of mistakes arises,” etc.

Makes sense, right? “Number” is singular, so “was” should be too. But that flouts well-established idiom: the sense of “number” is obviously plural, and we’re used to hearing “number . . . were.” In that sentence, meaning, not syntax, should govern the subject-verb agreement. (Meaning overriding syntax is called “synesis.”) Unless you’re dealing with “amount,” “class,” or “group,” if your noun denotes multiple people or things, you’re probably safe with a plural verb. “A couple of cats are napping.” “Of the world’s many cats, a number are self-styled ‘ca$h cats,’ flaunting their wealth on the internet.” “A host of kittens are pouncing nearby.” “Percentage,” though, complicates things. When it’s used with “of” and precedes both a plural noun and a verb, it—like the other nouns of multitude—usually takes a plural verb: “A low percentage of email readers click through.” But when the verb precedes “percentage,” the verb should be singular: “There is a low percentage of clickthroughs.”

Did I any miss any major hypercorrect mistakes? Make any? Let me know in the comments by replying!

Thanks for reading,


P.S. Want more usage advice? You’ll find it in the style guide.


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