Sunday, January 13, 2008

Five writing lessons from New York Times economic article

If you want your clients and prospects to actually read your investment commentary, you can learn some lessons from "No Quick Fix to Downturn: Some Fear Stimulus Is Already Too Late," an article on the front page of The New York Times (January 13).

1. Create a headline that blares your main message.
In this case, it's "No Quick Fix to Downturn." I'd prefer "No Quick Fix to Economic Downturn," which is the title the Times uses on the website version of this article. I think that column width constraints squeezed out "economic" in the print version of the newspaper.

2. Get more specific in your sub-headline.
"Some Fear Stimulus Is Already Too Late."

3. Deliver your main message quickly in the body of your article.
Co-authors Peter S. Goodman and Floyd Norris lead with "As leaders in Washington turn their attention to efforts to avert a looming downturn, many economists suggest that it may already be too late to change the course of the economy over the first half of the year, if not longer."

4. Keep your paragraphs short.
Like many newspaper stories, this one begins with a one-sentence paragraph. You needn't be as brief. However, an occasional one-sentence can provide a welcome change of pace.

5. Quickly answer the "So what?" question.
Most readers will ask "Why should I care about what you're telling me?" I found my answer within the first 130 words of this 1400-word article. The authors write that the answer to "how much the economy can be expected to fall before it stabilizes.... could be a defining factor in the outcome of the fiercely contested presidential election."

Your readers face competing demands on their attention. If you make easy for them to understand what you're discussing and why, they're more likely to stick with you. Also, they're more likely to go away understanding the main thrust of your article.

If you saw the Goodman-Norris article, did these writing techniques help snag your attention?

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

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