Yes, Communicator, you can make your copy more colorful
How can scanning old news headlines, getting a quick education from Wikipedia or asking your BFF and research assistant Google a question or two save a boring story?
By helping you add concrete detail to your message in 30 minutes or less.
One of my favorite editing assignments is to turn dry, abstract message into colorful copy — without going back to the subject matter expert for an interview.
Here are some simple approaches you can use to find juicy details that transform your story from “meh” to masterpiece, along with examples from a recent editing project. This research took from 30 minutes to ZERO minutes of research — a time frame that should fit into even the busiest communicator’s schedule.
1. From X to Y
One of my favorite techniques is the “From X to Y” approach. Add alliteration, rhyme or A-to-Z examples, and suddenly, you have a colorful passage on your hands.
For this piece, Google and I researched RATP, the Parisian metro system, and found its tagline. (I find Wikipedia super-helpful for these institutional stories.) Google and I also looked into routes for the “From X to Y” examples.
Research time: 15 minutes.
|With a large resident population and a huge annual influx of tourists, Paris and its surrounding area needs a transport company that is up to the job. Completing more than 3 billion customer journeys in 2010, RATP is that company, running metro trains, buses, tramways and mass rapid transit for the city.|
To support 1,000 trains, 300 stations and 4,500 buses, RATP has a large team of engineering and maintenance personnel, as well as its own 1,000-strong security department. Add in drivers, ticketing and station staff and that’s a lot of people who need constant, reliable communications to ensure the transport network runs smoothly.
RATP employees rely on a fully integrated XYZ network from ABC, using talk groups that let staff from all areas of the system communicate when needed, both for routine jobs and in an emergency. This is all a far cry from the time when RATP struggled with seven or eight analogue systems that couldn’t connect to each other, meaning that people on the buses couldn’t talk to the people on the Metro.
Currently, 9,000 users benefit from the XYZ network, a number that is soon to rise up to 15,000, with the addition of the bus fleet.
|Aimer la ville, says the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens’ (RATP) tagline. And from the Seine to the Sorbonne, from the Notre Dame to the Musée d’Orsay, from the Tuileries to the Île de la Cité, RATP helps people in and around Paris love the city, indeed.|
In fact, more than 3 billion people each year ride the Paris metro, tram, bus and regional express trains through Paris and the Île-de-France. That makes the RATP the densest and largest metropolitan transportation system in the world.
To keep Parisians and visitors flowing seamlessly, the RATP must keep its communications flowing seamlessly, as well. To that end, RATP relies on a fully integrated XYZ network from ABC to connect 9,000 users on:
Now RATP is offering its XYZ network services to other organisations, as well.
2. Juicy details
In this story — a case study of how my client helped French firefighters — the client led with the background. But it’s better to lead with a juicy detail that illustrates the problem the organization helped its client solve.
I found all of the information about the French firefighters online, with a little help from Google Translation.
Research time: 30 minutes.
|The automatic vehicle location (AVL) application for XYZ is becoming more flexible. Advanced new capabilities are already enabling French fire brigades to pull off the frequently difficult task of saving costs and improving operations at the same time.|
The latest release of ABC’s AVL application for XYZ helps user organisations to customize the system to make use of the positioning equipment that suits them best — in terms of both cost and operation. There are three major developments that enable the improvements.
|The French fire and emergency service have at least one job its brethren in other countries don’t: Service Départemental d’Incendie et de Secours responders are often called on to rescue water sports enthusiasts who get into trouble in the deep gorges of the Verdon, Tarn and Ardèche rivers.|
In those cavernous canyons — the Verdon alone has cut a ravine up to 700 metres deep through the limestone mass — SDIS’s existing radio network struggles to provide coverage.
But new XYZ cell technology from ABC has proven in trials to improve network coverage even in the deep recesses of the Ardèche region during rescue operations. Those successes bode well for French firemen in Tarn and the Alpes de Haute Provence, as well.
3. Interesting observation
Humiliatingly, I had to ask Google what Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev were up to before I was able to make this interesting observation! Google also helped me find details about Czech emergency services.
Research time: 15 minutes.
|When US President Barack Obama met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague in April, short notice of the event meant that the Czech authorities had to come up with an effective security plan quickly. Luckily, the Czech Police could build on previous experience of securing meetings of the IMF and NATO, explains Tomáš Hrubý.|
The 2010 security operation brought together police patrol teams from both the central and regional police organisations, as well as reinforcements from the traffic police and Special Forces units, among others. The President of Police made it a priority to get everyone working together effectively by establishing radio links using XYZ-based XX radio equipment, in particular for group-level communication.
The police force’s Division of Communications and Technical Support IT was responsible for promoting smooth co-operation by providing support in four key areas:
|When two heads of state met in Prague in April 2010, they concerned themselves with world security: U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new treaty on nuclear arms reduction.|
While the world leaders signed START 2, others concerned themselves with securing the safety of the leaders themselves.[How short?] Short notice of the meeting meant that Czech authorities had to come up with an effective security plan [how?] quickly. Luckily, the Czech Police were able to build on their experience securing meetings of the International Monetary Fund in 2000 and NATO 2002.
Plus, they had the support of XX, the Czech Republic’s XYZ network for public safety and security agencies.
4. Anecdotal lead
One moment in time is more compelling than “in 1997.” Google found this anecdote for me.
Research time: 15 minutes.
|In 1997, the Helsinki Energy Company in Finland switched on the world’s first XYZ network. In 2007, the network is used daily by Helsinki Energy personnel, as well as other commercial organisations.|
As the first of its kind, XX was naturally the result of a learning curve. Co-operation between Helsinki Energy and the network provider was very close, and the client was actually responsible for suggesting various tailored features that have later been offered as options to other users. Ten years on, the network is still going strong, having operated reliably since it was launched.
As a network operator, Helsinki Energy provides commercial communication services to other organisations, as well as being a user itself. XX offers complete coverage throughout Helsinki Energy’s network area, which surrounds the Finnish capital. This is even true in very challenging places such as the underground network, which extends up to 60 metres below ground. Even here, users do not have to resort to direct mode operation (DMO) between terminals.
|It wasn’t the first time they’d spoken. But when Helsinki Energy’s Ilkka Pirvola called ABC’S Tapio Heikkilä on Sept. 2, 1997, it was a moment to remember.|
That conversation marked the first call on the world’s first commercial XYZ network, XX.
Operated by Helsinki Energy, one of the largest energy companies in Finland, XX serves 1,400 users, including:
XX: All around and underground
XX covers Helsinki Energy’s network area, which surrounds the Finnish capital. That includes Helsinki’s underground network, which extends up to 60 metres below ground.
5. Scenario lead
For a scenario lead, you simply walk readers through the situation you’re writing about. Make the subject of the scenario “you” to avoid ridiculous “Polly Picture Taker” approaches. Add color with concrete details — Aunt Mary, Cousin Tiina, selfies, for instance.
Research time: 0 minutes.
|Commercial mobile data services enable us to post things on the Internet with a few clicks, send messages or check what’s happening on the other side of the world. We can keep friends updated about our status and share photos instantly so that our chosen Internet communities can enjoy our discoveries.|
|You might remember — and then again, you might not — the days of analog photos. You’d take your film to the processor, pick up the prints, then send the pictures to Aunt Mary and Cousin Tiina by mail.|
Oh, how the world has changed.
Now you can email or text selfies and other digital photos instantly to your friends and family or post them to your social media accounts in less time than it took you to shoot them in the first place.
But … I don’t have time!
The biggest obstacle the folks in my writing classes have to writing more colorful copy is time. They simply don’t have enough, they tell me, even to spend a few minutes searching for colorful details.
Time is my biggest obstacle too: I get paid by the word, not by the hour, so the minutes I invest in getting these concrete details pay off only in the quality of the copy, not in my income.
So, is it worth it to spend the time it takes — from zero minutes to 30 — to dig up juicy details?
Only if you’re writing to be read.