Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

November 1998

From the "On Target" Team

You might have noticed that this month's issue of "On Target" is a little late. What can we say? Would you accept Extension Annual Conference as a legitimate excuse? That's our explanation, anyway, and we're sticking to it.

Lest you suspect we are really starting to fall down on the job when you don't receive an issue next month, we want to remind you that we don't publish "On Target" in December. We've found that it's hard to find time to write and distribute it, and we figure you're probably short of time to read it, too. Expect your next issue of "On Target" the week of January 15, 1999.

In the meantime, please accept our best wishes for a happy holiday season.

The Ag Comm "On Target" Team

Super Newsletters: Generating Story Ideas

This article is adapted from "Creating Super Newsletters: A Training Curriculum for Cooperative Extension Staff," Module 2, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, June 1997.

If you've set objectives and created an editorial framework for your newsletter, you're off to a good start in generating story ideas. Here are some more tips.

1. Think like a reader: Picture one of your readers, and put yourself in his/her shoes. Now ask yourself these five questions:

2. Start a "tickler file": A tickler file is where you put all those newspaper clippings and odd data that could be material for future stories. This file is helpful when you have writer's block.

3. Dismantle other story ideas: In every story, there are nuggets for at least five more stories. Pick up back issues of your newsletters (or look at another newsletter). Ask the following questions:

4. Organize a brainstorming session: Have the group brainstorm, and record as many ideas as possible. You'll come up with a surprising array of ideas.

5. Survey your readers: The best way to find out what your readers want is to ask them. You might do an informal telephone survey, a clip-out comment form, or a more formal reader survey.

6. Tap into current events: Story ideas are all around us. What's happening in the community? County? State? Nationally or globally? What season is it? What events are people talking about? What topics can you tie into and provide educational information on through your newsletter?

7. Other newsletters: Request to be put on their mailing lists. Scan them for story ideas. (Remember to ask permission if you want to reprint something, and be cautious even if you "borrow" an idea.)

Look for more on this topic next month..

If you have questions, please email me, or call me at 765-494-6946.

Unloading E-Mail Overload

Too much e-mail? I know I seem to fight e-mail overload daily. Here are some pointers from the October 1998 issue of "The Working Communicator" that might "Help Put an End to E-mail Overload."

* Find the best delivery method. Ask yourself if e-mail is the most appropriate way to deliver a specific message. Could it be done more effectively by fax, phone, snail mail, or in person?

* Don't send a message just to be noticed. Adding to the information overload won't endear you to busy coworkers.

* Update mailing lists. Purge lists regularly to ensure that the message being sent is pertinent to all of those receiving it. Honor requests to be removed from mailing lists.

* Compose an attention-grabbing subject line. First, know how many characters your subject line provides and avoid truncated messages. Next, make sure your subject line provides key words that shout "read me." Finally, indicate the level of importance by including signals such as "FYI," "!!," "fwd."

* Weigh the importance of the information, and, if a potential recipient can do without it, don't forward it. Otherwise, try condensing the material for the next reader.

* Keep it simple. If the message is intended for someone on another system, send simple-format text only. Excessive formatting may become garbled in the sending process.

When Your Words Are on Display

How do I begin . . . let me count the ways. And count them. And count them. Sound familiar? You're going to do a display. You already know your subject. You've identified your audience. And that has helped you determine your purpose. Now you've got to write the text, but how? You can think of lots of ways to start. Too many.

When you get down to writing the text for your display, take the time to think about how you want the text to "act," how you want it to function. Do you want the text to give information, show a process, explain a cause and effect, present a comparison or contrast? Revisit your subject with your audience and purpose in mind. That will help you select the best way to start.

Prepare a strong (but short) introductory paragraph that sums up the main idea you are trying to present. Then add bulleted examples illustrating that idea. This will enable the viewers to read down as far as they are comfortable. If they want only the major point, you've made that in your introductory paragraph. If they want more, they will be able to satisfy themselves by reading the next layer.

Some words of caution.

One of the biggest problems that we see in the Ag Comm display shop is text that is trying to present too many ideas or cover too much territory. A display is good for raising awareness of an issue or topic, not exhausting the subject (or the viewers).

Another common problem is text that is too advanced and specialized for its audience. Remember that your viewers will not have your familiarity with the subject. If they did, you probably wouldn't need a display in the first place.

So keep text on your display simple and to the point, but give your viewers an opportunity to get more information or have their questions answered.

Ideally, you or one of your colleagues will be standing right there. Because that's not always possible, on your display provide a name, a number, an e-mail address--some place your viewers can go when they want more.

Grammar Trap: (Feel) Badly vs. (Feel) Bad

"Badly" is an adverb; it modifies a verb. "Bad" is an adjective; it modifies a noun. Both words can correctly complete a sentence that starts "I feel"--depending on what you mean.

Example: I feel badly.

This sentence addresses your ability to feel. Maybe your ability to feel is limited because your hands are physically numb. Maybe you're just a cold fish and thus emotionally numb. The verb is "feel." The adverb is "badly."

The odds of needing to say this are slim to nil.

Example: I feel bad.

This sentence addresses your health or mood. It's a short way of saying that you're "in bad health" or "in a bad mood." The understood nouns are "health" and "mood." The adjective is "bad."

Probably because sentences like "I write bad" and "I sing bad" are incorrect, some people shy away from saying they "feel bad." But they shouldn't.

If there's a grammar or usage trap you'd like me to discuss or if you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers or On Target's managing editor, Kevin Smith.

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