Writing Tips

Harness Colorful Language

Harness Colorful Language

Posted By on Oct 18, 2017

Adjectives and adverbs modify a word by emphasizing information. Just as color adds depth to a photograph, modifiers add meaning and color to stories. But too much saturation leaves readers feeling overwhelmed.

Adjectives answer one of three questions about a noun: which, what kind or how many. Add flavor to a story by showing a noun’s origin, type, shape or color.

Adverbs modify verbs by answering one of five questions: how, how often, how much, when or where. They explain action. Some writers tap the same adverbs repeatedly. If possible, avoid the three most common adverbs: not, very, too.


Use, But Avoid Abuse

As much fun as adjectives and adverbs may be, avoid using them too much. Instead of liberally sprinkling them throughout a sentence, use them sparingly to make an impact.

Kyle Bender counts weeds, measures rain and drives 38 miles to shop for groceries. Sound like a dull life? Don’t be fooled. This quiet young man working the fields in Sherman County is the latest in a long line of farmers helping to further science and feed the world.

Excerpt from Farmers + Scientists = Best Possible Wheat
By Drew Myron, Wasco Electric Cooperative, OR

There is no need to add adjectives about the weeds or rain. Drew saves her adjectives for the hero of the story, not the surroundings.


Strengthen Verbs

Instead of relying on adverbs, strengthen verbs first. Try this list of action verbs from WritersHelpingWriters.net.

Equestrian trick riders will thunder into Lincoln County’s rodeo arena …

Excerpt from Fair Fun for Everyone
By Dianna Troyer, Lincoln County Power District No. 1, NV

Dianna used the strong, descriptive verb “thunder” instead of a verb paired with an adverb, such as “ride loudly.”


Stop Double Dipping

Cut adjectives or adverbs when the noun implies the same thing.

They walked across the frozen snow. versus They walked across the snow.
She screamed loudly. versus She screamed.

Harness colorful language to keep your stories—and readers—focused on what matters most.


This is an excerpt for the Summer 2017 issue of On Line, our quarterly newsletter. Get more great ideas here.

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What does every writer fear on a page? Red ink.

Peer editing shouldn’t trigger panic. Instead, think of it as a safety net. When you write an article, it’s easy to overlook missing words or phrases that don’t quite make sense. You know what you meant to say, so you may miss potential stumbling blocks for your readers.

There are a few tricks you can use for better self-editing. Try reading your draft article out loud. A verbal sound check makes it easier to spot problems. You can also read a story backwards (start at the end and work your way up) to look for spelling errors.

Online editing tools such as the Hemingway Editor (Hemingwayapp.com) help you pick better words and simplify sentences to boost readability. The app creators call it a spellchecker for style. But at the end of the day, nothing beats having someone else look at your work.


Ruralite’s Process

Ruralite’s editing process has several stages. At least three Ruralite staff edit every magazine page, using different ink colors to track edit authors. Then each utility has a unique review process.

“Even if your story is fabulous, there are still small tweaks that will be made along the way,” says Ruralite Assistant Editor Pam Blair. “Be careful of showing early copy to story subjects.”

Utility editors and general managers are ultimately in charge of what goes into the magazine. If they do not like a feature story, they can cut it.

“When I rearrange things or ask you to get more colorful quotes, I’m trying to make you look better,” says Pam. “Don’t assume we’re trying to beat up on you. We’re trying to make you look good and help your readers, too.”


What tools do you use to keep your writing sharp?

Share your editing tips and favorite resources in our comments section.

Pam Blair editing.

Ruralite Assistant Editor Pam Blair edits local pages with a purple pen, her trademark color. Photo by Mike Teegarden

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By Lori Russell

You’ve queried, researched and prepared. Now it is time to interview the subject of your profile article. Here is a basic structure for a quality interview.

First Things First

Profile interviews are usually done in person or by phone. When you set up the appointment, let your subject know the angle of your story and the approximate amount of time you will need.

Because you have prepared in advance, you already have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you need to get from your interview.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than two decades. A regular Ruralite magazine contributor, she has been published in magazines and newspapers nationally.

Interview Poise

Your first question sets the tone for the entire conversation, so begin by asking something easy. The point is to get the subject relaxed so he or she will talk rather than just answer questions. Small talk is not useless. You can use the time to take notes on surroundings, appearance and mannerisms.

Once you get the conversation going, be quiet and listen. This is not the time to talk about you. “Uh-huh”—the universal interviewer response—and its cousin the nod keep the conversation going. For variation, restate or feed back what your subject just said.

If your subject is skimming the surface of the topic, pursue the details. Go for breadth and depth by asking open-ended how and why questions. Be friendly but to the point if he or she veers off track.

Don’t Forget the Details

I prefer to take notes during an interview rather than using a recording device. I am looking for the most vivid quotes, not every word my subject utters. Taking notes allows me to capture gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and the relationship of the speaker to the setting that I cannot get from a recording.

Taking notes also allows me to edit while listening. Will I use this quote? Is this information what I’m really after?  As I listen, I begin to shape and select my material even as I formulate my next question. What gaps need to be filled in with answers or anecdotes? What areas have already been covered?

Develop a system of note-taking shortcuts. I put a star next to good material and use brackets when noting my own observations about the surroundings or what the subject is saying.

With practice, you will be able to recognize an opening hook, an intriguing quote or a closing anecdote as soon as it is uttered. Often, the best revelations come at the end of your time with a subject, after the notebook is closed. Keep listening and write them down as soon as you can.

Always Follow Up

Nearly every interview requires a follow-up call or email to check facts or ask an additional question. In my experience, subjects appreciate when you take the time to get the story right. Make that call or send a quick email. And always remember to say thank you.

Assignment: Set up and conduct an interview with your profile subject. Afterward, reflect on what you did well and what you would like to improve on for the next interview.

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As utility communicators, some of our greatest inspiration comes from our peers’ success. NRECA’s 2017 Spotlight on Excellence Awards celebrated the best communication innovations, including many award-winning projects produced by Ruralite Services’ members.

For the next two weeks, we are highlighting Spotlight winners on our blog. Heading north to the last frontier, we get an insider’s look into Copper Valley Electric Association’s gold award from Director of Communications Sharon Crisp.

Sharon Crisp

Best Digital Storytelling (Class 1), Gold

Watch the winning video: Allison Creek Hydro

“Digital storytelling has become so incredibly important as it’s quick and easy for those who want to see it,” says Sharon. “No one would ever ‘read’ through the pages it would take to tell the details of three years of a hydro project construction.”

Since construction began on the Allison Creek Hydroelectric project in 2014, Sharon Crisp has shared the progress with CVEA members on the project website, which earned her the silver 2015 Spotlight award for Best Wild Card. Sharon won the 2017 Spotlight award for her project video, which debuted at the Allison Creek Commissioning Ceremony and Powerhouse Dedication in October 2016.

The video takes viewers through the construction from beginning to end. It highlights the major project components and people who made the hydro project possible.

“Our goal was to provide a comprehensive outline of the project that would make sense and bring it all together for someone who perhaps hadn’t been following it,” says Sharon.

In today’s age of short attention spans and a need for visual aids, video is a valuable tool to spread important utility information.

“While not quick and easy to produce necessarily, it is pretty easy for communicators to get video and other digital media in the hands of, or at the fingertips of those we want to see it,” Sharon says.

Sharon has three tips to tell your story:

  1. Be consistent. Make sure your imagery and messages tell the same story. Know your goals, objectives and audience before sharing information.
  2. Diversify your sharing. Use various platforms to spread your message. Try social media, website and printed materials, such as newsletters and magazines.
  3. Include visual aids. Whether you are sharing digitally or in print, use images, graphics or videos to support your message. Sharon uses visuals in most of her Facebook posts after seeing a drastic increase in engagement compared to text-only posts.

Another member in the Spotlight

Read about Arizona G&T Cooperatives’ Geoff Oldfather’s 2017 Spotlight Win in our post Five Ways to Let Your News Story Shine.

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Anatomy of a Profile

Anatomy of a Profile

Posted By on Mar 22, 2017

By Lori Russell

am a curious person by nature and I love a good story. Give me a one-on-one conversation with someone and I’m in my element listening carefully and asking lots of questions. Most begin with, “Would you tell me more about … ” or, “Why?”

Because people fascinate me, it is not surprising that when I began writing nonfiction, I was naturally drawn to profile articles. A profile article explores the background and character of a person, group or business.

Whether the focus is on a news angle or a single aspect of the subject’s personal or professional life, a profile gives the reader a greater understanding of the subject through the lens of his or her personal interests, career, and educational and family background.

Some may call me a snoop, but my professional moniker as a profile writer gives me a legitimate reason to contact total strangers and ask them about their lives and their interests.

Everyone has a story, and profile writers help tell these tales to the world. You can, too. Here is the basic structure of a profile.


Bait, Hook, Lead … Whatever You Call It

Your profile starts with an intriguing beginning that draws your reader into your story. Like with good fiction, a profile lead grabs the action and puts the reader in the middle of it.

It can be an anecdote, pure information, a description, a quote, a question or a comparison. The lead can flash back to what the person’s life or a business was like in the past or what is happening in the present.

Unlike news articles, profiles do not need to answer the standard questions of who, what, when, where, why and how in the first paragraph. Also known as a “nut graph,” this paragraph explains who your article is about and why this person is interesting. In a profile, it is usually found following the lead.


Building a Great Body

The body of a profile—whether organized thematically or chronologically—weaves background material with details and quotes.

In a narrative profile, you may want to include comments from additional or secondary sources such as family, friends or colleagues. In the Q & A format, your interview is only with the subject.


Wrapping It Up

Unlike news articles that conclude when all the information has been presented in an inverted pyramid form, profile articles—such as essays and fiction—need closure.

An easy way to wrap up is with a circular ending, which refers back to your lead or the article’s subject or thesis. Another easy way to end is with a descriptive scene or a summary statement. An interesting quote from your subject will leave his voice in your readers’ heads long after they complete the article.

Subjects for profile articles are everywhere. This month as you move through your days, make a list of the interesting people you meet or already know. Then ask yourself: “What careers, hobbies or experiences do they have that others might want to know about?”

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than two decades. A regular Ruralite magazine contributor, she been published in magazines and newspapers nationally. Contact her at LRussell@gorge.net

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Looking for inspiration? Projects from your peers in Arizona, Alaska and Oregon shine in NRECA’s 2017 Spotlight on Excellence Awards program. The competition was stiff; 769 entries fought for gold and silver awards in categories ranging from news stories to digital storytelling.

We’re highlighting best practice tips from the winners on our blog. First up is Geoff Oldfather, manager of communications at Arizona G&T Cooperatives.


Geoff Oldfather
Best News Story (at-large category), Silver
Read the winning story: Apache Generating Station Vital to Regional Economy

“We can’t let ourselves slide into doing quick and easy stories with little or no substance,” says Geoff. “In today’s challenging regulatory and legislative climate, we have an obligation to our members and the public to step up our game when it comes to providing information. We have to do research and back up our assertions that we are vital parts of the economies and communities we serve.”

Geoff needed data to show the impact electric cooperatives and generation and transmission cooperatives have on regional economies. In 2015 he commissioned an economic impact study with Dr. Robert Carreira, president and chief economist for USEconomicResearch.com. The study was delivered in January 2016.

“The study gathered a lot of information from all our operations as well as outside our cooperative,” says Geoff. “I pulled from the study for this and several other stories.”

Geoff has five tips for penning an impactful news story:

  1. Find and focus on a theme. It was logical to use one of the key findings from the study – that our economic contribution is a “stabilizing” economic force in an area still reeling from the recession – for the central theme. I pulled only from the data related to that theme. Find your central theme, then focus on it and how to support it.
  2. Keep it simple. Only use the data that relates to your central theme and key points. We placed key data in a box and used the quotes in the content. If possible, that is how you should treat a story with a lot of data. Our Currents editor at Ruralite Services, Mike Teegarden, deserves credit for a great layout.
  3. Go to the top for quotes. In this case, it was the author of the study. For reaction, go to your CEO, CFO or other key people. If I were going to write a follow-up story, I would go to the “man on the street” interviews.
  4. Have confidence in your audience. Consumers are interested and willing to read what you are presenting as long as it’s credible.
  5. Know your audience. Who has a stake in the story? If you can answer that question, the story and supporting pictures and graphics will follow.


More Members in the Spotlight

Other regional 2017 Spotlight on Excellence winners include Brenda Dunn at NWPPACourtney Linville at Central Electric Cooperative, Oregon; Sharon Crisp at Copper Valley Electric Association, Alaska; and the Ruralite Services’ Marketing and Communications team.

We’ll share best practices tips from these winners over the next few weeks as we get ready for CONNECT’17, NRECA’s utility communications conference, in Tampa, Florida May 2-5, 2017. Hope to see you there!

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