Tag Archives: freelance writer

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

magazine coverIn the latest Mount Mary Magazine, the alumnae magazine for Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, I was asked to seek out research about the value of a liberal arts education and showcase in a magazine feature article how this particular institution uniquely lives out the liberal arts aspect of its mission and truly prepares today’s students for an ever-changing world and job market.

From the Spring/Summer issue of the Mount Mary Magazine:

“The value of an education in the liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” –Albert Einstein

Parents visiting college campuses with their high school students ask “What job can my child get with this degree?” Politicians and pundits debate the value (or perceived lack of value) of a well-rounded college education and suggest reforms to change the purpose of education from educating the thinkers of tomorrow to preparing students for specific jobs. And for many, there’s a perception that a liberal arts education is a luxury, not something available to students of all socio-economic levels.magazine spread

As the value of the liberal arts is increasingly questioned and debated, it is good to revisit Einstein’s words and to remind ourselves of the purpose and value of the liberal arts.

So what is the value of a liberal arts education in today’s world?

Read the rest of the story here.


 

About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

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5 Tips for Planning New Recruitment Communication or Marketing Projects

Project ChecklistAs a manager for recruitment marketing at a private college, I produced over 300 new or updated marketing pieces—e-mail blasts, posters, letters, viewbooks, postcards, event invitations, etc.—each year. With that kind of workload, it was important to be organized and develop an efficient process for creating those marketing pieces.

The result: I created a recruitment marketing project checklist to help keep on top of each project, and to make sure we thought each project through from the beginning, so that no surprises were left at the end. What things did our checklist cover?

1. Deadlines. With any marketing project, there are multiple deadlines: content deadlines, design deadlines, and (for print projects) the date you need to get the project to the printer so you’ll have it in hand when you need it.

Many projects (like event invitations) also had portions that needed content to be posted on the website (like all the details of the event and links to online registration forms). Our form included deadline dates for all aspects of the project, including the date we wanted to mail or email the pieces, and the date our data team needed to have our address or email lists ready.

2. Project Type/Format. So that everyone involved in a project understood the format before the project started, the checklist included check boxes for the project format, including print and electronic formats. The checklist also had a place to enter the type and size of a printed piece (such as 6 x 11-inch postcard, or traditional tri-fold brochure) and a spot to indicate what type of envelope (if any) was needed for a print project.

3. Audience. This section is key, not only to developing the messaging of the piece, but also to determining which internal or external (such as name buys from NRCCUA, ACT, or College Board) mailing lists you’re going to use when send a print or e-mail piece.

4. Images. Do you need to hire a photographer to take new photos for your project, or can you use photos you already have in your university’s photo library? Knowing your photo needs upfront will help make the design process go much smoother and can help you plan a realistic project timeline. For example, if you need to hire a photographer, it could add time to the project while you wait for the open slot in his schedule. How you acquire photos also, of course, will impact the project’s bottom line costs.

5. Quantities and distribution methods. How many copies of a print piece do you need? Who’s going to mail it? When does it need to be mailed? How much time will take to prepare and assemble the mailing? This area of the checklist lets you plan for all of these things.

Why does this matter? Depending on your staff size, or the busyness of your mailing house’s schedule, you will need to include the appropriate number of days in your project schedule to accommodate the time to prepare and assemble the mailing. Also, knowing the quantities of the pieces you need will help you get accurate estimates from multiple printers so you can choose the best option for your budget.

Of course, there are many other aspects of a project that need consideration, too (such as budget!), but this checklist can help you start the conversation with clients on the campus you serve, and it can help you think through your own routine projects to ensure you have all the bases covered.

Download a sample college marketing project checklist (PDF).


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

Tips for Writing More Compelling News Stories for College Websites

Higher Education News StoriesI see this all the time. Universities who intend to showcase their school via “stories” on their website, who end up posting award, achievement, and event announcements instead.

It’s often a fine line between writing a dry announcement because the administration requests it and writing a compelling news story that will generate interest from media outlets and social media posters, as well as spark the interest of prospective students and their parents.

What can you do to rev up your news stories on your website and make them more compelling?

Start with the headline. Think about the stories you like to read online. What would be more interesting to read—a story with the headline “Student Receives XYX Fellowship,” or “XYZ Fellowship Winner Studies New Technologies for Wind Energy”? Use a more descriptive headline, but still try to keep it concise. The headline can help you focus the story.

Focus on people and their stories. Avoid writing about “things”—events, awards, etc. Instead, write about people. When a professor wins an award, don’t write about the award. Write about the professor. Who is the professor? What is the professor passionate about? What did she do to win the award? Why did the professor do what she did? What is unique or interesting about this professor, her teaching style or her research?

Find a fresh angle. The angle is key in writing compelling stories. Challenge yourself (or your staff) to identify what is unique or compelling (i.e. why someone else would care to read the article) and focus the story around that angle.

For example, if your college always posts the same story each year—perhaps a story on fall enrollment or a story on spring commencement—try to find new angles each year. For fall enrollment, tell the amazing story of one of your new students or create a photo-style feature of students moving into the residence halls and use captions to tell the enrollment story.

Differentiate between events and news. Know what constitutes a news story or a Calendar of Events listing on your website.

The headline for a recent “news” story on a college website was “Gospel Choir Christmas Concert.” This website also has an Events section on it homepage. Where should information on this concert go? Should the information have been placed in an Events listing instead of the News section? The headline isn’t very descriptive (for example, is it just announcing the event or is it giving you some other background or behind-the-scenes information about the event?).

If the main purpose of a post is to give the details of an event, consider posting it only in your Events section. If there’s a story behind the event you want to tell—perhaps how students are preparing for a concert—then the story would be a news story.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

The Most Overused Terms in College Marketing

frequently used wordsOver the years, I’ve seen numerous lists of words overused in press releases or other marketing materials. Today, I’ve come up with my own list of terms I see overused in college recruitment marketing brochures, advertisements, and websites.

If you really want to set your school apart from others, avoid using these words and phrases that others use.

  1. Small class sizes (most overused!)
  2. Hands-on (often used in phrases like hands-on research, hands-on experience, hands-on education)
  3. State-of-the art
  4. Cutting-edge
  5. Unique
  6. Innovative
  7. Personal attention (also personalized attention)
  8. Rigorous academics
  9. Award-winning (usually pertains to faculty or the overall university)
  10. Conveniently located
  11. Quality education

In most cases, adjusting the copy slightly can help you avoid these overused terms.

Give concrete examples of the “hands-on” work students do in a laboratory or classroom. Tell me what supercomputer or specific top-of-the-line microscope you have instead of telling me you have “state-of-the-art” facilities or labs. Provide examples, quotes, or anecdotes that show experiences that differentiate your college’s offerings from other colleges, rather than just calling your services or offerings “unique.”

Additionally, if you’re looking for words to replace these overused ones, check out Rhyme Zone, an excellent free online thesaurus that provides not only synonyms, but also related words. Even if you don’t use any of the words they suggest, it may help you brainstorm and provide the creative inspiration you need.

How do you avoid using overused terms in your marketing materials? Leave a comment on this post or tweet me @DanasCreative on Twitter.

Image credit: Created courtesy of Wordle.net


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

College Marketing: Finding a Voice That Speaks to Today’s Teens

Teen voiceBefore a recent campus visit at a small liberal arts college campus for a copywriting project, a colleague of mine and I discussed how to find the right voice to speak to prospective students in high school.

She confided in me that she recently went to a local bookstore and picked up stacks of magazines, including Seventeen for girls and, for lack of a better option, a skateboarding magazine for boys. In the past, I had done a similar thing: looking to magazines that targeted at teens to discover catchphrases and study the tone of voice used.

When we met with a group of current college students—mainly freshmen and sophomores—of the campus, our eyes were opened when we asked them what magazines they read.

Magazines?” they said. “I don’t really read magazines. But I do go to a lot of websites.”

Of course this would be their answer. These students are part of the new crop of Generation Z students: the digital natives. Their answer reminded me that those magazines targeting teens are written by “old folks” like me, too, who are trying to be the voice students want to read.

So how do you capture a voice that high school students want to hear? Read what teens are reading. Go to websites where teens go. And find content written for teens, by teens.

According to Niche, Inc., which had high school students in the Class of 2014 rank the websites they use most often, a few of the most popular websites among teens are:

Other studies show video-sharing site Vine and photo-sharing site Flickr increasing in usage among teens.

If you’re not familiar with these sites, check them out. You may learn something about the teenage audience and their interests—and you can then adjust the voice and style of your copy to better speak to them. It also could inform your decisions on where to spend your online marketing dollars.

Image credit: Courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

Best Blogs for Freelance Writing Newbies

Freelance BlogsWhen I first started freelancing I turned to blogs of men and women who had “been there, done that” to get advice on starting my freelance business. Today, I continue to read many of these blogs to stay inspired and to be up-to-date on the conversations others in my field are having.

If you’re a newbie freelancer, here are a few blogs I have found useful and you may, too:

1. Make a Living Writing. This blog by Carol Tice was a great help when I was first starting out, especially her posts about setting freelance rates, what different markets pay, and transitioning to a career as a full-time freelancer.

2. The Renegade Writer. When I was a summer editorial intern at Family Circle magazine, I remember fact-checking articles written by Linda Formichelli. I enjoyed her articles, and afterward I started seeing her byline in tons of places. I wanted to write for magazines like she did. When I was considering quitting my day job and becoming a full-time freelancer, I read Linda’s books The Renegade Writer and Query Letters That Rock (both co-written with Diana Burrell). I started reading Linda’s blog, too, which has even more practical advice for freelance newbies.

3. The Well-Fed Writer. Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer was another book I read before getting the courage to make the leap to full-time freelancing. The book is kind of a no-nonsense guide of how to land copywriting work, and the freelance rate information in here was yet another super-helpful resource in helping me to determine my freelance rates. His blog has equally great advice.

4. MediaBistro. This site has lots of blogs, based on your interests in the media world, but what I found even more helpful than the blogs here were the site’s How to Pitch articles for tips on pitching story ideas to different magazines. It helped me land an article assignment from a magazine I hadn’t written for before. In my opinion, the MediaBistro subscription fee is well worth it.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.

Photo Coaster Family History Craft Project

Family Photo CoastersWhile writing an article on family history craft projects for Family Tree Magazine, I came across several awesome examples of how to create tile photo coasters to display family photos. After being inspired by The Frugal Girls and Oopsey Daisey blog posts, I decided to create my own set of photo tile coasters—and they turned out great, if I do say so myself.

With my cousin’s wedding coming up, I used old family wedding photos on the coasters to create a unique, personalized wedding gift.

Below is a step-by-step guide to how I created these photo tile coasters, but to get started, here’s a list of the supplies I used:

Family History Photo Coasters

Project supplies

  • photo paper
  • a paper cutter
  • 4×4 white tiles (obtained from the home improvement store)
  • a foam brush
  • Mod Podge
  • adhesive felt circles
  • a skinny felt-tip pen
  • a clear, glossy sealer

Step 1. Gather and edit photos. I knew my aunt, who is interested in genealogy, had several old family photos. I asked her for copies, and she scanned them using her Flip-Pal mobile scanner to create digital files. I took the digital files she provided and used Adobe Photoshop to convert them to grayscale (black-and-white) images. I also adjusted the levels and contrast, so the images wouldn’t print too dark.

Step 2. Print and cut the photos. Once I had edited the photos, I used a desktop publishing program (I used Adobe InDesign, but you could also use Microsoft Publisher), to place the pictures in 4×4-inch boxes. I then adjusted the image to center it in the frame.

Next, I printed the images on photo paper using my home printer. Finally, I used my scrapbooking paper cutter to cut out the images.

Family Photo Coasters

Apply Mod Podge before and after placing the photo on the tile.

Step 3. Apply photo to the tile. Before applying a photo to the tile, I set the photo on the tile to ensure it was the right size and to see how it lined up. If it was a little large, I trimmed the photo with scissors. I then wrote the name of the wedding couple along the bottom of the tile, and allowed the ink to dry.

Next, I used a foam brush to coat the tile with Mod Podge, and then pressed the photo on the tile. After allowing this to dry thoroughly, I put three coats of Mod Podge on the top, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next.

Family Photo Coaster

Sealer to use on top of the photo

Step 4. Apply sealing coat. To ensure the photo would be sealed and water-resistant when drinks are set on it, I used a water-based sealer I already had on hand from a different project: Minwax’s Polycrylic clear gloss, water-based protective finish.

I applied three layers of this sealer, allowing each layer to dry thoroughly before applying the next. (Note: Other bloggers have used other materials like a clear acrylic spray or resin to seal their photo coaster projects.)

Family History Craft Project

Close-up of final photo coaster project

Step 5: Adhere felt backing. To create a soft surface on the back of the tiles that won’t scratch a coffee table, I adhered four adhesive felt circles to the back of each tile. I placed the felt circles in each corner of the tile.

For more family history craft and holiday gift ideas, check out Family Tree Magazine.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.

Amazing Faculty Work and Personal Stories Create Impactful University Magazine Articles

Higher Education CommunicationsWhen I was asked to write a couple of articles for the summer edition of Mount Mary Magazine, the magazine issue theme intrigued me: raising women’s voices. For the articles, I had the opportunity to speak with several Mount Mary University faculty about the work they and their students do to help give women a voice and to strengthen women’s voices in the community and the world.

What I found were amazing faculty! The faculty members had very personal stories that impacted the professional work they do, and the women that they teach.

  • Dr. Kristen Roche, the MBA program director, witnessed early in her business career how gender may impact job titles given to employees with the same experience. She now is passionate about helping students learn to negotiate in the workplace for better pay, benefits, and jobs.
  • Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, chair of the justice program, became a lawyer after being frustrated about the lack of help available for certain populations. Recently, she founded a free legal clinic, Legal Options for Trafficked and Underserved Survivors (LOTUS), to help human trafficking victims and other survivors of crime. She’s also revolutionizing justice education by focusing Mount Mary’s program on a survivor-informed perspective of justice.
  • Dr. Jennifer Peterson, assistant professor of communication, discovered how misconceptions about AIDS and HIV impacted women and their voices during a research project in grad school. As a professor today, she teaches her students, particularly students studying health communication, to find a cause they are passionate about, as well as to ensure all people’s voices are present in conversations about health topics.
  • Dr. Bruce Moon, chair of the Art Therapy Department, overcame his turbulent teenage years by engaging in art. He’s spent his career helping others cope with their feelings and life struggles through art therapy.
  • Dr. Lynn Kapitan, director of the Professional Doctorate in Art Therapy program, began her career as a public school art teacher and ultimately become an art therapist. She travels to Nicaragua each year for community-based art therapy research, which helps women survivors of domestic abuse participate in projects to develop their voices and leadership skills.

To read more about these amazing professors’ stories and work, see my articles on pages 3 through 9 of the Mount Mary Magazine Summer 2014 edition.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

Editor’s Perspective: The Right Way to Treat Titles

Book TitlesRecently, a client asked for my advice on how to treat book, journal, and article titles in her organization’s communications materials. The question came after some debate within her organization on whether certain titles should be in quotation marks or italicized, and how that formatting would reflect on the organization’s competence and brand.

So what is the right away to format book titles? Well, a post from Writer’s Digest (yes, I did just put that magazine title in italics), has the right answer: it’s up to you, but you (and others at your organization) need to stick with whatever format you choose.

For example, the AP Stylebook encourages using quotation marks for book titles. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends italicizing titles of books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, plays, movies, and TV programs. It also suggests using quotation marks around titles of articles, poems, songs, and TV episodes.

In my experience working with magazine and book publishing companies and university communication and marketing offices, most organizations use the Chicago Manual of Style way for titles, even if they normally adhere to AP style. In fact, all five universities featured in my recent post on editorial style guide examples follow this approach.

It’s okay to have exceptions like these in your editorial style guide. That’s why it’s important to have an editorial style guide specifically tailored for your university or company and the unique editorial situations you encounter.

Overall, what matters more than being right is consistently using the same style (and exceptions) in all of your external and internal communication pieces (website, magazine, brochures, e-mail blasts, etc.). And, if the exceptions are in a written style guide, it helps to have that guide to show anyone who questions your editorial style decisions.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.

College Marketing: Why Maintaining Social Media Takes Time

Higher Education CommunicationsTime to regularly create and maintain websites, blogs, and social media content is a big concern to many of my clients, particularly colleges and universities. Many colleges and universities are hiring full-time social media managers to handle all of this content, while others continue to add on this responsibility to one (or more) staff members’ job descriptions.

In my experience, some top administrators (you know, the ones who set budgets and make hiring decisions) don’t fully understand the thought, time, effort, strategy, and tracking involved in managing these “free” tools. It’s not always as simple as spending 15 minutes a day creating posts. (Just check out this Business Insider post that shows how a single corporate tweet can take more than a month to create.)

So, why does maintaining social media take so much time?

1. It requires lots of content. The person who manages your social media has to have her pulse on anything and everything happening at the university. To do that, she needs to network with students, faculty, and staff across the entire campus. She needs to coordinate photography of events or happenings to feature on social media. And if new stories, blogs, event listings, or other fresh content aren’t already regularly posted on your website, your social media manager may have to interview sources and write this content herself.

2. It requires a strategy. Some people may advise you to just jump right in and get started with social media without a strategy or plan. But before you spend your time on this, consider these questions: Does the social media tool you want to use really reach your target audience? What is your goal in using a particular social media tool? How are you going to measure success? What type of content are you going to post? Who is going to develop that content and how will that impact their other job responsibilities?

3. It requires constant attention. One of the goals of using social media is to engage your audience. Some of the best, most meaningful interactions you can have with your target audience on social media will be impromptu interactions. Constituents who post questions on your Facebook or Twitter page expect an answer right now.

Your social media manager not only needs to develop fresh content, she needs to interact with your audience members who are trying to engage with your organization. This means she needs to respond to posts, and sometimes she may have to research answers to questions your audience asks.

4. It requires writing and scheduling. Keeping social media posts fresh involves lots of planning. The social media manager needs to strategically decide when items will be posted. For example, you wouldn’t want the post about tonight’s upcoming soccer game to go up tomorrow, would you? The social media manager also needs to write the actual social media posts, confirm the URLs she plans to link to actually work, and convert any images to web-ready formats.

Using a scheduling tool like Hootsuite can help streamline scheduling, but have you tried writing something in less than 140 characters? It’s not always easy. It takes times if you want quality content in the appropriate voice to support your university’s brand.

5. It requires reviewing others’ social media posts. Part of maintaining social media is finding ways to engage with your followers and the people you follow. To engage with your target audience, your social media manager needs to monitor mentions of your organization or hashtags relevant to your mission or initiatives. Once she finds a relevant mention, the social media manager needs to decide which items to share, retweet, or respond to—and then actually do the sharing, retweeting, or responding.

6. It requires tracking to measure success. If you’re doing social media, but aren’t tracking your impact or results, you might be wasting your time. Your social media manager needs to take time to analyze social media analytics, so she can make better decisions about the content to post in the future. After analyzing the data, she can create reports to let the administration know whether all the time spent on a particular social media platform is worth it.

7. The technology is always changing. Twitter and Facebook aren’t the same as they were when they first launched years ago. Social media platforms are always evolving their functionality and design. New social media platforms are launching. Your social media manager needs to keep up-to-date and react to the changes in the technology and tools available.

Of course, there are social media management tools out there that can help automate the process. But many of them cost money, and it takes time to research and learn how to use the best existing tools (and emerging tools) that meet your university’s needs. And, no matter how automated the posting, tracking, and monitoring gets, someone still needs to generate the initial content, review the tracking reports, review the mentions, and then make decisions on what (and where) to post tomorrow.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.