Articles and Essays
How advice columns build loyal readers
Aesop, Abraham Lincoln, and you
10 best writers who ever lived

How advice columns build loyal readers


     Last year while researching a book on memorable speeches and essays, I stumbled across an ageless writing technique that continues to captivate readers.

     Advice articles first appeared several hundred years ago. Some were submitted to papers and magazines anonymously. The question-and-answer format probably appeared a little bit later.

     While opinion articles have been around for years, few develop the loyalty and following of advice columns.

     Test this for yourself by gathering newspapers and magazines from the last several decades. My guess is: you’ll find the old question/answer columns still ageless and vibrant.

    Advice features generate return readers. Why? Maybe it’s because people love to share problems and possible solutions.


     Want to start your own “advice” column? Here are three simple ways to begin:

     1. Survey your readership for the two or three industry issues perpetually discussed.

     2. Find out all you can about those issues.

     3. Prompt questions from readers about those issues, and answer them regularly in a column.


     Current popular syndicated features, for instance, offer advice on personal relationships, do-it-yourself projects, and travel.

     In a professional or trade magazine, your question/answer feature might cover the history of your profession, provide an open forum where readers share information, or follow a how-to format. That’s your decision.

     Personal note: Lots of times I get questions whose answers I don’t know. That’s when I ask the advice of an expert in that field, and ask for his/her permission to include their response and name in the answer. If I don’t know the answer, I tell the questioner I simply don’t know.


Bottom line: If you want to connect better your readers, you must also give them the opportunity to reach you.


© 2013 Rix Quinn Communications, L.L.C.


Aesop, Abraham Lincoln, and you

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     May I tell you about a writing technique shared by Aesop and Abe Lincoln?

     Let’s look first at Aesop’s timeless tale about the tortoise and the hare. It’s the one that ends “slow and sure wins the race.” It’s about 160 words long.

     Nearly 150 years ago President Abe Lincoln stood to address the crowd at a cemetery dedication ceremony. He spoke so briefly and left the podium so quickly, the photographer barely had time to snap a picture.

     Yet the Gettysburg Address is considered one of humankind’s greatest speeches. And it’s only about 240 words.

     Have you guessed what Aesop’s tale and Lincoln’s speech have in common? Yes…each is very short, well under 200 words.

     Recent research presents convincing evidence that shorter, more succinct messages get read and remembered better than longer ones.

     Next time you sit down to write a letter or report, remember Aesop. Remember Abe Lincoln.

     You’ve got a great advantage over these two magnificent authors. They’re not with us anymore. But tomorrow, you could create a classic.


© 2013 Rix Quinn Communications, L.L.C.


10 best writers who ever lived

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     Compiling a list of the history’s ten best writers is like skating on a heated swimming pool. Just when you get started, you find yourself in hot water.

     The reason is: writing’s completely subjective. What interests you may not interest me. We all read for different reasons.

     But, here – in no particular order -- is another list of the world’s top wordsmiths:


1. Aesop – Around 600 B.C. this Greek slave began to chronicle fables from around the world. His stories – like the one about the tortoise and hare – gave animals human qualities, and illustrated critical life lessons.


2. Aristophanes – Reportedly the first comedy writer, back in 400 B.C. He combined plays with song and repetition to provide entertainment for ancient Greeks.


3. Socrates – A contemporary of Aristophanes, he was likely history’s first “self-help” writer. He taught people to seek ultimate truths by questioning conventional wisdom and examining their own beliefs. He said folks shouldn’t accept opinion as fact.


4. Sophocles – Another guy with no last name. He created plays that usually centered on a single heroic character who chose an unpopular course of action.


5. William Shakespeare – This brilliant author’s plays and phrases will live forever. If historians ever prove a theory that he was a composite of three dramatists, the list of “top ten” authors will immediately expand to 12.


6. Benjamin Franklin – This multi-talented American championed succinct writing, and his epigrams became part of our national heritage. Ben warned, “He that speaks much is much mistaken.”


7. Abraham Lincoln – Sure, he nearly always heads the list of “best Presidents.” But this Illinois native crafted some of this country’s finest speeches, including the Gettysburg Address.


8. Mark Twain – He’s been called America’s finest author because he wrote in American dialect, using phrases and speech unique to the United States. He punctured pompous prose, and laced his stories with regional references.


9. Winston Churchill/Franklin Roosevelt – These Allied leaders led their countries through World War II, and their vivid words inspired millions.


10. You or me? – Who knows? There’s an old saying that “there’s always room at the top.” Good writing can change minds, and great writing can change the world.


© 2013 Rix Quinn Communications, L.L.C.