Good testimonials: how to make them write themselves

Back in 2011 when this article first was published, testimonials were still relatively simple to do – perhaps because most business audiences were not as cynical as they are today, so believed what was written in them unconditionally.

Sadly though in recent times we have been plagued by businesses “creating” testimonials – many based on the real thing, but not quite the real thing – and sticking them up in writing on websites. And sadly, that has given rise to testimonials having a dubious complexion.

how to get good testimonials on HTWB

If you simply ask someone to give you a testimonial without giving them any guidelines, you’re leaving it up to luck as to the quality and nature of their response. BUT, there’s a big difference between that and putting words into their mouths.

It’s only in comparatively recent times, when advertising in most industrialised countries has been regulated, that readers know testimonials have to be genuine – or else. There may still be the odd person or two who sneers at testimonials and endorsements, but in the main people now accept them for real, and believe in their honesty. This makes them powerful.

However getting a good testimonial isn’t easy, and for a variety of reasons must not be “written” by someone other than the person giving it. Without putting words in someone’s mouth, then, how do you go about getting good testimonials for your business, website, CV/résumé, etc? [Read more…]

On Writing Well: very, very well

On Writing Well: very, very wellAm I a little behind the times, reviewing a book that was first published in 1976? Well, I don’t care; I just read the book this year for the first time (and there will be many more times, I promise you) and my only regret is that I didn’t read it the moment it was published back in those days of the chartreuse platform boots, flared jumpsuits and terrible hair perms.

Of all the books on nonfiction writing in English that I have read – and there have been hundreds – this is the jewel in the crown: the perfect book that makes many, many others, (not my own of course!) look like gabbling turkeys.

Quite simply, “On Writing Well” is superb and will transform the way you write.

I thought I knew it all, but it has really taught me a lot, as well as corroborating many of the notions and theories I have about nonfiction writing for which I have sometimes been criticized. Considering Zinsser’s book has sold well over 1 million copies and is still up there after 35 years, he isn’t wrong – which suggests that maybe I’m not, either.

On Writing Well: very, very wellIn his gentle, amusing way he deflates the egos of pompous corporate-speakers and long-winded jargon munchers along with the bright and breezy bloggers who think writing is an easy blast. Good writing is not easy, he says; it’s hard and lonely and the words seldom just flow. Like many of the old-school writers – the good ones – Zinsser is a great believer in the rewriting process and careful editing. But his most important point of all is to bring your nonfiction writing – even business writing – alive by using your personality and imagination to grab readers’ attention and hang on to it. Add to that simple, uncluttered wording, avoidance of clichés and a touch of humor, and you’re “On (your way to) Writing Well.”

William Zinsser is now 90 years old and as far as I can tell is still teaching. Here is the introduction from his website:

“William Zinsser is a lifelong journalist and nonfiction writer—he began his career on the New York Herald Tribune in 1946—and is also a teacher, best known for his book On Writing Well, a companion held in affection by three generations of writers, reporters, editors, teachers and students. His 17 other books range from memoir (Writing Places; Writing About Your Life) to travel (American Places), jazz (Mitchell & Ruff), American popular song (Easy to Remember), baseball (Spring Training) and the craft of writing (Writing to Learn). During the 1970s he was at Yale University, where he was master of Branford College and taught the influential nonfiction workshop that would start many writers and editors on their careers. From 2010 – 11 he wrote a weekly blog for The American Scholar“Zinsser on Friday” about the craft of writing, popular culture, and the arts. The blog recently won The National Magazine Award for digital commentary. Today, in New York, he continues to write and to teach. His office is at 45 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065.”

The book is 300 pages long – probably 100,000 words or more – yet for me it was one of those “can’t put it down” reads which, considering it’s a nonfiction book about writing nonfiction, proves that it’s highly entertaining. Zinsser practices what he preaches: he keeps you riveted with humor, common sense and just when you least expect it, a pleasant surprise.

Needless to say it’s not a linear story, but a collection of chunky chapters grouped into parts covering principles, methods, forms and attitudes.

The chapters I found especially illuminating were:

On Writing Well: very, very well

  • Simplicity
  • The Audience
  • Writing About People: The Interview
  • Writing About Places: The Travel Article
  • Writing About Yourself: The Memoir
  • Science and Technology
  • Business Writing: Writing in your Job
  • Humor
  • The Sound of your Voice
  • Writing Family History and Memoir

The 35th anniversary edition of this fabulous book is due out on November 30th, 2012 – here is the UK link, and I imagine all Amazons worldwide will carry it. If you haven’t read it yet – buy it. It will be money well spent.

Now, it’s your turn to write very, very well:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published


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photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via photopin cc

How to get good text-based interviews for your blog or website

These days people are far too busy to take time out and be physically “interviewed” to provide quotes, information, testimonials, endorsements, etc. And apart from the fact that to obtain a live face-to-face interview with someone (especially someone famous) takes more organizing than a nationwide military coup, you’ll often find that the face-to-face variety isn’t all that good anyway.

How to get good text-based interviews for your blog or website

Want a good interview for your blog or website? Email the questions to your interviewee…

The answer?

Email them the questions.

This is not as simple as it sounds. People are a) busy and b) lazy, so if you want to get some good results you need to make it very, very easy for them to respond.

First, the practical bits

Naturally you need to establish that whoever you are to interview is happy with the arrangement. In the main you’ll find that the prospect of their being able to answer questions in their own time, when it suits them, without an interviewer breathing down
their neck, works for them much better than any other alternative.

Next, prepare your email carefully. Write it out with a short introduction or recap on what you have agreed, then place your questions below. Embolden each question individually; if you embolden all questions in one sweep the response will come back in bold, too, which may make it hard for you to decipher.

And the questions? (Not too many…)

Essentially these should be focused on the old journalistic principles of “who, what, where, when and how,” with appropriate modification. But here’s a warning; don’t overdo the number of questions. People are put off by a long list.

Let’s say you’re looking to obtain a good testimonial for a client (alter appropriately if the project is to get a testimonial for your own business). Here’s a list of questions from another article of mine which should give you a good spread of quotes, but select only 5 or 6 or them if you don’t want to scare your interviewee off:

  • What is it that you think makes XXX different from their competitors?
  • Just how much better than the competition do you feel XXX really is?
  • Why do you feel that XXX is more efficient than other, similar (whatever)?
  • How would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
  • Compared with their competitors, how do you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
  • On a 1 to 10 scale, how would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX, and why?
  • What difference has using XXX made to your business’s/department’s performance?
  • What is it about XXX’s performance/service that makes the different?
  • What was it that made you choose XXX in the first place?
  • What was it that made you choose XXX instead of their competitors?
  • What was it that made you change from your previous (whatever) to XXX?
  • What additional benefits have you found through using XXX?
  • What are the three main benefits of working with XXX?
  • In summary, then, what would you say is the key benefit of working with XXX?
  • In summary, then, what difference has working with/using XXX made to your bottom line?
  • How important is it to you that you should work with/use XXX in the future?
  • What sort of future do you think XXX can look forward to?
  • If I were someone considering using XXX, what advice would you give me?

And for some more general questions?

When you’re doing an email interview with someone to obtain information that’s not necessarily an endorsement or testimonial, you need to research the topic a little bit more thoroughly and plan whatever it is you’re going to write, so that your email interview questions run alongside your plan and so lead to providing you with the information you need.

For example, let’s look at an email interview about the need for businesses to employ a truly professional recruitment agency: here are the questions I would ask of the recruitment agency head honcho for a blog post or article aimed at his/her potential clients:

1.To what extent do you feel that the recruitment process for managers is a continuous cycle, rather than a linear process?

2.What are the benefits to a client company of hiring a recruitment agency as opposed to setting up and internal recruitment function?

3.In your experience, what are the most important criteria for a client to consider when selecting a recruitment agency, in order of importance, and why?

4.How should a client company in this sector go about the process of selecting an agency?

5.At selection stage, what should the client company expect the agency to do in terms of research and information-seeking?

6.Once the agency is selected, what are the most important elements to incorporate into the formal appointment? (E.g. contract, T&Cs, length of agreement, timing of reviews, termination terms, etc., but especially anything over and above what a client company would ordinarily expect)

Assessing your results and using them

Much as people might tell you that interviewing by email doesn’t result in such thorough responses as you might get from the F2F variety, I disagree … not because I’m a bolshie cow, but because in my experience it just doesn’t work out that way.

Invariably the results I get from these emailed interview questions are good because a) the responses are relatively short and sweet which for contemporary online purposes is what we need, and b) the fact that people have time to think about what they’re going to respond with enables them to do it better than they would “off the cuff.”

Good luck with your email interviewing – it’s the way ahead, I’m sure!

Now, let’s write up those interviews perfectly:

“Business Writing Made Easy…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc