Killer Buzzwords


Why does everyone illustrate “buzzwords” with a bee? Knee jerk onomatopoeic need fulfillment, I guess. |Image: Wikimedia Commons; Steve H; CC w/attribution.

Here’s a good list of buzzwords to avoid on your resume — especially for PR and marketing types — courtesy of the good folks at the Bradford Group.

I have to say, I agree with all of them except for No. 3.

First of all, I think you would be better off eliminating the need to use the word comprise. Or compose for that matter. Second of all, as one of the astute commenters noted, AP style adherents may take exception to No. 3. And, that would be me.

I think that AP style is the most readable of the conventionally used style manuals, even though I do think that sometimes it gets in its own way. Still, the way AP defines “comprise” and “compose” is the crispest and easiest definition to understand.

That said, I still stand by my first recommendation: use another word!

On Student Blogs

There was an article on this week that piqued my interest. And mostly for what it lacked in content.

The post listed three ways in which colleges and universities could use student blogs: storytelling, advertorializing (not a word, BTW) and employability/digital literacy.

I pretty much disagree with this thesis across the board. What I do agree with, though, is the comment by Alert Reader Antoinette, who points out:

My personal view of student blogs is that often they are – sorry to be unkind – simply boring. No criticism of the students writing them – their effort and enthusiasm is more than apparent and commendable. But stories about personal experiences and interests are rarely relevant to the reader, nor do they seem actionable in any way. As you say, more could be done to get the most out of this medium.

And she gets a gold star.

Look, if you are marketing a college or university and someone says, “We need to have student bloggers because everyone else seems to have student bloggers or ‘I went to a conference and someone said I need student bloggers’ or we need student bloggers because adult bloggers cost too much,” please do us all a favor and get another job.

The point of student blogs, in my estimation, is to position them to entice prospective students to visit and then ultimately get excited about and apply to your institution. They need to be (1.) authentic, (2.) engaging, (3.) compelling and (4.) AUTHENTIC again, this time in bold caps.

When I started student-written blogs at a previous institution, I hand-picked my first crop of bloggers and tasked them with writing something new once a week. I did not give them any more direction than that. I also promised that, outside of spelling and grammar, I would not edit them and if they wanted to criticize the institution, they could present their case and I would have their backs.

It was a learning experience for all parties — including me, who, more than once, got yelled at by a dean or VP who didn’t like what they had read — but I earned the trust and respect of my writers by standing firm and by treating them like professionals, And all of those bloggers grew as storytellers by leaps and bounds and that blog was the most-read section of our website.

And, out of the myriad projects I conceived and managed during my near-decadelong tenure at that institution, it is the one that I am most proud of.

Diagrammatically Correct

Late last week, I came back from a week’s vacation and was immediately thrust into the whirling dervish. There was a report that needed to go out and a colleague of mine was feverishly editing it. She brought it to me and said, “I can’t figure out this sentence. Is it ‘have’ or ‘has?'”

Oh, that age-old dilemma, I thought. Let’s see it. And then she handed me the most convoluted run-on sentence I have ever read. Note to alert readers: don’t let academics write things. They just can’t.

Anyhow, I said, “Well, let’s diagram it.” I got looked at like I was nuts.


My recent sentence diagram. Not as elegant as some, but it got the point across and solved the problem. For the record, the correct verb was “has.”

The art of the sentence diagram is something that’s been all but dropped in American school curricula. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have learned it either, given the tenor of the times, but I was blessed with a few crusty old English teachers who drilled it into me. (By the way, “blessed” is NOT the word I would have used in the 8th grade! “Cursed” would probably be more accurate!)

“When you’re learning to write well, [diagramming] helps to understand what the sentence is doing and why it’s doing it and how you can improve it,” says Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences. 

In a 2014 interview with NPR’s Juana Summers, Burns Florey declares that there are two kinds of people in the world: ones who loved diagramming and ones who hated it. I was mostly in the pro-diagramming camp, but I really didn’t appreciate it until I was older and could see the benefit to a writer/editor of being able to deconstruct sentences.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just weird. After all, I got A’s in Geometry, too!


You know what the acronym in the title of this post means, don’t you?

Well, here’s a little story for you. I work with a lot of young writers and I am always beating into their heads: check your facts, double check your sources, make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly. And, you do know what a comma fault is, right?

These days, the conventional wisdom seems to be: get it first; fix it later because, you know, like, the web lets you do that.

So, no.

I’m old enough to remember when the mantra was get it first and get it right the first time. Period. End of. That is certainly that I have always striven for — that, and knowing the past participle of strive is striven, even if strived is now acceptable — but we don’t always live up to our expectations we set for ourselves.

Yesterday, for example, I wanted to knock out a story on another blog before I left for the airport. I did, but I inadvertently failed to abide by one of the cardinal rules: proof carefully. Twice. Consequently, I ran afoul of one of my own pet peeves: I spelled someone’s name wrong. And guess who caught it? The subject himself.

I hurriedly made changes on my phone as they were boarding my flight. I’m sure I looked like a complete moron at the time and quite frankly, that’s exactly how I felt. And quite frankly, I should have.

Still, not excusing the lack of proofing, I did what you are supposed to do: I apologized, I fixed it, I moved on. At the end of the day, I took responsibility for the error and lived to write another day. That’s the game, folks.

PS — I suppose that this gets up under my fingernails because people misspell my name every day of the week. And it’s not a difficult one, either. I don’t look like a Marc Blackman to you, do I?

I Know What You Read Last Year

Here’s what you were reading on this site last year. Just the Top 5.


Image: Richard Peter|Deutsche Fotothek/Wikimedia Commons

5. To Better Position Your College, Remove Word ‘College’ from Name?
Yet another spectacular fail from the world of highly paid branding and marketing consultants. This one is just beyond stupid — and the fact that an institution of higher education bought into it, well, it’s just beyond the pale.

4. He’s Baaack. The Ever-Buoyant Jonah Lehrer Bobs Up to the Surface Again
Lord, who knew Jonah Lehrer was going to be my own personal ‘bad penny?’ I was all set to do a sit-down interview with Lehrer as a bit of a puff piece for my then-employer when his “self-plagiarizing” scandal broke in 2012 and I got sucked into the drama. I’ve followed him since, just cause. Some topics never disappoint!

3. Branding is Killing Your Website
A cut from and a link to “New Thinking,” a regular e-thinkpiece from web guru Gerry McGovern. There’s no one who writes better and with more clarity and common sense on web topics than McGovern. No one.

2. About Mark Blackmon
Thanks for caring. By the way, a ranking at this level is either a good thing — “I want to know because this guy is interesting.” — or a bad thing — “Who in the hell is this clown?”

1. How Closing San Diego Opera Makes Your Life Worse
A private e-mail howler that one of the recipients asked me to put somewhere so that they could link to it. I did, and then provided a bit of context to the whole thing. And what do you know? It went viral in a very specific sector of the web almost immediately. The funny thing about it was that the original e-mailer that I replied to said that they received forwards of this thing by the hundreds because no one knew that I was replying to them in the first place! Or that we even knew each other, let alone that we’d been fast friends for decades. You can be anonymous on the web. You just have to be crafty!

Thanks for reading and writing and sharing. It’s a delight to interact with you. Happy New Year!

My Top Ten List from One Last Word

He’s Baaack. The Ever-Buoyant Jonah Lehrer Bobs Up to the Surface Again

This was the lede in John Warner’s Just Visiting blog on Inside Higher Ed recently:

To the surprise of no one, disgraced journalist and serial bullshitter Jonah Lehrer is back.

Jonah Lehrer. New and Improved Version? We'll see.|Image: Nina Subin/Slate

Jonah Lehrer. New and Improved Version? We’ll see.|Image: Nina Subin/Slate

I’ve been following the saga of Mr. Lehrer since the nascent days of this blog when I was quoted by about the early days of the then-breaking original scandal. (You should definitely place emphasis on the second syllable: skan-DAAHL!)

Lehrer is back to publishing, this time alongside Shlomo Benartzi, a UCLA behavioral economist and Lehrer’s co-author of the forthcoming book The Digital Mind: How We Think and Behave Differently on Screens.

Like Warner, I don’t believe Lehrer should be banned from publishing for life, but I do think that I’ll think twice about actually believing anything he has to say for quite a long time. Not saying ever; just saying a long time.

My first visit to Lehrer Land

A Follow-up

His First Reemergence

Warner’s Take on This Reemergence

Footnote to it all: I heard Lehrer on NPR over the weekend. One supposes that means he’s back for sure!

International Studies Association proposes to bar editors from blogging | Inside Higher Ed

International Studies Association proposes to bar editors from blogging | Inside Higher Ed.

Oh, this is hilarious! And absolutely typical of higher education.

I get in trouble when I stand up in front of higher education administrators and college presidents and tell them that their entire industry is out of step with the world. They take great umbrage. I am an infidel!

And I’m bloody right.

The simple fact is that colleges and universities are run by people who contemplate for a living. And, as such, they are always running behind. They are having this revelation today, but in reality, this question has been asked and answered a dozen years ago. But, because they have been busy contemplating, they do not realize this.

It is also why many institutions of higher learning should be run by management professionals instead of, you know, religion professors. It doesn’t make me too popular, some days, but I AM right!

H/T – Bill Tyson

Seth’s Blog: Trapped by tl;dr

Seth’s Blog: Trapped by tl;dr.

Judging by length is foolish. TL;DR shows self-contempt, because you’re ignoring the useful in exchange for the short or the amusing. The media has responded to our demand by giving us a rising tide of ever shorter, ever more amusing wastes of time. Short lowers the bar, but it also makes it hard to deliver much.

Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)

Perhaps a new acronym: NW;DR (not worthwhile; didn’t read) makes more sense. We’ve got plenty to choose from, but what we need is content that’s worth the effort.

What I love about reading Seth Godin is that it’s like listening to the voices in my head. Simply going short is not going to get your product sold, your awareness built or your mischief managed. It’s just going to be short. It’s just going to be something else to skip over.

Parenthetically, Godin says make it worth my time. That’s the crux of it all. Make me want to read. After all, we are supposedly in the business of communicating. Surely, we understand how to make people read what we write. Right?

Telling the Right Story

The advice: find the worldview and the bias and the cultural preconceptions that your audience carries with them and then place your story (you do have a story, whether you want to or not) as a hook that leverages those biases.

via Seth’s Blog: Q&A: All Marketers… and the challenge of telling the right story.

Short, to the point, and eloquent — those are the hallmarks of Seth Godin’s writing and his advice. This is an important little sentence to ponder.

Post-Interview Thank You Notes: Yeah or Nay

Why Handwritten Notes Beat E-Mail

This was a post and a link to the above article I came across in a LinkedIn group today. It’s very interesting. You should read it.

I have always been a big believer in the handwritten note. In fact, for many years, I drilled H-A-R-S (Hand Addressed Real Stamp) into people who were working on donor and subscriber campaigns for me. You can’t NOT open a hand addressed envelope with a real stamp on it. A First-Class stamp; not one of those poxy non-profit rate knock-offs. That said, I thought this response was very prescient indeed. (I’ve redacted the commenter’s name, FYI.)

• Allow me to disagree. As a former hiring manager, most of my communications came through email. The postal mail brought trades, junk mail and rarely, an invoice (most invoices were emailed). I did not like to get mail – it was a nuisance. And frankly, since most postal mail went into a mail slot (only top execs got direct delivery), I only checked the box once a week. Emailed thank yous were appreciated, timely and readily responded to when appropriate. And they were guaranteed to be read. I too love handwritten notes – but I think they work better for personal use.

I think this commenter has a valid point. Worth thinking about at any rate.