Friday, May 30, 2014

Keys to Writing About Investing

Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. - Mark Twain
Whether you're just starting out or are a seasoned vet, I can think of no better way to accelerate your development as an investor than to write down your ideas -- and then share them with the world.

Not only does this peer review process force you to gather and organize your thoughts, but the feedback you get (both positive and negative) from your readers can help you see things you didn't before. You'll find yourself reading more books and articles on investing than you would otherwise to generate new article ideas. With time, these lessons add up.

Over my career in the industry, I've been fortunate to do a bit of writing and editing and thought I'd share some of the tips I've picked up over the years.

1. Be forward-looking. This is particularly true when writing about a stock idea. Providing background is important, but the market's already processed that information. What do you think will happen over the next few years? That's what the reader wants to know.

2. Be debatable. Of the articles I've written, the ones I'm most disappointed with are the ones in which I didn't take a firm stand on an important point. Don't hedge -- just say what you think.

3. Don’t bury the lede. Put your important points and key takeaways at the beginning or your article or the reader could lose interest before getting to the good stuff.

4. Avoid block text. This is particularly true with online writing -- more than three long sentences in a paragraph and there are good odds that it won't be read. Use charts, tables, and bullet points to break up text.

5. Read and reflect. After reading a great article or book, reflect on why the author's style resonated with you and apply those lessons to your own writing style.

6. Make strategic use of bold formatting - especially in long posts. Even though every word you've written is pure Shakespeare, the odds are that the online reader is skimming your masterpiece. If your post or article is over 1,000 words, highlight key points in bold. Like exclamation marks, however, bold formatting loses its impact if used too frequently. 

(Howard Marks makes masterful use of bold formatting in his memos.)

7. Be conversational and avoid financial jargon and formal language where possible. Read Peter Lynch's One Up on Wall Street and Beating the Street for excellent examples of conversational writing about investing.

8. Tell a story. The articles that stick with me are the ones where the author related a personal story with the investing lesson. A dry explanation about valuation will go in one ear and out the other, but weaving it in with a story about forecasting will make it more memorable.

9. Respect your reader's time. Say what you need to say to get your point across, but no more. Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.

10. In case of writer’s block, write about something that pisses you off. This was a great tip I received early in my career. Not only does it work, but it helps drive passion, which comes across in your writing and will make the piece more interesting.

What tips do you have?

What I've been reading this week:

Stay patient, stay focused.


@toddwenning on Twitter