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Students and researchers assume people will think they’re dumb and won’t take their ideas seriously if their academic writing isn’t complex, dense and hard to read.

The problem is real. As Rachel Toor writes, bad writing and bad thinking go hand in hand.

She writes:

I’ve heard that song from graduate students in every discipline, and from faculty members, junior and senior, at universities across the country.

The message: You have to write the same way as others in your field. You must use multisyllabic words, complex phrasing, and sentences that go on for days, because that’s how you show you’re smart. If you’re too clear, if your sentences are too simple, your peers won’t take you seriously.

Let’s turn the idea on its head: Crisp writing is a sign of good thinking. A previous pos covers this: Good writing is direct, clear and precise. It is also unambiguous.

Much of Toor’s piece is about passive language.  She is rightly to condemn it. There is far too much passive language in academic writing. Scientists and engineers sometimes need to use the passive voice, but the active voice is better most of the time..

She pulled much of the remainder or her piece from an  essay by George Orwell.

Academics need to read this. For the rest of us it is a wake up call.

See Bad Writing and Bad Thinking – Do Your Job Better – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Print publishers make money from copy sales and advertising. Some rely on advertising, others on copy sales. Most newspapers and magazines make money from a mix of the two.

The balance between advertising and copy sales is important. Ad-driven publishers approach their business in a different way to copy sales-driven publishers.

Copy Sales

Publishers rarely keep all copy sales revenue. Newspapers, magazines and books usually sell through newsagents, bookstores or other retailers. Shops keep between 30 and 40 percent of the cover price.

Sometimes distributors take a slice of copy sales. They may charge a fixed fee per copy delivered.

Retailers rarely sell all the copies they get. Publishers talk of sell-through rates – the percentage sold.

Many publishers, particularly those chasing ad sales regard a sell-out as a failure. It means they didn’t maximise their circulation. They sell a high circulation to advertisers.

Popular, frequent titles have better sell-through rates. New or irregular ones don’t do as well.

Revenue lags sales

Publishers wait months to get copy sales revenue. It trickles back from readers, through the retailer and distributor.

Printers often want payment – or a guarantee to pay before they print. This means a publisher needs to carry the costs of at least three editions before seeing a penny of sales revenue. The investment is more in the case of weeklies. It is less for bi-monthlies and quarterly publications.


Revenue lag explains why publishers like selling direct to readers through subscriptions.

Publishers get subscription money before printing. Subscribers usually pay a year in advance. Some publications offer two-year and even three-year subscriptions. That’s money in the bank.

Publisher keep all subscription revenue. There is no retailer cut, although they pay the cost of mailing out subscriptions.


Publishers sell space in their titles to earn advertising sales revenue.

Most publishers set aside pages for advertisers. They have an advertising ratio.

Paid-for publications usually have a lower advertising ratio than free publications. Although this is not always true.

There are different types of advertising. Display advertising means larger and more colourful ads. They often have creative text and images. Classified advertising is often text only. It doesn’t often include graphics.

Magazines sell advertising by the page. Although they also offer double-page spreads, half pages and other formats. Newspapers will sell pages, but they also sell column centimetres (or column inches).

The more publishing you buy the cheaper it gets

The more an advertiser buys, the cheaper the rate per column centimetre (or magazine pages).

A full-page is cheaper than two half pages and so on. Publishers offer advertisers discounts if they commit to buying a series of advertising over time. Booking a year’s worth of advertisements in a monthly magazine is cheaper than 12 single advertisements.

Some advertising positions attract a premium rate. On newspapers this is the front page. It can also be the front pages of newspaper sections such as business.

Magazines charge extra for the back cover and possibly the inside front cover. Successful titles charge a premium for early right-hand pages or other attractive sites.

Agencies and commission

Specialist media buying companies buy most advertising. They develop strategies for their clients and negotiate with publishers. Publishers pay media buyers a commission. This might be 10 to 20 percent of the booking’s value. In return for a commission, media buyer agrees to pay invoices on a set date.

We call advertisers who buy their own space direct clients. They often haggle over prices. Unless they are large-scale buyers, they have less clout than agencies. Collecting money from direct clients can be harder.

Publishers issue rate cards. Historically they used a card. Now they are usually available online. Rate card prices are often negotiable.


Advertorial is when publishers offer advertising linked to editorial features. In some cases editorial integrity is up for sale.

Advertorial deals come in different flavours. Many publications are advertorial thoughout. If an advertiser pays for space they have a say over the publication’s editorial content.

More credible titles wall off areas of content for advertorial. These might be marked with terms like “advertising supplement” or “advertising feature”. This isn’t always transparent to readers.

Some publishers run editorial-style material provided by advertisers and charge for it. Others allow advertisers to send the copy for inclusion next to advertisements.

Publishers may or may not allow advertisers control over advertorial content. Some publishers have journalists write advertiser-friendly copy for these sections. Others keep a strict demarcation between editorial and advertising.

Print publishing business model

Free titles are more likely to run advertorial. The might compromise editorial integrity more often than paid-for titles.

Paid titles are less likely to take this approach. Some have little in the way of advertising and charge a hefty premium for quality editorial content. This works best if they can manage a high circulation.

Want to publish directly from Google Docs to your WordPress site? Setting-up Google Docs is a chore, but easy once you’ve done the hard work. Here’s how I did it.

Google Docs may not be the world’s best word processor, but you won’t find a better way of collaborating on documents. Sharing and collaboration works far better than with Microsoft Word.

Recently I used Google Docs to edit some shared documents which would eventually become WordPress posts.

After writing the first post, I cut and pasted the text into WordPress. It wasn’t pretty. Eventually I used WordPress’ paste as plain text function, but that loses formatting.

I decided to investigate posting directly from Google Docs to WordPress.

There are a number of guides explaining how to do this, but an online applications like Google Docs is a moving target – some of the steps explained in the guides have changed in recent updates.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Get WordPress ready to receive Google Docs. Go to the Dashboard, select Settings, then Writing.

  2. Select the box where it says:
    XML-RPC Enable the WordPress, Movable Type, MetaWeblog and Blogger XML-RPC publishing protocols.

  3. In Google Docs, open the document you’d like to post in WordPress.

  4. Pull down the Share menu in the top right hand corner of the screen and select Publish as web page.

  5. You should see two items, the second says This document has not been published to your blog.

  6. If this is the first time you’ve tried posting to your WordPress site from Google Docs, there will be a message saying: You need to set your blog site settings before you can post documents to your blog.

  7. Click on the link.

  8. If you use a hosted WordPress.com blog, then click the first button (which is selected by default) and choose WordPress.com from the pull-down menu next to the word Provider. If you run a self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll need to select the My own server / custom option then choose Metaweblog API and your site address. It is important to end the xmlrpc.php – which is normally in the home directory.

  9. Add your user name and password.

The process isn’t foolproof – I still ended up needing to edit some HTML code which came through from Google Docs – but if you’ve build your workflow around Google’s tools, this is relatively straightforward.

For journalists Trevor Young’s  8 Things I’d Do If I Was a Starting Out in PR Today is like the allies getting hold of the German Enigma machine at the start of World War II.

It means knowing what the enemy is thinking and staying one step ahead – at least some of the time.

Young’s road-map is for junior public relations professionals. It should be cut out and pinned beside every agency or in-house desk. It shouldn’t. That’s old school thinking. It should be downloaded and stored on every PR person’s iPad or phone.

He writes:

SIX – I would read every newspaper I could get my hands on, hang out at the newsagent and flick through as many magazines as humanly possible (without getting sprung!); read newsletters, swap radio stations, check out the array of cable TV channels on offer.

Traditional media is not going away any time soon; if you can ‘join the dots’ between traditional and social media, you will become a lot more valuable to your employer!

The advice applies to everyone, but journalists and PR people not reading everything in this way are in the wrong job.

Point nine is learn how to write headlines in newspaper style, grammatically correct and without sticking capital letters on everything.

If only all PR people were as smart as Young, who cleverly brands himself online as the PR Warrior, we could drop the idea of journalists and PR people being at each others’ throats all the time.