Eight Keys to Conducting Good Interviews

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Among the many skills writers and creatives must master, interviewing might be one of the toughest, especially if you’re an introvert. Most of us aren’t born interviewers; we have to develop those skills over time.

Most of us can learn a thing or two by watching the late Barbara Walters’ interviews, how she maintains focus on her subject at all times as if that person is the only one in the room. She speaks to them as if holding a simple conversation. Really when you think about it, that’s what an interview is – a simple conversation between people. What’s so scary about that?

Of course, the interviewer – you – holds the key to making the interview productive and successful. Success, however, is only as you define it. A successful interview might be snagging that elusive source you’ve been chasing for several weeks. It could be gleaning an important detail you didn’t expect to get, or it could be getting a normally reticent person to open up about themselves.

Interviewing is just one aspect of writing that most novice writers don’t think about. Interviews are often needed for getting background information on a topic for a work of fiction, non-fiction, magazine feature or other written work. For example, if your story takes place in a bank but you’ve never worked in a bank yourself, you might interview one or two people who do to get a sense of what their day is like, their process for handling money or for dealing with customers, or worse, how they would deal with a bank robbery.

Interviews can cover a variety of topics such workplace issues, health and wellness, auto mechanics and baking. In my magazine writing, I’ve interviewed experts about the housing market, how to create webinars, blockchain technology ADA compliance.

Don’t overlook interviews for memoir either. Sometimes you need to find historical information to build context into your memoir or a biography set in another time and place.

From my experience writing for trade association publications, I’ve learned how to be more comfortable about asking people for their perspective on certain topics. People LOVE to talk about themselves, especially the work they do or a hobby or side interest they enjoy. Tap into those topics, and you’re usually home free. Even the most reticent person will open up about what interest them.

To maximize your success, here are my keys to conducting good interviews:

  1. Be prepared. Research the topic to develop a cursory knowledge and can ask semi-intelligent questions. Read published articles about the topic or contact subject matter experts. If possible, research the individual you’re interviewing too. Use LinkedIn to get their background and education. You may even find that you have something in common with them, such as graduating from the same university.

  2. Set a goal for the interview. Think of one or two pieces of information that you need to know that only that person can provide.

  3. Focus on the person you’re interviewing. Don’t use the time to talk about yourself. Be personable without getting too personal. Allow the person to speak without interrupting them with your own story.

  4. Get the basics first, such as the spelling of their name, their company and occupation. Brief them on the interviewing process and what will happen once the interview is complete. Notify them when the article will be published. You might make comments about the weather or their local sports team to help them relax and build rapport.  

  5. Go slow. Start with easier questions. Softer, open-ended questions are more likely to put them at ease. Avoid closed questions with simple yes or no responses which might make them feel like they’re being interrogated.

  6. Be polite and considerate, but don’t fawn over them. Remember they have other obligations and their time might be limited, so don’t waste time. Be sure to thank them at the end for their time.

  7. Conclude the session by asking if they have any final thoughts. I like to ask the question, “Is there anything else readers should know about this topic that I have not asked about?” Most of the time, they may not have anything else to add. More often, they reiterate a point they made earlier. Occasionally, you will get a true nugget of information that adds depth to their commentary.

  8. Follow up. Send a thank you for their time and perspective. Ask for additional questions if needed. Also ask for additional resources they might know of about the topic or other people you can interview. Explain the process moving forward and whether they’ll have a chance to review their sections of it before it gets published. That’s a detail you’ll have to work out with your editor. Depending on the publication and deadline, some editors require source reviews while others may not. 

    Interviews can be fun to do – if you’re prepared and you know what you want to accomplish. Once you’ve done a few, you’ll have one more skill in the writers’ arsenal.

Six Steps to Writing Compelling Profile Stories

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While most writers seem to specialize on one form of writing over others, such as short stories or marketing, there’s a lesser known type of business writing that’s worth looking into. That’s the personal profile.

A profile is a written portrait of a person. The profile is gleaned from research and interviews with the subject and perhaps other people who know that person well. It can be as long as 2,000 words or as brief as 500 words.

You’ve likely seen profiles in newspapers, magazines and websites, usually has a narrative non-fiction piece. I find profiles to be one of the most interesting things to read – and to write. People make interesting subjects because every person has a story to tell. That story can be about their time serving in the military, or going through a divorce or overcoming cancer. You can learn about their hopes, dreams, successes and failures. You can find out what they believe and what they value, and how they see the world.

The subject doesn’t have to be a celebrity or VIP either. They can be a parent who is fighting the city to save the local library from demolition. It could be a doctor who has decided to set up a clinic in an underserved community, or a formerly incarcerated woman who is starting her own business.

Profiles are one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve written in my career. Most of the ones I’ve done required me to interview only the subject individual. Other lengthier, more detailed profiles include interviews with people who know the profile person well.

There are four things I learned from writing profiles:

  • Everyone has a story to share, something they’ve gone through that molded them into who they are today.
  • Profile subjects can inspire others to follow in their footsteps, or take their own leap of faith.
  • Profiles put you in touch with outstanding individuals who have achieved great things, sometimes against all odds.
  • There is a market for these types of stories. Sometimes entire magazines are devoted to profiles.

At first glance, profiles may seem simple to do, but the key is to create a clear, accurate picture of the person. Getting to the heart of their story isn’t always easy, but necessary. Here are the steps I take to write a profile. You can find other tips on Masterclass and The Write Life.

Step 1: Do research. Gather as much background information as you can about the person. Check their LinkedIn profile or other social media, read any articles that were written about them, and visit their website, which usually has an About Me page. Make notes of the key events in their life that you might want to include in the profile.

Step 2: Find an angle. As you sort through the background information and articles, notice if there’s a recurring trend. Or alternately, notice if an event has been glossed over. I recently worked on a profile about a quadriplegic fashion model. While most articles focused on her accident and her rise in the fashion world, I noticed the initiatives she was involved in that opened doors for other young women in wheelchairs to enjoy a career in fashion. That became the focus of my profile of her. The focus of the profile can be anything from their career, family life or contributions to the community.

Step 3: Draft an outline. Once you know what you want to focus on, draft an outline for the profile. The outline can help you determine what types of questions you need to ask. Then create a short list of questions to prepare for the interview.

Step 4: Schedule the interview. Some people are nervous about being interviewed, so make sure you put them at ease. It might help to make small talk at first so they feel more comfortable talking to you. I usually try to keep the interview brief, no more than 30 minutes, especially if it’s a short piece. It might also help to record the interview so you can go back to listen to it later in case you missed an important detail.  

Step 5: Draft the profile article. Integrate interview notes with the rest of your research material and begin writing. When the first draft is complete, let it rest for a few hours. Then begin editing and rewriting until it is clear and cohesive.

Step 6: Send the profile to the individual to review. I believe this step is especially helpful to make sure you’ve quoted the person accurately and the story is true. This way the person knows what the story will look like, and you get their approval before it gets published.

Once you get the person’s approval, make whatever changes they request, then submit it to the editor.

Writing personal profiles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a freelancer. It’s a satisfying feeling when you know that you’re helping people tell their stories.

Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2020

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Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.

Before getting too deeply into the New Year, let’s look back at the year that was to honor the authors and journalists we lost and the literary legacies they left behind.

Authors
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of “Prozac Nation,” a memoir about her battle with depression
Mary Higgins Clark, queen of suspense fiction
Clive Cussler, author and adventurer
Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump”
Terry Goodkind, master of fantasy fiction
John LeCarre, author of Cold War thrillers
Bette Greene, author of “Summer of My German Soldier”
Joanna Cole, children’s book author best known for “The Magic School Bus”
Rudolfo Anaya, considered the “godfather” of Chicano literature who wrote “Bless Me, Ultima”
Charles Webb, author of “The Graduate” which became a hit movie
Donna Kauffman, romance novelist
Tomie de Paola, children’s book author and illustrator
Diana di Prima, poet of the Beat Generation

Journalists
Gail Sheehy, journalist and author of 17 books, including the breakthrough “Passages” published in 1974
Jim Lehrer, host of PBS NewsHour
Bobbie Battista, one of the first anchors for CNN Headline News
Gerald Slater, founding employee of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
Hugh Downs, longtime TV anchor and host of 20/20 from 1978 to 1999
Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out entertainment magazine

In Memoriam: Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2019

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Before we get too far into 2020, let’s look back to the past year and the talented writers we lost.

Authors

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author of “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”

Anne Rivers Siddons, author of “Peachtree Road” and numerous other novels set in and around Atlanta.

Judith Krantz, bestelling author of steamy, sexy romance novels including “Scruples” and “Til We Meet Again.”

Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny” died at age 103

Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous poems about nature and animal life

Vonda McIntyre, award-winning science fiction writer best known for her Star Trek novels

Johanna Lindsey, bestselling author of more than 50 romance novels

Ernest Grimes, author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Graeme Gibson, Canadian author and conservationist who was also the long-time partner of Margaret Atwood

Betty Ballantine, who with her husband helped reinvent the modern paperback through Bantam and Ballantine book publishing groups.
Journalists

Cokie Roberts, highly-respected journalist known for her work on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and co-anchoring ABC News’ “This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.”

Garth Reeves Sr., longtime publisher of the Miami Times and a prominent voice of Miami’s black community

Kathryn Johnson, journalist with the Associated Press who covered pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement

Russ Ewing, well-respected TV reporter in Chicago

Steve Dunleavy, Australian-born tabloid journalist, columnist for the New York Post and lead reporter for the TV show “A Current Affair”

David Horowitz, consumer reporter best known for his work hosting the TV show “Fight Back!”

For more about celebrity deaths, visit Legacy.com.

‘Justice’ Is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

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Looking back on 2018, it seemed that most news stories, with the exception of sports and weather, dealt with some aspect of justice. It comes in many different forms too: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, and more recently, environmental justice. It is no wonder that “justice” was named by Merriam-Webster.com as its top word of 2018.

The concept of justice has many interpretations — from legal and technical to philosophical, the dictionary site explains, and today’s news stories attempt to explain what those concepts mean in our society. As we enter 2019, we will all continue to grapple with what justice means for our lives.

Second on Webster’s list is ‘nationalism’, a word that President Trump used in a speech in October where he described himself as a ‘nationalist.’  Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to one nation, particularly exalting it above all others.” Nationalism is not to be confused with ‘patriotism,’ which is defined as “love and devotion to one’s country, but not putting it above all other countries.”

The third top word on the 2018 list is ‘pansexual’, a word that actress/singer Janelle Monae used in a Rolling Stone article to describe her sexual orientation and preferences. The prefix “pan” means “all” or “complete” so the word pansexual may be a useful alternative to bisexual.

Other words topping the list include:

* Lodestar – meaning one who serves as an inspiration, model or guide

* Epiphany – a sudden perception of essential meaning or an illuminating realization

* Feckless – ineffective or worthless. In a rarely used antonym, ‘feckful’ means efficient or effective

* Laurel – Did you hear the audio clip that went viral? Did the voice say ‘laurel’ or ‘yanny’?

* Pissant – Derogatory word used by a radio DJ described the daughter of Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady

* Respect – A tribute to the late Aretha Franklin and her legendary song. It comes from the Latin word ‘respectus’, meaning “the act of looking back.”

* Maverick – An independent individual who doesn’t go along with a group or party. Often used to describe the late Senator John McCain.

* Excelsior – Stan Lee’s motto and salutation often concluded the monthly column he wrote for Marvel Comics. Comes from the Latin word meaning ‘higher’.

For more detailed explanations about these words and their origins, check out Merriam-Webster.com.

The top words were determined by the number of times they had been looked up on their site for meaning and clarification.

This annual list, as fun as it is, highlights why we still need to use a dictionary at times, to not only understand words and meanings, but how those meanings evolve over time and impact our conversations and our writing. It’s also a wonderful way to add to our vocabulary. Who knew there was such a word as ‘feckful’?

Last year about this time, after the 2017 list was revealed, I made my list of words for 2018. Among the words I listed were: backlash, harassment, impeach, bi-racial, isolationism, nuclear, resurgence, and bomb cyclone. I even made up a term, global cooling, to describe the cool reception the U.S. would receive after Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

So what words do you think will be in the news in 2019 that will have you running to the nearest dictionary? I have a few in mind. Some are repeats from last year’s list, including ‘treason’ and ‘harassment’. In addition, look for the words ‘equity’, ‘collusion,’ ‘reform’ and ‘vortex’ to hit the news one way or another.

Merry Christmas!

Uncovering Fake News: Advice from a TV Journalist

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News stories are everywhere – on TV, the Internet, social media and good old-fashioned print newspapers and magazines. But how do you know whether the news stories you  read are true or fake?

In a program sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the League of Women Voters in late September that I attended, journalist Dorothy Tucker of the local CBS affiliate addressed these issues. Fake news, she said, is deliberate misinformation. Sometimes called “yellow journalism,” its roots can be traced back to pre-Civil War and slavery. During those days, newspaper cartoons often depicted slaves as content and at peace with their role in society, which was not true.

When immigrants began moving to America, they were portrayed in political cartoons negatively, often as ignorant and subservient, which was also not true. The intent in both these cases was to depict these minority groups in ways that gave the wrong impression to the public. These stories were the original “fake news.”

Fast forward to the 21st century. Facebook is the by far the biggest source of fake news. Tucker said an estimated 22 percent of news stories funneled through Facebook prior to the 2016 elections was fake news. These stores were planted by Russian agents with the intent to deliberately mislead the American public about the candidates. In some cases, pages were set up by and for non-existent groups to feed off people’s fears and create divisions within the public.

To complicate matters, there are more news outlets covering events today than ever before. Twenty years ago, there might have been only a handful of journalists covering a story, five or six at the most, Tucker said. Today, with the impact of the Internet and blogs, there may be 50 or 60 people covering a story. Not all of today’s bloggers and website owners have a background in journalism or understand basic journalistic standards and practices. They often report events without checking the facts.

It’s a crowded field, and with so many people vying for a chance to break a news story before the next person, the truth can get lost in the shuffle. And with so much news out there, how does an individual like you and me decipher what is real and what is fake, or gossip, or just plain wrong?

It is up to us, as individuals, to be more discerning about the stories we hear and see. We can’t assume what we read on the Internet is truthful, nor can we assume that what we hear in any news media is fake. Tucker outlined some things we can all do to check out a story.

1. Check out the media source or news outlet that ran the story. Do a Google search to see if news outlet exists. If so, what other stories has it published? Does the organization have a website? If so, check it out. Is there an About page? What does that page say about the organization? Is there an editor or editorial board? Is there a way to contact the news organization? If there is no About page, no information about the news organization and no ways to contact them, chances are they are a fake organization publishing fake news.

2. Check out the author of the story. Search Google to see if their name exists. Have they written other stories at other news outlets? Do they have a website? Check their bio on their website, and make sure there is a way to contact them. Most legitimate author sites will have this information.

3. Check the published date of the article as well as any photo or image that accompanies it. Check the source of the photo or image. It might have been “stolen” from another Internet site, often without the knowledge or consent of the person photographed. The photo or story might have been published a few years ago. Fake news outlets have been known to take a story from a few years before and embellish it for their purposes. If you can trace it back to the original story, then you found a fake news story.

4. Check the content of the news story against fact-checking services like Snopes.com, Poynter Fact-Checking Tips and Factcheck.org. Insert the URL of the story into the space provided and these services will scan the story to determine how much of the story is factual.

As we move forward into the mid-term election season, we all have to exercise better judgment and stronger awareness of news sources. We need to look at each news story with a keen eye and healthy dose of  skepticism about what is factual and what is fake. We all have to take greater responsibility for the news we share with others too, especially on social media sites. We may inadvertently be spreading fake news. Like the old adage, if it sounds too good (or ridiculous) to be true, it probably isn’t.

10 Words That Could Dominate the News in 2018

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Online dictionary Merriam-Webster recently shared their top words for 2017. Tops on their list: feminism, which the site selected because of its prominence in news stories throughout the year. Other words included on their list for 2017 were: complicit, recuse, gaffe, federalism, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro and hurricane. These words were noted because of a higher than usual percentage of look-ups in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary following references in news stories.

Seeing this list made me think of 2018. What words do you think will dominate the news media in the coming year?

I’ve come up with my own list, presented below in alphabetical order. Some have already been mentioned repeatedly in the news; others are likely to be popular in the coming months. It will be interesting to see if any of these words will make Merriam-Webster’s list a year from now.

Backlash – With social media, it’s all too easy to speak out in favor or against a person or issue. It’s also just as easy to receive backlash for those comments. In the past few years, celebrities and public servants have received backlash for bad attitudes, poor behavior and subpar performances, and that trend will likely continue in 2018. So “backlash” will continue to dominate news stories in the coming year.

Bi-racial – As the nuptials of Britain’s Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle take place this spring, we will no doubt hear more about Markle’s background and family. Markle is biracial, meaning her parents are of two different races. I believe her notoriety will bring to light what it means to be biracial in today’s society.

Bomb cyclone – Sounds intimidating, and for those who live along the Eastern coast of the United States, it was intimidating last week as a bomb cyclone blasted through the region. Bomb cyclone, also known as a weather bomb or explosive cyclogenesis, refers to a weather phenomenon when a low pressure system’s central pressure drops 25 millilbars in 24 hours or less. The conditions are ripe for an epic winter storm with snow and high winds followed by a significant drop in temperature. Popular Science has a nifty explanation of this term.

Global cooling – This is a term I devised to describe the cool response the U.S. has been receiving from its international allies. Since Donald Trump took office a year ago, the U.S. has seen a rash of unpopular policy reversals that have affected our relationships with foreign countries and our standing in the world, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The result is a “global cooling” attitude toward the U.S., a trend that is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond.

Harassment – As more women come forward to share their stories of harassment in the workplace, the word ‘harassment’ will emerge as a top word in 2018. Harassment comes in many forms, and it isn’t always sexual; it can be verbal, physical and emotional too. And women aren’t always the victim; men can experience harassment too.  Workers will need to educate themselves about what constitutes harassment in the workplace, which is another reason why it will be one of the top words of 2018.

Impeach – There’s been a great deal of doubt surrounding the Trump presidency. As the year progresses, we will likely hear more about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, resulting in continued public outcries for impeachment.

Isolationism – In 2018, I think we will begin to hear more about isolationism, a term referring to national policies that avoid political and economic involvement with other countries. Isolationism has been a recurrent theme in U.S. history, most recently in the 1930s leading up to World War II. With President Trump’s talks of building a border wall along Mexico and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. may once again be moving toward isolationism.

Nuclear – As Trump’s cat-and-mouse game with North Korea heats up, a nuclear incident becomes a very real and scary reality. Discussions about nuclear policies will continue to be a heated debate in 2018, making “nuclear” a top word on my list.

Resurgence – According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, resurgence means “rising again into life, activity or prominence.” As the mid-term elections draw near, I believe we will see a resurgence of political and social interest by individuals and groups alike. More people who had never become politically or socially active will run for office or get more involved, and the results may be startling. Don’t be surprised if we see sweeping changes in the makeup of Congress at the midterm elections in November.

Treason – Much like the word “impeach,” expect to see the word “treason” in many news stories this year as more of President Trump’s political and business dealings are uncovered.

What do you think? Would any of these words make your top words of 2018? What words do you think will dominate the news in the coming year?

Tips for Finding Credible Sources via the Internet

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A woman I met in a writing class was working on a book project. She had never done anything like it before, so she didn’t know how to go about researching her topic. “How do I find good, credible sources of information on the Internet?” she wondered.

Good question. The Internet, for all its accessibility to the information highway, has been known to play host to some faulty, inaccurate data, enough so that it has been the brunt of jokes. The fact is you can’t assume that what you read on the Internet is true, accurate, trustworthy, or worthy of being shared.

But fortunately for many of us writers, there are plenty of credible sources. You just have to know where to look for them and how to vet them. Here’s a list of sites I regularly seek out to find a credible source to interview or do background research.

* Trade associations, which cover industry news. For example, the National Association of Realtors covers the housing market, while the American Hospital Association obviously covers news about hospitals. If you don’t already have a contact there, reach out to the media relations department who can put you in touch with the best expert for your project.

* Government agencies collect data and conduct research about everything from energy consumption to employment statistics. If you need data to back up your research, agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Trade Commission will be strong bets.

* Universities often produce studies or have think tanks on-site. Professors with special expertise in certain topics or who are involved in research studies are good candidates for sources.

* Book authors often have specialized expertise. Check Amazon or Barnes and Noble for recent releases. Note the name of the author(s) and check out their website, if they have one. If they’ve written a book or published an article, they’re experts and they’re worth interviewing.

* Magazine, newsletter and website editors cover the topics of the day. They understand the issues facing their industry and are usually open to offering their perspective.

* Quoted experts in news articles. As you read articles on your topic, note the experts who are quoted in the story. What company or industry do they represent? What expertise do they have? Follow up with them via their website or connect with them through social media. If they’ve done one interview, they are likely willing to talk to you.

* Think Tank organizations and other research firms, such as Pew Research Center provide massive amounts of studies and data, and their researchers are often quoted in news stories.

* Not-for-profit organizations and foundations, such as American Heart Association, can provide a unique perspective. For example, the director of a silent film group can provide a historical perspective on the passing of a well-loved actress.

For most writing projects, I usually begin by contacting the media relations department. Describe your writing project and be specific as you can about what information you need. They will usually direct you to the right expert. If they don’t have someone available, ask if they can refer someone else. But be patient. It may take a few hours or days for them to get back to you. If time is a factor, make sure you tell them that you are working on a deadline.

Once you’ve collected your sources, don’t set up interviews right away, unless you’ve talked with them previously and know them well enough to contact them. You need to be sure they are legitimate sources for your story.  A source that hasn’t been properly vetted can weaken an otherwise well-researched story.

If the information you find is too good to be true, or promises more than they can deliver, think twice before sharing it. Be sure to confirm the accuracy of one source by using a second, and possibly a third source.

Check the Better Business Bureau to determine if there are any complaints against the company or source. If there are, they may not be the best choice of expert to be interviewed.

Do a Google search of topics and individuals. You might be surprised what pops up. For example, enter HCG Diet in the search space, and the list will reveal both positive and negative reports, which suggest that the diet may not live up to the hype. On the other hand, by seeing both positive and negative responses, you may find sources who are willing to discuss opposing perspectives, which can make your story more well-rounded and credible.

In the long run, your story is only as good as the sources you use.

Nine Easy Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary

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Whether you are a budding writer or a working professional in a non-communications role, your ability to communicate depends on an expansive vocabulary. As children and young adults, we learn new words at a fairly high rate. By the time kids reach age six, they know close to 13,000 words, according to Scholastic.com. Most native English-speaking adults have mastered 20,000 to 35,000 words, according to TestYourVocab.com. Sadly, vocabulary growth tends to slow down for most adults by the time they reach mid life.

When it comes to reading and writing, learning new words and broadening our scope of language and understanding can only serve to make our story telling skills even better. With each new word we learn, it’s only natural that we want to implement it right way into our everyday conversation, to display our newfound knowledge.

Whether you want to become a better writer or just want to impress your friends with your growing lexicon of language, here are a few easy tricks to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read, read, read. This is obvious. The more you read, the more you will absorb the writer’s meaning through language. And the more diverse your reading materials – from historical fiction novels and celebrity memoirs to newspapers and medical journals – the more expansive your vocabulary will become.

2. Play games and puzzles. Crosswords and other word puzzles are not only fun, but they help build your understanding of words. A site like TestYourVocab.com offers several self-tests and exercises to help you determine how expansive your vocabulary is.

3. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus at your side when you read. This is a no-brainer. These valuable tomes are your best friends whenever you read or write.

4. Read the dictionary. Yes, you read that right. Read the dictionary front to back as if you were reading a novel. A grade-school classmate of mine did that in seventh grade. While other kids in the class were throwing spit balls, my classmate sat quietly at his desk studying the dictionary. It did not surprise me to learn several years later that he earned a perfect high score on his ACT test.

Take a page or two a day and study each word on the page. Note how many of them are unfamiliar to you. Little by little, your vocabulary will grow.

5. Take a class on a topic unfamiliar to you. If you don’t have the time or patience to read a text book, taking a class might be the next best thing to help you build your vocabulary. For example, when I took a personal training certification class a few years ago, I was exposed to terms and phrases related to exercise physiology, nutrition and physical fitness, not part of my everyday language, but it did give me some additional exposure to words I never would have learned otherwise. If medical science isn’t your forte, try other topics, such as gardening, carpentry or cooking.

6. Keep a vocabulary log. Each time you come across a word that is unfamiliar to you, write it down in a journal. In the space next to it, look up the word in a dictionary and write down the definition. The practice of writing it down will help commit the information to your memory.

I just started doing this with the book I’m currently reading, where I have easily written down up to three or four new words per page. Now I wish I had started doing this practice a long time ago. I can only imagine how much more comprehensive my vocabulary would be now.

7. Talk to people. Have conversations. Every now and then, take your nose out of a book, laptop or iPhone and look around you. The next time you visit a coffee shop, strike up a conversation with people in line or sitting at a table by themselves. Listen to the way they speak. What words do they use?

8. Visit sites like Vocabulary.com, a free online learning platform that helps students, teachers and communicators build their vocabulary. The site offers online games and exercises as well as tools to help you build vocabulary lists. There are other online platforms and apps available for the same purpose. No matter which you decide to choose, they are designed to help you build your vocabulary in fun, interesting ways.

9. Start writing, and keep writing. The more you write, the better you become at writing and the more words you will learn to use along the way.

When you engage in any one, two or three of these techniques on a regular basis, you’ll see your vocabulary grow exponentially in a short matter of time.