What Can You Learn from “The 17 Best Advertisements of All Time”?

In my email inbox recently was a link to a post on the Hubspot Marketing Blog that discussed the (arguably) 17 best ads of all time. Before you go look . . . see if you can guess what they are! And see if your students can!

This great post displays the ads and explains why the author, Lindsay Kolowich, chose each one (here, too, you can ask your class to guess why first). Taken together, they illustrate many important principles of good persuasion. Plus, in the middle of the post is a nine-step process for creating a great ad.

Students love talking about ads, and they can learn a lot from these. Enjoy!

Resources for Teaching Document Design and Visual Communication

We live in a business culture where a document’s visual elements are as important as the text itself for conveying a writer’s (or presenter’s) message, whether the message is an email, a report, a brochure, a PowerPoint presentation, or a Web page.

As a business writing instructor, I find myself increasingly devoting time in my courses to document design and visual communication. What started several years ago as a brief review of some basic design and layout principles has evolved to a four-week unit on document design and visual communication incorporating discussion of both print and Web documents. Specifically, we examine information mapping/text placement, fonts, color theory, visual elements (e.g., photos, charts, illustrations), navigation, and usability. Students also learn to create a basic Web page and to use a photo editor.

Student projects vary each semester, depending on our client. This semester’s client is putting its printed catalog and planner online and needs advice on how to do so.

As I prep this spring’s unit, I thought I’d share a few of my best (or at least most interesting) sources. Some I use to create content for lectures, while I use others to add interest to the class discussion. If you have sources to share, please do!

Information Mapping/Text Placement


Color Theory

Visual Elements

Free Online Photo Editors

Bests and Worsts from 2012

New Year’s greetings to you!

As you head back to the classroom, you might enjoy this random collection of “bests” and “worsts” from 2012—either as comic relief or as examples you can use in your teaching.

Enough Already! 2012’s List of Most Overused Words and Phrases.” While not many of these are bcomm related, it’s interesting to see what current expressions people are already sick of—and to learn about Lake Superior State University’s annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness.

Famous Spelling Fails of 2012.” These are few but mighty . . . reaching into the highest echelons of U.S. politics.

Top 7 Résumé Grammatical Errors and How to Avoid Them.” This list from simplyhired.com is short but excellent.

Business Insider’s 10 Worst and Best Ads of 2012. This site for advertising professionals showcases the worst “stinkers” of the year and the best of the best.

The 15 Worst Marketing Stock Photos of 2012.” The commentary on these photos is funny—but there are good lessons here about (ineffective) visual rhetoric, too.

The 10 Worst Communication Mistakes for Your Career.” This 2012 Forbes article provides timely advice on communication gaffes to avoid if you want to be perceived as leadership material. (Bonus: Contains a link to the “Top 6 Communication Skills That Will Get You Promoted.”)

May your students’ triumphs be many and their “fails” few in 2013!

Free Web Editors to the Rescue!

I’m not a big fan of posting my course materials online in Word or .pdf format, so I usually use Dreamweaver to create them as Web documents. While I like Dreamweaver a lot and will continue to use it, I am not an expert Web designer, and it takes a bit of time to set up the style sheet, lay out the page, find my images, create a look, manage my site, etc. Besides, classes start Tuesday, and…well…Let’s just say time is not something I have a lot of when it comes to finishing my syllabi and course schedules.

So to create my materials quickly, I am experimenting with free Web editors to see if they will expedite the process, and so far they have. I looked at Weebly, Yola, Jimdo, and Moonfruit, though there are a lot more editors available. I chose Weebly and Yola simply because I found templates I liked; any of these editors would have met my needs.

All are easy to use. The templates provide everything from highly formal to retro looks, and the text formatting features are similar to some of those in Word. If you’re feeling really brave, you can also manipulate html code to achieve a specific look or format, but really, all you need to do is a bit of clicking and a bit of dragging and dropping, and you’re done.

There are at-cost versions of the editors that offer more than just the basic features, but if you’re looking for a quick way to create a visually friendly, easy-to-navigate Web document, you might want to try one of these. You may also find uses for these in your classroom if you have students do any Web writing or have them create Web-based resumes. In fact, I plan to have my students use one of these editors in our unit on writing for print vs. writing for the Web.

Have you used a free Web editor for yourself or your classes? Please share your experiences with us.

Looking for a Nice Little Persuasive-Message Assignment?

This term I tried a new persuasive-message assignment that worked well, so I thought I’d pass it on to you.

It asked students to recruit student volunteers for local non-profit organizations. You can view the complete assignment here.

The students did well on this assignment, and they seemed to enjoy it. I liked it because it required them to . . .

  • Do a modest amount of research and learn about real organizations,
  • Find photographs that would support the persuasive purpose of the message,
  • Write a substantial amount of engaging, easy-to-follow text,
  • Identify appealing reader benefits (in the absence of monetary reward),
  • Answer all the reader’s likely questions, and
  • Lay out the contents in an attractive way that would maintain reader interest.

Even the weakest students in the class seemed to get into the spirit of this assignment and learn something from it.

What helped was that the class did the assignment in stages. First they had to search for possible organizations and choose two that interested them. They brought information about these organizations to class and worked in groups to help each other choose the more promising of the two and then identify possible reader benefits for the recruitment message. Next, they brought in their drafts, several of which we discussed, and then edited a partner’s paper.

I was pleased with how seriously the students took this project. Perhaps it was because the scenario was realistic. Or perhaps it was because they like the idea of community involvement (Gen Y-ers, by all reports, want to do meaningful work, and many of them have gone, and now go, to schools that promote civic engagement).

If you try this assignnment, let us know how it turned out. Or if you have a different persuasive-message assignment that has worked well, please share it.

Helping Students Insert Photos into Documents

From time to time, business professionals need to know how to insert photos into their documents. The goal may be an eye-catching flyer, a visually appealing persuasive message, an interesting report cover, or even a simple but attractive newsletter.

My students are currently working on messages to recruit volunteers for nonprofit organizations of their choice, and I’m requiring that each person’s message contain at least one photo to enhance the document’s persusasiveness. When I learned that most of the students did not know how to integrate a photo into a document, I walked them through the process in class. If you’re inexperienced in this area, here’s a little help for you.

The guides that Microsoft itself provides are ok, but they tend to be a bit tedious. One of the best guides I found on the Internet was a document prepared by the librarians at a university in Leicester, UK. In a clear, visually helpful way, it explains how to do the most important tasks: inserting the photo; selecting the type of text-wrapping one wants around the photo; resizing, rotating, and cropping the photo; adjusting contrast and brightness; and exploring the Picture Border and Picture Styles options. (It doesn’t cover adding a caption, but once you see how to do these other tasks, you can easily find how to do that.)

This guide is for Word 2007. If you’re using 2010, check out this webpage, which describes the new picture tools features that have been added to the 2007 features.

Of course, beyond making your students technologically able to insert pictures into documents, you’ll also need to discuss with them what makes a picture appropriate and helpful. When choosing pictures on their own, they need to be able to articulate the ways that the photo’s visual message corresponds to and supports the verbal message.  Giving them some sample writing scenarios and asking them to describe what kind of photo would help further the goal of  the communication can be a fun and instructive exercise.

The more visually oriented our culture becomes, the more likely it is that our students will need to add visual appeal to a document in the form of pictures. Fortunately, Word makes performing this task skillfully quite easy.

Have you been incorporating photos and other visual elements into your students’ writing assignments? If so, please share your ideas and strategies.

Do You Pay Attention to Boring Things? … Re-thinking the Essential Syllabus

This week’s post is courtesy of guest blogger Tom Pickering, adjunct assistant professor, Pierce College, Washington. Thank you, Tom, for this interesting and creative way of thinking about how we communicate with our students. If you have a topic you’d like to write about for this blog, please contact us.

… “The brain is as adaptive as Silly Putty. With years of reading books, writing e-mail, and sending text messages, you might think the visual system could be trained to recognize common words without slogging through tedious additional steps of letter-feature recognition. But that is not what happens. No matter how experienced a reader you become, you will stop and ponder individual textual features as you plow through these pages, and you will do so until you can’t read anymore.”

The preceding quote is from Brain Rules by John Medina and specifically, Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses, wherein we tend to learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.

Ten minutes is about all you get with students in class before their attention span diminishes and the nomadic digital habit takes over in the absence of an interactive instructional focus. You either embrace or compete with iPads, laptops, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texting, cell phones, and more. I can relate to this, and I say embrace!

If your syllabus, like mine, has too much inefficient text and is boring, maybe it is time to re-think the text syllabus and consider a visual syllabus, one that is congruous with the digital elixir du jour.

We would like to know if you have a visual syllabus or are interested in developing one and what ideas you might have that would make your syllabus a curious read by students.

Data visualization is becoming popular and has allied application to the classroom to supplement and complement PowerPoint and videos. Below are some resources that might be helpful in re-thinking the possibilities to re-tool your syllabus.


  • 3-page visual syllabus example  
  • Many Eyes: IBM site that enables you to create data visualization through data sets, either your own, or existing
  •  Wordle.net: A fun site and tool for generating “word clouds” from text; color and font choices are extensive, and I have used this site for displaying a course overview and for showing students how to create a cloud resume
  • Good links to information graphics relevant to online learning
  • Data visualization with a global perspective on business and social issues
  • Smashing Magazine: Good source for ideas and resources on data mining
  •  Social Times: Information on how to create a social resume to help students with job search techniques—important considering that employers look for digital footprints of prospective employees
  • Blog with the best examples of data visualization and infographics; subscribing will provide you with a new example every day
  • Mashable: Pictorial summary of how students use technology
  • Pam Dyer’s blog on the use of Facebook and Twitter for marketing, advertising, branding and engagement.
  • Content Maven: This site will take some time, but there are great presentation tools embedded, especially the graphic on Starbucks and Coca-Cola #90—beware of sensory overload)
  • Kawasaki, Guy. Enchantment. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.Print. Kawasaki is a prolific writer and blogger with keen sense of use of social media (see also www.guykawasaki.com and http://blog.guykawasaki.com).
  • Medina, John. Brain Rules. Seattle, Pear Press, 2009. Print. This book has been instrumental for me in course and syllabi development; it explains a lot of behavioral patterns with a few “a ha” moments (see also www.brainrules.net).  

“When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight” (Enchantment, Guy Kawasaki).

Perhaps your visual syllabus will become a great delight, generate attention, and be less boring than the essential text one. Re-think a new type of syllabus and share your results with us.