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You Headline Matters. Tips for Getting It Right

Last week I came across this excellent post on writing headlines for online content.

Image credit: Headline by Gracey,

Kurt Gessler, deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune, shared "18 Tips For Writing Engaging Headlines and 27 Makeovers That Saved Stories From Extinction." Gessler points out that newspapers often fail to write engaging headlines for online articles because they still think of stories in the context of a printed page, where a headline works in conjunction with the full story and maybe even a pullquote, graphic or photo. Online, Gessler says, the product is "unbundled." Online content needs to be marketed story by story, often only through the headline.

I think we often make a similar mistake. We think we are marketing our entire blog or website, but most people will not be exposed to a piece of our content in that context. Instead they will likely see our headline shared on social media, in an email or in their feed reader. We should be focusing on writing really good headlines; not in an attempt to game Google search results or to trick people with clickbait, but in an effort to get people to really engage with our content.

Here are a few of Gessler's headline writing tips that really stood out to me.

Be clear and focused, first and foremost.

Gessler says there is nothing more important than clarity in a headline. The headline should tell the reader "why they should care or how this affects his or her life." Sometimes that means stating what we might think is obvious.

Don't get too cute or punny.

As I said before, I like sounding clever, so I've written a few of these headlines. Gessler points out all the assumptions you are making when you write a cute or punny headline:

  • You assume everyone gets the joke
  • You assume there are no language barriers
  • You assume your pun hasn't been used many times before
  • You assume there is nothing more interesting in your content

Focus on impact and implications

I tried my hand at this in the headline for this article. Gessler says the key is to tell the reader why the story is important to them. He offers some suggested structures, including:

  • This is what XXX means to you
  • Experts offer advice on XXX
  • XXX is a problem. This is the solution

After reading Gessler's advice, I'm going to take more time to write my headlines. I often dash them off as an afterthought, but they really do matter. People are exposed to a lot of online information every day. More times than not, a person's decision whether to read a piece or not depends on the headline.

Bob Bertsch, Web Technology Specialist, (701) 231-7381

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Write the Right Word: What Time is It, Anyway?

Time is an important part of what we write. That’s especially true in news releases, brochures, fliers and other material for a specific event. Those all include the time an event begins, and often list starting times for sessions within that event.

Here’s the style we follow for writing times:

  • Use figures except for noon and midnight; spelling out noon and midnight avoids confusion.
  • Do not put :00 after the hour.
  • Do use a colon to separate the hour from minutes.
  • Lowercase a.m. or p.m. Make sure to put periods after the a, p and m.

For example: “The workshop starts at 8 a.m. Lunch will be served at noon. The featured speaker will give a presentation at 2:30 p.m.”

Here are some other tips:

  • When listing a time range and both times are in the morning, afternoon or evening, you need to use an a.m. or p.m. only once. For instance: “The workshop runs from 8 to 11 a.m.” However: “The workshop runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Avoid redundancies such as 10 a.m. in the morning or 10 p.m. Monday night.
  • North Dakota is in two time zones, Central and Mountain. In material listing events in both time zones, indicate which are on Mountain time. For example: “The workshop will be held in Dickinson at 10 a.m. Mountain time.” or “The workshop will be held in Dickinson at 10 a.m. MST.”

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Ag Communication Webinar: Building Community with Social Media

With the right approach, you can build a community of engaged learners. All you need to do is stop talking at people, start talking with them and open the door for them to talk to each other. We'll discuss the notion of social capital and share ideas and strategies for a more effective use of social media. Learn more from the webinar below.

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Can You Schedule a Skype Meeting in Office 365?

Just got this question from an agent today. The answer is yes. If you need help logging in to Microsoft Office 365, please contact the NDSU Help Desk.

, Web Technology Specialist, 701-231-6403

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Windows Movie Maker Still Available for Editing

If your computer is running Windows 10, you might not have the Movie Maker editing application like you did automatically with Windows 7 or 8.

But do not fret, as Movie Maker is still compatible with Windows 10, and all you need to do is download it.

Click on the Windows Essentials page to download Movie Maker. The website says support will end in January 2017 for these 2012 apps, but there is no alternative for Movie Maker at this moment. Since a new version of Movie Maker for 10 is in the works, the rumor is Microsoft may continue support until a new version is out.

Here’s a YouTube video on how to download Movie Maker.

, Electronic Media Specialist, 701-231-7086

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Why Baseline Computers Are Worth the Cost

When we talk about ordering computer equipment, people inevitably ask why we recommend the computers we do. They are usually curious as to why we recommend the more expensive business class computers on our hardware baseline when seemingly similar computers can be purchased at a big-box store for less money.

Computers on sale at these retailers are similar in size and appearance to the computers we recommend. Some even seem to have have similar hardware: Intel processors, 14.5-inch screens, etc.

However, not all computers have the same features or quality of components. In general, business computers have a number of advantages, including longer warranties, better quality components and additional features designed for office use. This chart outlines some of the differences between the two:

Ultimately, business computers are designed to be more durable and last longer. This is to ensure a consistent computing environment for businesses and provide the tools needed for efficient and responsive support.

, IT Systems Specialist, (701) 231-6395

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The Art and Science of Debunking

"Filling the gap with an alternative explanation." - illustration from The Debunking Handbook.

I believe communicators, educators and scientists all have a responsibility to correct misinformation and debunk myths. That's why I think we need to be active in the spaces, like social media, where myths and misinformation spread. However, our efforts may be backfiring.

Ever since I came across research that showed counter-arguments, however factual, could actually strengthen a myth in the mind of someone with a strongly held worldview, I've been torn between my desire to correct misinformation and my fear that in doing so I may be doing more harm than good.

That's why I was really excited to find "The Debunking Handbook". It's a nine-page, freely downloadable book that summarizes the psychological research on misinformation and offers practical suggestions for how to best correct misinformation and reduce the influence of myths.

Here are some highlights that I think are especially insightful.

  • We can't reduce the influence of a myth by packing more information into people's heads. "It's not just what people think that matters, but how they think."
  • Mentioning a myth without explicitly pointing out it is false, especially in a headline, can backfire by making the myth more familiar to people. If possible, it's better to focus on the facts, without mentioning the myth at all.
  • "A simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an over-complicated correction."
  • "When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in the person's mind. To be effective, your debunking must fill that gap."

I hope you'll download "The Debunking Handbook" and use its strategies. It's given me confidence that I can correct misinformation without unintentionally reinforcing it in people's minds.

Bob Bertsch, Web Technology Specialist, (701) 231-7381

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Phishing: Don’t Get Hooked

NDSU Phishing logo The NDSU IT Division is launching an anti-phishing program that will empower students, faculty and staff to protect themselves against phishing scams. We are on the workgroup that is called Phishing Education and Awareness Training Simulation (PEATS).

What is phishing?

Phishing scams are cyber criminal attempts to steal personal and financial information or infect computers and other devices with malware and viruses. Phishing emails can appear to be from a legitimate organization, urging you to act quickly to avoid negative consequences. They try to entice you to open malicious attachments or click on links to fraudulent websites used to collect sensitive information like usernames and passwords.

Recent phishing emails spotted at NDSU

These have been reported to Ag Comm technicians Jerry, Blair and Jon:

  • You get an email with an attached invoice you weren’t expecting from someone or a company you don’t recognize. The email urges you to click on the attached invoice before a certain date to avoid a late fee.
  • You get an email from someone claiming to be from the NDSU Help Desk urging you to click on a link to resolve an email inbox issue such as storage exceeded or your password must be changed.

How does phishing affect me?

Hundreds of NDSU students, faculty and staff members have been hooked by email phishing scams since the start of the semester, potentially exposing their confidential information to cyber criminals.  

What’s being done to decrease phishing?

The PEATS group is working on an educational program where we’re sending out simulated phishing emails to specific departments on campus to help people identify and avoid phishing scams.

Over the next couple weeks, a number of simulated phishing emails will be sent to students, faculty and staff.

While these messages are intended to look like real phishing messages, they will not cause harm, collect personal information or result in any penalty or punitive action. However, you if you do click on a link in a phishing email, you will be redirected to an educational website.

What to do or NOT to do

If you receive a suspicious email, do not reply, click on any links or open any attachments. Instead, you should:

  • Forward it directly to, which keeps intact important information that may help IT staff identify the source of the scam. Then delete the message.
  • Forward it to the NDSU IT Help Desk,, and ask them to confirm whether or not the suspicious message is a phishing scam.

Did you take bait?

If you think you may have responded to a phishing message or clicked on any links within a suspicious message, please immediately contact the NDSU IT Help Desk at 701-231-8685 or

If you have any questions about phishing, please contact us.

Jerry Ranum, IT Systems Specialist, 701-231-6395
Sonja Fuchs, Web Technology Specialist, 701-231-6403 

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Write the Right Word: 4-H’er

If you’re looking for a shorter version of 4-H member, it’s 4-H’er.

Remember to put the apostrophe between the “H” and “er.” You need the apostrophe because it is replacing something – the “memb” in “member.”

For example: “Bill Smith has been a 4-H’er for 10 years.”

If you are referring to more than one 4-H’er, simply add an “s.” Don’t use an apostrophe before or after the “s.” For example: “Five 4-H’ers volunteered to rake leaves at the senior citizens center.”

While on the subject of 4-H, it’s one of the few exceptions to the rule that warns writers not to start sentences with a number. For instance: “4-H is the largest and only research-based youth organization in North Dakota.”

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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Back Up Your Outlook Contacts

Most people don't just use the Outlook contacts stored in the global address book, but also create their own custom contact lists for specific purposes.

However, what most of us don't realize is that while the global address book is backed up to the cloud, our custom contact lists are not. This means that should we have problems with Outlook or something happen to our computer, those lists could be gone for good.

To prevent this from happening, we strongly recommend you back up your Outlook contacts periodically. This is especially important after you create new lists to ensure that, if the need arises, you can get them back without having to do a lot of extra work.

Please take a look at this step-by-step guide to backing up your Outlook contacts for additional information on how to safeguard all your hard work.

, IT Systems Specialist  |  NDSU Help Desk 701-231-8685 Option 1

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