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Issue 5    July, 2013

Sue HornerDear Sue2,
Cookie Monster hasn't made an official appearance in my house for many years, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the furry guy. This issue of Wordnerdery talks about how the Sesame Street writers both entertain and educate. We may not be kids, but we can learn from them, too.
Sue's signature

7 writing tips from the creative folks at Sesame Street

Sesame Street is among the Writers Guild of America's 101 best-written TV series (at #56; The Sopranos is #1). Coincidence? Not likely. Clever, funny and effective, it reaches both children and their parents.

The dual target is deliberate. A 2010 interview with the head writer, Joseph Mazzarino, explains that:
  • "There's no better way for the child to get the concepts we're giving them than when they're sitting down with their parents, watching."
Some of the musical parodies are a natural, like Feist singing 1, 2, 3, 4 ("monsters walking cross the floor"). Others are only a slight stretch, like "Bruce Stringbean" singing Born to Add, and "The Beetles" singing Letter B. They're so popular, you'll find dozens of them on YouTube.

In a recent Ragan Communications piece, Deborah Bates explains the secret to Sesame Street's YouTube channel reaching one billion views as this:
  • "Educate, balance serious and light-hearted content, and know what's important to your viewers."
Writers can apply the same secrets, which I roll into these seven tips:
  1. Know your audience. What's important to your readers? What do they already know?
  2. Be clear about what you need to get across and focus on that. Too many points will dilute the message.
  3. Tell a story to make it memorable.
  4. Keep it simple. You may not have children reading your work, but you will have people with little time to read. Help them out by steering clear of words like "utilize."
  5. Keep it short. Who has time or patience for reading lengthy material any more?
  6. Think about references to pop culture as a way to capture attention or make a connection. You could echo the words of a song or reflect current television shows.
  7. Don't be afraid to be silly or play with words. You may not be able to follow the Sesame Street rule of thumb ("When in doubt, throw a chicken.") but guaranteed you can lighten up.
What have YOU learned from Sesame Street, or other shows you love? Hit "reply" and tell me about it, or let me know if I can help you throw a chicken.

Images: Cookie Monster from Sesame Street® and associated characters, trademarks and design elements are owned and licensed by Sesame Workshop. © 2012 Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved. Sue by Chris Salvo,

Related links

The 50 best Sesame Street moments. One of my faves is Captain Vegetable.

Grover mimics the Old Spice Guy in "Smell Like a Monster." I love it.

From the Red Jacket Diaries blog

Who would imagine Sesame Street issuing a news release with weasel words?

Drat! 'App' edged out Cookie Monster's 'nom' for the 2010 Word of the Year.


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