Writing Tips as Effective as a Bullet— Everybody Writes by Ann Hadley
Detailed Book Notes Summary
About Everybody Writes
Everybody Writes is a handy (or should we say handley?) reference book for aspiring and established writers, created by writer Ann Handley of AnnHandley.com and MarketingProfs is a writer for Entrepreneur. Most tips are fairly straightforward, just stated more succinctly.
Book in one sentence: Tips and tricks for improving your writing.
Who this book for: Aspiring writers who need an easy-to-read reference book for writing improvement.
Personal Ratings & Review
I use 2 criteria to rate every book:
- Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning.
- Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written.
Ratings out of (maximum) 5 stars
- CONTENT ✨ ✨ ✨ ✨
2. CRAFTSMANSHIP ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍
Brief explanation of ratings:
- The story-value, worldview, and lessons contained within the book.
- The style, presentation, and skill with which the book was written.
Too Long; Didn’t Read — Best Ideas from This Book
- What hell does your product save people FROM and what heaven does it deliver them TO?
- Specifics are more compelling
- Avoid moralizing words like: Don’t forget…never…avoid…don’t…remember to…always remember to….
- Aligning the story with strategic goals is critical.
- “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you…but you are the only you.” — Neil Gaiman
- There’s always a story there, even if it’s not the one you were expecting to write.
PART I. WRITING RULES: HOW TO WRITE BETTER (AND HOW TO HATE WRITING LESS)
There is no one way to write — just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey. But there are terrible ways to do all three.
[You should be] eager to become a better writer because you recognize that it matters, and you’ve thrown away the “dumb notion” that “only an anointed few have the chops to be good writers.”
Are you an “adult-onset writer” recovering from trauma that made you think you were a bad writer?
You can break the rules (these are really tools), but you need to know what they are first.
Chapter 1 Everybody Writes
The key to taking your writing muscles from puny to brawny is to write every day.
You probably already do write every day, what with social media and emails, etc.
This is your call to arms: Your words are web currency!
Chapter 2 Writing is a Habit, Not an Art
Taylor Mali on his favorite place to write:
I’d love to say I have handmade Japanese paper and a 200-year-old fountain pen…at the top of our house, there’s an old cupola, and I watch the sunrise up there…and I write my poems longhand…[but really] I just sit in front of my computer.
Writers like Maya Angelou, Hemingway, Dickens, and Oliver Sacks “kept regular hours to cultivate creative rhythms”
You can find Ben Franklin’s daily schedule on Project Gutenberg.
Keep at it, even when it’s uncomfortable and you’d rather quit…the key to being a better writer is to write.
“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life.” — Gretchen Rubin
“Write like crap if you have to. But write every day. Keep the streak alive.” — Beth Dunn
“Don’t write a lot. Just write often…And let’s not kid ourselves here. If you’re doing something once a week, it’s probably only a matter of time before you stop doing it altogether.” — Jeff Goins
Chapter 3 Shed High School Rules
The 5 paragraph essay is bunk.
That’s why the SAT was revised.
Chapter 4 Regard Publishing as a Privilege
Every piece of content should be to please the customer or prospect — NOT your boss or client.
Clarity, brevity, utility.
Cut fat, keep it tight, don’t make readers fight to understand.
Write and rewrite. Make it useful.
“Start with empathy. Continue with utility. Improve with analysis. Optimize with love.” — Jonathon Colman
Chapter 5 Place the Most Important Words (and Ideas) at the Beginning of Each Sentence
First word should create a “friendly first impression.”
Put the primary idea at the beginning.
Instead of: “According to XYZ, 30M adults don’t read” → “30M adults don’t read, according to XYZ”
Avoid starting with phrases like:
- According to, there is a, It is, in my opinion, the purpose of this is, in [year], I think/believe…
Chapter 6 Follow a Writing GPS
Andre Dubus described writing as inching along a dark tunnel.
Ann’s 12 step process:
- Goal: If you don’t care what you’re writing about, no one else will.
- Reframe: Relate the idea to readers, why should they care? So what? (Keep asking so what several layers down)
- Data and examples: Credible sources that support your main idea?
- Organize: What structure suits your content?
- Write to one person
- Produce the ugly first draft
- Walk away: Distance between first and second draft
- Rewrite: Edit!
- Give it a great headline
- Have someone edit
- One final look for readability
- Publish, and add CTA (check out other resource,s sign up to hear more, register, buy?)
“The more personal you are, the more universal you become…the writer who uses herself as a source and resource has the greatestt chance of connecting with the largest audience.” — Chip Scanlan, Poynter.org
Chapter 7 The More The Think, the Easier the Ink
Figure out WHAT you want to say before HOW you say it.
- WHY am I creating this?
- WHAT is my POV/key take on this?
- SO WHAT? WHY does it matter to your reader?
Chapter 8 Organize, Relax, You’ve Got This
Good writing is like math: it has logic and structure. It feels solid to the reader: the writer is in control having taken on the heavy burden of making a piece of writing clear and accessible.
Lists are less intimidating. But you can use mind maps, flow charts, note cards, sticky notes. JK Rowling used graph paper and pen.
“Great writing isn’t written, as much as assembled.” — Andy Crestodina
Chris Penn, prolific marketing blogger on Awaken Your Superhero.
15 ways to organize an article, by Paul Gillin:
- Quiz/test (Test Your Fashion IQ)
- Skeptic (Your privacy doesn’t belong to you anymore)
- Explainer (XYZ in plain english)
- Case study
- Contrarian (Why XYZ is overblown)
- How to / Quick how to
- How NOT to
- First-person story
- Comparison (How XYZ services measure up)
- Data (Is XYZ happening? Yes, says survey)
- Man on the street (Experts offer opinions on XYZ)
- Outrageous (Why XYZ is an oxymoron) / Funny outrageous (You won’t believe what happened next)
- Insider secrets
- Literary treatment (poetry, etc)
Chapter 9 Embrace the Ugly First Draft
Writing paralysis can come from expecting too much of ourselves the first time out.
Good writers are often excellent EDITORS.
George Orwell on scrupulous writers: In every sentence, ask:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image/idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
Chapter 10 Swap Places with Your Reader
“The reader doesn’t turn the page because of a hunger to applaud.” — Don Murray
Have a serving mindset especially during the edit.
Serve the reader, just like in a business you serve the customer.
Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately focus on the reader.
- What experience is the reader having with this content?
- What questions might they come up with?
- Am I making them work too hard?
Chapter 11 Humor Comes On the Rewrite
Same with analogies, clear construction, etc.
Rewriting is what separates the good writing from the lousy.
Chapter 12 Develop Pathological Empathy
NtS: “grok” = understand
Meet people where they are.
“It’s hard to have real empathy for real people’s experiences if we don’t really get to know the people themselves, not just in aggregate.”— Jonathon Colman
Empathy isn’t a gift but a discipline. Spend time with people, understand their habitat, be a natural skeptic and always ask why they do what they do. Share stories, not just stats. Use YOU.
The best way to keep readers reading is to talk about them, not you.
Chapter 13 “Cross Out the Wrong Words”
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” — Mark Twain
2 kinds of editing:
- Developmental editing: big picture
- Line editing: surgical tools.
- State idea as clearly as possible at the start.
- Make every paragraph and sentence earn its keep.
- Are things in the right order? Think of how an old married couple don’t talk over each other but expand on what each other said.
- Trim bloat and fat, get rid of obvious, lose cliches and word additives
- Replace weak verbs with strong ones, check transitions, draw natural connections between paragraphs
Chapter 14 Start with Dear Mom
“My father never got truck driver’s block.” — Roger Simon, journalist
It’s not so much writer’s block as writer’s evasion.
The “dear mom” idea comes from John McPhee, of the New Yorker.
By framing your writing as a conversation, you become more conversational.
Chapter 15 If You Take a Running Start, Cover Your Tracks
Most people take too long to get to the point. Too much background and setup.
Handley’s professor used to routinely cut 1–2 paragraphs from each essay.
Chapter 16 Notice Where Words Appear in Relation to Others around Them
Watch out for misplaced modifiers and confusing word order.
Chapter 17 “A Good Lede Invites You to the Party and a Good Kicker Makes You Wish You Could Stay Longer”
Opening and closing = lede and kicker, in journalism.
“A good lede invites you to the party and a good kicker makes you wish you could stay longer.” — Matthew Stibbe, Articulate Marketing
- Put your reader in the story (2nd person pov)
- Tell a story about a problem they recognize
- Set the stage (Ex: in ancient Babylon, marketers did…)
- Ask a question
- Quote a controversial/crazy idea
- Tell a personal story
- Recast the biggest takeaway
- Add an element of tonal surprise (formal, relaxed)
- Quote: let others have the last word
Fun fact: Journalists replaced “lead” with “lede” to avoid confusing it with lead, the metal and lead, the spacing between text.
Chapter 18 Show, Don’t Tell
Show not tell, salvation, not sales. Theology, not transactions. — Aaron Orendorff
What hell does your product save people FROM and what heaven does it deliver them TO?
Hell can be: no time, stressed, bored, out of shape, lonely, no budget, bad hygiene, human relations, etc.
Use details to make your writing come alive.
Be specific enough to be believable, but universal enough to be credible.
Whenever possible, say “Alaskan Marmalute” instead of “dog.”
Specifics are more compelling.
Even in business, you can be personable without being personal.
Chapter 19 Use Familiar Yet Surprising Analogies
Analogy: frames the unknown with the known.
Provide familiar but interesting context. “pumpkin leaves like trash can lids, pumpkins the size of kegs”
Chapter 20 Approach Writing Like Teaching
Explain your POV with supporting evidence and context. Always tell WHY things work, you feel something, etc. Be specific.
Chapter 21 Keep It Simple — but Not Simplistic
Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple. — Woody Guthrie
Assume the reader knows nothing. But don’t assume the reader is stupid.
See the Economist’s style guide (economist.com/styleguide)
You should ID and ruthlessly refine core messages and top goals.
Use the best design to fit your message. Chart? Graphic? Video?
Chapter 22 Find a Writing Buddy
A writing buddy is like playing tennis with a partner rather than a wall.
- LinkEds and Writers on Linkedin, Copyblogger forum, co-writers.com, writersdigest.com/forum, nanowrimo
Chapter 23 Avoid Writing by Committee
Get sign off on the outline THEn start writing, set clear expectations for how many rounds of editing, seek an OK, not opinions.
Chapter 24 Hire a Great Editor
3 major editor types:
- Copyeditors/proofreaders check facts
- Substantive editors: higher-level read
- Line editors: correct grammar, word choice, flow
As you go from 1 →3 these people are harder to find.
Ann Handley: “If you find one, hold on to him or her; get married, if you must.”
Chapter 25 Be Rabid about Readability
Paragraphs around 3 sentences, six lines. Sentences < 25 words, straightforward words no jargon, bullets, rich text format, etc.
Readability scoring: Flesch-Kincaid method.
The mind/eyes focus on successive points: Natural breaks in text lets the mind stop for a split second to reevaluate the text up to that point.
Chapter 26 End on an I-Can’t-Wait-to-Get-Back-to-It Note
Leave something undone to give yourself the reason and courage to start again the next day.
Chapter 27 Set a Goal Based on Word Count (Not Time)
You can’t improve what you don’t measure, attributed Peter Drucker or William Edwards Deming
Better to measure output in word count, not time.
Chapter 28 Deadlines Are the WD-40 of Writing
At some point, you have to finish.
PART II. WRITING RULES: GRAMMAR AND USAGE
Good writing is thinking, rewriting, focusing relentlessly on there reader, not grammar.
Chapter 29 Use Real Words
Write for real people, using real words.
Jargon is the chemical additive of business writing.
Chapter 30 Avoid Frankenwords, Obese Words, and Words Pretending to Be Something They’re Not
Frankenwords: words stitched together, like listicle, amazeballs, solopreneur.
Chapter 31 Don’t Use Weblish (Words You Wouldn’t Whisper to Your Sweetheart in the Dark)
Ex: “I don’t have the bandwidth” instead of “I don’t heave time” or “Let me ping you on that” vs “I’ll get back to you.”
Chapter 32 Know the Difference between Active and Passive Voice
Chapter 33 Ditch Weakling Verbs
Use expressive verbs because they paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
Chapter 34 Ditch Adverbs, Except When They Adjust the Meaning
Adverbs add bloat. Replace them with stronger verbs.
Chapter 35 Use Cliches Only Once in a Blue Moon
Cliches: Avoid them like the plague — Nigel Fountain
Cliches often come from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton. When first used they were keen insights. Now they’re overused.
Orwell advised people to “never use a…figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
Chapter 36 Avoid These Mistakes Marketers Make
- Ways by which, continues to be, in order to, there will be times when, despite the fact that…
- Replace with: Ways, remains, to, sometimes, although…
Chapter 37 Break Some Grammar Rules (At Least These Five)
- Never start sentences with and, but, because
- Avoid sentence fragments
- Don’t split infinitives
- Don’t end sentence with a preposition
- Don’t write one-sentence paragraphs
Chapter 38 Learn Words You’re Probably Misusing or Confusing with Other Words
- Disinterested /uninterested, historic / historical, discreet /discrete, e.g. / i.e., flaunt / flout, insure / ensure, flounder / founder, nauseous / nauseated, orient / orientate
- Also: less vs fewer, bring vs take, etc
See Grammar Girl
Chapter 39 Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy
Mondegreens and eggcorns: mishearing/mutating a phrase.
These are proliferating because many seem to have heard words that they’ve never seen in print.
Others: malapropisms, spoonerisms
Chapter 40 Limit Moralizing
Watch out for words like:
- Don’t forget…never…avoid…don’t…remember to…always remember to….
PART III: STORY RULES
Tell a true story well: what story is worth telling? how to tell it?
Chapter 41 Tell How You’ll Change the World
Telling a true story in an interesting way is “as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat” says Anne Lamott.
Compelling stories are true, human, original, customer serving, and tells a bigger story aligned with a long-term business strategy.
Ex: Chipotle’s 2013 ad, The Scarecrow, about dystopian creepy industrial food production. This emphasizes Chipotle’s goal: good food, locally/responsibly sourced.
Likewise, Virgin America’s safety video aligns with the brand’s musical roots.
Aligning the story with strategic goals is critical.
Your bigger story helps you communicate strongly what makes you truly unique. Ask yourself:
- What’s unique about your business?
- Anything interesting about its founding?
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What inspired your business?
- What AHA moments have you had?
- How has your biz evolved?
- How do you feel about your biz, customers, self?
- An unobvious way to tell your story? Analogy?
- What do you consider normal/boring others would find cool?
- Relay your vision = how will your company change the world?
Chapter 42 Tell the Story Only You Can Tell
You need a story/description that can only describe you, not hundreds of different companies “We have a proven ability to deliver highly impactful results for our clients, blah, blah, blah”
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you…but you are the only you.” — Neil Gaiman
Chapter 43 Voice and Tone
Voice, like story, is your personality and pov. How do you set yourself apart?
Pick 3–4 adjectives that best define you and write to reflect those attributes!
Voice doesn’t change, but tone does.
“Is Gogo fast? Is the sky blue?”
Chapter 44 Look to Analogy instead of Example
“Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.” — Mason Cooley
Innovation: taking something that worked over there and using it here. — Seth Godin
PART IV: PUBLISHING RULES
Chapter 45 Wait. What’s Brand Journalism?
Brand journalists work inside the company. More storyteller than news reporter.
The term was coined by Larry Light, of McDonalds, in 2004.
In the last years, HubSpot hired Dan Lyons, Qualcomm hired Michelle kessler, etc. Brands have been hiring journalists.
- Creates brand awareness
- Produces industry news
- Creates/sponsors people you want to reach
- Generate leads
Chapter 46 Tell the Truth
Be scrupulously trustworthy. Real people, real situations, emotions, facts. Show, not tell.
Chapter 47 See Content Moments Everywhere
When you get on top of the news, you’re seen as a thought leader. Have a nose for story, make it broadly relevant to audiences.
Newsjacking: inserting yourself into a breaking news story.
Journalist Jess Noyes had to turn in 2–3 stories a day at times, highly transferable skill in marketing.
Chapter 48 Post News That’s Really News
Don’t write about internal developments that aren’t interesting.
Ask yourself if the reader would find this useful to know?
Chapter 49 Biased and Balanced
Press release = single pov. So try to incorporate multiple perspectives when you can or your reader won’t trust you.
Hemingway: writers need a “shit detector”
Chapter 50 Nonobvious Interview Tips
Embrace your ignorance and admit you don’t know: If you don’t understand it well, you can’t explain it to your reader.
Less obvious interview tips:
- Advocate for your audience: what benefit are you trying to get them?
- Don’t worry about not knowing stuff, get clarification
- Do interviews one on one
- Get the spiel out of the way first, let experts get it out of their systems and then ask good follow up questions for less wooden replies
- Converse, don’t interview
- Superlatives can make great interview fodder.
- Let them talk, you shut up.
Chapter 51 Fact-Check
Check spelling, names, etc. Even if you’re curating.
Chapter 52 Approach Content with “Mind Like Water”
There’s always a story there, even if it’s not the one you were expecting to write.
Mind-like-water: finds crevices that stories flow into.
- What’s boring to you that might be interesting to others?
- What events in your industry or the larger world that could be inspiration?
- Go outside
- Draw offbeat analogies from your own life/interests
Chapter 53 Seek Out the Best Sources
- On the record: you can use full names and quote freely
- For background/unattributable: you can use the material but not attribute it to a source
- Off the record: You can’t write about details or quote the person.
Chapter 54 Be Aware of Hidden Agendas
Follow the money. Disclose source and potential conflicts of interest.
Chapter 55 Cite as You Write
Citations are thank-you’s. Seek out primary, not secondary sources.
Cite as you write or you’ll forget. This is kleptomnesia (Dan Gilbert) accidental plagiarism.
Keep careful notes as you research.
Chapter 56 Curate Ethically
The best content curation has a human element to it. Add something new to it. Deliver an original experience. Requires thought.
Curata = curation tech co.
Use a variety of sources and cite primary sources, and do it boldly, not in a link at the bottom. Avoid nofollow links.
Chapter 57 Seek Permission, Not Forgiveness
Copyright infringement is common, but not legal. Get permission in writing. Careful with images.
Chapter 58 Understand the Basics of Copyright, Fair Use, and For Attribution
- Copyright: bundle of rights a creative owner has
- Fair use: legal defense against claim of copyright infringement
- For attribution: allows use with credit to creator
Always need permission to reproduce content in entirety, or large portion.
Chapter 59 Ground Content in Data
See google.com/trends, google.com/trends/topcharts, google.com/trends/explore, books.google.com/ngrams, thinkwithgoogle.com
PART V: 13 THINGS MARKETERS WRITE
Chapter 60 The Ideal Length for Blog Posts, Podcasts, Facebook Posts, Tweets, and Other Marketing Content
Blogs: ideally 1500 for Google. YT: 3 min. Podcast = 22 min (average listener attention span)
Chapter 61 Writing for Twitter Dialogue, Not Monologue
What would make your reader turn around and say “Listen to this, [name]…!”
You’re still talking to people on Twitter. Don’t just pitch stuff.
Use Twitter to float ideas. Like David Meerman Scott tries to see what gets nibbles.
The Pasta Bible in 2010 had a horrific typo: “salt and freshly ground black people.”
Chapter 62 Writing with Hashtags (Or, Don’t Be a Hash-Hole)
See Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon’s “Twitter conversation in real life”
Share your history, tap into what people care about.
“Brand loyalists are loyal to a brand only as long as a brand complements their own life and priorities.” — Tom Fishburne
ritetag.com is where you can find hashtags.
Don’t use more than 2–3 hashtags.
Chapter 63 Writing Social Media with Humor Strong Voice, Tight Writing: A Q&A with Tiffany Beveridge, Creator of My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter
Tiffany Beveridge’s Pinterest “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter”
TB was a copywriter:
- Say it again in fewer words
- Trust your own voice
- Use humor whenever possible
Tell the most story in the fewest words. TB studies the photos and includes everything she can see in the frame.
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: burn through your first thoughts with speed.
TB write first sentence, tries to shorten it, reads it aloud to test cadence and ensure punch line hits at the right place. Then pin it and let go.
Chapter 64 Writing for Facebook Rallying Cries That Unite an Audience
- Connect with existing communities rather than potential buyers
- Target by niche, not numbers
- FB isn’t a free network, even if it’s a free platform
- Post when your audience is online
- Post with images are highest engagement
Chapter 65 Writing for LinkedIn Always Be Helping
LI is the dark horse of social media.
Have an optimized profile, robust co page, curate useful news or insights. Be consistent and track your results.
Chapter 66 Writing Your LinkedIn Profile ‘Responsible’ Is Overrated
Be intentional about the words you use everywhere. Forget “expert, responsible, strategic, creative, driven, patient”
Chapter 67 Writing for Email What Would you Open (WWYO)?
- Shorter subject lines, avoid spam filter words like free or lifetime, be a real person, have empathy, use a human voice and real images
- Enrich reader lives literally or metaphorically (TaskRabbit, Brain Pickings)
Email works best when you talk to people who really want to hear from you.
Do something surprising to freshen up the relationship. Whatever you normally do, do the opposite.
Chapter 68 Writing Landing Pages Less is So Often More
Landing pages shouldn’t feel like an arcade floor.
Match message to promise. Deliver awesome. Make sure the download is great. Avoid TMI. Make headline benefit-driven. Use second person and active verbs. be blindingly obvious. Use trust indicators and social proof to reduce anxiety. Test.
Chapter 69 Writing Headlines Learn How to Effortlessly Write an Intoxicatingly Irresistible Headline — and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!
BuzzFeed headlines are extreme. They will erode your audience’s trust in you.
Create a curiosity gap, with moderation. Deliver what you promise. Put your reader int he headline (you), be economical, test.
Chapter 70 Writing a Home Page
Speak to your audience. Make them feel you get them. Keep it stupid simple. (Dropbox: your stuff, anywhere)
Use words your audience uses, use “you.” Convey trust.
Chapter 71 Writing the About Us Page
All good content puts the reader first
The best About Pages are about who the person is, in relation to their reader.
Consider including an easter egg, like how Wistia uses a “yearbook” style to present students that make the people dance when the mouse hovers over them.
Chapter 72 Writing Infographics That Won’t Make People Mock Infographics
Infographics were popularized in the 30s-40s.
They should be entertaining, useful, hopefully telling a story, and error-free.
Chapter 73 Writing Better Blog Posts
To establish yourself, write for your audience’s audience…[make sure] your writing appeals to industry influencers
Usually the best time for publishing posts is 8–10am weekdays, but they may be shared more on weekends.
Use bullets and numbers, let people share, keep posts short ideally, and be consistent!!
To time posts, try using Buffer. Experiment with your writing!
Chapter 74 Writing Annual Reports (or Annual Wrap-Ups)
Annual reports provide you with an opportunity to tell your brand’s story, giving your audience a way to connect with you.
- How did you grow? What changed or didn’t?
- Biggest successes/failures?
- What’s common to you that might be interesting to others?
PART VI: CONTENT TOOLS
The rest of the book is a list of different software programs and sites designed for writers.
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” — EB White
Done is better than perfect.
Want to Read More Incredible Books Like This?
I’ve curated The Brilliant Writer Reading List to help you avoid terrible books and find the best of the best!
Other Resources Mentioned In This Book
- The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing — Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon bit.ly/AdvancedGuide
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs — Ann Hadley et al
- Marketoonist.com — Tom Fishburne
- On Writing — Stephen King
- Bandscaping — Andrew Davis
- Writing to Deadline — Donald Murray
- New Rules of Marketing and PR — David Meerman Scott
- The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing — DJ Waldow
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