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Get reading for winter!

It’s winter and many of us are in some form of lock down so what better time to catch up on some reading!  happy reader with a book graphic

I have just placed an order for some books with Book Depository and discovered they are running a read-a-thon. So in case it inspires you to read, or gives you some motivation to try some different books, I thought I’d share the idea here.

Basically, they are giving some ‘rules’ to guide your reading between 23 and 30 August:

  1. Read a book that was released in 2021
    I think I might try Before she disappeared or Apples never fall
  2. Read a book with an LGBTQIA+ character
    For something different, how about Santa’s husband?
  3. Read a prizewinning book
    No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani is a good one to try, as is Taboo by Kim Scott
  4. Read the first book in a series
    I found Shatter by Michael Robotham an edge-of-your-seat thriller
  5. Read a book inspired by women
    The first to come to mind for me is I am Malala, followed by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  6. Read a book that has been featured on our blog
    The book thief is one of these, and I enjoyed reading that
  7. Read a book that will help you fulfill a resolution or a goal
    If growing your business is a resolution or goal for you, you may like to read my Breadmaker review. Or maybe your goal is to gain and retain more customers.

 

Which rule will you chose for the read-a-thon? I’d love to hear what books you read and what you think of those books, too.



It shouldn’t need saying, but it must make sense!

Ahh the irony of people giving advice without the skills!

Collage of a man's face looking confused

Good writing won’t leave your audience confused

Helping my daughter, I came across an article giving tips on how to write an ‘extraordinary’ speech for school, but much of it does not make sense. I’m really not sure how a student is meant to improve their speech writing via this article.

Examples like this show the value in having someone else reading your work to ensure it makes sense and meets basic grammar rules. The more skilled the person checking it, the better feedback you will obviously get, but even a less skilled person could point out any confusions.

So lets look at parts of that article and see how it could have been less confusing…

Understudies?

Article text: …appreciated by your teachers, individual understudies…

Comment: do student usually have understudies listening to a speech? I assume they mean ‘fellow students’ or simply ‘classmates’.

meaning of relief

Article text: …write the same data in each of the paragraphs that are the relief of this subheading.

Comment: Apart from being boring to read if they actually use the same data in every paragraph, I think the article writer needs to learn that relief means to ease or alleviate stress, pain, discomfort and so on. It is unlikely that a subheading feels anything that needs relieving – although I felt relief to stop reading this article!

farewell?

Article text: If your subheadings and speech are moving farewell then they can make the Audience bored, otherwise, your speech will be very good.

Comment: I don’t know what this sentence is meant to say! “If your content is moving forward” is what I first thought it should be but that doesn’t work with making the audience bored. Maybe farewell should be replaced with slowly?

A much smaller issue is the capital A for audience as it is totally unnecessary and visually stood out to me as wrong.

becoming insensitive

Article text: The first lines … are to speak at certain points so that … everyone becomes insensitive and attracts all the speech. Your first lines are the first impression on your audience.

Comment: This implies that the aim of a school speech is to make people insensitive which is a pretty strange aim – again, a use of vocabulary that is not understood causes big problems in writing. If you aren’t sure of a word, use one you do know – big words are not impressive if used poorly.

As for “attracts all the speech”, I think this means “engages the audience quickly so they listen to all the speech”.

avoid disturbance!

Article text: Between the teachers day speech looking at the Audience is not to be disturbed and you have to control your emotions and to point with your hands so that Audiences are attracted and keep their voice down and down.

Comment: oh my goodness, where do I start with this paragraph?

  • using ‘between’ requires two end points (between 5 and 6, between the start and finish, between the speaker and audience) – clearly this sentence does not have that
  • ‘looking is not to be disturbed’ would be simpler and more relatable as ‘maintain eye contact’ or ‘look at your audience’. Disturbed also implies external distraction and that is pretty hard to prevent whilst writing a speech!
  • ‘control your emotions’ makes sense but I disagree with it – no emotion in a speech makes it bland and less likely to be listened to
  • ‘point with your hands’ is out of context and would not help a student learn – what do they point out? how much pointing should they do? does lots of hand pointing really work with controlled emotions? what has pointing hands got to do with writing a speech (the purpose of the article)?
  • ‘audiences are attracted’ – again, vocabulary has let the writer down again. Attentive would be a much better word here
  • ‘keep their voices down and down’ – personally, I’d prefer my audience to be silent and attentive rather than just talking in low voices

what can you do?

Well, the above hopefully gave you a giggle at some poorly worded tips and reminded you of the importance to checking your work makes sense and reads as you intend.

The key lessons from this article are

  • get someone else to review your work before publishing it
  • use words you know instead of trying to impress with fancier words
  • keep on topic
  • remember your audience – use language they understand and don’t make it hard for them to read your work

 

Always include critical details when writing promotions

What is the point of promoting something without explaining how to get it?

Due to my connection with Love Santa, I keep an eye on Christmas news around the world. Recently, I went to a site to read about some Christmas movies coming up – it mentioned things like Home Alone and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (one of which is debated to its place as a Christmas movie every year!) This is a news type site with a section on entertainment – it was Australian but I hadn’t been there before.Armain quote about details make things exceptional

What struck me though was the lack of basic details. Paraphrasing, the article said “SuperChannel {made up name!} is starting some Christmas movies in November and here’s their full schedule”‘ then listed all the movies for November.

The article had some links to other pages on the site about types of movies and so on, but no link to SuperChannel.

Personally, I have never heard of SuperChannel so I’m pretty confident it’s not a free to air TV channel. So how do I see movies they play? It is within a subscription to an on-demand service? Or maybe its an online channel of some sort?

Write it, don’t assume!

When writing, for pleasure as well as business really, make sure you give necessary information rather than assume people know it. Even when you know the audience well, be careful to not miss important details.

From the article I mentioned above, I can now tell you when Home Alone will be showing. I have no idea how to find it and watch it, so knowing the timetable is fairly useless. Maybe the writer or site assumes ‘our site members knows SuperChannel’ but what about new members or people coming across the article (as I did) for the first time? What about the members who know the name but can’t recall access details?

Even if your audience does know the basics, where/how to access something you are promoting is critical information to include.

A funny gesture?

“I use to get jewelry and a print or something they made . It was a nice jester.”jester

This is a comment I spotted on social media recently in response to a request for some gift ideas. It took me a moment to realise that ‘jester’ was meant to be ‘gesture’, but then it all made sense.

I must admit this is not a pair of words I had thought of as spelling options before, but I now know they can be confused so here are the meanings…

 

 

jester [noun]: a person who entertains, especially in medieval times, and often does so through silly behaviours. Also known as a fool, a jester often wears a funny hat with bells hanging from it.
The King laughed as he watched the jester before dinner.

gesture [noun]: a movements of limbs, head or body to express an emotion or thought.
A nod of the head is a gesture of approval.

 

The key thing I can see that may help you know which word to use is the relationship between jest (to joke or laugh) and jester.

 

 

How long is your drink?

While there is an expression about having a long drink, length is not usually a measure of drinks. So I was surprised to see an ad for 300m of a soft drink in some recent junk mail!

As always, the message is that proof reading is really important – best done by someone else or at a later time as proofing as you write has limitations.

Of course, the person preparing the ad may have written 300ml and something happened at the design or printing stages, but that is why printing proofs also need to be checked carefully.

Ad for 300m coke

 

Consistent terminology

Do you know what a closed question is?

I’m sure I didn’t learn about open and closed questions until much later, but my children have been learning this in primary school. This is a good thing as it can help them communicate socially as well as within their school work.

Closed questions – elicits a simple response such as “do you like blue or green?” where a one word response answers the question.

Open (or open ended) questions – give scope for more detailed and complex responses such as “why is blue your favourite colour?” or “what do you like about that book?” which require longer answers and can lead to a discussion.

Have you ever heard questions referred to as thin and thick questions instead of open and closed?

The first time I knew of the thin/thick nomenclature was when I viewed some work my daughter had done at school. I know enough about open and closed questions to figure out what was meant by thin and thick so I could interpret the schoolwork very quickly. And I assumed the children had been taught thin/thick instead of open/closed.

Then I read the schoolwork in more detail.

Schoolwork with different terms in use = confusing!

The instructions swap between thick/thin and open/closed questions without any explanation that they are the same concept (and not even in the same order which makes it even harder to correlate the pairs of words). Given that this activity is obviously aimed at teaching children about open/closed questions, surely it would be better to use the same terminology for the one activity.

It’s one thing for me as a professional writer to read these instructions and follow them easily, but something else entirely for a seven year old who is grappling with what these terms mean and how to find examples of each type!

And my daughter said they had been taught about open/closed questions – she figured it out (and I think she did a good job devising relevant questions in the activity) but I’m sure many of her classmates would have struggled if they were left to do this activity just by reading the instructions.

The lesson?

Stay consistent!

If you start using one term (or set of terms) when writing, then continue using that term throughout.

Even if you explain there are alternatives, stick to one term in your content. For instance, if you are writing about saving money, you may write something like

Contributing to your savings can be done more or less frequently. Contributions, also known as deposits or account credits, will attract interest and thus increase your savings over time. When deciding how much to contribute, you may consider your income, expenses and lifestyle choices.

You may not be writing for children, and your audience may easily figure out your message, but why make it harder to read than necessary? Why risk them not understanding and/or disengaging in your content?

Being consistent makes your writing easier to read and understand, looks more professional and will probably help search engines recognise a keyword in your online writing.

Your message needs to be clear, not vibrating!

I came across this image today and was annoyed by the incorrect use of ‘your’!

I did try to be gracious and look past the poor grammar,  and actually see the message but random the capital letters and poor grammar was too much.

And a message like this needs all the additional credibility it can get really – not everyone will accept the concept of vibrations and auras impacting your life and finances, and even if you do believe in those things, there are so many quacks in those fields it is hard to trust a new source of these ideas.

So unless this message was deliberately done to exclude more discriminating people and attract more gullible people, the message would have been more effective (ie easier to read) as:

Corrected quote about money struggles

The image above (ie not my corrected version) came from Money Habits where they were questioning the wisdom of the message and encouraging people to pay attention to their financial concerns in order to find solutions. I don’t know the original source of the quote so can’t say if it went on to explain their meaning or give ideas on how to improve their vibration – without additional content, this quote is fairly pointless as it doesn’t give guidance to someone.

If you send out a message to engage people about their concern, you have to follow it up with some information or a means to get answers. Just stating the problem isn’t helping anyone.

In summary, this message failed because

  1. they used ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ and it was distracting
  2. random capital letter use was distracting
  3. it just stated a problem without providing resources
  4. all the above removed any credibility it may otherwise have had

 

Why you should bother with an FAQ page

Not all websites have a FAQ page, and not everyone things positively about FAQs, but I think they are worth adding to a business website.

What does a FAQ page do?

faq key on keyboard of laptop computer. 3d illustration.In very simple terms, it helps people find information about the business and/or products and services available.

Some of the information just doesn’t fit very well elsewhere on the site and others bit are important enough to justify repeating.

I know when I am looking for specific information, I often go to the FAQ page, and the lack of a FAQ can be really frustrating as it leaves you searching the entire site.

How does it help a business to have a FAQ?

Having a FAQ page

  • makes it easy and quick for customers to find information so they are more likely to buy
  • means people find answers themselves instead of getting twenty calls a day about basic information – this saves the business time
  • people are reassured that their question is answered and that the business is upfront about details
  • is a central location for various facts that just don’t fit anywhere else

Of course, the FAQ has to be worth visiting or it can undo all the benefits – but we’ll cover what’s in a good FAQ page another time!

 

*Image courtesy of  icreative3d at 123rf 

Making FAQ worth reading

portrait of a happy young businessman using laptop on street

An FAQ that makes someone laugh is a positive for your business

Looking at options for some software, I viewed a few FAQ pages lately (FAQ being Frequently Asked Questions).

Some FAQs are better than others, and some were great – informative and easy to understand.

Using humour

An FAQ page is full of facts, otherwise what’s the point of having it? But that doesn’t mean you have to make it all staid and boring.

Here are some examples for amusing FAQs I have spotted:

Q: How do I invite someone?

A: The basic invitations are simple SMS messages. Naturally, you have other options to bring your friends here. Try sending them a download link via any other messaging service: email, Facebook, WhatsApp, an actual telegram — you name it.

Q: Will you have ads? Or sell my data? Or steal my beloved and enslave my children?

A: No.

Q: will these faqs ever end?

A: well it always has before!

Q: You didn’t answer my question. How come?

A: Probably because this FAQ was written by a marketing person. Please ask us your question using our contact us form.

 

A bit of humour and lightness makes the whole page easier to read – and more memorable, too, and every business wants to be remembered.

How can you add some humour to your FAQ page?

 

*Image courtesy of  Frugo at 123rf 

Why support children learning to read?

I came across this great infographic outlining why children need to be able to read.

As well as being a good message in itself, the infographic also supports Buk Bilong Piknini (a charitable organisation funding books and reading programs for children in Papua New Guinea).

Buk Blong Pikinini Infographic about children reading

What do you think – why is it important we encourage children to learn to read, and then read some more?

I would also encourage everyone to help ensure our children are literate – whether by donating to groups such as Buk Bilong Pikinini, helping at schools or giving books as gifts, every bit helps.

Helping children learn to read

I frequently help at my children’s school by listening to children (usually not my own!) read and helping them build the skills of sounding out new words, ensuring the words make sense and getting a full understanding of what they are reading.

Why do I (and many others) help these children?

  1. learning to read opens many opportunities for children – through learning, ideas and comprehension
  2. the sooner they learn to read, the easier other aspects of school become – delayed reading can limit other learning and become a downward spiral for education
  3. I love reading – books give me pleasure, ideas, an escape and relaxation – and I hope to share that pleasure with children
  4. all the children benefit by their classmates being able to read – teachers can concentrate on contact rather than reading if all students can read competently (for their age) and each child can contribute more ideas and experiences if they are well read
  5. seeing me place an importance of everyone being able to read, encourages all the children to value reading
  6. seeing people volunteer to help at school also teaches children about community spirit, generosity and being able to make positive change in small ways

What have you done to help children (or adults for that matter) learn to read and enjoy reading?