I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Good communication can vary

So what is good communication?

I’m sure there would be many answers to this, but generally we mean being able to effectively give our message to another person (s).

That being the case, how do we classify something as good communication and set rules for good communications?

Communication impediments

Iconic person listening via a megaphone

Good communication requires good listening as well as using good speaking techniques.

While there are some basics that help with clear communications face to face, such as making eye contact, not interrupting and being polite, such things are not always possible and we may need to work around them.

Today I came across a blog post about communicating face to face and I was surprised and somewhat horrified by one of the tips given. Basically, the writer suggested that you should avoid stammering or stuttering as it can hinder clear communication. He did not allow that it was unavoidable for some people and implied it was just a behaviour they were choosing to exhibit.

There are impediments for some people in conventional communicating – blind people can’t meet your eyes, deaf people may focus on your lips instead of your eyes, someone with Tourette’s syndrome or Asperger’s may seem impolite and various people (including stammerers) may be harder to understand.

And yes it may be easier for us if those people did follow the ‘rules’ of good communicating, but they can’t so we have to learn to be patient and understanding. I found it insulting that this writer included ‘stop stammering’ as a means of communications.

Have you come across examples of people setting communication rules that are excluding certain groups of people? Or people with rigid ideas of what good communicating look like?

Back to basics on editing

smiling girl writing in a book“It’s not fun to reread everything but you have to edit your work. I’ve written long essays at Uni, thinking they were good, but when I edited them, I found some bits just didn’t make sense. Sometimes your brain takes a little rest and you don’t write as well.”

That’s what my son’s grade two teacher said this morning as she led a class on editing.

learning to edit

The ability to edit what we write is an important communication skill. For instance, if I wrote an invitation for Thursday 10pm, I may be a bit lonely at 10am when no one turn up because I hadn’t checked what I wrote in the invitation.

While it can be much easier to edit someone else’s work as it is fresh to us and we don’t have an expectation or memory of what was to be written, there are many times when doing your own editing is necessary.

Technically, learning to read and write gives us the skills to edit our work (for example, you could recognise ‘siad’ was incorrectly spelt).

However, as I saw in the classroom today, being given direct tasks for editing is an effective way to understand and undertake editing.

basic steps of editing

Each student was given a checklist of tasks to edit a piece of work they wrote last week.

The group I worked with, went through the list item by item to improve their writing. When I edit, I probably do multiple steps at once but doing one at a time is simpler for children. I also think that doing it step by step actually makes errors easier to spot.

So the checklist today was:

  1. title
  2. sizzling start
  3. backfill
  4. events in order
  5. does it make sense?
  6. check capital letters and full stops
  7. check spelling

Why not follow this list next time you have to edit something?

understanding the checklist

Just because this list uses very specific terms taught at our school (and others!), here are a few tips…

  • not everything needs a title, but most writing that you would edit does (including an email subject as a title)
  • make the beginning interesting! Primary students are taught to make a sizzling start on a simple level, but your writing should also start with something interesting
  • backfill just means an introduction or explanation of the writing. Consider this the all important sentence that answers who, what, where, why and when.
  • different styles of writing require differences in content, so you may not always need events to be listed in chronological order – but the order of what you do include needs to make sense in the relevant context.
  • at school today, I had the students check each sentence made sense. Some had written ‘first tunnel ball. then octopus.’ which obviously needed to be more like ‘first we played tunnel ball, then played octopus.’
    As more literate adults, we can read through the work faster to check for meaning. However, a slow read of each paragraph can really help spot errors.

getting help

I liked that the teacher today actually told the students to get help with editing.

First, she suggested that if they suspected (or knew!) a word was misspelt they could check the spelling by using their dictionary or asking a classmate.

Then, she also suggested that for any sentence they were unsure of, it was ok to say “Hey, Tom, does this make sense to you?” and get someone else’s opinion.

So even if you don’t get someone to edit your writing for you, you can look up or ask for help on specific sections of your work. If the writing is of importance, the editing help is really worth the effort.



Expand on measuring options

So you have a product and customers have to mix it in some way, and you want to make it easy for them to get good results. What are your options for doing this?

This is to follow on from my post on tile adhesive instructions being less than ideal, and I thought I’d explain some ways to make mixing instructions easier for your customers.

Why expand on instructions?

Pipette dripping into a test tube

You may not need scientific precision measurements, but clarity is critical in making the right mixture.

Yes, you could copy the tile adhesive company and give very basic instructions. And that would be fine for some of your customers.

Or you could aim to help the majority of your customers with more detailed, clear instructions as they will be happier and get better overall results. And happier customers will come back and/or recommend you to others.

Better instructions could also mean fewer calls to you asking for help, too.

How to give useful information

Depending on your product and audience, you may be able to use one or more of the following options.

  1. give specific measurements
  2. give a simple ratio for mixing
  3. give a range of measurements
  4. give instructions that allow for varied quantities

Give specific measurements

Obviously, the simplest approach is giving exact measurements like a cake mix packet – ‘add one egg and 1 cup of milk to the cake mix’.

Of course, it is best to avoid ambiguity and use clear measurements. For example, 250ml is safer than 1 cup as non-Australian cups are not 250ml.

Give a simple ratio for mixing

When you have a packet and people are likely to use part of it each time, a ratio can be a handy measurement tool.

For instance, ‘add two teaspoons of fertiliser per 3 litres of water’ can be used by someone wanting 3 or 30 litres of fertiliser. And ‘mix a 1:1 volume of powder and water’ is easy to convert to any quantity of the mixture.

Give a range of measurements

When you provide a large quantity of the product and people are probably going to use it in batches, it is important to give them realistic numbers to work with. For example, no one is going to use a whole box of washing powder in one go so why bother saying ‘tip the box into a 7,000 litre washing machine’?

Even if you do provide a ratio of components, some examples or a range can be very useful for a consumer.

A range could be in a table form:

powder water area covered
1 cup 2 litres 1 m2
2 cups 4 litres 2 m2
5 cups 10 litres 5 m2

Or as text ‘To cover a large area, mix the entire bag with 6 litres of water; to cover 1m2 area, mix 1 cup with 2 litres of water.’

Give instructions that allow for varied quantities

Sometimes an exact measurement isn’t feasible, but this can be hard for a user to understand.

Instead of saying something like ‘use one to two cups of water’, it is clearer to write:

– add one cup of water and mix
– slowing add more water (up to 1 cup) until the mixture runs as slowly as honey

or maybe you can add notes like ‘Add 1 cup of water and mix. Note that in high humidity or days over 35°C, an additional 1/2 cup of water may be needed.’

Sticking to instructions

Trying something new is always challenging and a bit nerve wrecking.

So it’s easy to rely on sources of information to help the process.

Making tile adhesive

We are doing up our bathroom so needed adhesive to attach the tiles to the bathroom walls. After research, we decided to use adhesive powder rather than a pre-mixed adhesive.

To make the adhesive, it is a simple matter of mixing some of the powder with water. Of course, how much of each is somewhat important!

The packet included instructions for making the adhesive to the correct consistency. However, the instructions were to mix 20 kg with 6 litres of water.

label of tile adhesive packet

Instructions on the tile adhesive powder bag.

Trying to convert those instructions into mixing usable quantities was difficult – giving a weight rather than volume of the powder was particularly difficult. Meaning our first attempt was too wet and wasn’t going to hold the tiles well enough.

Clarity in instructions

We figured out a good consistency for the adhesive, eventually, and now have some lovely tiles stuck to our walls!

But learning from others’ mistakes, here are my tips for making instructions for useful:

  1. Remember who the instructions are for and make them suit. That is, don’t assume the person reading the instructions knows as much about your product as you do. If you are only writing for experienced people (in our case, professional tilers), you may be able to give less information than if writing for inexperienced users (such as DIY tilers).
    If you have more than one audience, ensure the instructions are simple enough for the less experienced group.
  2. Aim for clarity so people understand how to use your instructions. You can do this through
    1. avoid jargon
    2. do multiple small steps instead of a few large steps
    3. use short sentences
    4. use simple language and sentence structure
  3. if the product has different uses, explain how instructions vary between those uses. For example, if floor and wall tiles need adhesive with different consistencies, say something like “Add 6 litres of water for floor tiling and 5 litres for wall tiling” rather than “depending on the consistency of the mix required”.
  4. Where measurements may vary, give a ratio or multiple examples. I’ll expand on that in my next post 🙂
  5. Put instructions where they are easily seen – not just so they can be found but so that they are easy to refer to whilst using them. Again, with the tile adhesive packet, the mixing instructions were in amongst paragraphs of text.

What interesting experiences have you had with hard to understand instructions?




Digital financial communications

What do you do with the annual reports, product disclosure statements and other disclosure materials you’re sent by banks, super funds and similar organisations?

Hard copy rubbish

If you’re like many people, you put them in the recycling (or normal) bin – possibly without even reading it first.

This is annoying because

  1. it is a waste of paper and thus a burden on the environment
  2.  it is a waste of money to print and mail the documents – and guess who pays for that waste?

Going digital

communications_choicesA few years ago, legislation changed so that financial instructions can send some disclosure information electronically. That could be as an email attachment, an email linking to an online resource or even an SMS containing a link.

However, the super funds and banks could only do this if you consented to getting it electronically.

New digital rules

Under a new ASIC guidance, financial organisations in Australia can send disclosure materials to their customers/members by default.

That is, they will need to notify customers/members that “certain information will be provided by {explain electronic method} unless you opt out within 7 days of this notice.”

So once such organisations set up this notification and opt out system, we can all expect to receive such notices and then get fewer hard copy disclosure materials.

Going back to my first question – do you keep hard copies of such materials? If so, will you opt out of electronic communications now there is a clear choice?

If you were a financial organisation, would you swap to sending digital communications instead of hard copies?

Control pop up ads

I just visited a blog for the first (and probably last!) time.

As soon as I got to the URL, a pop up opened to promote something I assume they get a commission or payment for. There was a x on the pop up so I was able to close it fairly easily at least.

I hate pop ups at the best of times (and am annoyed that many get past pop up blockers but that’s another story!) so it doesn’t make me like a site when I get a pop up so quickly. But I sigh and move on.

girl yelling through megaphone at boy reading

People learn to block out too much noise and refuse to be distracted.

Frequency of pop ups

On this particular site, I closed the pop up and then clicked on a link to see the most recent blog post.

As soon as the blog post opened, so did another pop up.

As soon as the about us page opened, so did another pop up.

As soon as the registration page (clicked on by mistake!) opened, so did another pop up!

Seeing the same pop up that many times is NOT making me more likely to click on it let alone spend money on whatever is being advertised.

Topics of pop ups (and other ads)

I understand that running a blog has costs and people want to make a bit of money back from their blog if possible. Ads and affiliate links are one way to cover some blogging costs.

But surely it’s more effective if the ads are aimed at the target audience of the blog?

In my example above, the site is about cooking but the pop up was about web hosting.

Obviously, some people are interested in both cooking and running a website. But can you assume most people looking up recipes and cooking tips will be interested in hosting a website?

I think a pop up for cooking books, online shops for herbs and other ingredients, or even online retailers of cooking tools would interest more of the blog’s visitors. And thus earn the blogger more money – or the advertiser more relevant exposure.

The lesson learned?

Ok, I already knew this but the lesson from my example is to control any pop up advertising on your blog or website.

  1. only show the ad a few times – if someone says no after that, they’ll probably always say no
  2. make your ads relevant to your audience. If not immediately apparent why it should interest that audience, make the ad itself provide a link.

So what do you think of website pop ups?

Do you use (and hopefully control) pop ups on your site? If so, what response have you got from them?

Take care with huge claims!

It will be my son’s birthday soon and we’ve been looking for a  present for him – he adores Lego so we want to get him some miscellaneous bits to play with as well as the sets he already has.

Our search moved onto eBay where we found some listings for bulk lots of Lego.

large pile of Lego peices of various colours and sizes

My son has a lot of Lego – yet I wouldn’t describe it as a huge bulk lot of Lego!

A few items suited what we wanted and we placed some bids.

Other items didn’t suit so we moved on.

A number of items listed as ‘huge bulk lot’ (yes, there were more than four or five of them! And all seemingly from the same seller) amazed us 🙂

Over promising doesn’t get the sales

What does huge mean? It is something of great size or quantity.

And what does bulk mean? Again, it is about size and, in the context of purchasing items, means a large quantity of something.

So when I look for bulk Lego, I expect hundreds of bricks or even kilograms of Lego.

I don’t consider six wheels or 13 small pieces of Lego to be a ‘huge bulk lot’. Yet the aforementioned seller apparently thinks differently to me!

Needless to say, we’re not interested in buying tiny ‘bulk’ packs of Lego.

Calling his packs of Lego ‘huge bulk lots’ may have attracted people wanting bulk lots – but it wouldn’t be bought by them.

While people after smaller packs of specific bits of Lego wouldn’t necessarily search for bulk packs.

Either way, the seller isn’t using a smart strategy in my opinion.

Over use of adjectives

Adjectives can be useful for providing information and making writing more interesting.

Yet there are two details to remember…

  1. the adjectives need to be honest and actually describe the noun(s)  or the writing just loses credibility
  2. too many adjectives is not helpful. People start to glaze over when there are too many together – I know that in my busy life, I don’t have time to wade through lots of meaningless adjectives to find out the information I really want so I’m less likely to read something that appears hyped up.


How’s your business – do you add adjectives to hype up a product or keep them to a meaningful minimum? Maybe you have tested it and found lots of adjectives sells more – if so, I’d love to hear your experiences!

Production English

Last night I heard of production English for the first time and am quite fascinated with it.

New country, new language

When many people arrive in Australia, they learn English to be able to communicate with other people who live here. English classes teach them things like ‘hello, how are you?’, ‘can I please buy…?’ and ‘where is the library?’

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I assume the same thing happens for most people who move to a country with a language different to their own.

welcome into a pit - an unexpected sign

How would you interpret this situation if you couldn’t read much English? Safety can be jeopardised if people can’t read or understand notices.

What about less generic language?

The challenge really starts when people need more specific language – the words and phrases you don’t get in beginner classes.

For instance, trying to follow a procedure or read instructions on machinery can be quite difficult if you only have basic English.

Especially once you consider grammar and similar words (that is, homonyms and other potentially confusing words that I define in Monday Meanings) can make it even harder to understand – just like pilots can have trouble if English is not their native tongue.

The story I heard last night was about a group of people who work well at their jobs but are sometimes limited or put at risk by the fact that they don’t have ‘production English’ to help them at work.

Obviously, ensuring that procedures and instructions are written as simply and clearly as possible is one aspect – and still a very important task.

Yet it is also critical to help such people learn relevant words in English. And there are programs in Melbourne now that are working on solving this issue, at least for some groups of immigrants.

Does your business have procedures or instructions that would be challenging for someone with only basic English?


* Image courtesy of 123RF

Blog layout to help readers

It’s easy to be reminded that the look of your blog can affect readership. But there is one little design tool I hadn’t thought much about – I wonder if I’m the only one?

I came across an old blog post on what appears to be a prosperous blog. It was an interesting post but very much an introduction to a topic so I was interested to read more. In fact, the post ended with a comment like “Next time I’ll tackle how to do this”.

Links to previous and next blog posts

Next post is very handy

I couldn’t find the next post on the topic.

The blogger didn’t go back and add a link after he wrote the next post (assuming he actually he did write it!), didn’t give the title of the new post in the first post and the blog layout did not include a ‘next post’ or ‘previous post’ link on the page.

I take the next post link for granted really and don’t think about it much. Does your blog have it?

Do you find it strange when blogs don’t have such navigation links?

Many times I read a blog and ignore the next/previous because I just read one post or I want to read about a topic so use the search function rather than read in sequential order. Yet today I discovered a very important use of this navigation tool.

From now, I value the next/previous post link much more and would never publish a blog without it. Would you?

Choosing titles carefully

Maybe it’s just me, but I always prefer to learn things myself before I get a sales pitch from someone, so I always look at a company’s website before I speak to them.

I just received an email which was about a tool I could potentially use for one of my clients. So I went to their website to find out more about this tool.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find anything about the tool on their site – and I didn’t really like the site much to be honest, but that’s a different story!

Latest news

Spiders and webs over a news key

Old news doesn’t have the power of fresh news – be careful with the expectations you build

Whilst on one page, a comment about them moving caught my eye. It was actually a heading to a news item, showing as a news feed under the title of ‘Latest News’.

Next to the heading was the date of the news item – March 2012. Not exactly a recent move then!

All the other news items in the rotation were older, dating from late 2011 to early 2012.

Staying current

News that is over two years old isn’t fresh or current.

I get that keeping a website/blog/social media platform up to date can be hard work and takes a lot of dedication (hey, I know I haven’t blogged very often this year myself!)

However, it doesn’t look good to prospective clients if the supposedly fresh part of the site is very old. In fact, being years old can look worse than not having a blog or such at all.

The lack of freshness can be minimised though by a careful choice of title.

‘Latest news’ leads people to expect current stories – two year old stories looks unprofessional and made me wonder if the business could deliver promised digital solutions.

Some better titles may have been:

  • things of note
  • points of interest
  • our news archive
  • our blog posts
  • {company name} updates
  • {company name} news

Although the news and updates titles still give some expectation of fairly current stories.

My next blog post will give other suggestions for improving such a situation, but in the meantime, what other titles can you think of for an old news feed?

How would you react to such old news when assessing a potential supplier’s website?