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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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About Word Constructions

A rose by any other name

Last week my father-in-law died.

A red rose with dew drops

A red rose is beautiful and simple – nothing more is needed to be said.

So it’s been a hard week and I haven’t posted in the meantime.

I also haven’t listened to all the Problogger sessions thus haven’t shared any more ideas nor implemented any myself.

But it has made me think about choices of words and the hidden context of words we sometimes need to be aware of when we communicate to people. Especially to people we may not know well so may not know what context they will use to understand our words.

Similar words convey different messages

The day Tony died, we went to the nursing home he had been in.

A lovely staff member spoke to us and would only refer to Tony passing. She was obviously very uncomfortable with saying someone had died.

Conversely, other people I spoke to during the week commiserated and mentioned people they had lost in the past.

While most of us would understand what someone means with ‘ we lost my father-in-law last week’, it doesn’t feel right to me. At least in part because it reminds me of a comedian routine giving responses such as ‘was he labelled so someone could return him’ and ‘that was careless of you’.

Having written many things for superannuation funds, I have had to write about death (that is, explain their life insurance policies). And again it is interesting how different people react to this topic.

In my usual less-is-generally-best style, I write ‘if you die’. Various fund staff wanted words like ‘in the event of your death’ because it seemed softer or less ‘in your face’.

A few years ago, I interviewed Robyn O’Connell for an article. As well as having written a book on death for children (which I made use of with my children leading up to the funeral), Robyn is a celebrant and has done a lot of work around bereavement.

Robyn was strongly of the belief that saying die/dead is better than any euphemism because it is clear (which appeals to me!) and makes it easier to accept the reality to aid the grieving process.

Choosing the right word

It’s not just about the obvious meaning. We need to choose words that give the right meaning without the incorrect hidden message or the wrong emotional reaction.

What thoughts and feeling do you have to die compared to passed away compared to lost or any other euphemism you know?

Someone calling a rose by another name puts the wrong images into our minds. Of course, if a rose actually had a different name it may be perceived differently – who knows!

I wish I had taken a photo of the roses we had on the coffin on Monday. They were beautiful and would have suited this post perfectly.

But I didn’t think of taking photos during a funeral and wasn’t really in that emotional place anyway.

Interestingly, someone did take photos at the funeral – perhaps not at the church but certainly at the cemetery and wake. I was surprised to see him doing so but not offended by it. How would you feel about someone taking photos in an unexpected setting such as a funeral?

In memory of Tony

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

It has been a tough week. And this is where I indulge in something more personal in the form of a mini tribute to a lovely man.

Tony was a gentle man, a very generous man who gave a lot. For one thing, he was president of the E W Tipping Foundation for 21 years. Intelligent and respectful, Tony was a man of few words.

A loving father and grandfather, Tony will be missed by many. The number at his funeral showed that, too.

Rest in peace, Tony.

Reviewing the usefulness of old content links

Old content can still be good or it can be out dated, depending on the topic and the opinions given.

Since May 2012, I have ended each month with a blog post referring back to some of my old content (from my newsletter and blog). I’ll list all seven posts at the end of this one.

It has been interesting to read things I wrote in the past and think about how relevant they are today and how else they can be applied to good business communications.

To be honest, much of my content does still apply as writing doesn’t change rapidly – had I written about mobile phones or social media it probably would have been a different story!

Did it work?

Looking back, reviewing old content each month:

  1. was an easy way to find new content I guess – there was some time involved in deliberately going back to that month of past years and I did have to think of what to write about the old content
  2. created easy posts to write in advance and schedule
  3. helped build more links within my site, especially bringing some of those older pages back to life.
  4. didn’t have any significant effect on the number of readers to those posts (compared to posts made around the same time, there was little variation in reader numbers – with the exception of making procedure manuals accessible which was 3 to 6 times more popular than posts within a week of it going live). Given only one post stood out, I’d say it was more about the topic than the old content link.
  5. also didn’t seem to have attracted particularly more or less discussion either
  6. took advantage of work I did in the past – leveraging is a great concept!

The biggest question to me, however, is what you thought of it.

Was it interesting to revisit old content? Or maybe I was too subtle and you hardly noticed that I was doing it?

Would you like me to continue this into 2013? If so, are there any changes you would like me to make?

My old content driven posts were:

May – planning future communications
June – making procedure manuals accessible
July – knowing the right terms
August – consistency over stats
September – reading efficiently saves money
October – accepting feedback graciously
November – dividing up business tasks
December – honesty in blog comments

Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I hope you, your family and friends have a lovely day today (whether you celebrate Christmas or not).

Snack for Snata in front of a Christmas tree and presents

A snack left for Santa last night…

I would also like to wish you a happy and successful 2013.

Please note that I will be working reduced hours from now until the 3rd of January so please be patient if I don’t reply to emails or phone messages instantly!

Celebrating fantastic teachers of my past

Do you often think how important teachers can be?

I just read a post from Mummy Smiles that is basically a letter to a teacher she appreciates for the impact he made on her life. It’s a lovely idea to reflect and thank those who made a difference as part of World Teachers Day 2012 (which I have since discovered was on 5 October, but that doesn’t change the sentiments of my post!).

It got me thinking about some of my great teachers – and I’m sticking to the formal definition of teacher for now as distinct from other people who have taught me things along the way.

Inspiring biology teacher

First to mind is my year 12 biology teacher, Mrs Bennett. I loved how she knew her stuff well enough to not need notes – she just stood at the front and spoke to us about whatever topic we were studying. It really stood out to me that she did that, and could answer random questions thrown at her, whereas most other teachers worked more closely to their class plan.

The fact she just spoke and I could take notes in my own style (rather than copy whan was written on the board) was something I enjoyed and value.

  • I like freedom so choosing what to note suited my style
  • It was great training for uni the next year – and subsequent seminars and conferences I’ve been for that matter. She gave us a real life skill.
  • I learn more by having to figure out what’s important enough to jot down when listening to new information – scribing someone else’s words doesn’t have the same impact. So her style probably helped me get a great final score for biology (don’t ask what I got because I can’t remember! It was certainly above 85% anyway)

As many students didn’t grab the opportunity as I did, Mrs Bennett finished each discussion with a set of notes on the board for people to write down. I spent that time, thinking about what she wrote or helping my less-science-minded friend understand the lesson – again, I love the fact she respected me to do that as she knew I had already taken notes and absorbed the topic.

Ahead of his time

Grade 5 teacher, Mr Hughes

School photo of Mr Hughes

My other favourite teacher was Mr Hughes (a coincidence of names that I loved at the time!) who taught me in grade 5.

Again, I think it was the respect he gave us and the ability to learn at our own pace that inspires me about this teacher.

He was probably the eldest teacher I had (and that’s not just a 10 year old’s version of old! He was definitely older than my parents and from looking at photos I would say he was in his late fifties when he taught me.) Yet he used so many techniques that I now see teachers using with my children.

For example, in maths, he used worksheets that he had prepared. He assigned us individually to a level in each maths topic (eg divisions, multiplication, measurement) and that’s the worksheet we started on. During class, we each worked at our own pace to complete the relevant sheet – if we finished, we simply moved onto the next level. Mr Hughes walked around helping as required and checking our work.

That means of teaching was unheard of in our school and from any of my friends.

Yet it gave us all a chance to learn – the smart kids were challenged, the struggling kids were supported and no one was judged or felt inadequate (or superior for that matter).

Mr Hughes also gave me my first school report – he taught us how to create our own total marks by compiling our test and project results. It was fascinating to see the impact of each result on the total and made the transition to formal reports in secondary school much easier.

My eldest daughter got her first school report as a prep student; her younger sister got a report in kinder! That is 7 and 8 years respectively earlier than I got my first formal school report!

My children are often put into groups at school to work at different academic levels.

Mr Hughes taught me a lot and was definitely ahead of his time with his methods. He benefitted me and I wonder how much he influenced some of the following educational changes?

No English teachers?

It would be nice to say I am a writer now because of my English teachers.

But I’d be lying.

That’s not to say my English teachers were poor teachers, not at all, but none of them were as inspiring as Mrs Bennett and Mr Hughes. And no one ever encouraged me to think of my writing as a skill while I was at school.

I got good marks in English and found writing essays and the like easier than many of my class mates, which all makes sense now! But English was just seen as a means to an end, not as something to follow for its own sake, in my school experiences. It’s a pity really, but I gained other skills and knowledge in doing a science degree instead.

With gratitude…thanks teacher message on a blackboard

I say thank you to all my teachers for what they have taught me and their efforts (I know teachers do more than sit in a classroom all day). Even the teachers I resent (and that’s a different story altogether) taught me things.

For Mrs Bennett, Mr Hughes and the other teachers who gave me great moments of insight and development, I am truly grateful.

What teachers are you grateful for?

Do you value your life teachers differently to your formal education teachers?

Why do small businesses start?

I spent last night talking with my daughter about her subject choices for school. It’s not an easy decision and there are more interesting subjects than there are spots in her timetable so each subject has to be considered for its merits.

One subject we discussed was Small Business Management (note the capitals as a subject name). The course description included ‘find out why small businesses start, what sort of businesses there are and small business marketing’.

I thought that to be an interesting choice of topics – there are so many reasons people start small businesses! Do they study a regimented ideal or will they really look at the breadth of small business types, structures and reasons for existence?

My daughter was really pleased I offered to talk to that class if the teachers wanted me to, which was nice but slightly off my topic 🙂

Why did I start my small business?

About Tash Hughes, Communications ProfessionalI can’t answer a simple question of why small businesses start – I think there are too many reasons to cover simply. But I can tell my story.

I have always been able to write (ok, since I passed Prep anyway!) but it took some time for me to realise that I do it well compared to many people and with relative ease. My love of reading and writing has certainly been a big part of my life – English was always a favourite school subject.

The idea of working for myself appealed, but I didn’t think I had anything worth selling nor the capital to start a business. So I had a variety of jobs until I was home with young children.

Thinking about what I wanted to do, work wise, so I could build skills in between parenting tasks, I liked the idea of being flexible so I was available for my children and just reporting to myself.

A friend asked for some help with her resume and covering letter – and was enthusiastic about the results and commented on how good I was at writing and seeing to the point of what needed to be written.

I helped edit the cookbook our kinder created as a fundraising project.

Then the penny dropped and I fully realised that good writing is a valued commodity that I can provide, and that running my own writing business would offer me flexibility and control.

It was also a business I could start with little  financial outlay so I dabbled, got some initial clients and then set up business properly.

Are starting reasons the ongoing reasons?

I find it intriguing whether or not the reasons someone starts a business are the same reasons that keep them going a year or five years later.

Word Constructions was started so I could be at home, working around my children, using my skills and being my own boss.

Now, nine and a half years later, it still gives me flexibility for my children, utilises my (more refined) skills and lets me be my boss (although clients have a certain amount of control, too, really!). I find that it also has developed a passion for clear communications – a passion to see more clear communications and to help other businesses communicate more effectively.

How about you – are your motivations the same as when you started a business? If not, how have they changed?

 

My passion to help others communicate  clearly fuels this blog, my Twitter objectives and my monthly newsletter.

Finding value in old content

I’ve written a lot of blog posts and newsletter articles. Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks there is valuable information amongst my writing and that people have learnt a thing or two from me!

So to reshare some of that past information, I see two options – copy it to make it appear recent or refer to it.

Copying old content

It is an interesting question – should you grab old content and just paste it in as a new blog post or newsletter article?

I prefer to offer new information so someone could theoretically read back through all my posts and not read the same piece twice.

I guess I’m a bit of a purist as pretending old content is new seems like cheating to me, but I accept that most of us need to save time – and it isn’t always easy to think of new things to write about.

However, I see bigger reasons to not copy old content forward. For one, my old content is still available where it is so anyone can search for it if they’re after that topic. It seems a little silly to copy it across so it could show up in twice in a search – and wouldn’t do my credibility much good, either. Then there is the duplicate content punishment it could potentially get from Google and friends.

Writing by quill and candle light

Old content still has value despite technology advances

If we’re talking about a post from at least a couple of years ago, I would think an update is often a good idea anyway. Things change quickly in this technological age – an article on online marketing five years ago would have excluded Twitter and Pinterest so that article would be out of date and less valuable now.

Referring to old content

I much prefer referring back to old content.

In fact, I do it all the time by adding links to my blog posts and newsletters that lead back to older posts so people can get further, related information.

Instead of copying across an old post, I think it’s more valuable to link back to that post and expand on that topic or give an update. Going back to out online marketing example, I could write a new blog post along the lines of “Back in 2007 I wrote about online marketing. With the introduction and growth of new social media channels, it is now time to update my list of marketing options.” I don’t have to rewrite all of the old content because the link does that for me.

Social media itself provides another way to reshare old content – it is just as easy to tweet a link to an old post as a new one, for example.

Resharing my old content

At the start of each month, I send out my newsletter.

Starting now, at the end of each month I will look back at some old content from that same month (for example, in May I will refer back to something I wrote in May in a previous year).

Some of that content may need updating, other bits won’t as grammar and good writing doesn’t change the same way technology and business practises can.

So look out for some reshared ideas on Thursday…

And you?

How do you share your old content?

What do you think about seeing old content?

Is copying content across as if new a time saver or not-quite-right? Would anyone even notice?

Are bad examples good?

Learn from mistakes

Theory has its place, but an example often makes learning something much easier. In many areas, an example of a mistake or poor quality is an even more effective teacher than examples of the correct technique.

Using examples to teach

For instance, I can tell you it is best to use the fewest words possible to give a message and to avoid repeating a word.

Or I can give an example: Leave as long as possible before proof reading your writing.

Or I can show you a bad example: Another effective way to increase the possibility of increasing your link building purposes… Then explain the issues with it and write it well: Another effective way of potentially increasing your incoming links…

Does it work for you?

Do you like seeing poor examples of something as a means of learning to avoid those same mistakes yourself?

I have put some bad writing examples in my blog (and the one above is a real example from a blog post I read) and always include one in my newsletter.

The bad examples I use are real but I never identify who wrote them – if you searched hard enough you might figure it out, but I respect that the writers didn’t mean to provide us with bad examples and use discretion 🙂

I think it is an effective way of showing how to write well – but do you find it useful? Would you like to see more bad examples I spot to help you improve your writing?

Word Constructions slightly offline

For the next 10 days or so, we will be in Canberra meeting with clients. I have scheduled some blog posts for you to read while I am away, but please be patient as it may take me a while to reply to any comments or emails – I will be online at times, just not as regularly as usual.

I would love to know what you want to learn about (comms wise) so let me know in the comments below and I’ll get writing when I’m back!

Use your words wisely,

Tash

Your industry writer

As a professional business writer, I sometimes am asked if I have experience writing content for a specific industry.

While I could give a yes/no answer to each person, depending on the industry they are asking about, the reality is that being an experienced writer is more relevant that my industry knowledge.

different industries - engineer, dentist, dressmaker, accountant.

I am not an engineer or dentist, a seamstress or accountant, yet these are some of the industries I have successfully written for

Don’t believe me? Well think about these points:

  1. expertise in multiple fields (e.g. writing and science or superannuation) is harder to find – and should be unnecessary as the client is the subject expert and the writer is just making it read well
  2. someone outside of the industry can provide more clarity about how customers will perceive information (For example, people in superannuation and insurance talk about ‘benefits’ in a way that the general population doesn’t, so as a writer I change ‘benefits’ to ‘payments’ for clarity)
  3. a writer’s job is to communicate a message clearly and effectively
  4. good writers know how to research, and to read information to find the relevant points to put into a message
  5. a lot of business content is actually generic and doesn’t need a lot of industry knowledge – website home pages, ads, media releases, profiles and brochures are about the business and marketing so a lot of technical information isn’t used
  6. experienced writers are used to meeting guidelines and choosing words carefully so can manage even in tightly regulated industries – just tell the writer  any rules and then use your usual due diligence checks. Good writers can use words well but avoid misleading people so may meet the regulations quite easily anyway

In comparison, we need some trees removed at home. We want a professional tree lopper who will do the job safely and appropriately – I don’t care if they’ve chopped down the same type of tree before. Likewise, I don’t insist on a hairdresser who only does long, wavy hair or a graphic designer who has experience with other writers’ websites.

If you need writing help, you will find it much harder to find a suitable professional if you limit it to those with industry experience. Concentrate on finding a good writer and providing them with the relevant facts for a project (or at least reliable sources of information).

Do you disagree?

 

* Images collated from Microsoft Clipart

Getting lots of questions

Have you ever experienced a LOT of questions from your suppliers?

I aways lots of questions about new writing projects – less so for existing and long-term clients – and some people are amazed by that.  Usually amazed and appreciative, but amazed none the less.

Could you imagine going to a doctor or lawyer and not have them ask questions to clarify the issue and find the best solution? Would you trust a doctor who said hello and handed you a script?

As far as I am concerned, I like my suppliers to ask questions to show interest in the project (rather than the dollars) and to be sure they understand what I actually need.

As a writer, I don’t feel I can’t write good content if I don’t know much about the topic of the piece. I know I can’t write effective content if I don’t know who the target audience is or the purpose of the piece. So I ask lots of questions before I write or edit any content.

Although it make take you more time than you expected to hand over a project if the supplier asks many questions, it is usually worth it for the quality of the final result.

Some reasons to appreciate these questions are that the supplier:

  1. is interested in doing the project as well as they possibly can
  2. will clarify any parts of your instructions they don’t understand
  3. learns the purpose of the work and can tailor it to suit
  4. is able to make appropriate suggestions and recommendations
  5. has the knowledge to give a different perspective
  6. gets an understanding of you and your business as well as the specific project
  7. knows who to target the result at (if relevant)
  8. may notice other things you can benefit from (for example, when I read a client’s website to learn about them, I sometimes find a typing or logic error that I will point out so they can correct it)
  9. is being professional and showing attention to details which presumably will carry through into the project itself
  10. is gathering information from the best source rather than making assumptions or using less reliable sources

So be warned – if you ask me to write for you or help with a communications project, you will be asked a number of questions!

How about you – how have you reacted to suppliers asking questions in the past?

Do you respond differently to ‘dumb’ questions compared to a supplier gathering useful information?