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bad writing examples

Who can read the sign?

Sign wanring against climbing walls

The sign was big, but on an angle for most people

We attended an indoor play centre recently for a child’s birthday party.

I spotted a sign on a wall opposite an inflatable slide, within the enclosed rock climbing area, that I think was missing the audience.

Where  the sign was

The sign was up on a wall and printed in a large font so it should have been useful.

However, it was on an angle that made it hard to read except for by children rock climbing.

Surely putting it above the inflatable would have been more effective as it would be visible at the time you would be considering climbing up the forbidden walls.

What the sign said

Remembering this was in an indoor play centre where most of the patrons are under eight years of age, the sign was not written for the audience.

Apart from the very young children who can’t read at all, many youngsters would not be up to reading ‘inflatable’ and many would not know the word ‘banned’. Even for those who can understand the sign, it will be most effective if people get it instantly, without having to think about its meaning.

The inflatable is more known to children as the big slide, so that is the type of language they would be better using.

A much simpler sign would be “Do not climb up the slide”.

I think this is simpler and more effective, but also has a second meaning as it tells children not to climb up the slide itself, as well as not climbing on the support walls.

 

It is always important to know who you are aiming your communications at, and aim for clarity more than cleverness.

Communicating to potential voters

It's hard to choose who to vote for if the candidates communicate poorly.

It’s hard to choose who to vote for if the candidates communicate poorly.

Throughout Victoria, we are about to vote for our local councils.

Unbelievably, in my ward, there are 21 candidates for us to choose from to select 3 councillors!

This is a lot of people to consider while trying to choose my vote and is a bit overwhelming but it is useful from a communications perspective as I can see big differences in their statements.

Candidates’ statements

So, putting aside politics and any particular platforms these people are standing for, here is a summary of the candidates I can choose this week. I am basing this on the official statements prepared by each candidate that were sent to us by the Electoral commission, and I am not using anyone’s real name!

group 1 – sole platform

George – has a personal dislike to something other residents are doing so wants us to vote for him to stop that behaviour.

Fred – is retired and is standing to get better deals for older residents.

Sally – is mum to young children and will fight for better services for new mums and for families.

Communications – all three of these people have written a reasonable statement that is easy enough to understand and sound like reasonable people. I just find it difficult to trust someone who is obviously going into council for their own best interests.

group 2 – political

Jenny – states she is affiliated with a major political party but lists various local issues and experience to show relevance. The second half of her statement is more formal and is about policies, sounding much more like a politician than a local councillor.

Ed – does not state any political affiliation but the statement sounds formal and like a federal election campaign piece. It is not law that candidates state they belong to a party (and follow part lines) but this is a contentious issue of late. All sounds pretty perfect really…

group 3 – mixed platforms

Rachel – the current councillor and someone who is involved in our community – and the only one most people I know have met or seen around. Her statement shows her passion, is easy to understand (both through competent writing and using approachable language and style) and ends with “I ask you to vote for me” (rather than demanding it). She covers a number of issues.

Angus – a young person who grew up in the area and covers a number of issues in his statement. Again, it is well written and readable.

Communications – there are others in this group but all of them discuss a number of issues in clear English and declare no connection with a political party.

group 4 – questionable

David – started his statement with “7 years house designing in Shanghai; Melbourne.” No, I don’t know what that means either – and as he works in the IT industry and is standing for a council role (not a council planning job!), it makes little sense.

David’s statement has many examples I could use in my bad writing posts – “Experience in retails…Involving security issue with PM…I pointed city apartment…Successfully suggested VCAT improve hearing procedure with writing hearing” {the lack of final full stop is copied by the way!}

Due to his poor written communication, I don’t understand what he is standing for – even when I can guess the meaning of a sentence, I can not be sure if he is for or against that issue!

group 5 – pushy

Simon sent a SMS to some people, outwardly to remind people of the need ot vote, but everyone I know of (and others according to local media) were irritated by this message. Simon came across as pushy and people felt their privacy had been invaded by these messages sent to private mobile phones.

Other than the SMS, Simon fitted into group 2 but I know at least two people who voted him as number 21 purely due to the SMS. As I have said at various times, being aggressive and overly confident in communications often backfires (with Australian audiences anyway).

Communicating with potential votes

Obviously, there are other ways these candidates can promote themselves to the voters but let’s limit ourselves to these statements. Because that is the only way most people in our area get information to make a choice in the elections.

There is a wide selection of writing styles – from someone who does not know how to write in English, through those who write good conversational English, to those who write formal, professional pieces. Just this choice of style will have a big impact on how voters will perceive each candidate.

Given there are 21 candidates (and apparently some areas have many more than that!), many voters will not read the statements in depth nor do other research. So the style and approachability of these statements is critical for their success.

Who to vote for?

Based purely on their communication skills as described above, who would you vote for if you lived in this area?

Who would you not vote for? This is possibly an even more important question for anyone trying to learn how to communicate effectively to get positive results.

 

 

 

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?

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?

 

 

 

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!

also comes after

Reading and editing a document recently, I came across the following text as the first paragraph in a new section of the document:

We will also deal with your request for access…

Apple resting on paper as a hand writes

‘Also bring an apple’ comes after ‘bring pen and paper’ or else ‘also’ makes no sense.

So today’s Monday Meaning is for one word instead of a pair of words.

Also [adverb]: as well as, too, in addition, besides
Please bring pen and paper. Also bring a snack.

Getting back to the example above, it is wrong because ‘we’ can’t ‘also’ deal with a request if ‘we’ aren’t already dealing with something for you.

Words like also and too must follow, or come after, something rather than being the first item in a list.

 

Facebook ads – short but important

Proof reading is important – even for short and (relatively) simple things like a Facebook ad.

A Facebook ad that needs proof reading

Unfortunately my screenshot didn’t work (and the ad hasn’t shown again since!) but I saw an ad this morning that seriously needed some help…

Proof read short pieces of writing

Even short pieces of text need to be proof read – or risk embarrassment

The heading of the ad was “New year. New hom.”

For a major company involved in real estate sales, you’d think home is an important word to get right.

I’d also have expected a company of that size to have a process of checking and approving ads before they go live – a one-person business is often at bigger risk of such errors because it is harder to correct your own writing.

The body of the ad included “but hurry – offer ends 28 February!”

Perhaps they meant hurry into your time machine?

That isn’t necessarily a proof reading error (unless they actually got the date wrong!) as it may be an incorrect setting on when the ad is to be run. Either way, attention to detail can have a big impact!

Proof reading matters…

We all do it – we write something and assume it is written exactly as we meant it to be.

But between typing mistakes (typos), thinking faster than we can type and actual spelling/grammatical errors, it is easy to have text that is not exactly what we wanted.

So we need to check our writing for errors. ALL our writing, whether short or long, whether technical, legally required or marketing, whether online or offline. It’s that simple!

And the key proof reading rules are to get someone else to check it and leave some time between the writing and proof reading.

Oh, and don’t rely on spell check to find all your errors, either. For example, in this post I typed ‘won’ instead of ‘own’ and a spell check would have accepted that as fine.


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Keep it simple…

Dripping tap in a house

Simple but clear – this image tells a story without trying to impress or be more than it is. This makes for good communication.

The purpose of the written word is to communicate.

Sometimes that does include some complexity but I strongly believe it should be kept as simple as possible. Why make people work hard at understanding and increase the risk of misunderstanding?

I recently came across the following:

Email us to inform us about updates regarding your personal information.

And it struck me how some people try to impress and seem ‘professional’ by using complexity when it really isn’t needed. In the example above, why not just write:

Email us with any changes to your contact details.

 

Consistent pronouns

Mixing pronouns is a little like mixing drinks – both can lead to a fuzzy head!

Pronouns

Common pronouns such as we, us, they, he, she and our

Some common pronouns that make writing (and reading) English much easier.

Just as a reminder, a pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun. So ‘he’ replace’ John’ and ‘her’ replaces ‘Suzie’s’, and so on.

Pronouns are useful for

  • making writing shorter and clearer (it takes less to write ‘they’ than ‘John, Mary, Chuan and Connor’ for example)
  • avoiding repetition of the noun (compare ‘Joe rode Joe’s bike until Joe felt too tired’ and ‘Joe rode his bike until he felt too tired’)
  • provide emphasis towards one noun (such as ‘The teacher herself missed the error in that question’). Mind you, this is a somewhat old fashioned way to write and I don’t recommend its use in business writing.

There are different pronouns depending on gender and whether the noun is plural or singular.

Use pronouns consistently

When using pronouns, make sure you maintain the same or matching pronoun throughout a sentence and paragraph.

I recently read

For more details about {our product}, contact us on 1234 5678 or visit their website.

The writer swaps from being part of the company (by using ‘us’) to being external to the company (by using ‘their’). Which is jarring and somewhat confusing.

If in doubt about which pronoun to use, swap in the correct noun and make sure the sentence makes sense.

Or make a conscious choice about the type of pronoun (such as if your business uses me or we, us or it), put it into your style guide and stick to it.

Do you have any trouble with pronouns? Have you ever checked the pronoun use on your website is consistent?

Communications can win or lose votes

I don’t watch politics for fun. In fact, I don’t like politics very much at all and I often find their behaviour childish. Childish in a way I wouldn’t tolerate from any actual children…

Yet I am going to write a blog post inspired by a politician and Saturday’s election. It is mainly about their communications so no need to hide from another political statement!

Checking my options

Boat allowed to enter Australia

I am proud of Australia and am willing to welcome refugees.

Earlier this week, I went to a number of websites to find out more about the smaller parties. Namely because I can’t bring myself to vote for either major party this year – blocking refugees asking for help is simply wrong.

On each site, I looked at their policy ideas and details on their candidate in my area.

Learning from their websites

Based on reviewing a few sites covering the same basic idea (ie what the political party stands for and why we should vote for them), here are some useful website tips for us all:

  1. Summaries and simplicity are good.
    A short summary of each policy area with a link to greater details made one site much easier to read and quickly gave me an overview of the party. The lists of actual policies were also brief and to the point. It was therefore easy to decide whether or not I liked them.
    Other sites waffled on or gave me a long list of policies to choose from which was more intimidating than  a single-page summary.
  2. Dead links are frustrating and reduce your credibility.
    One site had my local candidate listed but every link on his name took me to an error page. Given I found the rest of the site a bit vague, I really wanted an impression of him to make a decision. Instead, I was frustrated and didn’t feel the party was very professional or reliable.
  3. Explain who you are fast.
    One site (and I spent very little time on their site once I started reading their offensive nonsense, so maybe there’s a reason for their web design!) had a huge banner and blog posts on the home page. It gave me no idea of who they were (not even that they are in fact a political party) which is what I wanted to know – their latest news is in the realm of politics I don’t care about!
    A clear tagline, an introduction or useful imagery can give information to site visitors quickly and makes life easier for people.
  4. Show information, or don’t – changing is annoying.
    I clicked through to an inner page which was basically a list of questions. Initially, I saw questions and answers but as I was part way through reading the start of one answer, it disappeared to show me a list of questions. Obviously, their software is set to narrow the content to just the questions but the loading time was so slow it showed answers first. Very frustrating to deal with as a site visitor.
    Have you checked how your clever settings actually work for site visitors? Often a simple solution works consistently so is better than a fancier option.
Choices about who to vote for - clarity, trust, briefness and more

What characteristics are important in choosing where to vote or spend your money?

Learning from the candidates

Remember how I couldn’t find information about my local candidate above? I found a media release about him and some others in his party which my local candidate had replied to in the comments.

There is both good and bad to be learned from those comments…

His first comment was long. Maybe a third of a page without paragraph breaks long (lack of structure may be due to the software, which is on the party not him, so I’ll give him a pass there!) It started with a lot of impressive words strung into a sentence or two that made absolutely no sense. Instantly I had no faith in him and no desire to vote for him.

The lesson – make sure anyone representing your business online can write reasonably well or do it for them. A genuine message is better than trying to impress readers.

However, I will give him credit for answering multiple people’s questions to the media release. Responding to comments and questions showed enthusiasm and passion, and listening to people is a precious commodity when it comes to politicians.

Yes, some of those answers were long winded and were nice ways of fobbing off hard questions but he was trying.

The lesson – respond to people online to build rapport, show your personality and gain another opportunity to explain your purpose or skills. Remember, people may see this rather than your carefully crafted profile – especially if a link is faulty!

What have you learned from this election?

Have you come across examples where a politician or political party has communicated well or poorly?

Maybe some of the above examples have inspired you to check your own website with a different perspective. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…

While I am not going to vote for a party just because they did the best job with their website, being able to easily understand the party does influence my choices.

Just like as a business owner or consumer I am not going to buy something just because you have the prettiest website, but I am more likely to trust you (and thus give you my money!) if your site is professional, simple to use and inoffensive.

But based purely on my descriptions of their websites, who would you vote for from the above examples?

Personally the first site I mentioned would get my vote – their summaries and easy-to-navigate site made it easy.