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grammar & details

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.’

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!

Grammar makes for a busy pharmacist!

Last night I saw a TV ad for some (legal) drugs for children’s colds.

Pharmacist checking labels on drug boxes.

Pharmacists must pay careful attention to details…

It was nothing particularly out of the ordinary until I read the fine print at the end, which was grammatically poor.

For children under two years, contact the pharmacist.

Obviously there is only one pharmacist we could ask – must be a mighty busy person though if we only have one in Australia!

The grammar…

In short, using the word ‘the’ implies there is one so we correctly write ‘the Prime Minister is visiting the Governor General’.

When used as an article for a noun, the word ‘the’ signifies that the relevant noun is either unique or somewhat special. For example, the Tour de France is the long distance bike race – obviously, there are other long distance bike races but the Tour De France is the ultimate and best known one so using ‘the’ emphasises its importance.

So the ad would have been better telling us to contact ‘your pharmacist’ or ‘a pharmacist’.

 

* Image courtesy of 123rf

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.


Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter Word Constructions on LinkedIn Tash & Word Constructions on Facebook

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?

Correct details in tests are critical

I came across another example of errors in details being an issue.

Our daughter’s school sent out an email including ‘(1 of 2)’ in the subject. The attached pdf explained they were testing the communications system for parents so we should expect two emails – if only one arrives, contact the school.

Testing communications seems like a good plan and the test seemed simple enough.

Then I got a second email which referred to being the first email of two and had the same attachment. Was it an error to get this email twice or did they accidentally send it twice? Should I reply to say I got it twice, possibly like hundreds of other parents, or give them a chance to explain the duplication first?

Flurry of envelopes flying into a laptop to represent incoming emails

Responding to a mistake can lead to a flurry of emails – avoiding that is one good reason to check details before hitting send!

Then, I got a third email asking me to log into the school’s site to read a letter. The letter was the same attachment as in the original email (which clearly states ‘this is the first email and please contact us if you don’t get a second one’).

Which detail is wrong – the letter stating a second letter was coming or the sending of the same letter twice?

Where does that put their test?

On one hand, I got both types of email so the systems are working and my contact details are correct.

Do they have my email address in the system twice so I will get two versions of every group email they send?

Was it human error to get the same attachment in the second email type or is that a failure of the system?

I can not reply as I got both emails or I can reply and explain I got three emails and the same attachment.

Which do you think will help their testing process more? What would you do?

 

Get the details right

Are you a details person?

Many people are bored by details (probably all of us really – we just like details in some things, not all things) and that includes details of grammar and good writing.

You can’t convince me with poor attention to details

I received a letter a few days ago.

Images of sample letters from Word Constructions

A nicely presented letter has little value if the details in the letter are wrong.

I like getting letters, and it doesn’t happen as often now we have so many electronic options available to us. So it’s disappointing when the letter turns out to be spam or a scam rather than something interesting.

This particular letter I recognised as spam straight away as I’ve received rubbish from this group before (and so have clients who luckily ask me if it is legitimate before acting).

However, standing in the sun was nice so I actually read their letter and found numerous reasons to not act as they wished.

  1. they were using an email address I have never used so obviously made it up – to convince me you are credible, use my real email address
  2. they missed the .au in my email and website addresses – and coming from an Australian company wanting to promote me in an Australian directory makes it even more pathetic to my mind. It wouldn’t take long to look at my website to discover the .au in the URL
  3. it was sent to my home address but addressed to Word Constructions – a detail that made me instantly suspicious anyway.
  4. paragraph one includes “This now includes additional subscriber benefits listed below” which is grammatically poor; paragraph three includes “… entitle you to additional subscriber benefits (see below).”
    However, the letter does not contain any subscriber benefits.
  5. a smaller detail is lack of consistency such as “The Internet reaches 15 million… (internet analysis…” (Internet or internet – they need to choose one and list that in a style guide)
  6. multiple sentences were missing words or just didn’t make sense – one will be discussed and improved in my March newsletter I think!
  7. two sentences in a row ‘kindly’ requested me to do something – is it kind of me to sign a form to (supposedly) get promotion via their directory?

 Businesses need to watch the details

Get the details right and people are not distracted by the mistakes – meaning they can focus on your call to action or message.

Get the details wrong and people doubt your professionalism and worry whether you pay attention to details when they are paying you. That is, if you throw together a letter instead of putting effort into every word of it, will you also rush through fixing my car, cutting my hair, building my house, designing my website and so on?

It’s nice to think people will ignore errors because we’re nice people with good intentions.

But first impressions count and if those incorrect details are the first thing a potential customer sees, it can be enough to give your competitor the job.

So how does your business avoid errors in the details?

How does your business react to potential suppliers if they get details wrong?