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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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writing

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.

 

Developing your eBook writing skills

hands holding an electronic reader to view an eBook

Creating an eBook may be easier than printing a hard-copy book, but it still takes effort and skill to make it a good eBook.

Writing an eBook appeals to many people, but not so many have done it. Is it something you have been thinking of doing?

The following eBook tips come from a ProBlogger webinar I participated in at the end of July. They look short and simple but there is a wealth of information there if you take the time to think about them.

 

  1. Always add value to your readers, whether it is information, instruction or entertainment. Without value, it will not good and is not likely to get much word of mouth promotion nor good reviews. This has to be the basis of any eBook you write – just like it is the basis of good blogs posts and articles.
  2. A blog can be a great testing ground for your eBook ideas.
  3. Choose an eBook topic on what could sell AND what you can actually write about! In other words, balance your skills against your readers’ needs
  4. An outline for an eBook can help designers start before content is complete – a time efficient option!
  5. In writing the solution to a problem, make sure it is a problem people recognise as a problem. For example, people buy a book on travel photography by perhaps not one in taking colour photos even though it is a basic skill and component of travel photography.
    ‘When writing an e-book, try to write about something with tangible results i.e. Take Better Travel Photos’ by Bright Fox Media
  6. make sure your topic has enough content to last – an eBook is longer than a blog post or magazine article remember!
  7. republishing existing  blog content is fine, especially if it is reorganised and updated.
  8. do a plan or outline of your eBook
    1. it is a good starting point for writing your eBook
    2. it provides a structure that stands no matter what order you write the content in
    3. enables planning your launch and content that can be used to generate interest (eg guest blog posts, social media updates)

What challenges have you faced when thinking about, planning or writing an eBook?

 

Blog post writing isn’t always easy, but it’s possible

Does every blog post come naturally and easily? scrabble letters 'writing blog posts'

Speaking for myself, the answer is a definite no!

Speaking on behalf of clients and many business people I have spoken to, I would also give a resounding no!

Speaking for yourself, do you think it’s easy to write blog posts? How about if you try writing them to fit a marketing schedule?

So sometimes we have to make ourselves write a post, even if it is hard finding an idea or topic.

Don’t force your writing

A post on SEO outreach by Emma Fox stated “don’t force yourself into making something for a website.” (Yes, the same post that inspired my post about taking time to develop ideas last week has inspired this post, too!)

It’s an interesting statement.

You can take it to mean its best to write naturally and don’t go too far in making your posts relevant to a very different topic. Which are good points.

Or you can read it as advice to  only write for other blogs when you feel like it. Which sounds very nice, but is not so practical for a business owner trying to market their business!

Choosing a guest blog host

 When it comes to choosing where to put a guest blog post, I try to get that balance through the following ideas:

  1. if the blog’s topic is too far from my areas of knowledge, I don’t write posts for them
  2. I only approach someone with a potential guest post when I know I have the time to provide the post, meaning I have a bit of time to be able to write without it being a huge chore or stress
  3. I don’t try being someone else or write in another’s voice so the post feels natural. I will angle the content and tone to suit an audience but keep to what feels right for me
  4. I am experienced in writing on demand – I think you can choose to write at any time, not just want for the right mood, without feeling forced into it. Habit and attitude can get you writing – like Chris Guillebeau, I like the quote  from Somerset Maugham: I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.

Simplify your content

sucrose is sugar, words, formula and structure

Four ways to write the same thing – look for simplicity

I often come across things that are too complicated – usually it’s because people are trying hard to give all information, but that doesn’t change the impact on your audience.

If it is too hard to understand the message people get bored or impatient and go elsewhere; at best, they will contact you with unnecessary questions because that’s easier than searching the website or document for answers.

Examples of complicated communications

‘there are limits to how much super you can contribute each year’ (my version)

is easier to read than ‘legislation states people making superannuation contributions above certain prescribed maximums that vary between the types of contributions will be penalised’ (a complex version I read).

‘In Australia, you can see an optometrist without a referral. However, you will need a referral to see an ophthalmologist.‘ (my version)

is simpler than ‘No referral is necessary in Australia to see an optometrist or if needed with an ophthalmologist (you’ll need a referral from an optometrist or from your doctor for this)’. (from a complex article written for lay people)

‘ABC provides telephone support to customers at our discretion’ (my version)

is simpler than ‘ABC will provide Telephone Support at its sole option and for as long and for such hours as it may decide Telephone Support for the Customer.’ (from a contact us page, and let’s ignore that it doesn’t even make sense and doesn’t need all those capital letters!)

How to simplify your writing and web content

  1. write the absolute minimum message first, then add a few words as required
    For example, start with ‘we fix cars’ then add just enough to add value so maybe it becomes ‘we fix vintage cars’ or ‘we fix car engines’ or ‘we specialise in fixing red cars’.
  2. if you need to add more information, do it with additional sentences or in as few words as possible – don’t turn it into a very long sentence.
    So ‘We prepare tax returns for individuals. Our services include sorting your  receipts and documents and lodging your return.’ is better than ‘We prepare tax returns, including sorting your receipts and documents and lodging returns, for individuals.’
  3. know the purpose of your writing – is this a fact sheet that needs minute details or a marketing message that only needs an overview? Choose the level of detail to match your purpose and audience.

 

* Chemical structure courtesy of BigStockPhotos

A drop of honey in your writing works

Some years ago, I opened a saving account with a higher interest rate for the proverbial rainy day. I haven’t used that account much for some time but received a letter from that bank  that I wanted to share.

Threatening feel

Angry man threatening a piggy bank with a hammer

Threatening people’s savings doesn’t create a good impression

With opening words ‘Inactive account’, the letter launched with a long paragraph about money in inactive accounts being transferred to ASIC. The paragraph ended with a ‘by the way, the Government recently changed the inactivity period to 3 years from 7 years’ message.

It went on to define in active accounts.

Followed by a sub-heading “Your inactive xyz account”.

At this point I was angry because I hadn’t been told about the change in law nor that my money would be transferred to ASIC so “how dare they do that”.

The letter then mentioned I could prevent the transfer by using my account before the end of January.

Why not tell me that first as it is actually the most important thing for me to know?

And encouraging me to make another deposit is surely in the bank’s best interests, too?

Why let me get angry and annoyed rather than show me they are trying to help my keep my money?

The harsh letter made me uncomfortable, and as I only had a small amount of money left in there, my response was to withdraw all my money and close the account myself.

This is obviously a necessary letter for banks, but I think they are missing a relationship building and marketing opportunity to write it in such harsh terms.

Even if most people still closed their accounts, they would do so without negative feelings towards that bank…

It could have been personable and helpful

happy businessman offering a hand shake

Being friendly builds goodwill and reduces stress

In contrast I recently wrote a letter for a client along similar lines.

That letter effectively read:

You haven’t made a contribution for some time so your account is about to be classed as inactive.

If you make a contribution by xx, your account will be reactivated. Otherwise, your account will have to be closed.

Another option would have been  to write:

Did you know that any account without transactions for 3 years are classed as inactive? And that we have to transfer money in inactive accounts to ASIC?

To avoid this for your account, please make a deposit or withdrawal by xx.

Or they could have focussed on the change in law as important news:

Did you know it’s been nearly three years since you used your account?

The Commonwealth Government recently changes the law so accounts are classed as inactive after 3 years rather than seven. That means your account could soon be classed as inactive.

By law, we must transfer money from inactive accounts to ASIC.

Of course, you can reactivate your account by making a deposit or withdrawal before xxx.

Which version would you prefer to receive?

 * Images courtesy of kozzi

Accepting feedback graciously

Anybody who puts effort into writing good content understands the anxiety that can come when someone else reads those words you worked so hard on.

In fiction or business, writers like to think they are using the best words to suit the need yet have to consider their audience’s tastes and preferences, too.

The old red pen editing style

Hearing feedback

Don’t think for a second that highly respected, top-selling authors don’t get their work reviewed and edited by other people – this is not just a business writing issue.

However, what can be different for any business writing is the range of feedback that may be required – one piece of writing may have to satisfy people from legal, marketing, administration, technical and sales teams.

Some people get uptight about feedback as they see it as criticism. Others hear it but rarely act on any of it, while others take note of all the feedback and lose their own feel for the writing.

How do you cope with feedback on your writing? Do you accept and even ask for feedback?

Getting feedback on technical details (for example a client tells me their product is 25 mm thick not 26mm as I wrote) can be easier to take than other feedback as you aren’t expected to be the technical expert.

Feedback about something you are meant to be good at is harder, but usually still isn’t meant personally and needs to be taken professionally.

Improving your writing

Gathering and assessing feedback is a key to getting the best results out of any writing.

Putting together all the different elements can be challenging but melding it together works mush better than having distinct bits of text from each area.

A good piece of business writing often is the collective wisdom of a team with the writer adjusting all those elements to read well. It isn’t about the writer producing perfect prose on their own.

Believing in the team effort and getting the best results for the business makes it much easier to accept feedback.

Once you can accept feedback and tweak your writing to suit, the better your writing will be and the less stressful you’ll find the corporate process.

Reading efficiently saves money

Last September I wrote about a report that showed efficient writing can save money for businesses. Obviously, the second part of that is reading…

So as well as writing efficiently and avoiding unnecessary words, you can save money by making it easier for people to read the words.

Making reading easier

You may want to get all your team to do a speed reading course, but I think there are probably better ways to help people read your business materials 🙂

So here are some simple to implement tips for making documents easier to read:

  1. split long paragraphs into shorter ones whenever possible – long chunks of text are harder to read and absorb, plus they look more intimidating
  2. keep decent margins on the page so the text is not overwhelming
  3. be generous with headings and subheadings – not only do they make the text easier to digest, they make the page more visually appealing
  4. use the layout and images to make the page inviting – the same information will be read more if it looks interesting and easy to read
  5. work to avoid paragraphs and lists being divided across pages – it is distracting to turn a page part way through a sentence or idea

Thinking about documents you find easy to read, what features do you find helpful?

If you haven’t thought much about the look of your writing, why not try adjusting the appearance of a page of your existing text and see if you can see a difference – or test different looks on different people. I’d love to hear your results!

How to get writing, no matter what

Finding it hard to write on demand, struggling with ‘writer’s block’ or doubting your ability to get something written?

Staring not writing on laptop

Do you have the time to waste on not writing?

Long ago I decided I didn’t have the luxury of ‘writer’s block’ and I can write on demand rather than waiting for inspiration or the right mood. There are certainly times when I really don’t feel like it, but I have found ways to keep writing anyway.

Some people will say writing when you don’t feel like it means your writing isn’t as good. That maybe true for creative writing (although many novelists would disagree) but if you write professionally you have to meet deadlines for clients whether or not the whim takes you.

Tips for overcoming writer’s block – or writer’s hesitation

Here are some useful techniques, some are well known and some have been really valuable for me over the last nine or so years.

If you have any great tips on how you overcome writer’s block, please share your ideas in the comments section below.

  1. just write. It doesn’t matter what you write – just sit at a keyboard or with pen in hand and write for five minutes without stopping. It gets ideas flowing and sometimes gets doubts out of your head. You may find you are ‘in the mood’ well before your five minutes is up…
  2. forget the start. If you’re sitting in front of a blank page not knowing how to introduce a document, or what title to give it, start writing the middle of it. For an article, write the middle and come back to the introduction and title; for a longer document, choose any chapter but the first and write that. Apart from getting you started, an intro or title often needs revising once the rest is written anyway so leaving it to last makes a lot of sense
  3. if you know broadly what has to be written, write out all your headings and sub-headings for the document. It’s much easier then to just fill in the text between headings in whatever order you feel like
  4. give yourself permission to just write – don’t worry about typing perfectly, getting spelling and grammar right, or having the perfect word in every instance. Get your first draft written and your project is underway – much better to have it all written and spend time proof reading than to have only a paragraph or two written in the same time.
  5. know yourself so you can set up the best conditions for writing. It may be first thing in the morning, after doing some exercise, with music playing or in silence, at a keyboard on a desk, or any combination of circumstances but use your environment to encourage your writing
  6. like that proverbial elephant, don’t expect to tackle a big project in one go. Set yourself small targets – yes it can be ‘have the first draft finished by Thursday’ but it can also be goals like ‘write for 20 minutes then check emails’ as doing something hard or unpleasant is easier to face for a short time
  7. build habits – if you sit at your computer to write at 10 o’clock every day, your mind will expect that and be ready to write

When it comes down to it, the only solution is DO IT!

I find that if I don’t feel like it but start typing I get into it and can write the document easily – and often finish it ready for another! If none of the above helps get you writing, your other option is to ask someone else to write the document or web content for you.

Train the child’s flesh

Clear writing is important for getting your message across, and often to help you make sales.

A poor message won’t attract as many sales nor earn respect or trust so it is worth getting help if you struggle writing clearly.

As a very clear example of this, I wanted to share the information on the back of a jigsaw puzzle box aimed at 3 year olds.

Give parents’ word:

In childhood there are per 80, the  growth of human’s brain. At period the learning and attraction is  most strongest in a life. So the parents pay attention to train your children.

Clever is not inborn, it’s gestated in the circumstance of growth. If the parents can choose more toys, that it can guide their hand and brain with together. Not only it trains their dexterity hands in the iteration, but also coordination function their brain, eyes and hands, It will breed a clever, health child.

Introduction of function:

Play the  number train, it can train acquaintance and memory to color, material and English word, and enhance recognition to sight and total concept.

Play the number train, Must according to the order of the number, Then patch a intact number train, So it can advance the growth of child’s flesh and raising the custom of hand.

child's toy trainOn the positive side, if it was web content, the word train was a good choice – it both represents the image on the jigsaw and the idea of training or teaching so is a great keyword for them.

Beyond that, I’m struggling to find much positive about this example of writing! Although to be fair everything is spelt correctly! I’m not going to list all the errors, either, as it would become a very long post if I tried, lol.

Obviously English is their second language but if you’re selling to English markets it is worth getting someone who truly knows English to check your work first.

Luckily, I didn’t need any instructions to do a jigsaw but imagine if I had needed their instructions…

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?