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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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?




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?

Mock design suggestions

Using a mock design can help communications projects run efficiently because everyone can literally see where the project is heading.

Of course, its value depends on the project details so here are some examples of when a mock design is useful:

  • my client AvSuper is going to use new software to produce their annual member statements so I produced a mock statement to show the software developers how we want the final statement to look. This means the software people don’t have to think of a design and I know how content is divided up so can write the content and have it technically and legally checked while the software is being developed.
  • when having an interactive table prepared for another client, I used a mock design to plan the necessary fields with the client and then gave the refined mock to the tech team so they could easily see what was required and give a look consistent with my client’s style
  • my designer prepared a mock window design to show the look and feel her client was after so that the sign writing team had a model to work from. They adjusted the design a little, using their expertise and knowledge of window design, but produced a shop front the clients were happy with without the need for lengthy discussions or costly errors
  • I went to a meeting with a client to discuss updating their website. I took some mock designs with me (based on my knowledge of their style and general communications website concepts) which made it much easier to discuss possible improvements with the client who had limited website knowledge. For instance, one mock showed drop down menus to two levels so I didn’t have to explain that terminology but could show it in their colours.

Has a design mock helped in any specific projects you’ve done? Or maybe now you wish you’d had a design mock for a project? Share your stories and help make projects easier to manage.

How a business can volunteer

Corporate volunteering obviously helps the community as well as being positive for the supporting business.

Don’t think that the only way to support local community is to give money donations, though. Even businesses on their own tight budget can help local groups, and all businesses can find a means of giving that suits their specific structure and products/services.

Here are a few suggestions – what else can you add to this list?

  1.  do some pro bono work – a web designer could create or update their website, a plumber can put new washers in all their taps, food places could offer goods at cost (i.e. do the cooking for free) and an IT company could do a security check of their computers. I know I have written and edited various documents for community groups at minimal or no charge
  2. offer good or services at discounted rates for events or specified periods – e.g. a bakery could offer bread at cost for their fundraising events and a mechanic could offer an annual car service
  3. offer discounts to volunteers or members of the group – for example, a hairdresser may offer 20% off for people referred form a women’s shelter or soup kitchen volunteers get a free physiotherapy check up
  4. make employees available to volunteer at a community group. This could be everyone is off volunteering together once a year or a roster of people helping once a month or fortnight. Think about what works for your business and for the group you’re helping (not all places have space for an extra 10 people at one time for example).
  5. whenever you are upgrading (computer, phone, printer, etc) consider if it has enough value to pass onto a community group
  6. offer to print their newsletter to save their costs – collating, folding and so no are also possible tasks you can offer
  7. promote the group – put a banner on your website, link to their site, mention them in your newsletters, add their logo/details on the back of your business cards, add a donation box to your shop (or button on your website) and so on.
  8. add a collection box in your office/shop
  9. have a stall at their fete or other events – your fee and attendance will help more than it may appear
  10. invite them to speak or have an information booth at your big events

What other ways have you seen businesses support their local community?

Goal setting process

I have previously posted about SMARTY goals and rewarding yourself when you achieve goals, so I thought I would add a little about the process of setting goals.

There are a number of ways of setting goals (brainstorming, asking a coach/mentor/friend for help, breaking down bigger goals, adding onto previous achievements, doing workshops or workbooks or just following the SMARTY acronym for example.)

I have found some recent examples of goal setting processes which you may enjoy reading:

Belinda Lindhart has recently gone through the process of setting business, artistic and personal goals for 2009. She has posted about her process in her blog and I think it is a great process that she is sharing.

Chris Brogan has a very different goal setting technique – he uses three specific words to keep him on track for the year.  It is actually a very challenging thing to do, but has a lot of potential – I think I will try this one myself! I also love the words equip and armies that Chris has set for himself – he probably wouldn’ t mind if I copied them as it is my aim to equip people with clear communications (through my tips and own writing) and environmental consciousness, and I would love armies of people to push for clear communications and more respect for our planet. However, I will sit down and see what words I come up with myself.

Ali reminds us that goals should be fulfilling as they happen, not just for some mythical future happiness. While not every step of a goal will be fun, it will ideally have some reward for you along the way – and certainly be something you want rather than what you ‘should’ do.

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” said Confucius. Apparently, the Japanese system of kaizen has a similar meaning and I agree with Emma that taking baby steps is the way to achieve anything – and I loved reading that she used this system for breaking a habit like smoking as it is exactly how I think such habits can be broken!

Some years I ago I used a list of questions (out of a book originally but I can’t remember it’s title or author now) to review the previous year and start the new one. The questions were things like ‘what did you learn this year? what was your biggest achievement? which goals did you reach? which people influenced you this year? what was your biggest challenge this year?’ and then repeat them for the upcoming year (so what do you want to learn next year? what do you want to achieve next year? how will you overcome/avoid those challenges? which old goals need refining?) It was an effective exercise in choosing a direction and goals which I could then write out.

So what process do you use, or will you now use, to set 2009 up as your best year so far?

example etcetera…

ABCsWriting a complete list can be tedious, so we tend to write out part of a list as a sample instead. Implying it is a sample even when we think we have written out the entire list, can also be useful – it protects you from giving an absolute.

So how do we imply it is part of a list? We start the list with something like ‘for example’, ‘such as’, ‘including’ or ‘something like’ OR we end the list with ‘etcetera’, ‘and so on’, ‘and more’, ‘or another…’ or ‘and similar.’

The key word is or – we start or end the sentence to indicate it is an incomplete list, not both.

“For example, we offer red, blue, orange, pink, etcetera” is unnecessary.

In fact, example means here is a subset of the whole while etcetera means there is more or the rest is to come. So the above sentence means “The subset is red, blue, orange, pink, and the rest”

“For example, we offer red, blue, orange and pink” or “We offer red, blue, orange, pink and other colours” makes more sense, is shorter and is correct!

So please don’t write example and etcetera in the same sentence!